BEHEMOTH / AT THE GATES / WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM - O2 Institute, Birmingham 07.02.19

STEVE JOHNSTON

PHOTO CREDITS: STEVE JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

With the continuation of the ‘Ecclesia Diabolica’ World Tour - in support of 2018’s acclaimed eleventh album release ‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’ – Polish blackened death metal veterans BEHEMOTH bring their Unholy Trinity completed by AT THE GATES and WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM to Birmingham’s O2 Institute.

From the Pacific Northwest come dark ambient black metallers WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM - the brainchild of brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver. Crammed onstage, along with Kody Keyworth and touring members Peregrine Somerville and Brittany McConnell, they unleash 'Angrboda', 'The Old Ones Are With Us' and 'Born From The Serpent's Eye', for thirty-plus minutes of imposing, pitch-black ferocity and unrestrained lunacy.

There’s an intriguing uniqueness to WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM and the three haunting tracks from the 2017 album ‘Thrice Unwoven’. Acoustic intros, brutal dark riffage, long ambient interludes and feral vocals, all combine in pulsating waves of tension and calmness. The interconnection between band and audience is wrapped up in a darkened labyrinth of atmospherics. It’s a monumental opening show, one to easily carry you away, if you let it.

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AT THE GATES are a headline act - in fact, it’s been over twenty years since the Swedish melodic death metal pioneers last undertook a support tour. While frontman Tomas Lindberg and company jumped on the logic of this outing - based on the unique sound of each band - a pronounced deviation from WITTR comes via oddly light pre-show tunes, culminating with the themes from Benny Hill and The Muppets.

No time is wasted as AT THE GATES whip the Brummie crowd into a frenzy with the title track from last year’s much anticipated sixth studio album 'To Drink From The Night Itself'. The melodic and melancholic pummelling is sustained with a set of unbridled death metal and thrashing energy, to include influential classics 'Slaughter Of The Soul', 'Cold' and ’Blinded By Fear’.

In the game for nearly thirty years, the intensity of AT THE GATES has not diminished in the slightest. Along with Lindberg’s trademark strangled shriek and fist-pumping encouragement to the clique before him, Adrian Erlandsson maintains every galloping beat, while bassist ­Jonas Björler and duo guitarists Martin Larsson and recent recruit Jonas Stålhammar tenaciously commit to the all-out attack.

Like so many visitors to the Second City, the capped Lindberg tells us how pleased the band are to be back in the birthplace of heavy metal; and as the members depart throughout ‘The Night Eternal’, they are shown the mutual pleasure which AT THE GATES continue to bestow upon audiences around the world.

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During the changeover, we stand listening to something a little more in keeping with the expected tone of the evening. As the voices of creepy kids chant “Jesus Christ… I forgive thee not!” it’s now that I become aware of how packed out the venue is, and the accuracy of BEHEMOTH mastermind Nergal, with his prophecy that this tour would “manifest a sacrilegious swarm”.

The chanting gets louder, the anticipation builds, the giant black curtain drops and we’re away with ‘Wolves Ov Siberia’ and the visual feast that is BEHEMOTH. Nergal, Orion, Inferno and Seth – all looking the part they play in the complex, adventurous and sinister themes of occultism and mythology.

Exploring new musical terrain and creating a follow-up to a masterpiece like ‘The Satanist’ is no small feat, but clearly, BEHEMOTH have succeeded. For ‘Bartzabel’ Nergal takes centre stage in robe and mitre for one of his numerous mock rituals, and the crowd lap it up.

From the theatrical costumes, corpse paint and serpent mic-stands; to the smoke cannons, inverted crosses and sinister imagery entwined with the audio drama and fury – this is a spectacular sensory overload of the highest order. The set proceeds with a mix of old and new including: ‘Ov Fire and the Void’, ‘God = Dog’, ‘Conquer All’, ‘Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica’ and ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’.

The capstone of the main set is a battering version of 'Chant for Eschaton 2000' before BEHEMOTH return to the fray for ‘Lucifer’ and ‘We Are the Next 1000 Years’. The confetti cannon may slightly undermine any blasphemous, force-to-be-reckoned-with moniker, but nobody cares as the band stands together, front of stage, and hammer out the marching beat to ‘Coagula’, the instrumental outro to ‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’.

Whatever your take on the genre, with their dark haunting sound and high energy theatrics, it can’t be denied that BEHEMOTH conquer all in a performance. I have no doubt they provide the same stunning show at every given opportunity; one of blistering intensity and primeval power, everything that metal should be. 

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