Mayhem at Academy 2, ManchesterSupport: Inconcessus Lex Lucis| Dragged Into Sunlight
March 30, 2017 at Academy 2, Manchester
Promoter: CMH Live
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their seminal debut album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Norwegian black metal icons Mayhem undertook a rare European tour playing the album in full to sold out crowds across the continent, including this Manchester show, which had already been upgraded to the large Academy 2.
Unfortunately, due to a delayed train and some pretty tight scheduling between the doors opening and first band starting, once I had got my pass for the evening I didn’t get to see much of the opening band. Manchester’s Inconcessus Lux Lucis. What I did see was quite an impressive set. A large percentage of the crowd had arrived early and was eager to see all three bands, which is always a good sign, and the band seemed to thrive on the opportunity to play in front of a bigger crowd and the atmosphere that that brought with it. Their raw, old school black metal fitted in well on the evening and also fits well into a busy and impressive NW scene with bands such as Ethereal and Burial. A show like this will only add to their already decent fan base.
Next up were Dragged Into Sunlight, and the next 45 minutes became one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever witnessed. Stood with backs to the audience, and what little you could see of the band being obscured by an almost constant strobe, their nihilistic noise enthralled the entire room. Different from the usual feel of watching a band, here you get the feeling that you are somehow interrupting some kind of ritual, something that is amplified by the centre stage candle stand, animal skulls adorned amps and used of minimal red and blue lights so you make out some figures between the blinding strobe. Despite facing the crowd for maybe one track, the band remain anonymous throughout their performance and let the music do the talking. A sublime set, it took more than a few days for it to fully sink in what I had seen and heard.
Finally it was time for Mayhem, and similarly to the issues with the strobe of the previous band, a sudden deluge of dry ice engulfed the stage and front of the crowd as the band arrived and made it almost impossible to make anything out (this proved to be easily the most challenging show I have ever had to photograph). As the mist cleared, the cloaked figures appeared and launched into ‘Funeral Fog’ and provided asset every bit as compelling and intriguing as Dragged Into Sunlight had earlier, only in a very different way. Led by Drummer Hellhammer and bassit Necrobutcher’s punishing rhythm section, they laid the foundation for a full on sonic onslaught. With more fog throughout the show, the theatrical nature of the set was intensified by frontman Atilla swaying as if some trance, while his mask and the corpse paint and hoods of other band members (only partially viewable with the lights and fog) added to the distance and lack of connection between band and audience. At any other show, that would almost certainly be a bad thing, but in this setting it just felt right. The bands played their sets and we were there to witness it, rather than take part, and once the album was complete, the band left the stage and the show was over.
A couple of things niggled about the show. Mayhem played the album in full, but then that was it, no extra material, no encore when given the lack of opportunity to see the band (this was their first show in Manchester in 17 years, since their show at the now gone Jilly’s Rockworld), everyone was desperate to hear some more of their tracks. Another thing was the size of the show. Up close at the front, they sounded amazing, but as I headed to the back towards the end of the set, the large cavernous room seemed to take some of the atmosphere that would have been enhanced by the original setting of the venue’s basement. Understandable that it was moved because it obviously shifted a lot of tickets, but it didn’t make for a better show. Otherwise, an amazing night, I don’t feel that I will see many better shows this year.