In a seemingly odd move, this gig was scheduled to take place at the Academy, but apparently slow ticket sales when it was first announced resulted in it being moved to the Oobleck across town. With the online grumbling about it being sold out and people phoning the box office for returns and the venue being packed to way beyond what seems to be a safe capacity, one wonders if Birmingham is simply a city where people buy their tickets nearer the time and the decision to shift it down a gear was taken too soon.
Still, once inside the large shed (it literally is a storage shed for pallets that has barely been converted since its former role as part of a factory) the atmosphere is one of tempered excitement for Code Orange. A little out of kilter with the rest of the bands on the tour in terms of their musical stylings, they greet the audience with fiery enthusiasm and barrel through 30 minutes of metalcore pounding that warms the room up nicely.
Next up are Swedish wunderkinds Morbus Chron; clad in denim and leather and sporting Slayer, Nifelheim and “Live After Death” shirts, they look like a snapshot from 1989. Currently a 5 piece, allowing Rob Andersson to focus on his vocals (and headbanging like a lunatic) the sound is rich and full despite the small PA and their relative youth. Totally unphased by Tomas Lindberg sitting very visibly on the side of the stage air guitaring like crazy throughout their set, it’s heads down (and then up and then down again) and full charge through a five song set.
What follows is a masterclass in mordern death metal. Comfortably striding the old school gore and slaughter of Autopsy and early Death and the progressive leanings of latter-day Death and euro favourites Obscura, the entire set is delivered with the sort of aplomb and casual conviction of a band that have been doing this for years, rather than a band on their first proper tour outside their native country.
Whilst there are clear similarities to certain bands old and new, there is no way to safely pigeonhole their sound and in this day and age that’s rather impressive. Jamming ‘Hymns To A Stiff’ and ‘Towards A Dark Sky’ into their setlist demonstrates their range whilst underlining the sheer ferocity and originality of their delivery. The latter track in particular showcases the frenetic talent of drummer Adam Lindmark who is very much the ringmaster for the racket they unleash on stage.
As the final strains of closer ‘Terminus’ ring out, Rob and Adam exit stage right, followed by the rest of the band, save for a solitary Edvin, strumming the final chords to a boisterous cheer. As he ambles off casually, those of us down the front nod in agreement that these lads are destined for greatness and may in fact already be most of the way there.
Although Christmas may soon be upon us I hadn’t expected to bear witness to something so mighty being born in the humble confines of a cold and dusty outhouse, but the sound that erupts from the speakers soon after the lights dim is nauseating in its grimness. ‘Crucifixus’ is the obvious intro and Tom G. Warrior strides out into the green haze and nods a greeting before picking the inimitable notes that unleash ‘Goetia’. With barely a chance for the assembled masses to cheer, we dive headlong into ‘Altar Of Deceit’. On record this is wonderfully brooding and throbbing, but live it lurches with a whole new visceral edge.
The momentum within the crowd is already gathering when the enigmatic frontman addresses us calmly and sincerely: “It is a considerable honour to be here, in the birthplace of heavy metal……but judging by this venue it seems it is also its death”. The raucous cheers are soon drowned out as the legendary riff of live staple ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ scythes through the air. The moshpit and crowd-surfing remains exuberant for our second dose of the mighty Celtic Frost back catalogue in ‘Usurper’ which is as frantic as ever but even fatter and heavier than the original recording.
Only just past halfway through their allotted set time, Triptykon commence their final number and we all take a deep breath and batten down the hatches for the 20 minute onslaught. On “Eparistera Daimones” it seemed monolithic but here, tonight, this close to the speakers, the lights and the scowling four piece on stage, ‘Prolonging’ just hurts. Vanja‘s bass is ear-bleeding, and the drums crash like hell’s gates slamming shut. The whole experience is mindfucking and soul shattering. There are not enough superlatives to describe the utterly bleak magnificence and sinister elegance of this song.
As vital and life-affirming as he has ever been, Mr Fischer bids us a genuinely fond farewell, the band gather and bow as ‘Winter’ plays softly to mark their exit.
Despite the tiny venue the sound is simply immense for At The Gates. It’s been excellent all evening but as the headliners appear and kick straight into ‘Death And The Labyrinth’ it really is nigh on perfect.
It’s perhaps helped by me standing near the back for the first time this evening – albeit it improves generally after the screeching blonde woman in the Misfits shirt stops barking like a banshee at her boyfriend and fucks off to the toilets in a huff. No matter what the city, I always despise the selfish morons who decide to have a shouted conversation whilst the rest of us paying customers (yep, I bought my ticket as soon as this tour went on sale) are trying to enjoy the music.
But the odd idiot aside, most of the crowd are in rapt awe of the returning heroes. Despite the venom in his delivery Tomas looks relaxed and genuinely happy. As he belts out growls from hell with ease and aplomb, his comrades in arms nail riff after riff with their trademark swagger. After the first couple of tracks he greets us “Hello Birmingham…..wonderful to be back in your beautiful city”. Oh, he lies so well.
With a fine mix of old and new, I am astounded at how visceral “At War With Reality” sounds tonight, having been less than blown away with the much of the latest album. I do hate the cliche “it works better live” that is attributed to so many releases that don’t quite meet expectations, but it really is true in this instance. Not allowing us to catch our breath, they rattle through ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’ with Adrian Erlandsson reminding us why he has been in such demand over the years from many a band. He ensures every song flows majestically with a pounding groove and nails every fill without appearing to break a sweat.
‘The Circular Ruins’ reminds us all what old school bands can do in 2014 and is greeted like a seasoned classic with a frenzy down the front that even sees the odd shoe flying high. Unable to resist the temptation any longer I head back to the seething pit as ‘Under A Serpent’ Sun erupts in a sea of stagediving. By this point in the proceedings a huge proportion of the crowd are bellowing every single word, which is not something I’ve often seen at a death metal gig and the energy is truly intoxicating. As the band feed off the reaction it just seems to crank them up a notch with every track. ‘Suicide Nation’ garners a similarly rabid response and reminds us all, including the 5 guys on stage, why we’re really here. Music is pretty much the best thing there is – and when it’s done this well it’s mindblowing.
The celebration of no frills heaviness continues with gems like ‘Burning Darkness’, ‘Blinded By Fear’ and ‘Kingdom Gone’ peppering the nigh-on perfect setlist and wrecking the necks of all present.
As a buzzing and sweaty throng pour out of the narrow doorway into the freezing night back-slapping and enthusing at what a marvel the Gothenburg quintet still are, I can’t be the only one wishing I had a rewind button. If this is how they perform almost a quarter of a century on from their formation then I hope they keep doing it for many years to come. Hands down one of the best gigs of the year.
Photos by Sabrina Ramdoyal.