After the cold snap which left the UK under anything from a dusting to a good foot of snow, it’s a welcome relief that normal service has resumed so soon after. That being said, a good covering of the white stuff would have really set the atmosphere tonight in Bristol with arguably the best black metal band on the planet rolling through town with a stellar supporting bill. That said, the low temperature and rain that accompany tonight’s gig do just as good a job to provide an extra edge of ‘kvlt’ to the show, which is a near sell-out and high with anticipation.
Inside, the dark clouds are prevalent as well, Wolves in the Throne Room turning in a performance bleaker than the UK’s outlook after March 29th. Restricted to half an hour on stage, they play just three songs but throughout the triumvirate of ‘Angrboda’, ‘The Old Ones Are With Us’ and ‘Born From the Serpent’s Eye’, the quintet succeed in entrancing a healthy audience and not only get plenty of heads banging in slow, precise unison but a fair few air drummers as well. There’s also a sensory element in play with the burning of incense that wafts through the venue to enhance the audible feast and by the time the band leave without so much as a word towards the punters, they’re greeted with loud cheers from all sides.
It’s a good job they made an impression too, because At the Gates are keen to make up lost time on the 23-year gap between now and their last Bristol show. The OG’s of melodic death metal are in a fun mood, apparent by their loop of circus music and the Benny Hill theme tune before they come on, and they proceed to level the Marble Factory in the best way possible. A slight false start during opening song ‘To Drink From the Night Itself’ is down to a muddy sound, but when this clears for ‘Slaughter of the Soul’, it’s all systems go and the band are utterly irresistible, with enough riffs to satisfy anyone for the next few months and a performance tighter than the first three-quarters of Superbowl LIII. The highlights are abundant, from the excellent ‘Death and the Labyrinth’ to ‘Suicide Nation’ which goes off like an atom bomb. Frontman Tomas Lindberg, the curator of this year’s sold out Roadburn Festival, is in fine form, bringing the audience into play at every opportunity and proving that, for a man now almost thirty years into his career, his voice is ageing like a particularly fine wine. By the time ‘The Night Eternal’ rounds off proceedings, its amazing there’s even a venue left for tonight’s headliners to play to.
A venue there is, though, and whilst The Marble Factory doesn’t have the space to fit all of Behemoth‘s bells and whistles on that they’ve brought with them, they still squeeze as much on as physically possible. With a large, triangular screen projecting all manner of images for the duration, large smoke jets and a number of costume changes, Poland’s most unholy of bands put on a show so brilliant that if this is truly what the devil can provide, everyone will be clamouring to get into Hell. The set contains some rather deep cuts such as ‘Daimonos’, but it’s the three-song run of ‘Bartzabel’, ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ and ‘God=Dog’ that is truly unfair to all other bands out there, for most could only dream of such a strong and awe-inspiring sequence; the fact that two of the three come from most recent album I Loved You At Your Darkest speaks volumes at the quality of Behemoth‘s current output. The atmosphere reaches fever pitch by the furious ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ and with the audience having an absolute ball, band figurehead Nergal returns the feeling in spades, hyping things further as his outfit charge through the evil sounds of ‘Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica’ and ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’. It’s such a good set that they could go home after ‘Chant for Eschanton 2000’, but instead they come back for a rousing one-two of ‘Lucifer’ and ‘We Are the Next 1000 Years’ before the band play along to outro ‘Coaglva’ with their own military drumkits. It’s a truly special show, and one that shows why extreme metal is bigger now than it probably has ever been. Hail Satan, indeed.