Candlefest 2011 – London Camden Underworld – Saturday, 12 November 2011
By Gary Lukes
Photos by Antony Roberts
Long regarded as one the bastions of the underground metal scene, it’s possible that Candlelight has never shone as bright as in recent years. Having bolstered its impressive roster with some of the finest international artists, you could be forgiven for forgetting some of the acts closer to home. That’s why nights like these remind you with stinging clarity just how strong the scene is in the UK and Ireland.
Commencing proceedings were post-black metal newcomers Falloch. Despite the slightly unfortunate sounding moniker, the band exhibited a lot of promise. Early into their live careers, the members tread timidly across the stage. The band evoke Fen‘s softer side and the more reserved moments of Agalloch‘s “Ashes Against the Grain“. While not remotely original, they’re not without their potential.
Unfortunately, it all seemed to break down towards the end of their set, with their vocalist/guitarist storming offstage, leaving his bemused bandmates to face the music. Or, in this case, the stark silence. Apparently, there were guitar problems; “fucked“ being the official prognosis. While the remainder of the band were left staring, stunned, into the growing early afternoon crowd, efforts were being made to rectify the situation. But it was all for nothing, the guitarist moodily packing his gear and leaving his colleagues to apologise on his behalf.
Eastern Front’s self-appointed “War-Torn Black Metal” offered a considerably more old school take on the genre. A blur of corpse paint, dry ice and spikes, the clamour of their thick buzzsaw riffage was like a clarion call to the panzer division. While they may have brought nothing new to the war-room table, their take on the genre was solid, drawing a rousing reception from their comrades in the front row. Seemingly destined to be deployed to their outpost as perennial London support act, they still manage to make tactical advances with each show.
Xerath were far more forward leaning and considerably less frostbitten. Fusing meshuggah-style riffs with the monstrous groove of Pantera and the dynamics of Strapping Young Lad, the boys from Basingstoke did their utmost to wreak whiplash-related injuries on the multitude amassing on the dance floor. While their sample-laden sound can come across as slightly cluttered on record, in the flesh the guitars are fully unshackled to monopolise the mix. While they still haven’t won me over on disc, their live show pulls no punches and leaves no neck inert.
I’ve seen October File described as a cross between industrial metal and sludge, but I can only assume that they’re a wholly different beast on record; coming across on the night as sludge-influenced metalcore to my ears. Frontman Ben Hollyer prowls the stage with a commanding presence, but the music fails to move me. While I certainly didn’t dislike the act, I found them a little too languid for my liking.
The Rotted crash the party with all the savoir-faire of a switchblade to the throat, strong-arming the revellers into shotgunning the band’s heady brew of deranged d-beat death metal. Details disappear into the haze and all I’m left with are chaotic memories of the maelstrom, the mayhem carrying monikers such as “Anarchogram Sun”, “Rex Oblivione” and “Nothin’ But a Nosebleed”. At its most hedonistic, even Gorerotted classic “Only Tools and Corpses” was regurgitated for our consumption. These guys absolutely buried me at Bloodstock, and tonight they shoveled on the soil in a continuation of the chaos.
Producing one of my favourite albums of 2010 in “The Mercian Sphere“ and headlining Candlefest this time last year, Winterfylleth looked set to reach their regal perch at the top of the new wave of black metal. It’s difficult to say whether the inevitable controversy that unceasingly seems to surround the band has held them back, but it certainly hasn‘t sullied Chris Naughton‘s mood; the frontman sporting a huge smile for most of his band’s set.
From the majesty of “A Valley Thick with Oaks” to the stirring hymnal finale of usual set-closer “Defending the Realm”, the band envelop the Underworld with their rustic, ardent anthems. The imperious riffing and folky undertones recalling the earlier, hypnotic guitar-work of Drudkh as well as older Enslaved. Their set culminates with “Mam Tor”, the first Winterfylleth song I ever heard and still a magnificent monument to their sound. Its swaying rhythms weaving woozily amongst the spellbound audience. A triumphant return to the Underworld.
Altar of Plagues set sail under the cover of darkness. The house lights are drowned out so that only red bulbs bathe the band, indistinct under their illumination. Guitars gradually drone into view and the band slowly ascend into the towering riffage of “Earth as a Womb”.
While the Irishmen have been castigated by certain black metal puritans for their (perceived) dilution of the genre, they should be genuinely lauded for their use of post-rock textures and dynamics. It’s this very ability, not to mention the occasional lush tides of sound appropriated from the shoegaze genre, that manage to lift them above the massing herds of post-black metal artists that have recently flocked to the scene.
The band moves into companion piece, “Earth as a Furnace”, which in turn hums into the surroundings of “Feather and Bone“, sustained guitar notes drifting under the thunder of drums, which clap overheard before the song ruptures into a wall of sound. The band flail around the stage, while the audience remain static, too enraptured by the spectacle before them. The conflagration escalates before flaring out into a staccato melody, various band members dropping to their knees during the impassioned finale, as if impelled by the pulse of the tribal drumming. Then the turbulence recedes, the slate sky turning pale as the storm retreats and the house lights return. Set of the year? I can only see their headlining date at The Borderline in December topping this (4th December if you don’t already know).
Anaal Nathrakh are pissed off. While “The Codex Necro” proved that the Brummies can vent their anger with the best of them, tonight the band are seething; the object of their ire being none other than US immigration. Apparently Mick Kenney could not be guaranteed a return to his home in America should he venture out to play tonight’s show. This left one half of the band’s founding line-up stranded across the pond and Anaal Nathrakh facing cancellation. But, to quote the band themselves, submission is for the weak. Equipped with a stand-in, the band take to the Underworld’s stage, triggering the apocalypse with “Drug-Fucking Abomination”, raining fire and brimstone from the venue’s long-flung ceiling.
Cutting the cataclysm temporarily to explain the absence of Kenney and praise the performance of Altar of Plagues, the band resume raising hell and inciting ruin, treating us to the debut live performances of “Lama Sabachthani” and old favourite “Satanarchist”. Stagediving abounds, torrents of bodies falling from the heavens like a precursor to the end times. The curtains are pulled on the catastrophe with usual set-closer, the abominable anthem “Pandemonic Hyperblast”. A fitting dirge for the death of humanity and the ideal end to one devastating label showcase.