By Alex Platt
Black metal has a loyal and dedicated following, from people of all corners of the world. For years people have gathered to hear their favourite bands screeching at them, their heavy riffs pulsating out through the room and whipping the energy of the crowd into a frenzy. I have been a fan of death metal for a few years now, but here I am, inside London’s famous club Heaven, at my first real black metal gig and I have made a huge, terrible mistake. I have decided to wear a slightly faded yet still quite bright and obvious orange t-shirt. There’s a reason they call it black metal and I apparently missed the memo that states that the official uniform is to make sure every item of clothing you’re wearing is a shade of black. I stick out like the sorest of thumbs amidst the dark sea of the audience. It definitely shows that this is my first gig. I hope they don’t turn on me with torches and pitchforks, Frankenstein’s monster driven to the edge of the cliff.
But actually, apart from the occasional odd one or two looks I’m left alone, probably judged silently from afar, but I can deal with that, that’s how I spend most of my days anyway. Woe is me I know. Anyhow, back to the what you’re all here to actually read.
Heaven is is famous for being one of London’s biggest and best gay clubs, so I was surprised to hear that this is where the gig was, but actually upon entering it’s actually very fitting. Huge expansive bare brick arched corridors lead off into the corners of the club and I feel a little lost already. I’m meeting some friends of mine later so for now I grab a beer and head into the main room.
The support band, Aluk Todolo, are already creating chaos on stage as i enter the cavernous main room. It stretches back further than you would believe based on just looking at the entrance to the club, and it is absolutely packed solid with black metal enthusiasts. The huge industrial brick arched walls and ceiling perfectly capture the onslaught of blast beats and heavy riffs and hurtle them back at us. It’s like getting punched in the face. Twice.
Despite only having three members and no vocalist (not one that I could see or hear) Aluk Todolo sure know how to make some noise. Their songs seem to last way over the 5 minute mark (although to be fair that isn’t that uncommon in the black metal scene) and they all seem to blend into one, though this isn’t a bad thing, as their music weaves and smashes its way out into the audience. I always forgot how much stamina you need to have to play this sort of music, with non-stop blast beats and tremolo picking it must be exhausting, but if the three guys on stage are anything to go by it must also be exhilarating. They end their set in a crescendo of noises that washes over us, before heaving their guitars into the air before us, like a newborn baby announced as the prophecy. Many devil horns are thrown up in response from the crowd.
Listen to ‘Born From The Serpent’s Eyes’ here:
Now it’s time for the main event. I’m pumped. I’ve know about WITTR for a few years now, ever since a tattoo artist I follow on instagram posted about them. In an attempt to be cool and spread my music wings I purchased their first album ‘Diadem of 12 Stars’ and have been listening ever since. It’s already dark yet somehow the lights dim even more in the venue and a lone candle is lit up on stage. Great billows of smoke cascade from the stage out into the audience and shapes and forms of men are briefly glimpsed moving around. The candle is extinguished and the band are bathed in a warm orange light. The opening guitar strums of ‘Born From The Serpent’s Eyes’, the opening track of latest album ‘Thrice Woven’ are heard, immediately transporting me back to a time in the past of great halls are violent battles, before the band launch into the visceral chaos of the rest of the song. To me, it’s incredible, the noises and volume increased by the setting. Main vocalist Nathan Weaver is centre stage, his guttural, feral screams echoing out. Attached to this microphone stand is a strange symbol that looks like an alter, Weaver the preacher and all of us here to listen to his demonic sermon. Midway through the song the riffs take a break as a gentle, almost dreamlike voice slivers out of the PA system. These are the vocals of Anna von Hausswolff, however I cannot see her on stage. Still, it’s a nice touch to have, before the band launch straight back into the battle of noise.
We’re transported through a good portion of the bands back catalogue. Of course, each song ranges from anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes, so actually we don’t hear that many. There is a very very brief moment when the speakers seem to cut out for the guitars, but it doesn’t halt the band at all, in fact it just seems to drive them on. They’re shrouded in smoke for the majority of the gig, and only once are we, the audience, addressed. It’s a simple exchange, of just one word. “Thanks”.
The band prefer to let their music do the talking, and I’m glad they do. It would ruin the atmosphere if the band started engaging in generic chit-chat with the audience. This is very much not that kind of gig. They tear through their set like a demonic beast possessed, on the hunt for blood. They finish on the excellent ‘I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots’ from the album, ‘Two Hunters’. As soon as the song finishes the band leave the stage, and no encore ensues, which is unusual and a bit of a shame, especially as the band still have 15 minutes or so till curfew (but it might have been a challenge to fit one of their songs in in that time!). The house lights don’t come on so we’re not sure, but we see the crew moving around, gathering up cables and setting rigs down. It’s an odd end to an otherwise incredible show.
I grab my coat and head off into the freezing London night, my ears still ringing and a warm fire lit in my belly that’ll keep me from the cold all the way home.