Primordial

support Ruins of Beverast + Dead Congregation + Bölzer + Drowned + Malthusian + Dread Sovereign + Wizards of Firetop Mountain + Vircolac
author EW date 28/11/14 venue Academy, Dublin, IRE

Having debuted early last year as a Dublin metal party headlined by Primordial with a superbly strong supporting cast, the Redemption Festival is back in the calendar to celebrate the release of "Where Greater Men Have Fallen", the eighth album from Ireland's greatest metal export. Topping the first night of two, the remaining acts again provide a collection of known and unknown underground names sufficiently attractive enough to pull in fans from across Europe leaving the Irish contingent seemingly in the minority against an influx of Brits, Germans, Swedes, Spaniards and plenty more.

DAY ONE

The Academy was the host of the first days activities, three floors suited to hosting the bands with an upper viewing platform and downstairs, The Academy 2 which itself can hold smaller shows but which here was housing the merchandise stand during the performances and the DJ space for the drunken after-party into the early hours.

Malthusian

First band on was Irish black/death proponents Malthusian, an act who will hardly be used to the reasonably salubrious surroundings of a 550 capacity venue like the Academy, for their nocturnal rumblings are very much resident in the type of dark and decrepit locations in which Day Two was organised. The band to date only have a 3-song 25 minute demo to their name of which I have very limited experience so can't be sure of what else was played (or how some tracks might have been extended) to occupy a 30 minute set, but in that time the four piece displayed the developing throes of writing worthwhile songs to match the thick, harsh sound to which we were treated. Predominantly mid-fast in tempo they served reasonably well as an evening's introduction piece to what was already a mostly full audience - perhaps due to the high international presence meaning the punters wanted full value for their money - but a lack of any visual spectacle or audible protestations from the band did not lend Malthusian too much for me to remember them by.

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Drowned

German death metal act Drowned were a recent replacement for fellow Germans Necros Christos who unfortunately pulled out due to an injury to their frontman, much to my disappointment given the anticipation I had built up in seeing that highly respected band of the underground. As it was, this deathly threepiece arrive off the back of releasing their first album ("Idola Specus") only 4 months ago despite forming as long ago as 1992. Maybe I have to listen to that LP in the right moment but nothing as yet from it or this performance has really suggested I've missed out by not discovering them until the run-up to Redemption. Although faster and less stodgy on stage than I had expected, the impact (again) of a total lack of visual engagement and an indistinct sound curtailed somewhat the enjoyment I was able to extract from their 40 minute showing. On the plus side there was more variation in their songs and a few decent licks emanating from long-time guitarist Timnn which offered a touch more intrigue but by their conclusion I was still yearning to be impressed.

Dead Congregation

Bringing their brand of crushing, blasphemic darkness from Athens, Dead Congregation possess one of the strongest reputations in the underground death metal scene of recent years, in turn helping to justify Redemption as a showcase for vital names that any self-respecting metalhead should be vying to investigate. Although elements of the indistinct sound and questionable variation suffered by Malthusian and Drowned remained, these could be forgotten in mind of how vital Dead Congregation's works sound. Tracks from this year's "Promulgation of the Fall" and 2008's demi-classic "Graves of the Archangels" come across with the kind of purpose lesser fail to achieve and by result ensure the huge power DC utilise is never anything less than engaging and thought-provoking. The main ingredient behind this is frontman and lead guitarist A.V. who by virtue of a guttural vocal performance and a stocky physical frame carries an aura of strength and professionalism that comfortably carries the band through this 50-minute set even without the kind of comprehensive back catalogue knowledge I prefer to come into shows like this with. While this showing didn't possess the glory of what was shortly to follow, Dead Congregation are in my mind the epitome of what underground death metal stands for in 2014 and it speaks of a genre that continues to thrive strongest when in the shadows.

Primordial

With each passing album the artistic worth of Primordial in today's metal scene grows and so even with a London date scheduled for spring 2015 in support of "Where Greater Men Have Fallen" it felt oddly necessary to return to their home city for my third occasion to see them there, marking an eighth overall. Having only been released in the week before the gig my knowledge of the new album is still patchy by show-time but on this form, in which five of the eight tracks were aired, they carry the usual passionate and considered approach that has long been a staple of their discography.

From opening with their new title track straight into one of their older classics ("Gods to the Godless") the early portion of the set was noteworthy for the sheer energy expressed in the band's musical delivery, with guitarists Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál O'Floinn and bassist Pól MacAmlaigh performing their layered rhythms with an air of governance before things settled down for the slowly brooding new track, "Babel's Tower". Never having been the shy retiring kind of character, frontman Alan Averill hardly needs an opportunity to utilise his powerful vocals and this track offers it in abundance - expect some of these vocal lines to be sung back in gusto as people get more used to it in time.

With a two-hour set to fill this was finally the chance to hear Primordial play a collection of pretty much all their key tracks and never did it disappoint. The likes of which we have heard before sound as good as ever - "Coffin Ships", "Heathen Tribes" (always especially brilliant to hear this in their homeland), "Sons of the Morrigan" and "As Rome Burns" never seem to last the lengthy durations many of them occupy - and alongside these can now be added "Wield Lightning to Split the Sun" and "The Alchemist's Head". With the most potent sound of the night and a revelatory spirit in the house there was no way this performance could fail (aside from the attempt to leave the stage to encore with "Empire Falls" - "we're too lazy for that" surmised Averill). A review of "Where Greater Men Have Fallen" is coming soon but trust that it is as good as this special release show.

