I Am Morbid + Belphegor + Hate + Skaphos – Morbidfest 2022 @ The Underworld, London

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I Am Morbid + Belphegor + Hate + Skaphos – Morbidfest 2022

@ The Underworld, London

Thursday 7th April 2022

Review by Kira Levine

Photography by Manu Volpina

To commemorate thirty(-one) years since the release of Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are The Sick, Morbidfest made its way to London for the tour’s thirteenth leg. The shows were originally announced for autumn but had to be delayed due to the pandemic and resulting restrictions.

Headliners I Am Morbid feature David Vincent (vocals, bass) and Pete “Commando” Sandoval (drums), who both appeared on the line-up of the album back in 1991. Also annihilating the stage were very special guests Belphegor, Hate and Skaphos as support. Due to a member of Ghosts of Atlantis contracting coronavirus, the Suffolk dark symphonic metallers cancelled their appearance at The Underworld.

French four-piece Skaphos opened the evening with their abyssal black-death metal set. Their stage decor had a nautical theme, adorned with items such as fishing nets and a maritime lantern, most likely inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. There is definitely something ominous about their music, especially when the riffs ring out like the cries of a creature over their gargantuan rhythm section. The frontman was able to alternate between low growls and high shrieks, receiving a few cheers as he did.

Another highlight of their set was the synchronised head-banging from the standing members while the drummer delivered blastbeats. Each of Skaphos’ songs were applauded enthusiastically, both by individuals who knew their lyrics and those who had just been exposed to their sound. These guys appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as everyone else, managing to get the crowd from initially politely nodding their heads to pummelling their fists in the air. After their thirty minute time slot, there were around seventy attendees in the venue. It was plain to see that the people who showed up early were wanting more and sufficiently amped up for the next three acts.

Skaphos time-slot: 18.30–19.00

Next up were blackened death metal quartet Hate. Fellow Poles shouted phrases in their native tongue during the band’s setup, unable to contain how stoked they were to see them live. Smoke added some visual atmosphere to the intro of their performance, the fogginess causing their glowing antlered skull stage props to seem even more sinister. Patrons who had left to grab a drink rushed back to the see the stage as soon as they heard the rolling drums over the playback intro.

As expected, this set was a lot heavier than the first. The back up vocals surely helped give the lyrics added ‘oomph’ over their colossal instrumentation, not taking away from the guitarist/vocalist’s already thunderous voice. During “Sovereign Sanctity”, a tech guy appeared on stage to fix an issue with the drum kit, however this did not phase them or impact the quality of the music as Hate carried on delivering their killer set. An hour into the night, the venue became noticeably fuller, with a few hundred patrons in the pit moving a lot more confidently to the tunes. Crowd excitement waned a couple of times and the bassist made sure to get the adrenaline going again by hyping up the audience up. A couple were humming the catchy riff played throughout “Hex” well after Hate had left the stage, demonstrating their approval.

Hate time-slot: 19.20–20.00

The torch was then passed to Belphegor, who treated Camden to an hour’s worth of Austrian diabolical (black-)death magick. Whereas previous acts flirted with visions of death and evil, these guys brought sacrilegious vibes with their giant inverted crucifixes, goat skull and unlit candles atop metal stands. A basement club wouldn’t be able to house the naked flame-lit torches seen at their previous London show at the 229, though even without these props, they managed to bring the fire. The fearsome foursome emerged as Händel’s classical composition Sarabande played, smeared in bloodstained corpsepaint, giving the cheering onlookers the first taste of their ritualistic performance, before “Swinefever…” shook the walls of The Underworld.

Frontman/guitarist Helmuth Lehner’s guttural death-style vocals countered bassist Serpenth’s black metal screams, which translated very well in-person. Even though half the (live) band weren’t even born when Belphegor formed in 1993, last week demonstrated that age is just a number as the lead guitarist and drummer were on top form. “The Devil’s Son” saw the Helmuth work the stage a lot more, coming into clear view of a photographer’s lens as he shredded. Being a band that has been active for almost 30 years, Belphegor’s setlist understandably only reflect the music they have created within the past two decades.

