Review by Paul Castles Photos by Steve Worrall
Very occasionally a band announces some UK tour dates with a glaring omission of black hole proportions – no West Midlands gig! This was the case with Canadian crucifix crunchers Blood Ceremony, whose sprinkling of UK shows were part of a wider European tour.
Entering down the stairs into a dark cellar, Borderline certainly proved the perfect venue for the acclaimed Toronto torchbearers of Satan. It was an equally auspicious setting for the endearing support act Spiders. This Swedish quartet were the perfect starter and any arachnophobes present quickly had their worst fears squashed when singer Ann-Sofie Hoyles bounced onto the stage, arms outstretched, resplendent in a gold lamè cape.
Opening with ‘Mad Dog’, Spiders were evidently in no mood for an easy night, throwing themselves full-on into every song. The blonde Swedish singer dominated the small stage throwing that cape around with sufficient mastery and style to give Batman and Robin a run for their money. The energetic guitar driven sound was vibrant enough without the added glitz.
By a rare coincidence this was my second successive gig where the singer also showed great skill and flair with the harmonica. Neil Fallon of Clutch was the mouthorgan mouthpiece at the Birmingham Academy and at Borderline, Ann-Sofie also showed she had the magic touch. On old favourite ‘Hang Man’ she hollered ‘I’m just a victim’ while banging her head with great alacrity while simultaneously shaking her maracas – and no, that is not a euphemism.
There’s a touch of Suzi Quatro about this Swedish songstress and she’s got a great deep voice which she used to commanding effect on the only slower song of the set ‘Above the Sky’, another number in which she demonstrated her dexterity with the harmonica. By now the crowd were eating from her hand and Borderline reverberated to fevered clapping as the Swedes crashed through final number ‘Love Me’.
Spiders are expected back in the UK later in the year – getting caught up in their web is great fun.
With the crowd pumped up like a beach balloon, Blood Ceremony sauntered on stage soon afterwards to a great reception. And so they should, because from the moment the familiar strum of ‘Witchwood’ opened proceedings Blood Ceremony set about delivering a set with more polish than Mr Sheen.
The opening number, the first track on last year’s remarkable album The Eldritch Dark, transformed Borderline into a devil worshipping crypt with the hypnotizing singer Alia O’Brien warning everyone “Black magic has risen in Witchwood”.
Like so many Blood Ceremony songs ‘Witchwood’ is best appreciated after repeated listening as it’s got more dark alleys to explore than Dickens’ London. One minute sultry and scary, dripping with blood and then entering a realm of kaleidoscopic wizardry from the 70s and by the time the hallucinogenic frenzied finale arrived a quick glance over my shoulder revealed a mass of ferociously nodding heads.
The doors of darkness had well and truly been opened wide and Alia then put her flute to her blackened lips to conjure up some medieval mayhem with ‘I’m Coming With You’, from the band’s self-titled debut album. The Eldritch Dark naturally made up the bulk of the set. It’s a captivating album that caresses and crushes with equal measure. With the lighting turned to a suitably deep red Blood Ceremony cast another stunning spell across the audience with the doom heavy ‘Master Magician’ followed by the majestic ‘Goodbye Gemini’. This was beautifully sung by Alia and is a number so soft that the Angels could dance on it, as the band diced between good and evil.
There was no mistaking which side of the crooked fence they were on moments later as Alia’s flute finesse introduced ‘My Demon Brother’ a song so dark and desperate that an old Soho cellar seemed the perfect place to enjoy it. But aside from the sinister song content, this talented singer also manages to rustle up a tune from the electric organ and her trusty flute. That of course is putting it lightly as her ability on both instruments is of the highest order.
When conjuring up some menacing notes on her keyboard she hunches over it like a praying mantis, her face almost entirely concealed by her long black hair. Although Alia inevitably draws all eyes toward her, Blood Ceremony are very much a unit and bassist Lucas Gadke shared vocals on the Wicker Man-inspired ‘Lord Summerisle’.
Final number ‘The Magician’ again combines folk and fireworks to tell the twisted tale of Oliver Haddo from the book of the same name, with Alia looking like a sadistic demon from a 70s horror flick as she offers up the line, “Tonight, my dear, you’ll be the devil’s bride, Crimson-altar concubine”.
Having brought the curtain closer to a crescendo it then burns itself out as Alia gets a demonic sound from her organ that would send shivers down the spine if the congregation heard it in your local church. After walking off to thunderous applause, Blood Ceremony treated the Borderline disciples to one final sermon, an extended version of ‘Master of Confusion’ complete with a drum solo from Michael Carillo.
Blood Ceremony may be purveyors of the dark arts but they pull it off by blending elements of torture and tenderness in their bubbling cauldron to create a devil’s brew that will knock you off your feet.
2. I’m Coming With You
3. Master Magician
4. Goodbye Gemini
5. My Demon Brother
6. The Eldritch Dark
7. Lord Summerisle
8. Ballad of the Weird Sisters
9. The Magician
10. Master of Confusion