Direct Underground Festival
The Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
March 17th, 2017
Featuring – Marduk, Gorguts, Mgla, Ulcerate & Départe
I’m not sure if you’ve ever stumbled through the woods and witnessed a satanic summoning ritual or a convenient of witches but I can assure you that it looked pretty fucking similar to what was happening at the Factory Theatre on Friday. Tendrils of smoke and a milling, murmuring mass of bodies filled the space, all tentatively awaiting the onslaught of beauty and brutality that was about to descend upon us all.
Eventually seeming to coalesce out of the smoke itself, Départe take to the stage, and with no hesitancy, begin their set. The haunting, eerie notes of their music echo off the walls accompanied by the affecting voice of Sam Dishington, the whole ensemble exploding with waves of emotion. Départe are truly an entity that must be seen live to fully appreciate; the droning bass coupled with the dreamlike (clean and harsh) vocals force the listener to another consciousness, another plane of reality. This is especially accurate on standout track ‘Vessel’, where the monochromatic lights add to the absolute hopelessness that the band diffuses throughout the room with their music. If the show was to end there, I would still feel that I had got my $90+ worth.
However, the night was far from over, and the gods of dissonant brutality, Ulcerate, were set to take the stage, doing so in a more than aloof fashion. Without ceremony, they launch into the opening track off of their mind bending new album Shrines of Paralysis and boy oh boy is it heavy. The drumming work of Jamie Saint Merat seems too technical and fast to be done by human hands and I have a sneaking suspicion he’s either sold his soul to Satan or is a robot clad in human tissue. Although, every facet of Ulcerate, not just the drums, are otherworldly; vocal chords that have to ripped from a denizen of the underworld and strings so heavy they’d make Vildhjarta have a heart attack. I couldn’t think of any other band that I’d rather have herald in the ascension of the Antichrist.
Up next is Mgła, the band I was most excited to see, as I never thought I’d see them live let alone play right here in Sydney. Bringing with them from Poland their amazing discography (all 5/5s) and their black masks which render the band more akin to shadows than real people resulting in a seriously rewarding spectacle. Mgła is the closest thing tonight to pure black metal; mountains of melody mixed with unrelenting riffing and the pained, tortured voice of their faceless vocalists. Wreathed in geysers of brume, the lights play off their instruments and project a sight most unsettling, every time smoke erupts on stage, so too do the constant, head banging inducing riffs that are picked up by every member of the crowd like a hive mind.
Continuing the ritualistic summoning of the night, the one and only Gorguts grace the crowd with their presence, sending the entire room into absolute hysterics. After having released one of the most critically acclaimed EPs of last year, I can understand the atmosphere in the room as the band plays their first notes. Tinkling melodies filter throughout the minds of the people arrayed in front of the stage, which are abruptly crushed into a grinding, heaving mass of screams of inharmonious strings. Luc Lemay is unbelievable on stage though, especially when set ending track (and probably one of the coolest songs ever written) ‘Obscura’ ramps up, showing just how progressive and inventive Gorguts were, and continue to be.
After the immersive and downright mind boggling experience that was the first four bands, ranging from post black metal through to progressive death metal, there was still one band left; the almighty Marduk. As the lights went dark and a blue haze suffused the stage, a hymn started crackling out through the speakers, and I couldn’t help but wonder what we’d done here tonight. Slowly walking on stage, their corpse paint streaked faces could only have been summoned through the ritual of the night and I was in all honesty, a little apprehensive of the hymn stopping and the explosive, caustic sound that is Marduk starting.
But start it did. With an intensity of a supernova, the Swedish metallers began their set, howling even louder than the crowd below. The grating, ruthless guitars of Morgan Häkansson were a tortuous dirge to tomorrow, shredding any vestige of an eardrum I had left and penetrating my skull with the force of a raging inferno. ‘The Black Tormentor of Satan’ shoved this to an even higher level, Mortuus’ vocals really coming into the fore as one of the first real moshpits of the night opened up and swallowed me whole.
The crowd fully seemed to be enjoying themselves at this point, with the majority all banging their heads and whipping out the black metal claws as they shrieked along with the lyrics. Getting the biggest response was the mammoth of a song ‘Wolves’ which has the perfect blend of melodic breaks and riffs that make you want to headbang until you practically decapitate yourself and demonically fast drums that manage to blow your legs off. Everything about this specific moment was perfect; the lights, the crowd, the band. It is definitely a moment that I will recall fervently in the future when anyone asks what my favourite gigs have been this year.
The best part about Marduk’s set was the amount of classics that they jammed into it, only playing ‘Frontschwein’ and ‘The Blond Beast’ from their latest album, which, luckily enough are by far the best songs to be played live. Heaven Shall Burn… When We Are Gathered definitely got all the love tonight and in no way was that a bad thing. That album was the first that I ever listened to and if it was the last I could die (or be sacrificed) happy.
The Direct Underground Festival has always been a highlight of my year but 2017… Well it might just be the best one they’ve ever fucking done — Dylonov Tomasivich