Review by Paul Castles, photos by Richard Thompson
When a band reunites after an absence of around two decades, their pulling power with punters is not always easy to assess. That is more or less what occurred when At The Gates headlined at The Oobleck in Birmingham’s burgeoning cultural hotbed, The Custard Factory. Originally this tour – supported by Triptykon and Morbus Chron – had been scheduled to take place at the nearby HMV Institute. With initial ticket sales sluggish the decision was taken to switch to the more modest confines of The Oobleck……….. at which point tickets started shifting faster than mince pies the week before Christmas! While no blame should be directed towards the promoter, the upshot was that the Custard Factory venue was at bursting point with the promoters admitting they could probably have shifted a few hundred more tickets.
The clamour to see this tour was in hindsight understandable. All three bands have released standout albums in 2014, all three releases rated within the top 10 of the year by one respected American metal journal.
Morbus Chron may have been viewed by some as the unknown quantity of the triumvirate, although those who had done their homework would have been familiar with their compelling album Sweven. The young Stockholm crew actually began life sticking to the tried and trusted template of Swedish death metal. It’s probably pushing it to say that they experienced some kind of musical epiphany but nevertheless Sweven turned out to be a complete change of musical direction for Morbus Chron.
They have veered towards what is usually labelled prog, although that is not really doing them or their sound justice. Morbus Chron now lay down riffs so heavy and twisted that you could skewer a bull with them. The intensity is racked up higher than a bungee jumper and for large parts of their Oobleck set vocalist Robert Andersson had to take a backseat while the rampaging rhythms did the talking.
On more than one occasion the tousle-haired frontman opted to vacate the stage completely for a few minutes leaving his bandmates to reinforce their Scandinavian power surge. That’s not to say that Andersson did not have a role to play, as he most certainly did. When he was on the mic he emitted barks and yelps familiar to anyone who has ever visited Birmingham Dogs Home at feeding time. Except Morbus Chron have more bite.
Following the Swedes onto the small stage were the Swiss titans Triptykon. As a massive fan of Tom G Warrior, a Triptykon performance always feels like an event rather than a bog standard gig, such is the spiritual darkness that seems to envelope them on stage.
You don’t expect many smiles with these doom giants but it’s fair to say Tom’s demeanour was even more (Celtic) Frosty than usual. Frustrated at having to perform a slightly curtailed set on this tour anyway – with ATG the clear bill-toppers – his mood was not exactly lightened when he saw the size of the Oobleck stage. To be fair, ATG had an extra body on stage and they just about coped.
Opening with ‘Goetia’, Triptykon entered their usual dark and murky world to deliver a handful songs although regrettably just the one – ‘Altar of Deceit’ – from one of the most astonishing albums of 2014, Melana Chasmata.
Tom’s seat at the top table of extreme metal was secured years ago, through his association with iconic acts such as Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. So as always he served up a couple of Celtic Frost anthems in ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ and ‘The Usurper’. If any non-believers needed an insight into what Triptykon are all about then the sprawling 20-minute final song ‘The Prolonging’ should just about get the message across. Vibrant, dark and positively punishing in places, this head on plunge into the abyss lurches back and forth like a staggering drunk trying to find his way home.
While Tom is the band’s figurehead the commitment and talent of drummer Norman Lonhard and guitarist Viktor Santura is undeniable while charismatic bass player Vanya Slajh attacks her four-stringed partner in much the same way a hound would rip into a fox. Brutal.
In the world of mainstream music (errghh!) the thought of a band reuniting after a 20-year gap and then hawking around their old tatt in the hope of boosting their pension pot is about as digestible as one of the dietary challenges on I’m A Celebrity! That is definitely not what we’ve got with Gothenburg giants At The Gates. With a storming new album to promote, At War With Reality, this is a band definitely not living off former glories. Judging by their impassioned Oobleck performance, the veteran Swedes are in fact an even more potent force now than when first coming together more than 20 years ago.
Shoulder to shoulder on the small Oobleck stage, the axe wielding trio created just above enough floor space for frontman Tomas Lindberg to nip in and out in typically dynamic fashion, sporting his trademark baseball cap. Although Lindberg can growl and croak his way through a song as well as any death metal vocalist, his outpourings are delivered against some ferocious melodies such as on the new album’s title track and ‘Heroes And Tombs’ which starts slowly before building itself up into an incessant rolling demon.
The older material from Slaughter Of The Soul such as ‘Under A Serpent Sun’ still sounds just as vibrant more than 20 years after it was penned. Having made such a majestic and welcome return to form hopefully At The Gates will now be sticking around for many more years to come
1. Death And The Labyrinth
2. Slaughter Of The Soul
4. At War With Reality
5. Terminal Spirit Disease
6. Raped By The Light Of Christ
7. The Circular Ruins
8. Under A Serpent Sun
9. City Of Mirrors
10. Suicide Nation
11. Heroes And Tombs
13. World Of Lies
14. The Burning Darkness
15. The Book Of Sand (The Abomination)
16. Blinded By Fear
17. Kingdom Gone
18. The Night Eternal