Once again, before all the musical madness begins at the 013 there’s some more chitty chatty business to take care of. The basement of the V39 is packed out today for a seminar discussing the Evolution Of Norwegian Black Metal.
Harald Fossberg, author of a recent book on the very subject is in attendance, alongside discussion facilitator Dave Sweetapple and Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson, who of course actually built part of the scene themselves with their blackened onslaughts back in the day. The foursome shoot the shit over, amongst other things, the early, primitive tape-trading days, the evolution of the NBM sound itself from the early Bathory records and Thorns demos, the infamous Pytten’s production techniques and the importance of Norway’s natural imagery and beauty to the definition. Ivar and Grutle also reveal details behind a strong sense of “comradeship” between the vast majority of the scene’s core members, declaring that the more widely acknowledged sense of hatred and exclusivity was there merely as a filter to keep unwanted outsiders away. As Fossberg clearly states, his book is entirely about the music and is not a “who lit the matches and who brought the petrol” account of the Church Burnings and brutal murders which brought the scene the majority of its publicity. Ending with a few words on the state of the movement today, Ivar poignantly declares: “I’m so glad there’s still hopelessness out there!”.
The day proper begins in a serenely gentle fashion with the slow, lingering, morbid tones of Oxfordshire’s Coma Wall – the non-electric alter ego of Undersmile. Tom McKibbin‘s gentle banjo strums and delicate drumwork neatly undercut Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne‘s morose vocal mantras, all ably backed with live cello and bass guitar from Olly Corona-Brown. No-one in Stage01 speaks as the sorrow drizzles down around them. They’ll be plugged in and back with a vengeance later on…
Gaz Jennings still remains one of my favourite metal guitar players. A fellow Coventrian lad, the guy doesn’t even need to exhale for the first time every morning and new riffs are already flooding from his very pores. It was never going to be long before he was back behind the Gibson SG once again after Cathedral called it a day and in Death Penalty, his new band is a tasty melting pot of classic steel. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but as sultry Belgium vocalist Michelle Nocon opens her lungs into the Green Room backed by Gaz and his new rhythm section, Raf Meukens (bass) and Frederik Cosemans (drums), power riffage hangs in the air. Suffering a couple of technical hitches seems to hamper their fluidity and tightness however and with the vocals not quite high enough in the mix, the performance is a tad akin to a pub-rock, Joan Jett tribute band. Michelle may be a strong singer, but she’s unfortunately poor entertainment value when the equipment gremlins strike, which unfortunately leaves Death Penalty feeling a little half-baked as a proposition.
I step in to watch a little of the main stage screening of the entire Dawn Of The Dead film, beautifully interjected at key moments with the live musical soundtrack from Goblin. This classic gem of a ‘70s splatter flick by George A Romero is a perfect foil for the eloquently-timed Italian troupe to work their exploitation-funk mastery and the sight of dozens of poorly made-up zombies being run over by a BP oil tanker is made all the more entertaining by their perfectly synchronised, Claudio Simonetti-led groove.
With guitarist Zack Weil wearing a “Nine ways to Kill Bart Simpson” t-shirt, there’s an oddball goofiness about Chicago’s retro thrash mob Oozing Wound from the very onset. The good-natured three-piece are as tight and destructive as a battle tank formation however over in Stage01 on the last night of their European tour. Tearing into Everyone I Hate Must Be Killed, Oozing Wound don’t hold up for the next 45 minutes as they showcase a metric fuckton of new material from their two slamming records Earth Suck and Retrash. Despite their youthfulness, the Windy City trio are a formidable proposition with Kyle Reynolds‘ precision smashing behind the kit and Kevin Cribbin‘s bass acrobatics bouncing around merrily at stage left. Will thrash ever die? With these guys melding together a hefty slice of sped-up sludge with a thoroughly off-the-wall sense of humour on the likes of Hippie Speedball and Welcome To The Spaceship, Motherfucker! I sincerely hope not!
With song titles like Stoned To The Grave, Metal Movie Marijuana Massacre Meltdown, Witchfynder Finder and of course the infamous Witchtanic Helluncinations, it’s hard to watch Acid Witch without removing your tongue from your cheek. After forming originally as a two-man project, the now four-piece band are surprisingly tight and blast the Het Patronaat stage loudly enough to raise the horned one himself from below decks. They posess a juicy swagger and bounce for such a gory, riff-laden outfit but with diminutive frontman Slasher Dave‘s theatrics resembling a doom-metal Dani Filth onstage, alongside his impressive cookie-monster vocals, it could be difficult for some to know just how serious Acid Witch really are. Still, if you like gigantic riffs, spooky haunted house Hammonds, shitty old horror movies and a healthy dose of laughing at heavy metal, as I do, then Acid Witch were definitely your perfect band of the weekend.
