Live Review : Morbidfest 2019 @ Rebellion, Manchester on April 30th 2019

So here I am back in more familiar territory both geographically (I really should just cut out the middleman and get my post delivered direct to Rebellion) and also genrely. You see tonight is an unashamed celebration of the power and majesty of old skool death metal and provides a rare opportunity for us in the UK to witness performances by acts that simply don’t usually make it over here.

However we have the obligatory young home-grown buck opening slot in the shape of Cryptic Shift. This is sci-fi influenced prog thrash and whilst they may lack the brutality of the rest of the bill, they make up for this in technicality and precession. The best way to describe their stuff is interesting as it is immaculately designed and has loads of ideas within in. It may not show off its best side in a half hour slot at a little after 6pm to a mere handful of people but there is heaps and heaps of promise and potential here.

However no matter how much promise Cryptic Shift may show tonight is not about looking forward, it is about nostalgia and putting a spotlight on the lesser known bands that dragged many of us into this mad world in the first place. The audience tonight may never top hundred and fifty but consists solely of those passionate about reviling in the majesty and power of those bands and determined to have a darn good time in the process. Italians Sadist were doing interesting and progressive stuff with Death Metal long before it become fashionable to do so and it is really telling tonight that the material from “Crust” and “Above the Light” (22 and 25 years old respectively) still sounds remarkably current and modern. Sinister were always about unusual timings and patterns and that avant garde streak (directly influenced by the legendary Celtic Frost) is still highly visible in all their stuff.

Atrocity are a much more chunkier and muscular proposition than Sadist, though the difference between the symphonic goth of their recent tracks 'Masters of Darkness' and 'Shadowtakers' and older material such as 'Fatal Step' and the primal 'Blue Blood' is striking. The latter tracks are old skool Death Metal to the core; snarly, caustic and full of venom and are greeted as the second coming by the small but reverent gathering at the front of the stage. If the band do look familiar under their smudged war paint, it is because they also moonlight as the highly orchestral and rather wonderful symphonic metal band Leaves’ Eyes but tonight is all about Atrocity’s much overdue return to the UK and you can tell that Alexander Krull is slightly struggling with the muted response from all but the aforementioned misty eyed fan boys at the front. There is an attempt to organise a wall of death of City versus United fans but it comes undo when the majority of the crowd are revealed to be Liverpool supporters, to which Alexander recounts that the greatest things to come out of Stuggart are Klopp and Atrocity. We end with the melodic death of ‘Reich of Phenomena’, again big, bold and striking and then with the obligatory photos they are gone with the slight whiff of a band who probably feel themselves to be a little above the present surroundings.

It may sound like a bizarre thing to say about Death Metal, but Vital Remains set tonight is one of the most communal and heart-warming experiences I have had in a long time. They reaffirm my faith in human kind and I feel a collective feeling of unity that is both rare and deeply uplifting. You can’t help but love Vital Remains, they have been plodding away at this for over thirty years and are still in the support act in clubs zones but they come across as humble and full of gratitude that they can do this as a full time job. Vocalist Brian Werner is a ball of impromptu charisma, whilst Alexander Krull recited pre-rehearsed monologues that sound like they are wheeled word for word every night of the tour, Brian engages in warm banter with the crowd. He covets a rather fine battle dressing gown and he comments on the different t-shirts to be seen across the room, remarking that he will report back to  Patrick Mameli (frontman of Pestilence) that the unavoidable big man in the pit is sporting their merch (see photo). However the emotional heart of the set comes when Brian brings forward a fan with terminal cancer that has it on his bucket list to see Vital Remains. He is given a pride of place up front between the monitors and a wall of death is performed in his honour and that moment and the reaction that the guy gets encapsulates what it means to be a Metal fan. This is about belonging and being part of a tribe and there is such a pure unadulterated bond between the band, crowd and each other. Vital Remains are on great form tonight and their slightly blackened form of Death Metal is as tight and atmospheric as ever, but to honest they could have played ba ba black sheep on Kazoos tonight as the star of the show is that wonderful relationship between band and fan and the energy that this reverence creates.

Death Metal pioneers Morbid Angel are essentially the tale of two bassist/Vocalists, David Vincent and Steve Tucker. The current incarnation of the band is fronted by the latter and they only plays material from his on-off and on again stuttered tenure with the group. Tonight’s headliner here, I am Morbid, is fronted by the former and as Mr. Vincent was centre stage for the much feted (and highly influential) first four Morbid Angel albums and original(ish) drummer Tim Yeung is also on broad, there is an argument that I am Morbid is a much more legitimate continuation of the Morbid Angel legacy then the formal incarnation of the band. As stated tonight is all about looking back and we get fourteen slices of prime Death Metal from across the first four Morbid Angel records and 'I am Morbid' itself from the much maligned but not actually as bad as people make out 2011 industrial Metal record “Illud Divinum Insanus”. With this many songs to get through (and a completely unnecessary drum solo) in essentially a little over an hour the pace is furious and tracks are ripped through with a real sense of urgency. You can’t fault the material as tracks like 'Immortal Rites’, 'Visions from the Dark Side' and 'Blessed are the Sick' are the cornerstones of all we know Death Metal to be and we get note perfect renditions as when stuff is this good you don’t mess with it. If I have a gripe it is that the set is probably too weighted towards stuff from “Covenant” and “Domination” and we only get three tracks from the sublime “Alters of Madness” and two from its equally awesome follow up “Blessed are the Sick”, but as David Vincent has stated that he is only playing stuff he wrote, this is regrettable but probably unavoidable. By the time we get to closer 'World of Shit (The Promised Land)’, curfew has well and truly been and gone and the thin crowd has thinned even further to a dedicated few. But this is the point, Metal is far more than just music we listen to, it is a community and whilst none of the bands tonight may ever have been huge, they matter hugely to a small group of people and tonight was about rejoicing in that connection.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki