Live Review : Behemoth + At The Gates + Wolves in The Throne Room @ O2 Ritz, Manchester on February 9th 2019

Tonight I am like some giddy teenager as this is simply put, my fantasy dream bill. Those hoping for an objective and balanced representation of the evening should probably look elsewhere. Openers Wolves In The Throne Room are in my completely biased opinion the most important thing to happen to Black Metal since its very inception all those blood red moons ago. They have stormed into its hallowed fortress, torn down the jet black drapes and let in the sunlight. Black Metal is usually claustrophobic and insular but Wolves in the Throne Room have re-imagined it as something much more cosmic, transcendental and euphoric. Tonight, as always, they are an immersive and breath-taking proposition, building a cathedral of uplifting joyful cacophony of noise. We get three tracks from their 2017 masterpiece “Thrice Woven” (my album of that year, no less!) and over a ridiculously short half an hour they in-trance the rapidly filling Ritz. As I keep saying I am hugely biased here, but come the end of final track 'Born from the Serpent’s Eye’, the fragility, emotion and sheer beauty of the music they create has once again reduced me to tears.

And after that if this was any other gig we would have peaked and I would be considering going home as it couldn’t get any better. However tonight is different, tonight Wolves in the Throne Room are followed by At The Gates, creators of quite simply the greatest Heavy Metal album ever made. “Slaughter of the Soul” is an exceptional piece of work. It is short, taut and direct and every piece of fat has been trimmed off it leaving the most incredibly powerful but melodic record ever made. Criminally ignored on its release back in 1995, it was only after the bands disintegration the following year that people began to release the complete and utter genius of “Slaughter of The Soul”. As you would expect, At The Gates reformed at the start of this decade in order to reap the rewards of their new found notoriety, but rather than become a nostalgia act and flog their masterpiece to death they have continued to be creatively active and since their reappearance have released two fantastic records in the shape of 2014’s “At War With Reality” and last year’s excellent “To Drink From The Night Itself”. Tonight’s set is a well-balanced mix of songs from those three records and is a masterclass in how to present extreme music in a slick and professional manner. Aside from Tomas Lindberg’s vocals being too low in the mix they are on blistering form tonight, feeding off energy and passion flowing from the pulsating throng of bodies at the front of the stage and as part of the melee I leap joyfully and scream my lungs out to tracks that I adore with all my heart. I know this review is utterly subjective but god are they amazing tonight as they display power, presence and joy that you rarely get with support acts.

Bruised, knackered and covered in sweat (you really want to know all of that), I retreat to the back of the room to watch the spectacle that Behemoth have become. And spectacle is really the word here as this is stadium Black Metal. Behemoth have managed to seamlessly marry the power, pomp and brooding evil of Black Metal with the slick production values of arena bothering rock. The real trick they have managed to pull off is that tonight is equal parts sinister counter-culture and mainstream big production, meaning that have managed to move into the big league without sacrificing one iota of the demonic street credibility. The menacing satanic imagery and anti-Christianity rhetoric is still very much still in place but it is wrapped up in a highly impressive theatrical show that would not seem out of place on Broadway. Central to all of this is the charismatic whirlwind that is Nergal (essentially Diamond Dave in corpse paint). Very much the charred black heart at the centre of Behemoth, tonight he is both compelling and amazing, an unholy amalgamation of showman and black priest. Seth and Orion (looking exactly like Klingons) flanking him on his left and right are tightly regimented, immaculately synchronised in both their stage moves and their playing. 

Musically they are fittingly big, muscular and very OTT. For me the two pieces aired from the sublime “The Satanist” are the highlights but even the tracks from “I Loved You At Your Darkest” (which on first listen I found to be tamer than usual) scorch off the stage with furious intensity. The pomp is wrenched up for the encore, Orion (still looking like he should be quaffing Bloodwine in Sto'Vo'Kor) sports a majestic headpiece resplendent with ostrich feathers and after bowing out with the almost operatic "We Are The Next 1000 Years'“, all four members return to drum out the final beats of "Coagvla" before exiting for good and I stumble out into the cold Mancunian night a very very very happy metalhead.