By: Sam Birkett
Primordial | website | facebook |
Support: Winterfylleth | website
The O2 Academy, Islington, London | February 7, 2015
It’s a very rare day when a line-up like Primordial’s performance at the O2 Academy Islington comes around. With three support bands playing satisfyingly hefty sets, it felt more like a festival stage than a Saturday night gig in Angel – an impression magnified by the generic reach of the night, which ranged from Malthusian’s unique blend of extreme metal, to Portrait’s mesh-vested, many-studded classic metal.
Openers Malthusian are a thrilling new prospect, swamping the crowd that night with waves of brutality from their demo and debut EP that blend black, death and doom styles into a breathtaking sound, amplified tenfold in such a small, industrial space.
Closely following, and immediately swerving from their dense, dark atmosphere, were Portrait. A late addition to the lineup, Portrait were undeniably energetic performers, but simply did not fit with the apocalyptic eminence of their fellow performers. Heartfelt as their rigidly classic metal style is, it simply could not reach the crowd that night, each track being received with very British rounds of polite applause that would have been more at home on a tennis court than at an extreme metal gig.
Much better received were Winterfylleth, Mancunian titans of soul-grabbing black metal. Their atmospheric guitars enwrap recklessly forceful drums, treading an instrumental path close to that of Deafheaven but much more firmly planted in black metal. Chris Naughton’s vocals were masterful –sounding completely clear without compromising any of the intensity of his screams – and his lyrics, steeped in the oldest British culture, consisted largely of translations of Old English poetry. A Careworn Heart, off of the band’s latest LP ‘The Divination of Antiquity,’ was a striking example of the period’s perfect alliance with black metal. Its lyrics are adapted from The Wife’s Lament, a poem exemplary of the bleak, existential pain and wonder to be found in that underappreciated period of literature, and as phrases like ‘the absence of my kin falls sharply on my soul’ ripped from Naughton’s throat, it was hard to imagine it being performed originally not with blast beats, but with a lyre.
Finally taking the stage were the band of the evening, Primordial. With an ironclad reputation built on the grandeur and power of their music, steeped in black metal and Irish folk but beholden to neither, there was no sense of restlessness in the crowd after the length of the supports. No amount of prior music could tire a crowd enough to dampen the force of Primordial, and as they took to the stage to the sound of the bleak and thrilling dirge ‘Dark Horse on the Wind,’ the crowd’s roar was rapturous. This was no flash in the pan. Primordial’s performance was like a cult gathering, and A.A. Nemtheanga more enrapturing druid than frontman as he glared, painted and becowled, into the faces of his following and bellowed in his singular voice songs of war, famine and darkness.
In the few pauses of the otherwise relentless set, Nemtheanga rallied the crowd to keep their fists pumping and hearts swelling, once growling: ‘London, there is no grave that can keep us down!’ Elsewhere he elaborated on songs, introducing the phenomenal Ghosts of the Charnel House wryly, but righteously enraged: ‘to get your Saturday night started, here’s a song about institutional child abuse in Ireland’s Catholic Church in the 20th century – hang them high!’ Behind Nemtheanga was the earthy, thundering brilliance of the rest of the band, matching their frontman’s awe-inspiring ferocity bar for bar and filling the room to burst with sound. Theirs was a truly magnificent performance, embodying all the paradoxically elevating but crushing brilliance of the best metal. As Primordial left the stage after a twelve-song set, I was left dumbfounded, dropped back into grey reality. This was a gig that more than delivered on the promise of its lineup (despite an out of place Portrait) to give a night that demonstrated the potential of live music to empower, embolden and inspire.