They seemed quite nonchalant about how well they were being received, keeping verbal interactions to a minimum. A combination of the lead vocalist’s habit of spitting onstage, bizarre poses and facial expressions did not seem to faze most as they gleefully looked on. Each of the ten hellish offerings were met with as much intensity as they delivered, with the closing riffs answered by dozens of roars of approval. Hats off to them for starting the first real mosh pit of the night.

Belphegor set-list (20.25–21.25):

1. Swinefever – Regent Of Pigs
2. The Devil’s Son
3. Sanctus Diaboli Confidimus
4. Belphegor – Hell’s Ambassador
5. Stigma Diabolicum
6. Conjuring The Dead / Pactum In Aeternum
7. Lucifer Incestus
8. Virtus Asinaria – Prayer
9. Baphomet
10. Gasmask Terror

As the headline slot approached, a buzz of excitement for I Am Morbid could be heard. There were a few people with vintage Morbid Angel tees who made sure they arrived early to secure a good viewing spot. During soundcheck, Pete Sandoval could be seen warming up on his drumkit to the fans’ delight. Those who weren’t clapping and cheering filmed the veteran drummer’s impressive mini drum solo.

Ignoring the signs plastered on pillars, multiple crowdsurfers and stagedivers didn’t want to miss their chance to steal the limelight from Vincent & co. An over-excited concertgoer flew onto the stage as “Immortal Rites” played, knocking the microphone straight into Vincent’s face. Needless to say, the frontman wasn’t too happy about this and wasn’t afraid to show it by gesturing angrily at the man to jump back into the exploding pit.

Charismatic as ever, David Vincent let London know how happy he was to be back touring “after two years of terror,” also later making a point to dedicate “Eyes To See, Ears To Hear” to the current world situation as he deemed it more relevant now than when it was written many years ago. A mix of his usual gritty vocal style and cleaner low singing here conveyed a strong sense of aggression and foreboding.

David Vincent

At times the audience were even louder than David, singing along to choruses and chanting as Bill Hudson churned out blisteringly fast solos. Recognising Sandoval’s legendary status, a cover of Terrorizer’s “Dead Shall Rise” made the setlist.

The pit was a tornado, calming down at the end only to witness Kelly McLauchlin’s guitar solo.

Kelly McLauchlin

Hudson was alone on stage for “Desolate Ways”, playing the tranquil yet haunting instrumental for the waving and slow-clapping crowd. It was actually hard to believe a lot of these people were pumping fists in the air and almost breaking their necks seconds before. Of course, the rest of the evening continued to be absolute chaos, thanks to “Dominate” riling things up again. By now, a few front rowers had retreated to safer areas, due to being crushed and hit by relentless moshers who were more than eager to take their place.

Bill Hudson

Thankfully, the Morbid Angel tribute act did not limit themselves to simply covering Blessed Are The Sick songs, exploring much of their Vincent-era discography (and even throwing in a Terrorizer number). What better way to end the night than with seventy-five minutes of 80s and 90s metal!

I Am Morbid set-list (21.55–23.10):

1. Immortal Rites [Morbid Angel cover]
2. Fall From Grace [Morbid Angel cover]
3. Visions From The Dark Side [Morbid Angel cover]
4. Day of Suffering [Morbid Angel cover]
5. Blessed Are The Sick [Morbid Angel cover]
6. Rapture [Morbid Angel cover]
7. Pain Divine [Morbid Angel cover]
8. Sworn To The Black [Morbid Angel cover]
9. Eyes to See, Ears to Hear [Morbid Angel cover]
10. Dead Shall Rise [Terrorizer cover]
11. Maze Of Torment [Morbid Angel cover]
12. Desolate Ways [Morbid Angel cover]
13. Dominate [Morbid Angel cover]
14. Where The Slime Live [Morbid Angel cover]
15. God Of Emptiness [Morbid Angel cover]
16. World Of Shit (The Promised Land) [Morbid Angel cover]