London's extreme metal followers are in for a treat tonight as black and death metal forces unite. Kampfar and Hate are playing the Underworld again in a co-headlining venture, the only UK date on this tour.
America's Velnias are typical of modern North American black metal, taking lengthy atmospheric black metal numbers ladling misery-stained doom metal on top like so-called Cascadian black metal acts Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch. Formed in 2006, the quartet has released two full-length albums. The music, while well-executed, does not fare so well in the live sphere with its introspective ideals and is more appropriate for natural spaces or any kind of solitude, to be played for an individual as opposed to a group of beer-stained metalheads. Having stated that, the Underworld is surprisingly empty with only around fifty or so punters watching. The stage presence of Velnias even matches that of Wolves in the Throne Room, with barely any acknowledgement of the audience alongside the standard headbanging inseparable from live metal. These Americans are certainly competent with good music but it has not been developed with the optimum live environment in mind.
Plenty more people fill up the Underworld as death metallers Hate take the stage. Probably the most acknowledged death metal band in Poland after Behemoth, Vader and Decapitated, they never got the recognition they deserved at their musical summit (presumably from being over-shadowed by the aforementioned metallers) and even tonight, there are fewer people watching than there should be for a band of this calibre and history. Bedecked in their usual corpsepaint, they proceed to batter the audience with significantly more hyperactive metal than Velnias. Last year saw the four-piece release album number eight, namely 'Solarflesh'.From the get-go, Hate incite a drunken mosh pit reflective of their uncompromising blastbeats and pummelling riffs. Newer tracks such as 'Festival ov Slaves' and 'Alchemy ov Blood' eschew the Poles' rhythmically-conscious previous signature style in preference for a less impressive hybrid between newer Satyricon and Behemoth material. However, the crushing rhythms of 'Hex' and 'Threnody' secure solid approval from the audience as heads bang and fists pump.
New drummer Pavulon handles the work of his predecessor comfortably as does live bassist Kain, although his bass is inaudible amongst the harsh instrumentation. Last year saw bassist Mortifer pass away and in his honour, frontman Adam the First Sinner dedicates 'Sadness Will Last Forever' to him and the spectators applaud in grand respect. By the conclusion of their set, the audience is disappointingly noticeably thinner than when it started.
The number of onlookers shamefully shrinks further by the time Kamfpar are on stage, surprising given their reoccurring appearances in this country and built up fanabase. Opening with new song 'Mylder', the Norwegian black metallers start the show with sinister melodies against punchy rhythms and black metal double bass drumming. Their take on black metal incorporates varying atmospheres and melodies alongside the tremolo picking fury with strains of folk music blended, underscored by vocalist Dolk's signature rasp growling above the music. Outstanding new album 'Djevelmakt' is the focus of the set, an undisputedly good decision given the amount of stylistic variation on the release. The meandering 'De Dødes Fane' and the lengthy 'Swarm Norvegicus' translate successfully into the live environment and secure strong applauses, never becomingmonotonous or predictable. The core of the set largely circles around Kampfar's later works, with the emotive 'Vettekult' and catchy'Lyktemenn' being prime cuts.
Vocalist Dolk is incredibly charismatic on stage, constantly headbanging and moving, aligning himself sincerely with the music, while the latest addition to the Kampfar line up guitarist Ole Hartvigsen fits into the band seamlessly. The English staple 'Ravenheart' automaticallyaffords the audience an opportunity to raise their voices one last time before the four-piece leave the stage. The fans resolutely staying put and refusing to leave the venue brings the black metallers back, knocking the dust of one of their earliest anthems 'Hymne'. A last thank you is followed by the brave but symbolic choice of closing with a new song 'Our Hounds, Our Legion'.
Once again, Kampfar have proven themselves to be one of the consistently high quality black metal bands and this year marks their twentieth anniversary. The new album sounds top notch live, hitting home with more vigour than its recorded counterpart. Hopefully both Kamfpar and Hate will return to the UK in due course and create more musical havoc for the extreme metal army.