Returning back to the Het in thirty minutes time, Tombs are so eviscerating in their assault on the senses that they may well end up reducing the hallowed hall to rubble. Propelled forwards by Charlie Schmid‘s utterly enthralling blasting behind the kit, the American fivesome scour every landscape within the realms of progressive black metal, looping in some darkened electronica along the way. Savage Gold was a pick for many for album of the year in 2014 and based on this avalanche of absolute brutality, I can’t argue that point any more firmly. The pulverising Edge Of Darkness in particular is a strident monolith that falls like an oak on the 600-strong audience.
If there’s one band this weekend that will find you eyes closed, head down and spaced away on a trip that seems to last for the rest of eternity, it’s artists in residence The Heads. “We don’t get out much!” laughs long-time guitarist/vocalist Simon Price as the foursome lock into the series of heavy-ass jams to end all heavy-ass jams to a packed house in the main hall. There’s endless reverb, feedback and psychedelic madness throughout their shift tonight, but the thing that strikes me is just how coherent the whole set is, bearing in mind how inactive the band have been. Every single piece chows down hard on an urgent, groovy swing that would make any band from Earthless to Blue Cheer toke and choke on their Green with envy. There’s so much flower power boogie (as well as wacko tobacco) in the air that The Heads would probably take off and fly with the kites if permitted. In addition to the performance itself, there’s a set of brain-chasming visuals laid down by the one and only Walter Roadburn himself and they really are rather cosmic indeed. It’s exclusive mastery like this that only Roadburn can summon and as the walls of bass finally subside it feels like I’ve lost a permanent part of my mind.
Undersmile are so dark, petrifying and sinister that they might well be the missing link between Babes In Toyland and diSEMBOWELMENT. The aforementioned Oxford quartet now sees Hel and Taz decked out in long red-laced dresses and a pair of Gibson SGs, but don’t be fooled by their innocent looks – their hallowed tales are grim, disturbing and thoroughly unnerving at every turn. Ringing out a series of funeral doom chords so unpredictable that it hurts my soul, backed by their respective husbands Tom and Olly and some haunting visuals, it’s no wonder that their deathly screams and suicidally slow odes have attracted a huge crowd to humidify the life out of the Green Room. With the searing heat and those hypnotising empty stares from the ladies in red, I’ll gladly retain my opinion that Undersmile are barely paralleled and one of the most terrifying acts out there in music today.
Mugstar might win the award for slowest burning band of the weekend. Playing the Het Patronaat in a set designed to back the Ad Marginem film (by Liam Yates of Black Magician fame and featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by the members of Coltsblood, no less) which is projected simultaneously onto the backdrop behind the musicians, the Liverpool psyche rockers slowly build layer upon layer of tribal mantras until the volume is near deafening. Not one for the short of concentration this, you’ve got to be into their trip for the lonnnnng haul underneath an elephant dump-load of droning drum progressions.
With Carl McCoy’s background baritones finally fading in the main hall, the crush to either the Green Room for Urfaust or Stage01 for Coltsblood is frankly unbearable. I opt for the latter and get as far as the back door, although I can already hear that the Liverpudlian trio are clearing struggling with monitor issues. Still, when they do crank into action, John McNulty (bass, vocals), Jemma McNulty (guitar) and Jay Plested (drums) blast out what are easily the filthiest doom sounds of the weekend. As necro as Darkthrone on a cough syrup comedown, their churning bass grooves and sporadic, Neanderthal vocals are enough to rattle even the most blackened of skeletons with selected cuts from the devastating Into the Unfathomable Abyss album. Fuck me, these guys lay down some intense wastelands and with Conan having laid the same room to complete destruction in 2012, I can’t help but wonder how bright the future is for these dark menaces from Merseyside.
Zombi, for me at least, pose a slightly odd proposition as the final act of the night in the 013’s giant main hall. I’m full of admiration for the Pittsburgh duo (drummer Anthony Paterra and the hero that is Steve Moore on bass and synthesisers) and their delicious cosmic jams are as always full of mystery, wonder, jazz and experimentation. But there’s no real lights or movie show to accompany their audial display and the duo themselves offer little in the way of on-stage entertainment besides their cranium-bending skillsets behind their instruments. Perhaps I read this all wrong or it’s just not my thing, but as badass and loud as their sound is, I guess I just wanted the final act of this mighty Saturday night to culminate in something a little larger than a soundtrack to my vacant thoughts. Sorry chaps!
And so with the blood pulsing from my ears to my brain and back again, it’s time to hit the hay. There was so much to do today, it was difficult to keep up. I wanted to catch some Botanist, some King Dude, some Black Anvil, some Urfaust, some Your Highness and some Fistula, but it simply wasn’t possible. Oh well, at least the Afterburner tomorrow will be nice and relaxing, right…?
Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions