Review by Paul Castles Photos by Rich Thompson
Stuck in one of Birmingham’s notorious road tunnels with a sea of blinking red lights as far as the eye could see I sat and reflected on just how popular Polish veterans Behemoth have become. After all, their album The Satanist has topped more end of year polls than a Legs 11 dancer. When I finally reached the Academy to discover that not even the top tier was open it slowly dawned on me that the traffic mayhem around the city centre was not made up purely of satanic metal fans but in fact Christmas shoppers heading for the oh so exciting German market. And while a frothing tankard of Bavarian beer is not without its attractions, it could not compete with a phenomenal four-band bill at the Academy.
You had to arrive early to catch Winterfylleth but those who did were treated to another compelling display from these majestic northern maestros. The Divination of Antiquity is one of the albums of the year and live Winterfylleth are a force of immense proportion. Their unique formula of pagan inspired black metal, with its roots firmly embedded in medieval England, is almost hypnotic in its power. Having made their mark at both Bloodstock and Damnation this year, Winterfylleth continue to climb ever higher and they certainly started the evening off in Birmingham with a bang rather than a whimper.
Grand Magus were next up with their pummelling riffs which simply flatten you like a steamroller. The Swedish trio’s latest album, Triumph and Power, is released early in the New Year, and the title track typified their energy and enthusiasm. Popular set closer ‘Hammer Of The North’ veered towards panto season with the appreciative crowd responding to the invitation to join in the chorus.
The first of the two Polish headliners to appear were death metal giants Decapitated who used Sabbath anthem ‘War Pigs’ as their intro, immediately endearing themselves to the Brummie faithful. Once Ozzy’s final cries had faded away, Decapitated kicked in with ‘Veins’. The Polish perpetrators of aural punishment won’t use nutcrackers to tackle the walnuts this Christmas if they’re within reach of a sledgehammer.
Frontman Rafał Piotrowski is a whirlwind on stage, whipping up the pit throughout. The only thing likely to stop him is if he stumbles over his own dreadlocks which must be among the longest in metal. Original member Vogg is an axe machine creating tenacious technical riffs on songs such as ‘Blood Mantra’ and ‘Exiled in Flesh’ that land like blows in the pit of your stomach. Drummer Michał Łysejko, who only joined the band this year, is a breathtaking whirling dervish with his rumbling blastbeats bouncing off the Academy walls.
Decapitated may experience untold problems getting through customs these days, but when it all comes together on stage they’re irresistible and in recent years have matured into one of the most savage death metal bands of the era..
The mood became darker as Behemoth finally emerged from the shadows. Christmas or not, these Lucifer lovers were never likely to be full of Christian cheer. Few bands have written quite so many songs paying homage to the cloven hoofed beast of darkness.
The success of The Satanist is testament to Behemoth’s musical prowess. But that doesn’t mean they’re prepared to let the music do all the talking. Live, they use nearly as many props as one of the festive shows currently pulling in the crowds at the nearby Alexandra Theatre.
Opening with the captivating ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, Behemoth effectively open the gates of hell and invite you to join them inside the furnace. Dressed as though they’ve just gone toe to toe with the Orcs in a battle for Mordor supremacy, Behemoth are a fearsome proposition in every sense. With his ornately carved mic stand almost acting as a pulpit from which to preach the lectures of Lucifer, frontman Nergal is a clergyman’s nightmare, an untamed beast who dances with the devil.
While the visual impact of Behemoth in full flow is jaw-dropping stuff, aurally the impact is no less. Intense, searing and frightening. Delivering tracks from The Satanist, such as ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ and ‘Ov Fire And The Void’, Nergal and his band of not so merry men crash their way through a wall of nihilistic darkness. At one point Nergal sent wafts of incense spiralling across the first few rows by waving a thurible on an extended chain like some kind of Russian Orthodox priest.
Bassist Orion meanwhile is unlikely to earn his hygiene certificate any time soon thanks to his habit of taking a mouthful of water and then spraying it straight up at the start of almost every song in a way that anyone whose seen a whale pump water from its blowhole will recognize. But then whales can’t play bass like Orion!
With the season of goodwill fast approaching Behemoth bowed out with the epic ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’ – Put that in your Christmas stocking!
1. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
2. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
3. Conquer All
4. Decade Of Therion
5. As Above So Below
6. Slaves Shall Serve
7. Christians To The Lions
8. The Satanist
9. Ov Fire And The Void
10. Furor Divinus
11. Ludzie Wschodu
12. Alas, Lord Is Upon Me
13. At The Left Hand Ov God
14. Chant For Eschaton 2000
15. O Father O Satan O Sun!