When Xerath and Winterfylleth came to London, Tom Dare went down to give himself a thorough bangover. We expect him out of traction next week.
While the temptation to be marginally cynical about a record label showcase event is almost too much to pass up, the bill tonight is rather tasty – particularly so given that that talent on display is an all-British affair. Isn’t Britain just supposed to sigh and moan about how America and Europe has all the best bands, and how they never come here? It looks like we may finally be able to stop whingeing into our real ales – w’d be fools not to see for ourselves that this is simply no longer the case.Openers Eastern Front are your fairly typical black metal outfit: corpsepainted, standing on stage barely moving with the floor lighting making their trve grim faces look even more nasty. The vocals are horrible and unintelligible and the music rancid. It all may feel a bit Marduk-aping cliché and as easily mockable as any of the hordes of sad pandas out there, but it is very well done. If Eastern Front were Swedish or French, the black metal devotees would be going nuts for them, and they stride a stage that has housed the likes of Dark Funeral and Otargos in recent months with at least the same authority in their field. As with those bands, it is a little hard not to snigger at times; just because you love black metal doesn’t stop it looking ridiculous at times, it just means you embrace the theatrics.
October File follow that horror with aggression, their in-your-face abrasion seeming slightly incongruous with the rest of the line-up but obviously determined to make an impression. The fury seething from the stage is more akin to a hardcore band than the crunch of the guitars and thud of the drums would normally convey, a feel strengthened when the frontman leaps from the stage to whip up a smaller than deserved crowd.
You know what we think of Xerath– we think they’re so fucking brilliant we asked their frontman to write for us. What you might not know is that in the time we’ve been watching them live, they have grown in live presence significantly. They’ve always had the natural enthusiasm and charisma – not to mention the tunes – to thoroughly entertain, but the level of accomplishment has clearly increased. The drumming is more thunderous yet looks more effortless, the guitar work is more polished and richer in character and the band’s confidence and engagement with their audience grows every time you see them. They’re even learning Amon Amarth-esque synchronised windmilling.
More and more, they justify our belief in them, and still induce one of the worst cases of metal-neck we’ve ever suffered. Tonight they are brave enough to debut two new songs from their upcoming second album- if that lives up to how they sound here, this band are going places.
‘False History’ by Xerath sounds more immense live than it does in the video:
You may have noticed earlier in the year that a certain someone at Thrash Hits nearly exploded with praise over The Mercian Sphere, the debut album from tonight’s headliners, Winterfylleth. In the flesh, they remind exactly why that is- black metal bands aren’t supposed to have this many great riffs. Not unless you’re Immortal or Enslaved or another band long-since cemented amongst the pantheon of grim greats. Certainly not if you’re British – then you’re supposed to be shite.
What you’re absolutely not supposed to do is look like you just walked out of any normal, boring job, changed into a Drudkh t-shirt and jeans and present yourself like you have something in common with your audience. Winterfylleth do all this, however- they do not stand aloof and apart, an untouchable elite that you are supposed to simply stand there and worship. This is black metal for everyone who wants it, and it’s utterly amazing.
One slight caveat is towards the end of the set, when the thus-far almost non-existent chat between songs suddenly switches to tabloid-level political commentary regarding “Muslims burning poppies”. At best this is ill-judged – a band dubbed as “English Heritage black metal” who have had accusations of far-right views levelled at them in the past snapping off and then announcing a song entitled ‘Defending The Realm’ is naïve at best; at worst it is grotesquely stupid. Wading in with this kind of dramatically low-level debate doesn’t make those who like your music love you any more, and in fact will only go to alienate a great number of those that do.
Beyond even this, this kind of simplistic opining is intrinsically irritating – the stage is not a soapbox for two-line rhetoric, irrespective of what is said or the history of the bands. As Xerath’s Rich Thomson said right here on Thrash Hits only a few days ago:
“Your fans go to see your music – this is what they identify with. They don’t go to be preached at.”