Rotting Christ

support Carach Angren + Svart Crown
author AP date 29/01/18 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Five weeks have elapsed since yours truly last set foot inside a concert venue, and what better way to kick off another year of gig-going than with a blast of extreme metal? On the bill is a diverse package of European outfits ranging from technical death, through symphonic black, to blackened death metal, and just as it was the last time that the evening’s headliner, Greece’s Rotting Christ, played a show in Denmark, the downstairs room of Pumpehuset is bursting at the seams with people. Indeed, the group’s most recent album, 2016’s “Rituals”, brought this fiercely underground band to widespread recognition and since then, their headlining performances have been bigger and better attended with each bout of touring. Personally, I had last seen and heard the group at the 2013 edition of Hellfest, where they were already enamouring thousands on the Temple stage with their celebrated “Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού” LP, so it was going to be interesting to find out how the band has progressed — both in terms of their songwriting and qualities as a live act.

All photos courtesy of Michael Hyldgaard Løgtholt

Svart Crown

In charge of opening the proceedings is the French technical death metal trio Svart Crown, whom many a Danish fan will have seen at this venue as recently as September when they provided support for Belphegor. The band is currently in the process of promoting their new album, “Abreaction”, which came out last year and quickly had critics pinpointing it as their best work to date. And while I share that sentiment, I have certain reservations about its efficacy in the live setting given the complexity and layering of the music featured on it — not to mention the technical prowess required to play them. During the first half of the set, the sound engineer has trouble finding the right balance to convey the wealth of detail housed in the songs, while the light technician struggles with how dim the lighting should be, and as a result, it is difficult to make head or tail in the performance. The atmosphere of Svart Crown’s soundscape is lost in a thundering wall of sound in which the bass, drums and rhythm guitar enjoy precedence, and the stage is enveloped in near-total darkness — and as such, any expectation of being swept away by the sheer immensity of it all goes unmet.

Both light and sound do improve halfway through the set, revealing more of the three musicians and offering a variety of routes to appreciating the tracks. But as opposed to listening to Svart Crown on record, is the more classic death metal grooves as well as the mechanistic segments à la Gojira that stand out, as they unchain the three musicians from the extreme focus demanded by the ultra-technical parts and allow them to come across as more intimately present. The set concludes in “Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy” off the aforementioned “Abreaction”, the title of which is not very reflective of how the show has been construed by me; it has been an uneven affair and leaves me with unresolved feelings about Svart Crown as a live band.

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Carach Angren

Contrary to the opening act, I have zero familiarity with the Dutch symphonic black metal quartet Carach Angren. Donning Renaissance garb, corpse paint and, at times, crowns, masks and other headgear, the four musicians strike me as an amalgam of Dimmu Borgir and Fleshgod Apocalypse and as expected, their concert is not unlike watching an extremely dramatic form of theatre in which very little is left up to chance. Underlining this impression is the robotic stand on which Clemens ‘Ardek’ Wijers’ keyboard sits and which seems to have a life of its own, wearing its own mask and twisting and turning like a fifth member of the band. This strikes me as ironic because a fifth member is exactly what Carach Angren seems to lack; the band does not feature a bassist, meaning that the music suffers from a distinct lack of depth only exacerbated by the ever-present symphonic layer that Wijers brings to the table. And although the menacing-looking guitarist, Bastiaan Boh, does his utmost to make his riffs sound dense, the songs seldom do justice to the menacing appearance of this Limburg-born outfit.

The performance itself is consistently entertaining, however, with especially singer Dennis ‘Seregor’ Droomers’ Shakespearean dramatisation of the songs, and the ghoulish manner in which Wijers and Boh carry themselves on stage, leaving a lasting impression. But while the music has its moments, too, such as a variety of interesting stop/start dynamics and epic crescendos here and there, there are few truly memorable songs featuring on tonight’s setlist and if I would struggle to identify, let alone name even one of them. This is not the case with the two artists that so clearly inspire Carach Angren, so I am loathe to place the blame on my general distaste with symphonic metal, extreme or otherwise and judging by the critical reception of the band’s two most recent albums, 2015’s “This Is No Fairytale” and last year’s “Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten”, I am not alone in harbouring this sentiment.

6

Rotting Christ

Though advertised as a co-headlining tour, tonight Rotting Christ leaves absolutely no doubt who the headliner truly is. From the opening track, “666”, it is obvious that the modus operandi of this Greek foursome is to completely overwhelm their audience with an intense and bombastic show that at once reminds me of Behemoth. It seems like Rotting Christ have studied their Polish brethren closely and developed a similar way of triumphantly preaching their Satanist philosophy so that it starts to resemble a mainstream idea. Repeated calls to ”make some noise, Copenhagen!” take nothing away from the band’s integrity despite such tricks being derived from popular music — not when a track like “Kata ton Demona Eautou”, the title track to Rotting Christ’s 2013 album, rolls over the audience like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When you look at the intent burning in the four musicians’ eyes, there can be no question that they believe in the concepts discussed in guitarist/vocalist Athanasios Tolis’ lyrics, and that they have every intention to convert us to believing them as well.

Although the two bands have much in common, one thing that does separate Rotting Christ from Behemoth is that the Greeks stop short of theatrics. No one is wearing corpse paint and the show is devoid of pyrotechnics — instead, the band creates a sense of drama by virtue of their music alone, as anyone who has borne witness to the soaring grandeur of “Elthe Kyrie”, the eerie ritualism of “Apage Satana” or the unstoppable power of “In Yumen-Xibalba” (which, incidentally, is reminiscent of Behemoth’s revered “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”) can attest to. The four musicians could easily resign themselves into static poses and the audience would still be in their thrall, which is testament to how powerful these songs sound (and feel) when heard in the live setting. And yet the band spares no energy in delivering an intense and imposing concert with headbanging, windmilling and hellbent face expressions galore. Truly, Rotting Christ is deserving of its reputation as one of the best live bands in metal right now and it should only be a matter of time before they grace one of the bigger stages at Copenhell or Roskilde Festival.

8

Setlist:

  • 01. 666
  • 02. Kata ton Demona Eautou
  • 03. Demonon Vrosis
  • 04. Elthe Kyrie
  • 05. Apage Satana
  • 06. In Yumen-Xibalba
  • 07. The Forest of N’Gai
  • 08. Grandis Spiritus Diavolos
  • 09. Societas Satanas (Thou Art Lord cover)

— Encore —

  • 10. Non Serviam

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