Words by Brady Irwin
Photos by Anne-Laure Marie
Promising equal helpings of the best of the subterranean Death and Black Metal scenes from Australia and overseas, this year’s Direct Underground Fest began to fill out the room from the get-go. With the last wisps of wintery cold fingers of air outside, the atmosphere inside Max Watts was heating up sonically and literally.
A slow but steady stream of punters dressed in their battle-jacket finest filtered in for the Black ’n’ roll stylings of local opener Reaper. With a tall, jacketed and shirtless frontman swaying and swerving around his headbanging colleagues, the band’s hard rock onstage persona was matched by the mixture of echo-heavy vocals, tremolo-heavy Black Metal and good old-fashioned punk and hard rock riffage. Keeping a high tempo throughout, save for some grin-inducing breakdowns, it felt like being back at Aura Noir’s gig last year, and in a good way.
Kicking things up a notch in intensity, corpse-painted South Australian Black Metallers Christ Dismembered pulled no punches in launching out of the gate like a racing hound with a chilli pepper stuck up the proverbial. A relentless torrent of blasts rained down on a static audience, punters seemingly either transfixed or worried about snapping vertebrae in keeping up with their neck-swivel headbangs. An absolutely venomous and hugely expressive frontman-guitarist kept a menacing stare into the crowd, spewing shrieks at an impressively fast rate whilst hammering out riffs at hyperdrive-speed. By the closing out with Revel in Your Disgust, the band earned a huge cheer from an impressed flock before them. Definitely a high-quality Black Metal act.
Where things went truly nuts on both sides of the barrier, however, was for Australian Death Metal institution Abramelin. Having not released an album for close to 20 years and only just gotten right back into the regular gigging circuit, this stalwart hallmark of our scene was ramped up to 11 by both a rabid crowd and band members alike. With a shirtless and highly energetic frontman running and bouncing across the stage, wavering from guttural barks and piercing shrieks in a very Dying Fetus-esque manner, there was an irresistible kinetic energy to the set from the first riff. The band’s tendency to expertly play out all classic and modern Death Metal tropes from focused tremolo, chunky breakdowns, frenzied soloing, D-beats and blasts was done in a tightly professional and fun-loving manner. Band members shot grins and nods of appreciation at one another as the front-centre stage finally opened into a swirling mosh-pit, bodies flailing and pinwheeling in every direction. Punching out numbers ranging from upcoming newbie Never Enough Snuff to classics such as Spiritual Justice, every minute was lapped up and burst into waves of moshing, headbanging and raucous cheering. Clearly a band that need to stay out of retirement for the health of the local scene!
After a brief reprieve to rub down bruises, grab beverages and crick necks back into place, there was little time to rest once classic Death Metal establishment Immolation headed up the stage. Launching immediately into the band’s trademark swirling mass of off-kilter time signatures, generous sprinklings of pinch harmonics and menacing, guttural roars, the plain black-clad band felt as though they stood an extra 20 feet tall. Frontman and bassist Ross Dolan hunched over the microphone with his extra-long, swaying hair, a truly frightful beast of a vocalist who looked like he was either going to pop a blood vessel or tear the stand off with his teeth as he punched out low roars. Ever fist-pumping and highly theatrical, the enthusiastic engagement of shredding lead guitarist Robert Vigna got the crowd gang-chanting along to riffs as though at a downtown New York Hardcore show. Rhythm guitarist Alex Bouks kept up with the twisting labyrinth of riffs, churning out a solid stream of dissonance and hefty chugs atop the endlessly cyclonic battering ram that is drummer Steve Shalaty. Altogether, the band were reluctant to waste time in onstage banter, ploughing through multiple king-hits such as Immolation, The Distorting Light and A Spectacle of Lies. A heartfelt and appreciative speech towards the show, promoters, crew, bands, staff and fans amped up into a washing machine of a circle pit for brutish closer When the Jackals Come.
As the stage darkened with a simple logo for the band, Dark Funeral strode on beneath a cheesy but effective horror-sounding sample intro, complete with dolorous bells and shrieks. Looking full well the part, the band were adorned in slick Black Metal armour, gauntlets, spikes and inverted-cross studs, corpse-painted and throwing the requisite horns with an approving nod.
Now, this is not something you see often at a Black Metal gig – a circle-pit launching into absolutely furious rage from the word go. Honestly, this writer has never seen a pit get so mosh-heavy for a traditional Black Metal band and was grinning at repelling back a few sweaty black-shirts back into the chaos. With rock star stance up on the foldback, the gesticulations and menacing looks of frontman Heljarmadr was the perfect accompaniment to his grim-faced, headbanging brethren beside him. Sounding like he was going to break the barriers of both speed, space and time, drummer Jalomaah was the highlight of the evening for yours truly. A wondrous, blasting inferno of relentless warp-speed attacks, he not so much played Black Metal on drums as brought an incessant thundering rain that seemed to defy the laws of physics.
Keeping up with this sonic assault was the unstoppable barrage of high-speed chord and tremolo progressions by the ever-present Lord Ahriman and rhythm guitarist Chaq Mol, both spending equal time in a menacing stance and grinning evilly at the writhing mass of mosh corpses. Bassist Adra-Melek’s incessant compounding of the aural battery was punctuated with many fists and horns thrown to the air, which the audience responded to in kind each time. Adding in theatrical accessories such as a whip for Goddess of Sodomy, a severed hand, and an inverted crucifix (rubbed on the crotch for effect, I might add) for ridiculously fast Nail Them to the Cross, the band moved effortlessly through arpeggio-heavy ‘slower’ numbers and neck-snapping speedier tracks throughout their discography with ease. Forever imploring the circle pit to continue, giving short but rousing appreciative speeches, the frontman led band and crowd through caustic numbers such as The Arrival of Satan’s Empire, Unchain my Soul and Open the Gates. Proving themselves as still apex predators in their kingdom, these rabid occultist animals received a lumbering and cheering applause from an audience as excited and thankful as they were astounded and mosh-beaten. A truly brutal night worthy of praise by the Dark One himself.