Generation Armageddon Tour
Ancient Rites, Thyrfing, Blood Red Throne and Skyfire in London, UK, 30th April 2003
by: James Montague
One might expect Europe's most populous city to be a haven for extreme metal concerts, but alas London, as with Britain in general, has all but forsaken metal for the past decade or more. Admittedly, Immortal and Hypocrisy drew a decent audience at a sizeable venue last year, but on the flip side, Enslaved had to cancel their gig on April 23rd because of poor ticket pre-sales (reportedly, only nine tickets were sold). So the scene is definitely an endangered species over here.

Thankfully, the Underworld Club in Camden persists in hosting extreme metal bands despite the lack of commercial benefit they reap. Considering that only about 50 or 60 people bothered to show up, the set-up was quite impressive, with excellent sound, a good bar and - not surprisingly given the "crowd" -- plenty of freedom to move about and test different vantage points.

The gig was due to start at 5pm, but ended up being delayed for two hours due to uncertainty about who would show up (an all too familiar story). Primordial, the main band I'd come to see, had to pull out because their drummer had been barred from entering the UK. At least the other four band members showed up, and vocalist A. A. Nemtheanga took the stage to apologise and explain the situation. Unfortunately, he ignored the crowd's exhortation for the band to play without a drummer (or with a hired hand). The other no-show was the Greek band Septic Flesh, for whom no explanation was offered. So I sat around for a while drinking beer and observing the eclectic crowd: on my right side, an Asian girl in gothic garb reading a "Digital Signal Processing" textbook (just like me, five years ago!); on my left side, an Englishman and a Danishman discussing life in their respective countries. You have to love these extreme metal crowds -- and your mother would love them too if only she dared see what the scene's really like. We really aren't such a scary lot.

7pm eventually rocked around, and first on the bill were Skyfire, a band I'd never heard of before. Judging by their accents I'd say they're Danish or Swedish; judging by their music I'd say they're a power metal band with a touch of black/death metal brutality, making them quite an apt opener for an Ancient Rites / Thyrfing gig. As well-written and as catchy as their material was, their lack of stage presence was inescapable. A pile of rotting haggis would've had more personality. Guys, seriously, you may not be happy about being the opening act in a gig played before virtually nobody, but the test of a great live band is whether you can fire up a disinterested audience. On this count, you did not succeed at all!

Norway's Blood Red Throne, who took the slot mysteriously vacated by the Dissection rip-off band Soulreaper, showed how an opening act should behave. I was actually dreading watching this band, as I'd thought they were Norway's answer to Cradle of Filth (evidently I had them confused with Blood Stained Dusk). Instead I observed brutal death metal, played fast and tight, and with healthy doses of long blonde hair being swirled around in circles by the three stringsmen and the big fat vocalist. Yes, that's more like it -- metal! The band were only given about twenty minutes to play despite all the cancellations, and the crowd were sorry to see them ago, unlike Skyfire.

The next band to come out had black war paint on their faces and launched into a ferocious attack with growled vocals. I thought this must have been Septic Flesh (whose status was still uncertain at this time), so it was quite a surprise when after the opening song the vocalist screamed "We are Thyrfing from Sweden!". Thyrfing is a band I am quite familiar with, having _Valdr Galga_ (1998) in my collection. On CD, the band is something of a guilty pleasure -- led by the keyboards a la Dimmu Borgir, but set in a Viking metal context, a la Amon Amarth. Their music is upbeat and catchy and often very cheesy, but enjoyable. On stage they seem to focus more on sonic violence, and the keyboards tended to fade into the background while the vocalist seemed more brutal. For the first time in the evening I actually recognised a few songs: "Firever", "Storms of Asgard" and possibly "The Deceitful", from their 1998 release. They put on a good performance, though towards the end I was counting the seconds until Ancient Rites would take their place.

The Belgian headliners strolled out to the opening refrain of their _Dim Carcosa_ album, Gunther Theys looking every bit the 40-year-old frontman with his impressive girth and purposeful glare. The band continued the track listing from their latest album by thumping out "Les Litanies de Satan" and "Victory or Valhalla" in impressive fashion, the drummer blasting out the black/death fury while the guitarists indulged in their power metal-tinged solo flairs. Over the course of a long set, the band played the first six songs from _Dim Carcosa_, several tracks from the early albums _Blasphemia Eternal_ and _Diabolical Serenades_ (most welcome because they were sans blastbeats, which had tended to drown out the band at times) and some from their exalted _Fatherland_ album. It was almost inevitable that the set would end with the songs "Ode to Ancient Europa" and "Mother Europe" played back-to-back. The crowd was really getting into it by this stage, with the dozen or so diehards who had banged all night being gradually joined by the recalcitrant arm-crossers. Old Man Gunther had a good rapport with audience, seeming unfazed by their small numbers and praising their metal spirit. Satan bless that man!

The pitiful crowd was rewarded for their commitment with a lengthy encore that Ancient Rites would have been forgiven for not performing out of disappointment in the London scene. But like the crowd, they are committed to metal regardless of its pauper status, and came out to thrash out loads of epic _Fatherland_ tracks. This allowed the crowd to overcome the disappointment of missing Primordial and Septic Flesh, and sent me home with some faith in London metal's ability to ride out the current dearth of interest.

(article submitted 5/5/2003)


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