Mammothfest Day 1 – The Metal Observer live review

The first of three articles on the awesome Mammothfest in Brighton – keep a look out over the next few days for a review of Day Two and an interview with festival founder Steve Dickson.

First off, a couple of confessions: Although Mammothfest had more than one stage, the representatives of The Metal Observer, including honorary reviewer and artist Paul Gibbinson – yes, he who created the awesome picture accompanying this article – spent the entirety of Friday evening at Brighton’s The Arch watching the Main Stage. As demonstrated by opening band Vehement’s drummer and guitarist sweating profusely after their first track, it was like a sauna in The Arch and the Rikstock stage upstairs was even hotter. There was every chance that it could may have induced fainting in your obese, middle-aged reviewers … it’s not very metal, but that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it. And second, although we’ve both owned some Rotting Christ albums over the years, it is some time since we’d listened to them and with no setlist available there may be one or two errors/omissions in the song titles in that part of the review.

All photographs accompanying this article have kindly been provided by Simon Balaam. Simon specialises in photographs of live events and can be contacted through his website, www.simontakes.photos.

Anyway, onto the important business: Day One of Mammothfest.

Vehement are a local band and seem to be commonly described as Black Metal. There was more to their sound than that, more like Black / Death Metal with a slight folk element. The lead vocals were guttural, more Death-y than Black. The guitarist and bassist expertly provided additional harsh vocals, the latter also chipping in with some really powerful clean singing. The rhythm work was particularly strong and catchy throughout, while the lead guitar was quite hard to pick out, possible down to the sound on the night.

Some of the tracks were a little difficult to tell apart, but overall the set was excellent and there were a couple of highlights. Best moment was the title track of the new album, Ashes. A really infectious song, lifted a few notches by the inclusion of some brilliant clean vocals. The epic final track was another highlight. A nice quiet section in the middle of the song led into building drums similar to the effect created in the introduction of Voivod’s awesome “Tribal Convictions”. Overall Vehement were a pleasant surprise – so much so that their new CD was hastily purchased from the merch stand.

The Infernal Sea took to the stage wearing cowls and strange masks. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, they were accompanied by four figures in the same garb, but who stood still throughout, each wielding a lantern. To say there was scepticism about what was to follow would be an understatement. However, The Infernal Sea were another surprise package. The first few tracks were feral old school Black Metal in the vein of Mayhem, etc; all blasting and very little variation, with harsh screeching and some deep growls. However, they soon started to mix things up a bit with some marvellous groovy riffs that brought to mind Cathedral, sometimes even Hawkwind (see “Angels Of Death” and, to a lesser extent, “Rocky Paths”) and a swirling guitar sound like Love-era The Cult, in particular “The Phoenix”. If this wasn’t enough of a (pleasant) surprise, the introduction of a few funky bass lines certainly was. The band were at their most enjoyable when they introduced these groovy, funky and occasionally melodic sections. They may stand out from the crowd if they focus a little more on these parts of their sound, which they do so well, with slightly less emphasis on the violence and speed that we’ve heard many times before.

There was little audience interaction, apart from an instruction to, “Let me see your horns!” At the end of the set, the band simply turned and filed off stage unceremoniously without a word, but the effect was somewhat diluted by one of the mysterious lantern-bearers missing his cue and standing alone on stage for a full minute before trudging off forlornly.

It’s probably not fair to say much about Tsjuder. Mammothfest were over the moon to get them and we’re sure they’re good at what they do, but it’s not for us. Fierce, viscious Black Metal with little melody or variation to the untrained ear. They performed well and the audience seemed happy, so we assumed they did a good job.

Mammothfest founder Steve Dickson introduced Rotting Christ, confessing that ten years ago he had joked about one day getting them to headline the festival. He was clearly deeply honoured to have the band here and they did not let him down.  Diamanda Galás’ haunting, repeated line, “The world is going up in flames” from “Orders From The Dead” welcomed the band to the stage. Rotting Christ have a comprehensive back catalogue through which their sound has developed, as evidenced by the huge contrast between the opening two opening tracks; the first a grand, stately march and the second furious blackened Death Metal. The band didn’t put a foot wrong, showcasing their versatility with a range of styles. From “Apage Satana”, a tribal incantation that bears a passing resemblance to Sepultura’s “Ratamahatta”, but with blood-curdling screams, to the Gregorian Chant backing track intro to “The Sign Of Evil Existence” and the almost Motorhead-like lively, upbeat riffing in closing track “Sanctus Diavolos”.

Sakis Tolis is, as you would expect, a natural frontman and had a great rapport with the audience, frequently telling them to “keep the spirit alive” in support of Mammothfest.

Despite a set full of highlights, some tracks did stand out even more than the others. “The Forest of N’Gai” from 1991 EP Passage to Arcturo was pulverising with its massively powerful call-to-arms chants and a great guitar solo. The second encore track, “Non Serviam”, like many of Rotting Christ’s songs it’s an incantation set to metal and in the live setting it was a rousing way to close the night.

A big thumbs up for Black Metal night in Brighton – roll on the Death Metal in Day Two of Mammothfest!

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