Saturday, 28 February 2015


Arnehm, 19th February 2015

Fans of all things dark and extreme gather for a much awaited ritual in Arnhem: the Under Four Wings Of Death European tour opens up in the Dutch capital of black metal. Candles, incense, skulls and books of spells are all in place: seen it a million times before, will see it for a long time to come, I fear, so let the fucking music begin.

DYSANGELIUM open the ritual at Willemeen. As expected, the set is as tight as fuck and I find myself completely mesmerised by the constantly outpouring of machine-gun drumming. The satisfying sound that Dutch venues offer guarantees full enjoyment of the tight blasts: they hit my 3rd-eye spot, plunging me into the abyss of black-metal ecstasy. There is nothing I appreciate more than inhuman drumming made by humans, so I am focusing on A.N.L.’s fierce display, which includes also the odd brutal vocal (oh, I wish it was Mike Browning all over again!). Like on their debut album Thanatos Askesis on W.T.C., live they grab hold of me with merciless brutality imbued with glorious epicness, while twisting the knife into the wound by imparting sudden flashes of eeriness. All this was delivered in front of a still rather sparse audience, far too stingy with their half-hearted claps. Oh well, in my books they easily blew the following band off the stage.

That band would be Aukland’s VASSAFORThe formation consists of the two original members (BP on drums and VK on vox and guitar) plus two US session musicians, VB on guitar and KS on bass, who toured with them before. The band’s sound is unexpectedly clean, so their stifling doom intertwined vintage filthy death/black seem far too watered down and fails to grip me. Oddly, there is no rawness, none of that wonderful esoteric Greek-inspired sound that imbues some of their material. Fresh on Debemur Morti’s roster as well as Iron Bonehead’s, the band might lack live experience and although they gave their all, this time around I struggle to focus on their performance.

But hey, BÖLZER are in town, and a good section of the audience is there for them. KzR prepares for his gig looking like a Dazed & Confused model: cool, groomed and possibly designer. Whether or not he smells of Bleu de Chanel, I cannot tell form the side of the stage, but the flames of the black candles perched on a tall candelabra standing just behind him (which he will accidentally knock down during the set) seem to hover towards him. As HzR takes his place behind the kit, the singer/guitarist reappears in his metal guerrilla outfit, a well-decorated waistcoat over his tattooed skin (and yet the prize for pin-up of the night goes to a young dark-haired guy covered in vintage UK hardcore band patches, from Discharge to Anti-Sect to Amebix: good to see the tradition is still alive!). 

Bölzer immediately starts showering us with a grit and raw energy that puts to shame most bands around these days. Shrouded in deep dark blue light, almost impossible to shoot them, the Swiss duo do what Meg & Jack White did for indie rock: effortlessly steam-roll everyone else by concocting a monster sound through minimalistic magic. Entirely testosterone-fuelled, exceptionally good, extremely satisfying and entertaining, in the very special way dark, raw metal can be…

So here comes the surprise of the night: ASCENSION. I loved their blood-red debut album Consolamentum, and when the new classy logo appeared I wondered what the magnificently packaged new release, the Dead of the World, unleashed on Christmas Eve last year, would actually bring forth. Well it brought devastating, top class Metal so, for my Ascension live baptism, I was expecting to be totally bulldozed over. Well something quite different happened instead… 

So here is the set up: band and roadies clear away those hackneyed ritualistic objects (candles, skull, etc.) preparing the set by planting two imposing black & red banners at both sides of the stage. Nargaroth’s presence is in the air… Underneath black sweatshirt hoods the musicans’ faces are completely blackened, bearing the familiar symbolic white upside-down triangle over the forehead. A younger, diminutive version of Jo Bench plugs in her bass guitar, carefully making sure that her long black hair remains hidden by her hood. A microphone decorated by an intricate collection of bones and ribbons is brought forth, looking rather good. Then the lights dim and a foreboding intro is played to get us in the mood...  
Finally Ascension march on in their shining, tall military style boots, and explode…

The sound is engulfing, powerful and foreboding: the music pours down like a dream upon an excited audience gazing towards the darkened figures bathed in foggy blue & white light. The entire band is clad in black, but one. The nameless frontman is wearing a beautifully decorated white long-sleeve T-shirt covered in holes and tears, immediately reminding me of the the old rebellious, desecrating spirit of punk. If I expected to see an Ash Nargaroth type of performer, oddly, I am instead reminded of someone who ideologically sits on the opposite side of the spectrum, Torsten Hirsch of Agrypnie and Nocte Obducta. As I position myself right underneath the stage trying to photograph him and the band through the darkness stricken by emerald green flashes, I find myself sucked in by his physical yet mysterious presence and, quite uncharacteristically, I remain transfixed there for a long time, unable to move away from the spell.

In spite of some predictable elements, on stage Ascension has a diverse personality from the standard black metal band and perhaps they will develop into something unpredictable in the future. The music feels just as self-assured and alluring in its deliverance as on record, with the extra crucial additions of a spellbinding, intense and solemn dimension is put across by a natural charismatic presence using no other gimmicks than the human presence alone. I have no idea if my impression is largely dependent on the magic combination between uniqueness of sound and place & time: I guess I will only find out if I catch Ascension playing live again in the future. The good thing is that on the night I find myself leaving with a feeling of surprise. It is not often that a band exceeds my expectations: what feels like an timeless exposure to black metal makes me truly crave for something ‘other’…

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