One can only marvel at the incompetence behind the organization of this year's Xmas Fest. For starters, the lengthy queue outside the Camden Palace only started shuffling into the venue a full forty minutes over the advertised opening time. This, combined with the security guards being somewhat overzealous in fulfilling their given task of ensuring our "safety", resulted in there being a decidedly sparse audience (some thirty odd revellers) clustering at the foot of the stage for Misery Index's opening set. This is just as well, since it appears that the Baltimore death metal outfit are not afforded the luxury of a proper soundcheck, causing their outstanding brand of extremity to dissipate into a reverberating, muddied mess. Half the set, consisting primarily out of cuts from their excellent _Retaliate_ opus, sees Jason Netherton's vocals buried entirely beneath the wall of guitar noise, and it is only when they air "Demand the Impossible" that good things look set to start happening. The collective look of frustration and malice on their faces say it all when they exit the stage though, and the greatest irony of it all is that their merchandise is entirely sold out an hour afterwards -- which, in my mind, constitutes a fair number of disappointed fans.
The audience may have expanded almost exponentially by the time Italian Cradle of Filth clones Graveworm take to the stage, but the sound problems remain. With their synths barely audible, songs like "Legions Unleashed" sound even weaker than their album counterparts, and ultimately Graveworm's stint does not amount to much more than a second consecutive reason why the individual(s) responsible for today's audio production should shortly be claiming unemployment.
By comparison, Dew-Scented's half hour bathing in the stage lights is wholly more enjoyable. Possibly because on the surface their music is less complex than their two forerunners, the likes of "Inwards", "Bitter Conflict", "Acts of Rage" and "Flesh Reborn" hit hard and satisfyingly heavy. While the entire band are clearly highly skilled musicians, it is the consummate showmanship of vocalist Leif Jensen that clearly drives this band's performance, and his exuberance for the material makes one want to enjoy them even more.
I unfortunately miss Amon Amarth's 17:15 slot, but return to the floor just in time to see five tall, lanky gentlemen dressed to the hilt in some very debonair-looking suits pick up their instruments and prepare to unleash Hades. This, of course, could only mean the arrival of Akercocke, a band I greet with mixed feelings. True, their latest _Choronzon_ effort was a highly enjoyable slice of brutality, but I also recall seeing them perform in support of Cradle of Filth earlier this year and delivering a decidedly drab and fallacious spectacle. Still, I'm more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and as it turns out, they are a markedly improved live act. While the sound gremlins remain a constant, even the most hellacious audio problems cannot hide the sinister genius of songs like "Becoming the Adversary", "A Skin for Dancing In" and "Enraptured by Evil". The true highlight of Akercocke's set, however, is drummer David Gray, whose almost insanely technical style is as bewildering as it is jaw-dropping.
Things are set to get even more lively, as Nile hit the stage with their now-familiar Egyptian intro music providing the backdrop to vocalist/bassist Jon Vesano's welcoming war-cry. Like a general leading his troops into battle, he demands response and receives it en masse, clearly establishing who the crowd favourites are. Kicking off the ritual with "Chapter for Transforming Into a Snake" and "Barra Edinazu", Nile are almost scarily intense and conjure up an atmosphere of such primitive brutality that the Camden Palace feels shaken to its foundations. As usual, the band do not skip a beat as they blast through "The Blessed Dead", "Sarcophagus", "Churning the Maelstrom" and "Masturbating the War God", before finally concluding with "The Black Seeds of Vengeance" -- definitely the hands-down winner of loudest audience response of the evening. It's been said many time before, but it begs repetition: Nile are, as tonight proves, one of the most exciting, vibrant and challenging death metal outfits of our present point in time, and without a shadow of a doubt, one of extreme music's most important assets.
With the anticipation of tonight's headliners almost reaching fever pitch, a number of punters get a tad overzealous and begin the Deicide-chant early; not the most welcoming of scenario for Germany's Destruction. While some of the audience are seemingly exhilarated by the band's forty five minute sojourn, I find them monotonous to the extreme. Where fellow thrashers Death Angel blew my head off and left my jaw stuck to the floor when they played London a few months ago, my experience of Destruction is very similar to having molten lava poured down my boxer shorts. They play old songs ("Incriminated", "Bestial Invasion"), they play new songs ("Metal Discharge", "The Butcher Strikes Back") -- it all sucks.
When Destruction head for the exit after what feels like an eternity, the time finally arrives for Deicide. A lot can be said for the remarkably poor quality of the Floridian outfit's recent releases; much in the same way as one can yawn at the tedium of Glen Benton's anti-Christian, anti-Roadrunner, anti-music press rants. Yet, for all the clichés and all the wallowing in mediocrity, one undeniable fact remains, and that is that Deicide's first three efforts were phenomenally powerful and still to this day can hold up to anything released since. As was the case with Deicide's trip to the Mean Fiddler in October last year, Glen is in good spirits as he makes his way to the stage, and declares his undying love for the UK. For the next hour, the band proceed to batter our senses with "Children of the Underworld", "Bastards of Christ", "Bible Basher", "Lunatic of God's Creation", "Sacrificial Suicide", "Serpents of the Light", "Once Upon a Cross", "Mephistopheles", "Dead but Dreaming", "Deicide", "When Satan Rules This World", and "Dead by Dawn". Unfortunately we get nothing off the band's forthcoming _Scars of the Crucifix_ supposed return-to-form, save for Glen's claim that it sounds like _Legion_, but it doesn't matter. Tonight's show is fantastic. The crowd lap it up. The Deicide boys genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves on stage. And ultimately, if _Scars of the Crucifix_ can harness even half the passion and enthusiasm displayed here tonight, it may well live up to the substantial hype that's currently trumpeting its arrival.