Live at Blå in Oslo, Norway on May 23rd 2014
Photos by Eivind Nakken
They say these rites are dangerous, they say we are insane…
We are lucky enough to be eyewitnesses to the pinnacle of the late 60’s psych revival, with bluesy riffs and hard rock swagger reaching a new generation of dazed youngsters. The new-found popularity of these bands is clear by the sheer amount of gleeful spectators arriving at Blå this sweaty May evening. Old and young alike are congregating to behold the ritualistic witchcraft of Blood Ceremony, but first we’re treated to the Swedish hard-rockers Spiders.
The Swedes have a culture embracing good old-school hard rock more than perhaps any other country. From the bluesy tones of Witchcraft to the fuzz of Truckfighters, contemporary Sweden is a hotbed for great riffs and freaky psych. Although they look like a rather fresh band, the ranks of Spiders used to feature Axel Sjöberg (Graveyard) on drums, and was started by John Hoyles (Troubled Horse, ex-Witchcraft). Still, the brightly shining (literally!) star of the show is singer Ann-Sofie Hoyles. Dressed in spandex pants, a sparkly gold sequin top, and an equally bright gilded cape that doubles as wings, she is a sight to behold. With a voice that calls to mind a young Grace Slick, she jumps and dances around on stage with unmatched bouts of energy.
Of course tight pants and glitter do not necessarily make for a good show. I’m happy to say that Spiders also deliver in the music department. Classic hard rock at the core, the Hoyles, completed by bassist Matteo Gambacorta and drummer Richard Harryson, stand out with their explosive energy. At times heavy and groovy, they still make room for fuzzy garage-rock riffs and buckets of raw power. It’s not merely a good performance; Spiders are a pure fun spectacle to witness. With an arsenal including an harmonica, maracas, and a tambourine, the spirited frontwoman seems born for the stage, effortlessly stirring the audience out of their sweaty slumber.
Not to be outdone in showmanship, Toronto’s Blood Ceremony appear as Spiders’ evil stepsister. Fronted by the bewitching Alia O’Brien, their occult blend of psychedelic and folk has become a small phenomenon in doom metal circles. Emerging from the dark as a nefarious high priestess, O’Brien is joined by co-founder Lucas Gadke on bass, Sean Kennedy on guitars, and Michael Carrillo behind the kit. It’s been five years since the last timed they graced our shores, and to say that a lot has happened in their camp since then would be an understatement. The excellent Living With The Ancients and splendid The Eldritch Dark have catapulted Blood Ceremony from above average to fantastic. Tonight the latter album is the main focus, with songs like “Witchwood” and “Goodbye Gemini” rewarded with overwhelming crowd response.
The Hammer Horror aesthetics serve Blood Ceremony well. O’Brien’s trademark flute and gaudy organ could easily have come off as silly or ridiculous, but she expertly sells the performance. There are some welcome surprises as well, like Gadke’s soulful rendition of the folk-ballad “Lord Summerisle”, and an encore featuring the rarely played “Master Of Confusion”. Notably the songs from their debut album are considerably improved in a live-setting, revisited by a band that is both more experienced and fine-tuned. As the encore transitions into the wonderful “Daughter Of The Sun”, I swear I can even spot more than a couple of concertgoers dancing. Their spells have obviously been cast successfully.
Strolling back out into the damp evening with a high-pitched flute still ringing in our ears, tonight’s sorcery still buzzes throughout the body and mind. These two great bands have elevated their concerts to true performances, and it pays off in spades. Never overshadowing the music itself, both Spiders and Blood Ceremony should be experienced in the flesh to get the full experience. Some ceremonies tend to linger…