DHG/Dødheimsgard + Bölzer + Blaze Of Perdition + Matterhorn
The Underworld – Camden
10th December 2019
Review & Photos By: Beandog
It is a bold move when a band can stride on to the stage in an empty venue at showtime, pick up their instruments and tear into a set as if they were they playing to a club full of rowdy metal-heads. This situation is exactly the one Matterhorn find themselves in on this wet Tuesday in Camden.
Aeon Promotions & Concept Music Group have assembled a generous quartet of blackened metal acts for North London’s extreme music fans tonight, but the 11pm curfew means the evening has to kick off a little earlier than standard. At the start of the show, a lot people are still making their way from the further corners of the capital, or still counting down the minutes until they can clock off at work. Some may be in the pub. Either way, they definitely aren’t inside The Underworld.
Arriving a few moments before the first performance is due to begin, I cross the threshold and move down to the space in front of the stage where there are exactly two other people waiting. Both are sitting on the floor. There are a handful of others scattered around the venue, some of them follow my cue and move onto the dance-floor; most hang back with a beer.
For me, it’s not just a sense of journalistic duty that puts me in front of the stage at 18:30. I’m actually keen to see if Matterhorn are as ferocious live as they sound on last year’s Crass Cleansing album. It’s a record that has impressed me with its savage simplicity. It’s heads down. All riff, and it sounds great loud.
I can see the young, Swiss musicians at the side of the stage, peering through the stage door, laughing at the realisation that the venue isn’t even close to full. Their cue to begin arrives, so with complete professionalism, they stride on, plug in, turn up and let rip!
And what a sound!
Matterhorn live are the definition of heavy metal. Grinding guitars, slamming blastbeats and a fuck you attitude that sticks its middle finger up to the poor turnout. Their ferocious delivery makes me feel like I’ve been transported back to the eighties where I am watching a young Morbid Angel or a fledgling Celtic Frost peeling out the riffs. It doesn’t take long for the crowd to double, treble, quadruple etc until, eventually, there is a modest but steady stream of punters filing their way across the venue from the bar. I’m glad, because the three men on stage are making a sound that deserves to be heard.
Singer/guitarist Morbid wrestles with his guitar to keep it from feeding back. There is a brief moment where he is locked in a battle with own equipment, eventually emerging triumphant, having tamed the beast and brought it back under control. With renewed vigour he leads the band into a final tornado of blackened thrash and brings the set to a thundering conclusion. It’s a great start to the night and it sets the benchmark high.
Blaze Of Perdition keep things heavy but in contrast to the young band before them, their approach is less frantic. If Matterhorn were a snapping, snarling dog, then the Polish band are more like a pack of hunting wolves. Controlled and powerful, they use swathes of reverb to create a daunting ambience; the imposing sense of drama is enhanced by their menacing appearance. Each musician is caked in messy war-paint. The guitarist has his hood pulled up, creating a shroud around his face. It’s a completely appropriate look that is in keeping with the formidable sound coming from the stage. The weight of music is appreciated by the growing crowd. Straight-faced and standing towards the cacophony, they appear to be held in place and transfixed by the volume. Overwhelmed by the punch of rapidfire drums as each blast escapes from the ethereal, almost post-metal fog that swirls around the band’s blackened aggression.
This second set of the evening is aloof, oppressive and bleak, but it is not unenjoyable. Blaze Of Perdition’s strength comes from a refusal to compromise on volume and density of their presentation. To the uninitiated, arrangements are likely to blend into each other, the nuances of individual songs lost in the band’s seismic rumble and cold riffing, but overall the sound created is enough to impress fans of extreme music and the end of the band’s set is met with feral cheers of respect and appreciation.
This noisy excitement is maintained for Bölzer’s arrival. By now the venue has filled and there is a clear buzz for the penultimate band. Hailing from Switzerland and made up of just two musicians, both are present for a brief line check, during which they give us a taste of the powerful force from which they take their name.
Satisfied with the preparations, frontman KzR sets down his ten stringed guitar and leaves the stage followed by the band’s only other member, drummer HzR. Moments later the room is filled with the sound of the most terrifying intro tape I have ever heard. What I can only describe as the noise of nature at its most powerful, a low tone punctuated by what sounds like glaciers cracking as they advance into the room. If impending doom had a soundtrack, I have absolutely just heard it.
