Words by Olde Nick @oldenick666
Live photos by Tess Donohoe @tess_donohoe
Before X-mess Satan Claws delivered an early present in the form of a tour by Austrian black metal masters Belphegor with American death metallers Vital Remains, Polish heavyweights Hate and the UK’s own Ethereal in tow. Olde Nick and Tess went to check out the devilry!
Last time RockSins caught Belphegor was at Bloodstock Festival on a sunny afternoon back in August (review here). It’s always rather comedic watching black metal in broad daylight but on that occasion the band displayed a refreshing sense of humour in a genre sometimes guilty of taking things way too seriously. The first impression of the surroundings on the south coast was quite different and the 1865 is a charming old theatre on the edge of Southampton city centre. If carpets could talk no doubt the tatty vintage one here could tell some tales and the stage is noticeably low, with a small balcony overlooking on one side – more of that later.
Merseyside metallers Ethereal (8) kicked off the bill in a flurry of strobes. Their furious black/death racket was impressive, with symphonic sounds featuring on some songs. Corpse-painted frontman Naut confidently wrangled some of the early birds to form a mini-mosh, barking proudly “We are Ethereal from Liverpool, England!” as if he was addressing foreign punters. These Satanic Scousers sure are deserving of a wider audience.
Continuing the geography lesson Atf Sinner (that’s his name) greeted the room declaring, “We are fucking Hate! (8) From fucking Poland!” They make a fucking good noise too, heavily influenced by the classic Florida death metal years. Pummelling drums, crashing cymbals and bludgeoning riffs evoke a time when nearly every great death album was produced by Scott Burns. They use dynamics well too,, with some slow builds and one riff reminiscent of Machine Head. “Valley of Darkness” stood out as particularly unsettling.
Spooky chanting, thunder, winds and the sound of someone being hit with whip (?) built to a choral swell as Vital Remains (9) hit the stage. “Where is your god now?!” screamed vocalist Brian Werner. He’s bonkers – in a good way. The band suffered technical problems throughout the set but belligerently pushed on with their speed/death clatter. Werner is a veteran entertainer and swirled his hair in rhythm to the dramatic Deicide-like dirges of his bandmates. Slam dancing broke out on the dance-floor in front of the stage and the house lights went up for the first of several crowd surfers. The irrepressible frontman spotted the balcony and suggested jumping off it. “I broke two ribs in Santiago, Chile!” he said proudly, calling for a “wall of death” in honour of Dimebag’s memory (he was killed on 8th December 2004). As the crowd went even more mental Werner was true to his word, dashing up the stairs and waving to those below before leaping over the side. Thankfully the throng of arms caught him before carrying him back to the stage. There was time for one last slam dance, with Brian joining in some silly jigs to celebrate “26 fucking years!” Long may they continue.
It’d be fair to feel sorry for Belphegor (9) having to follow such a party vibe but variety is supposedly the spice of… death? Eerie background sounds emanated from the speakers while the house lights were still on. Smoke slowly filled the room and a chilly breeze from the side doors pushed wafts of incense through the air. Gentle choral music with spoken words, rather like a prayer, were audible. Then the final stage of the night’s ceremony began. Roars of excitement from the audience were met by bellows back at them from Helmuth as the stage was lit by flame-like red and yellow lights. Imagine if some Mordor orcs formed a black metal band. Bassist Serpenth gurned and glared from the shadows as the band stormed through a fairly short set featuring “Black Winged Torment”, “Lucifer Incestus” and possibly the best titled song ever, “Bondage Goat Zombie”. Introducing “Belphegor – Hell’s Ambassador”, Helmuth emphasised their point of view on all things Christian – “Southampton! Fuck the church!”
An impressive stage display featuring Helmuth’s gas mask, a pair of decorated goat heads on poles and a slick light show were worthy of a bigger stage and, it must be said, a bigger audience. Final encore “Bleeding Salvation” left the mob baying for more but the lights went up and an acoustic rendition of Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ “Scooby Snacks” over the PA broke the night’s spell of a fine pre-festive feast of international black death.
Vital Remains is on Facebook.