Direct Underground Festival
Max Watts, Sydney NSW
5th May, 2018
Featuring: Encircling Sea, Wiegedood, Diocletian, Revocation, Belphegor and Ihsahn.
Once again Direct Underground Festival has come to Australia and, once again, I’ve lost my mind and the structural integrity of my neck. This wondrous night of blackened music is always a highlight, not only for me, but the metal community in Sydney (and this year Melbourne too). It showcases so many bands I thought I’d never get to see live all in one place.
To kick the night off was Melbournian trio Encircling Sea. Reminding me a lot of Départe, the two bands share atmosphere and heaviness, but in different proportions. Encircling Sea use the atmosphere as bookends for the crushing, off kilter mass of their music, enhancing the rage and anger squarely embedded within it. This is no more apparent than when the drumming of Matt Radford is paired with the garish red and white strobes in order to absolutely punish the crowd. I must admit it makes for quite a spectacle.
Wiegedood were next, substituting the previous band’s rage for pure, seething sadness. Immediately upon starting the set, Levy Seynaeve lets out a blood curdling shriek before the darkness turns him into the most sorrowful silhouette one has ever seen. Swinging his mane of hair with abandon, Seynaeve howls his way through the set whilst accompanying guitarist Gilles Demolder provides perfect support. If one has ever been hesitant to listen to Wiegedood (not that I could think of a reason to be), seeing them live will crumble those fears to tear stained dust.
Hailing from nearby New Zealand, Diocletian were up next. And they looked to be getting ready to murder the crowd with an aural assault of downtuned guitars and spiky guitar straps. Joking aside, Diocletian looked brutal as fuck as they dominated the stage, playing a brand of such aggressive blackened death metal that it turned my legs into tubes of meat stuffed with overcooked noodles. Musically, it was a bit stale at times, but the bass work was really creative and made the music much more textured. I’m a sucker for any sort of bass slides.
A change of pace was incoming with Revocation taking their place. Not exactly a change of physical pace, but mood. Every band before seemed to be apathetic towards the crowd (which I like personally), but Revocation came on stage and started talking to us! Regardless, their music was just as amazing as it always is; finger blistering guitar work by both David Davidson and Dan Gargiulo made time absolutely melt away in a frenzy of technical wizardry. The best parts were by far the sections that were lacking in vocals as they both could put all of their efforts in shredding the faces of the entire crowd with their jazz infused thrash riffs.
Bringing the mood back down to ‘please die,’ Belphegor arrayed the stage with their Satanic accoutrements, the most imposing being the twin totem poles comprised entirely of animal skulls. Marching on stage covered in the gore of previous rituals, the evil choir accompanying their entrance truly set the air alight with anticipation and dread. Helmuth looked positively terrifying in his paint, made all the more visceral as his voice sounds like it derives power from the maw of Satan himself. ‘Baphomet’ was an enlightening experience; listening to that live felt like being pulled apart piece by bloody piece. The one man on the band who has sold his soul though, is drummer BloodHammer. Listening to an album you can tell he is insanely fast and technical as a psychotic robot, but seeing it done in person is actually confusing. How a man can move that fast and smoothly… It must surely be the work of the Devil.
After the pummeling of tonight, I was actually ecstatic that the moderately calmer sounds of Ihsahn was next. As he walked on stage, I couldn’t help but notice how austere everything is. In contrast with the previous bands (except maybe Revocation) there was nothing ostentatious about the stage. The whole band was adorned in simple black clothing – even the guitars were marvellously simple. However, this aspect is wholly absent from the music itself. This is the inherent duality of Ihsahn.
Set (and new album Ámr) opener ‘Lend me the Eyes of the Millenia’ is a massive left turn from the night’s festivities. The simplistic synth is joined by Ihsahn’s trademark screams and the frankly jaw dropping drumming of Tobias Ørnes Andersen. Other tracks played from the new album really highlight how silky smooth his singing voice is; soaring notes wafted like a soft winter breeze through leafless treetops. ‘Sámr’ was easily one of the best songs of the night for his voice alone. The prog metal aspects are quite heightened in a live setting, the synth is more prominent, calling up images of other great heavy prog acts such as Between the Buried and Me and Leprous.
As most know, Ihsahn, he was part of ‘boy band in the 90s.’ So naturally he played a few of those tracks. I’ve never been able to go to an Emperor show so this was quite enjoyable. ‘Inno a Satana’ was mind blowing. The song wends its way across winter soundscape that Ihsahn crafts with his snarling voice, complemented by a guitar tone that is so glorious and more appealing than any copy you could find today. Despite being a massively talented musician, Ihsahn is a wondrously affable person, and I feel honoured to have seen him and his band perform.
Not only Ihsahn, but all of the acts involved. Direct Underground Festival is the fucking best.
Review by Dylonov Tomasivich
Revisit our interview with Helmuth of Belphegor right here