…and so it was that Thee Shaman and your humble scribe did venture down the M62 to witness Serpent Venom & Black Magician purvey grim happenings, dark sorceries and great-big fuck off riffs in Liverpool, my old stomping ground, on the second night of their mini-tour together along with openers Iron Witch.
The venue for this evening of filth and debauchery was The Pilgrim, a stalwart local boozer and my former local. At two quid for a treble vodka, a cracking sunday dinner and Skynyrd and Waits on the jukebox I’ve long regarded it as the king of Liverpool pubs, yet this was the first time that I can remember seeing a gig there – aside from a hastily-arranged ‘intimate’ Sir Richard Bishop acoustic performance a few years back. I say ‘intimate’ because there were only about 20 of us there…actually I think 20 might be pushing it…anyway, I digress – as I said, this would be the first time I’d seen it used as anything other than a venue for hooching it up, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as far as capacity and sound quality.
First up to bat tonight were one of two hometown acts on the bill, Iron Witch, with a succinct display of tight metallic sludge that owes a substantial debt to Dopesick-era Eyehategod. Understand, I’m not using that as a stick to beat them with, merely acknowledging their closest and most bloody obvious musical relatives.
The young five-piece have the sick, swampy riffing that lurches into blasts of hardcore-inflected speed that EHG do so well down to a fine art, and vocalist Chris has the Mike Williams howling yowl 100% down pat. Sure, it’s far from original, but Iron Witch do it better than just about any other current band of a similar ilk that I’d care to mention, and their muscular sound hangs together well enough for their opening slot to be pretty enjoyable.
I can’t say that I’d be likely to buy a record by ’em, but I’d certainly pass half an hour watching ’em howl their way through another live set.
Next up were the second band of local-boys-made-good, and a band who have had rather an eventful time of things of late. In less than twelve months we’ve seen Black Magician appear mysteriously from the aether, play a handful of very well-received shows and record a soon-to-be-released debut album that, once unleashed will most certainly show the world exactly what the fuss is all about and exactly how warranted it is.
Thee Shaman and I were present at their second-ever live gig, supporting Premonition 13, and it was evident even at that early stage just how damn good Black Magician are. In fact, Thee Shaman was so impressed that he is making their debut album, Nature Is The Devil’s Church, the first release on his Shaman Recordings label. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!
The band were on fire tonight, well and truly firing on all cylinders after what was, according to the band themselves, a trouble-beset gig in London on the previous night, the first of this short jaunt with Serpent Venom.
Frontman Liam Yates waits off to the side of the stage as the band launch into a brief introductory instrumental before assuming his place at the front of the stage and taking vocal command. The whole band, in fact, command attention, so focussed, forceful and strident is the sound that they collectively make. More than any other young band I’ve seen over the last few years, Black Magician mean business.
The material aired tonight will make up the bulk of Nature Is The Devil’s Church, and it would be very easy indeed to assume that this was a band playing their thousandth gig, in support of their second or third album, so assured do they sound.
Driven by swirling organ and monumental carved-from-granite guitar, with able rhythmic support and throaty vocals, this is pure doom metal with nary a trace of the stoner rock or hardcore sludge that can be found in the sound of so many of their contemporaries and may be best summed up by my friend and living legend Doomlord as ‘like Atomic Rooster playing early Cathedral’. If that doesn’t make you all a-slaver with anticipation for their album or a live date in your town then there is just no pleasing you.
Following an onslaught of doomed devastation of that magnitude is a tough call, but if anyone can do it then Serpent Venom are that band.
Touring in support of their monstrous debut album Carnal Altar, the London-based four-piece are a well-oiled mean machine indeed. Purveyors of a form of no-frills doom metal so forceful that I’m forced to refer to it as Power Doom, the riffs of axeman Roland hit like bullet-time one-two punches from an Austrian brick shithouse, while the engine room of bassist Nick and drummer Paul drive the whole relentless, rolling shebang and vocalist Gaz stuns anyone getting too close to the stage with his immense roar.
Serpent Venom are a colossal beast with only one intention, to rain down the doom upon the unprotected heads of any audience unfortunate enough to get caught up in their monstrous sucking vortex of riff after riff after riff.
The songs aired from Carnal Altar are uniformly strong, and in a live setting only increase in raw power and bruising capability. Whoever decided to pair up these doomy bruisers with the dark and brooding Black Magician clearly had no idea of the elemental powers that would be unleashed. I tell you, it’s a miracle that The Pilgrim was left standing and structurally sound after tonights display of sheer unadulterated heft.
Speaking of The Pilgrim, as a venue I was very pleasantly surprised by the sound and the room in general. Everything was clear as a bell and loud as hell – often a tricky balance when there’s so much subsonic booming going on.
Iron Witch’s guitars and vocals cut through nicely, Black Magician effortlessly summoned the darkness – with particular mention going to the keyboards of Matt Ford, which were supremely balanced in the mix, scything through the guitars without smothering or overpowering – and Serpent Venom vulgarly displayed their Power Doom. All in all, a damn good bill.
After tonight, one thing became abundantly clear – in Serpent Venom, and particularly in Black Magician, the UK has some serious heavyweight contenders for the doom metal hall of fame right here. I think most people in the know are already well aware of what a force to be reckoned with Serpent Venom are, but Black Magician are merely a few footsteps behind them. Once they unleash their debut album on the unsuspecting world, prepare to tremble as we’ll see the reign of the Black Magician sweep across the globe and into all of those dark corners. Beware, beware…beware.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson
Photos by: Lee Edwards