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DAY TWO

Following the curing of a few groggy heads with a tempting Guinness or two (of course) it was onto the Voodoo Lounge for day two. As a venue it is rather down-trodden - dark and rather unkempt inside, it was in essence a more suited setting for the weekend's undercard before the night was to finish at a nearby bar for a long and messy metal DJ after party.

Vircolac

Opening proceedings were local quartet Vircolac making their debut show with just a 4-track demo to their name thus far. Fronted by Darragh Laoighre, the man behind both a noted local label and metal record store, it was hard to feel great ambition in the band at this stage beyond playing a few local shows (nothing that there is anything wrong with that) as theirs was a fairly standard combination of death metal elements, albeit with the added element of a healthy portion of doom in their sound. It was in their first track aired (which I believe to have been "Confessio") when this worked best as the immediacy of the faster early sections was replaced by a latter section of dragging doom but beyond this there was little that kept my attention towards the half hour mark, both musically and in the form of the boring, static green light show which accompanied their performance. More refinement of songs is of course needed and from a stageshow perspective, a whisper into the ear of bassist KB that performing facing towards the drummer throughout does not for a good show make.

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Wizards of Firetop Mountain

The most significant change of flavour in the nine bands compiling the Redemption lineup was Ireland residents Wizards of Firetop Mountain, who, as can probably be guessed by the name, inhabit regions more resembling stoner doom than the deathlier bill surrounding them. Feeling initially blinded by an intense light show that made looking in the direction of the stage a challenging experience the outlook soon changed into an appreciation of the band's lead guitarist who admirably played, grooved and swung as if performing in front of an audience of thousands. Meanwhile in singer Dunchee the Wizards do at least possess a frontman who is not afraid to engaged with the crowd, dedicating one latter song to those who had travelled from abroad to be there (a subsection which seemed to be in the majority if the request to raise a foreign hand is anything to go by), but one who sadly has a rather limited vocal range. Fair play to him for trying but the last song, which was otherwise a reasonably competent upbeat track with a rocking rhythm section, became rather a letdown with his involvement. Nice to have something different but mixed results only.

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Dread Sovereign

Returning to the stage with a bass in tow after his vocal proclivities with Primordial the night before, Alan Averill's crust-tinged doom project Dread Sovereign was a prospect I had some anticipation of. This year's "All Hell’s Martyrs" was an interesting affair with it's melding of Pentagram, Motörhead and Venom producing a genuinely different doom package and in it, two tracks which bookmarked this set and were by far the highlights, "Cathars to Their Doom" and "Thirteen Clergy to the Flames". In between the set somewhat lost it's way a bit; there was the sight of Averill clearly not fully adept at playing bass and singing together, and a ballsy if sloppy cover of Venom's "Like Live an Angel" getting a rather tongue-in-cheek airing. Despite the strong bass presence in the trio's sound emanating from the erstwhile frontman Dread Sovereign is of course never going to be the number one band in the life of Averill, making this side project all the more pleasing for both it's apparent qualities and roughness around the edges.

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Bölzer

Throughout 2014 it feels as if I have hardly seen a festival lineup that doesn't contain the name ‘Bölzer’. For a band still yet to release a full-length the rise of their profile has been dramatic yet not unexpected when one considers the sheer blinding quality of "Aura", the middle of three EPs to date. Disappointingly, however, I had yet to see this translate into a live show of similar greatness either at Roadburn or in London earlier this year when muffled sound clipped the wings of their cosmic attack. Third times the charm though and this was the occasion when the duo finally did justice to their recorded potential with the benefit of a clarity of sound and downright portentous presence on stage. The fullness and range of the noise coming from just a two-piece was quite something special with drummer HzR producing a thunderous and clinical display of battery behind guitarist and vocalist KzR. While his vocal range is impressive, veering from deathly growl to hoarse cleans it is the variation in guitar tones he cultivates which would mark any band out, let alone a single-guitar unit. His performance sounded sharper against my previous occasions, as if the repeated performances of "Entranced by the Wolfshook" and "The Great Unifier" in recent times have honed his chops to better match their recorded versions, which when combined against the silhouette in which stood from a blue backlit stage generated a powerful aura around an already large frame. A fantastic show and worthy of standing alongside their best recorded material thus far.

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The Ruins of Beverast

Closing act of the weekend, German unit the Ruins of Beverast are an odd entity on record, releasing deep and complex albums formed of trudging doom and flailing black metal wrapped around a quasi-religious and esoteric lyrical template, which for me reaches a zenith on last year's masterpiece "Blood Vaults". On stage the band are a touch more circumspect, but still a claustrophobic and beguiling entity. Essentially a one-man band with a touring lineup that includes the Drowned guitarist, Ruins play to the whim of Alexander von Meilenwald. His growls and shrieks actually bely the calm persona with which he performs, limiting his movements to careful strides back and forth and showing little facial expression, all the while leading the group of 5 through a 75 minute set that I swear felt at least three hours long by the time I pulled myself away. Ordinarily that might imply a tedious performance and yet, despite a dense claustrophobia to the faster sections of song that made interpretation of guitars vs keyboards a difficult one, this was anything but.

Such is the complexity of their material, and the feeling that Ruins are very much an album band, pulling individual tracks out of their natural environment at times meant Ruins’ performance felt a touch disjointed, but their show was a very pleasing to the weekend’s bands, one that never relied on the obvious and offered a wonderful variety of styles and sounds. Finishing at the comparatively early time of 2230 (Primordial had finished at 0100 the night before) it was allowed for plenty of time to head off to the rock bar down the road for a long post-gig party, but that is another report entirely…

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