It’s no secret that one of my favourite discoveries this year has been Swiss band Schammasch – after being sent the record to review (which still isn’t done, oops) and then creating a snazzy two page feature on the band for Subterranea, it was pretty darn exciting to hear that they would be heading out on tour with Dark Fortress (another band who have released an incredible record this year) and German legends Secrets of the Moon. All three bands bring something different to the blackened table and to hear them play off and against each other on The Underworld’s stage is quite the treat indeed.
Schammasch’s Contradiction is one of the most intriguing records of 2014 and is certainly a challenger to Behemoth’s incredible ascent these last twelve months. The Swiss outfit provoke and fascinate with their expansive sophomore effort and while the double disc package runs at well over an hour, each minute is important and interesting. Tonight they take to the stage under shrouds of bleeding red light, clad in gold threaded black and bathed in incense and smoke. The quartet are synchronised and frontman Chris S.R. holds a powerful command over the audience despite being fairly closed off in terms of interaction. The four tracks they showcase tonight are huge and while there was a certain apprehension that perhaps the intricacies of the album wouldn’t translate so well to the stage, those doubts are soon put to rest with devastating renditions of “Split my Tongue” and “Golden Light.”
Secrets of the Moon haven’t released anything since 2012s wonderful Seven Bells but the German’s have more than enough in their arsenal to create a cloying atmosphere which along with cold, blue stage lighting leaves the band in prime position for a heavy set. Their time is tinged with sadness as the band are missing long time member LSK due to her passing last year and while the band don’t touch upon the subject, there’s a definite melancholy in the air. Secrets of the Moon know a lot about sorrow and instead channel those emotions into their performance with a disgustingly bombastic “Serpent Messiah” playing off against the gorgeous frailty of “Shepherd” before “Nyx” storms into life. Secrets of the Moon do get a little too self-indulgent towards the end of the set but when you’ve been around as long as they have, that’s pretty much expected. Still, a fine showing tonight and one that will ensure they’re back again.
Venereal Dawn is the latest opus from Germany’s Dark Fortress and where it lifts them above their peers is in its willingness to push the black metal template forward – there’s huge melody, actual songs, memorable riffs – something a lot of bands just plain forget about. They’re not creating anything new or ground-breaking but they do it so well, so solidly and so slickly that it’s difficult to take away the fact that the record is darn good modern, melodic black metal creation. The Underworld’s stage barely looks big enough for their many members and the grandiose keys that sweep across the songs and give them extra life. Frontman Morean stalks the stage and takes in the audience while guitarist V. Santura (the hardest working producer/musician of the moment, surely?) fires out frenetic work that creates depth and richness. “Veneral Dawn” pulses with deadly life and “I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God,” clunky title aside, is absolutely massive. Dark Fortress are a phenomenal live act with a true professionalism about them, yet they never feel as though they are going through the motions and instead allow their experience to create something interesting to watch, exciting to hear and special to witness – Dimmu Borgir, please take note. Dark Fortress close the evening on a truly stunning “Baphomet” and while The Underworld isn’t to capacity tonight, there’s no doubt that this band turned in an incredible performance.