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Mammothfest at The Arch, Brighton - live review

Live Review

Venue: The Arch, Brighton

Rotting Christ and Amenra bring deliverance to Brighton

FRIDAY

You can’t beat a trip to the seaside. For fans of underground metal, Mammothfest has turned into one of the best excuses for a bag of chips and a paddle, and 2017’s line-up is the best and boldest yet. Time to set the deckchairs ablaze…

THE INFERNAL SEA [7] are more absorbing with every show. Tonight they wield eerie charisma as songs like Way Of The Wolf terrorise the hordes with clanging dissonance while laser-precise delivery adds muscle to masked malevolence. Erupting with the vicious Kaos, TSJUDER [7] are the archetypal black metal hate brigade. This strain of Norse extremity doesn’t concern itself with dynamics; this is about corpsepainted fury and the sonic scorching of eyebrows. In their own evil way, they’re punk as fuck, too. Despite the stage set-up making it look like frontman Sakis Tolis is kneeling for most of the gig, his bandmates towering over him, ROTTING CHRIST [8] could hardly be more imperious. Last year’s Rituals album gained the Greeks a new army of fans and tonight they’re received like returning heroes, as grandiose anti-hymns like Elthe Kyrie suck the light from the room.

SATURDAY

Delivering an abbreviated set because “the traffic was a ballbag”, ABHORRENT DECIMATION [8] are buzzing with urgency and sound grandly brutish. New album The Pardoner is turning this band into a big deal and a snarling, ultra-precise Conspire is just one jaw-snapping highlight tonight. It’s a mystery why META-STASIS [8] aren’t vastly more successful. As ever, tonight’s set is a demented explosion of leftfield death metal, muscular grooves and Slipknot stomping, with big tunes and no fucking about. The perfect blend of chaos and control, they deservedly go down a storm.

Wearing the expressions of men who can’t believe they’re still getting away with this, LAWNMOWER DETH [7] are daft, shambolic and ridiculously entertaining. Forget elitist scowls, we’re too busy bouncing, grinning like twats and bellowing along to Kids In America. Exhilarated by their own rebirth and transformation, AKERCOCKE [9] still have the magic that first made them so important, but their new material’s more personal vibe has made them even more powerful. London’s lords of blasting darkness are magnificent.

For all the ceremony that starts off DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT’s [8] set – the dry-ice terraforming and the lighting of a huge eight-arm candelabra that largely serves to obscure the mere mortals responsible – tonight feels like being dropped into a Hadean storm with no map to orientate yourself by. The dense, heaving riffs and purgatory-wrenched vocals are caught up in a constant state of turbulence, and if it all feels a bit too much, that’s pretty much the point, resonating with something raw and primal rattling the windows of rational thought. Featuring a largely refreshed line-up but still looking like they’ve emerged from the rubble of an 18th-century opera house, FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE [8] also go for a maximalist, if slightly more accommodating approach. Relating tales and starting walls of death between songs, Francesco Paoli makes for an engaging ringmaster as their staggeringly impressive, opera-bolstered death metal ramps up intensity, conducting the crowd into a state of outright delirium.

SUNDAY

Mammothfest’s final day has a more post-metal, art-riff vibe, but HAAST’S EAGLED[5] don’t prove to be its most engaging ambassadors. Perhaps it’s down to a PA determined to reduce their rhythm section to an afterthought, but the three-piece’s fairly standard groove’n’holler approach sounds indistinct and indifferent this afternoon. WREN [8] prove a far more immersive experience. Their fevered momentum sounds like a quest for some radioactive holy grail as luminous, Guapo-like riffs create a tension-ratcheting corona that threaten to blind your third eye. GRAVE LINES [7] are another band who sound as though they’re making their way towards a personal precipice, with such a level of urgency poured into the riffs that you sense they could go off the rails at any moment. Frontman Jake veers from a gothic, bluesy croon to Neurosis-esque howl as songs groove and riff in real time like they’re being lived out onstage.

TELEPATHY [6] aren’t lacking in emotional investment, atmosphere or meticulously crafted songs striving for some transformative moment of truth. It’s just that their path has already been mapped out for them, the band borrowing liberally from a range of post-rock/metal sources, and it’s hard to lose yourself in their journey when you’ve given up hope of some genuine sense of revelation. Seen from outside the venue, the setting sun is framed by the burned ruins of Brighton pier. An apt time, then, for a set by 40 Watt Sun and ex-Warning frontmanPATRICK WALKER [8], one that whittles his songs even further down to their serenely devastated essence. Backed by a violinist weaving sympathetically around his acoustic cadences and a remarkable voice that sounds like he’s inhaled an aromatic tobacco that scorches the heart instead of the lungs, the songs are raw, emotional autopsies carried out with studious, unflinching honesty and everyone is transported to a private, scenic hinterland. It’s hard to tell if OHHMS [6] are genuinely throwing their all into their sludge-powered odysseys, or if there’s an element of showboating involved. Bassist Chainy Chainy waves his instrument over his head as if it’s a lightning rod, frontman Paul Waller has a bug-eyed fit, but there’s little in their lumbering grooves and gouged-out riffs to warrant such abandon, and the audience are far from losing their shit. VÔDÛN [6] technicolor riot gets the crowd going again. A band whose rampaging spirit resonates from a lateral if potent angle, their mix of afrobeat, wall-bulging, soul warrior vocals courtesy of frontwoman Oya and garage rock riffs offer an occasionally exhilarating shock to the system. But as good as the individual parts are, Vôdûn don’t rise above the sum, as if there’s a wellspring of funk and tribal clatter waiting to be fully unleashed. Chrome Hoof once used similar elements to create a fully fledged world of their own, but Vôdûn aren’t there quite yet.

AMENRA [9] have slipped the bonds of being a mere band to become a transformative realm. The venue’s intimacy is no barrier to the vastness of their sound, the stark imagery projected onto the back of the stage offering another layer of immersion. Tonight it’s a devotional rite that draws you out of yourself, as if the band are spiritual midwives elbow-deep in psychic viscera. Their clanging, atmospheric interludes and surging, cathartic shockwaves, borne on Colin H Van Eeckhout’s churned howl, beat in time to an elemental pulse that resonates through a crowd in the throes of abandon. It wouldn’t be a surprise to stumble out to find the sea had boiled away.

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