Camden Underworld, England • 4.23.98
Might want to skip by this one, I am going to moan and whine in a most self-indulgent manner. But this is MY party after all. I missed out on the Mayhem reunion fiasco, and got depressed because I wanted to experience the whole black metal live experience thing firsthand. I wanted bullet belts, pentagram jewelry, ridiculous spiked war clubs, sad corpse paint, pigs’ heads on pikes, the whole deal. So when Angel Corpse and Immortal are set to do some Viking pillaging in London, of course I am there. And I end up disappointed. Why? Well, it was all a bit… silly. Maybe I am getting too old for this, but when I say silly, I don’t mean silly in the good way. Because, let’s face it, early Black Metal (music that everyone from those bad boy Norwegians to P. Anselmo cites as THE shit) was firmly rooted in humor. Venom: all of their names and “Cronos'” bizarre pink-and-black striped spandex trousers. Celtic Frost: Thomas Warrior’s huge perms. Bathory: Quorthon admits readily that he was singing nonsense on their early records. Immortal, like contemporaries Marduk and Mayhem, have lost sight of that black humor, and instead immerse themselves in clumsy Social Darwinist nationalism, True black metal is the campness and pomposity of Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. I’m getting off track here.
First up is AngelCorpse — efficient, brutal, and enjoyable. But a bit too workmanlike. Close your eyes and it’s Brutality, open your eyes and its a bunch of skinheads with spikes, close your eyes and it’s Inferno, open your eyes and — you get the picture. AngelCorpse’s short set is culled from the recent Hammer of Gods release — and they keep it tight. I could have done without the “evil” between-song banter, but now I am being picky.
Time for Immortal… and here’s where it all goes downhill for me. Wind and smoke machines crank up, and the band takes the stage after nearly every member of the audience screams their name in some manner of death metal vocal variant. Of course they start off with a song about ice and war, but that’s what every song is about. They got the corpse paint (points for that), though the wind machine whipping their hair about in an epic manner starts to get on my nerves after a bit. Speaking of hair-whipping, did I mention that sixty percent of the audience had their back to the band whilst they engaged in some fearsomely accurate air-guitar action- FOR THE WHOLE SET?????
It was just weird, I didn’t know who had more energy, Immortal, or scores of 18 year-olds in Burzum T-shirts. I have to bow down before Immortal’s drummer, who should win an award for his commitment to the good old blast beats, and the bassist and guitar player impressed me with their twin guitar choreography (like Accept in their prime). And there are these clean guitar breaks that just take everyone by surprise, until we all realize “hey it’s sampled,” while preparing for the next onslaught. Obviously there is not going to be much song variation from a band who thinks that dynamics are for weaklings, but there are some startling Dark Angel-ish riffs thrown in to give some hope. Not enough hope. Immortal exit dramatically in a cloud of smoke. I’m disappointed, the whole thing was too silly. Everyone around me high-fives one another and rushes off to buy the pentagram-encrusted T-shirt. Wow. Happy thought: They are better than the Deftones.