Bölzer’s music more than lives up to the impression created by their atmospheric pre-show soundscape. My first thought is how rich and full they sound for just two musicians. To make a comparison to the previous band, who created their brilliantly impenetrable music with multiple instrumentalists, the reduced number on stage now are somehow sounding bigger, heavier, and surprisingly more textured. Credit here should go to their inspired arrangements that take the band’s music from black metal to heavy doom, occasionally adding a brief passage of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it classic rock and roll. There are moments in the set when I almost want to punch the air like this is stadium rock!
Aside from the obvious breadth of influences, what is consistent is the quality. From the songwriting to the performance, watching Bölzer play gives you the satisfying feeling that you are watching a world class band bringing their unique vision to the stage. HzR is a compelling player behind the drums. Powerful. Making frequent punctuation with his cymbals, he drives the music along underneath KzR’s inspired guitar playing. It’s enough to get the now-loosened crowd breaking off into small pocket-sized mosh pits. Not quite a full thrust towards the stage, but a scattering of enthusiasm for the primitive energy of this set. Everyone else watches attentively, myself included. I share in what appears to be a sense of wanting to just take it all in. To not miss a moment of this incredible set.
When it comes to an end, there is a palpable void in the room. It feels like the aftermath of a great storm. So I head to the bar for something to steady my nerves.
When I return, the stage has taken on a very different look. Adorned in elaborately patterned fabrics and colours that aren’t necessarily associated with the Norwegian extreme music scene, Dødheimsgard are playfully dressing their performance area as they make the necessary equipment checks.
Anyone familiar with the band’s latter-day, avant garde output will be less surprised by the drapes and ornamentation. My own interest in their music was peaked by their 2015 album, A Umbra Omega. I bought it on a whim, knowing nothing about the band but feeling curious at the proggish cover art. One purchase later and I spent the rest of the afternoon immersed in a wildly unpredictable aural landscape. As I watch them prepare to play, it seems the band invest as much effort into the eccentricity of their stage show as they do with their music.
This extends to the bands onstage attire, which can best be described as The Mighty Boosh meets the crew of The Black Pearl. For an added raise of the eyebrow, guitar player Thunberg wears his anonymity underneath a fabric gimp suit!
Musically, the set kicks off with the giddy bounce of Shiva Intefere from the band’s industrial sounding 666 International album. Presented here, within a full band line up, the song is less machine-like than the recorded version. It takes on a psychedelic life of its own and sets the tone perfectly for what will follow for the remainder of the evening.
To add an extra dimension of surrealism, the musicians gasp and gurn, pulling distorted faces. Centre stage, the band’s singer, Vicotnik, weaves his arms and extends his tongue. To his left, on loan from Void, second guitarist Matt Jarman gets in on the action and contorts his face into a wide-mouthed silent scream. The overall effect is disturbing and it carries with it a level of bizarre humour. With this being said, Dødheimsgard’s whimsical delivery does not prevent the music from hitting savage tempos and digging in deep with blackened riffs when needed. Despite their eccentricity, the musicians absolutely know what makes a mosh pit churn.
Interestingly, the crowd has thinned out for this headlining set. Whether this is because people have left the building or are preferring to hang back at the bar is of no importance to those who have chosen to stay behind. It just means there is more room to get physical on the dance floor, throwing themselves into the wild shifts of 15 minute set centrepiece, Aphelion Void.
Dødheimsgard are a band for those who appreciate a layered experience. Like many good things, they have evolved over the years but they still remain connected to their primitive roots. This is reflected in tonight’s song choice which reaches back as far as their Kronet Til Konge album. Vicotnik describes this as being from a time “when we used to be serious!” It’s a significant point, and I wonder what the lifespan of the band would’ve been if they had stuck to the comparatively straightforward conventions of the genre. I’m simultaneously grateful that, for whatever reason, they didn’t, and chose to go through the looking glass to embrace the madness they are presenting this evening.
After the main set we are treated to just one encore from a stripped down version of the band. It turns out Matt Jarman had undertaken the impressive task of performing the set having not rehearsed with the band, so he sits out this impromptu moment. Thunberg removes his hood. There’s only so much heat a gimp can take.
It’s been a triumphant set. Unique, enjoyable, dramatic and a fitting finale to a great evening of black metal.