Live Review : Grá + Damim + Agrona @ Star and Garter, Manchester on December 16th 2018

So after doing a week of mega-gigs courtesy of Nightwish and Def Leppard, here I am back in my element. Namely a dark, dinky poorly lit upstairs room of a pub and also as usual there are probably less than 40 locals joining me, but none of this matters as this for me, is where our music really comes to life. Black Metal is not designed for euro-domes, it is an anti-social and anti-establishment genre that is best enjoyed in grotty underground venues  where the beer is cheap(er) and you can smell the corpse paint. Tonight is very much the dictionary definition of cult and select-appeal, as this is the UK debut (or near enough the UK debut) of Grá, current Dark Funeral vocalist Heljarmadr’s original band. Unsurprisingly they are also highly theatrical Black metal and in support the promoters have managed to pull together a rather impressive undercard of some of the UK’s finest up and coming Black Metal acts.

Sadly with badly publicised times and different info depending on which social platform you looked at, I managed to miss Nomos and (most galling) Manchester’s very own Deus Mori. I run into the Star and Garter just in time for Agrona. They are very much one of the rising stars in British Black Metal and are really rather splendid. They have two vocalists and Adara’s vocals are particularly striking as they have a real malicious evil streak to their delivery that sends shivers down the spine. This is far more traditional Black Metal than Damim and borrows liberally from Norway’s second wave, however whilst it is in no way original, it is very well executed. There is a real vibe and atmosphere around Agrona and they manage to create an immersive and engaging live experience that make me thing they could be on to something.  

Where as Agrona give us the full Black Metal experience with Corpse Paint and scary stage moves ago-go, Damim went for the basic black tops and jeans look. With London based Damim, I am met with a wall of Avant Garde and rather experimental blackened metal. It is obvious from the off that Damim are massively influenced by Akercocke and like their heroes they seem unable to stay stylistically still. Over five tracks they manage to squeeze in more time and tempo changes than you would usually get over a three day extreme metal festival. This is indeed very clever stuff but it is debatable how well it lands with a crowd that is here for brutal guttural black metal, but I enjoyed them.

But on to the real reason that forty or so of us are gathered here tonight. When European Black Metal bands playing the UK, we usually get one show down in London or at best, appearances at Damnation or Bloodstock Festival, so to get such a legendary band here in Manchester is rather a treat. Grá have been beavering away in the Swedish Black Metal underground for nearly two decades but they only really came to be known by a larger audience when vocalist Heljarmadr joined Dark Funeral in 2014. Tonight Grá are fantastic. They may be playing to a small select audience of Manchester’s most die-hard Black Metal devotees but they put everything into a stunning, stirring and highly theatrical performance. Black Metal is as much about the ambience as it is the music and Grá create an all-encompassing macabre spectacular. It is obvious why Heljarmadr was half-inched by Dark Funeral as he is amazing tonight, he stands centre stage foreboding and commanding the compact space with menace. There are stage props a plenty and the hefty ropes flung about with abandon by Heljarmadr ends up disappearing into the Manchester night in the backpack of some lucky sod! Overall this is just the tonic I needed after a week of polished stadium metal. This is metal in its true evil form and Grá prove that even when you are playing to forty people in a tiny room you can still put on an impressive stage show.

Agrona setlist
Grá setlist

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki