As the air conditioning helpfully blows cold air through a half empty hall on a freezing winter evening, it heralds the onslaught of Manchester’s finest – Winterfylleth.

Greeted with a reassuringly loud reception as they open the bill, the venue slowly fills and the band tear through a brief set with conviction and precision. No showmanship, no props, no patter – just half an hour of pure class.

The sound is iffy to begin with but soon it all gels and hundreds of heads nod in approval. Bassist Nick Wallwork sincerely thanks the gathered hordes for turning out early to support British metal and then they unleash an absolutely perfect ‘Whisper Of The Elements’. The icy winds are still blowing from the vents above but the crowd have been warmed up superbly.

Sound checking onstage right before their set, the mighty Grand Magus peel out some choice Sabbath riffs as they hurriedly get their back line sorted and change over the drum kit. Not the most auspicious of starts and anyone who doesn’t know these masters of thunder may think this didn’t bode well. But as any fool knows, the Stockholm trio live, breathe and almost certainly shit metal.

Pounding through ‘I, The Jury’, ‘Like the Oar Strikes The Water’, ‘Steel vs Steel’ and the title track of their magnificent new album, JB and co look at ease and dominate the stage. The whole audience is in full voice for ‘Triumph And Power’ and there are hundreds of headbangers all in unison down the front.

As they announce they only have time for one more song there is a dissapointed “boooooo” and Fox sarcastically asks “any requests”. This is almost immediately met with
a throng at the front bellowing “Whooa- whooo-Oooh” and it spreads throughout the hall as we all correctly herald ‘Hammer Of The North’. By the time they hit the main
section everyone present has learned the tune. Fuck ‘Fear Of The Dark’ – this is the metal chant you want to hear. Such is the strength of their new material that the
lack of ‘Iron Will’ in their set is easily forgiven as they exit stage left to deafening cheers.

Someone still needs to check that the drummer isn’t really Alan Mecalfe though.

Soon the lights dim and the ‘Birthplace of Heavy Metal’ is treated to the familiar strains of ‘War Pigs’ over the PA. The singalong is cut short as Vogg appears and scythes through everything else with his multitude of riffs.

The next 40 minutes is a mass of hair, beards and riffs. RIFFS. ALL OF THEM. Whilst pondering how Vogg manages to play with such precision whilst headbanging this
much, it calls to mind the first time I saw them many years ago in a dusty old Dudley JBs and I marvelled at the same sight as he blasted through ‘Mother War’.

Tearing through six tracks from their latest album “Blood Mantra” is a bold and wonderfully arrogant move and although many fans bemoan the lack of ‘Spheres…’, the
material is so astonishingly good I personally am pleased to see so much of it given a live airing. The pace is varied but the brutality is consistent.
We all miss Vitek, and I loved Krimh but he was almost mechanical in his delivery, whereas new skin beater Michal Lysejko is looser and has more feel to his playing. For a band that has been beset with tragedy, adversity and many line-up changes it is a genuine pleasure to see them perform as such a tight cohesive unit and it begs the question of how Behemoth will follow this.

Yet follow it they inevitably must and as the stage is bathed in red lights and now adorned with the trademark serpent symbol mic stands and various props and banners, the spotlight falls on two white Pearl kick drums deeper than oil wells with a small inverted crucifix dangling subtly between them. The stage slowly illuminates in a white phosphorous glow as a hooded Orion and Seth stand in silhouette as the strains of ‘…Gabriel’ commence.Soon, returning hero Nergal paces forward and the crowd sing so loud he pauses by the mic and realises he doesn’t need to. From the getgo they are firing on all four cylinders and deliver every note and beat with ferocity and almost overpowering energy. ‘Conquer All’ sends the pit into a frenzy and Inferno’s drum sound is as fresh and vibrant as ever – steering clear of the over- processed triggered sound so often the staple of metal bands these days.

Orion is continuously finger-picking like Cliff Burton reborn and remains one of the most underrated and solid bass players around. Soon we are treated to the seminal ‘As Above So Below’, one of my favourite tracks and one that always gets things moving in their live set. As crowd surfers fly, the guttural vibrations emanate from every amp and Orion now doubles up on vocals giving it extra bombast. Sublime and nasty in one simple movement.
As ‘The Satanist’ kicks in, it hits me that this song feels a little flabby live for some reason but there is no denying their sound is better than pretty much any band I have seen all year at this venue. This far into an evening of non-stop ferocity and excellence some headliners might worry the crowd may start to tire but Behemoth have such a wealth of sublime material that the enthusiasm never dies.

‘Ov Fire And The Void’ erupts with all the fury we expect and is still the template. Sheer perfection. Nergal delivers every line with venom, spitting rage with each syllable. The guitar mauling and frenetic blastbeats continue and a horribly odourous and sweaty moshpit reach their claws for the sky as ‘At The Left Hand Ov God’ leaps out of death-meets-black metal textbook. A blood drenched Simon Lucas (Winterfylleth) joins Infernus to batter the toms into submission before they close with a surprisingly brutal ‘Chant For Eschaton’. A track that suffered from poor production on record really has new life breathed into it and provides the opportunity for us all to bellow once more.

Although a few fans admit defeat and begin to sidle out, the encore of ‘O Father, O Satan, O Sun’ draws another rapturous reception from the majority who remain. Drained of breath, sweating like a sumo wrestler and running dangerously low on superlatives I make my way out through the corridors into the cold night air surrounded by a crushing mass of fans all grinning from ear to ear and commenting to their friends and complete strangers that this was a spectacular evening.

A triumphant return to these shores for Behemoth – after all these years and more than their fair share of misfortune they are still at the top of the game. One of the
best shows I have seen all year. Na zdrowie!

Photos by Sabrina Ramdoyal.

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