Birmingham: the home of heavy metal. Any time you attend a heavy show in the fabled city, there’s an extra special quality and feeling of authenticity about the craft. Bands often give it even more oomph when performing in Britain’s second largest metropolis, as a knowing nod to the forefathers of the genre they exist within. Tonight at The Flapper, something very heavy indeed is set to unfold. A far cry from the days of Black Sabbath’s innovative formation. Something truly evil.
Two gong strikes signal the start of opening act, Suffering. Clad in black robes and black masks, the quintet look at once imposing and enigmatic, and like they’re in Halloween versions of Sunn O)))’s stage gear. This pretension is immediately off-putting as it screams desperately of a gimmick. An eye blisteringly bright sound activated strobe light punctuated most of their set, however had a difficult time due to the percussion often being out of time. The guitarists and bassist play well and knock out a few decent riffs here and there, but it’s all undermined by the vocal performance. Lacking any real weight in the death metal growls and any personality in the black metal shrieks, it feels entirely perfunctory. It’s a pretty basic set; lacking any professionalism and vigour. It feels like a session blackened death band for a local pub. Two final gong strikes denote the set’s close, but they may as well have been he sound of a flushing toilet.
Luckily, any and all criticisms levelled at the opening band do not apply to the Danish blackgaze quintet, MØL. For a genre that often relies on the dynamism of quiet introspection juxtaposed with pummelling brutality, MØL are a ridiculously energetic band. Where many blackgaze vocalists stand rooted in place in emotional agony, Kim Song Sternkopf takes the internalised rage and beats you over the head with it. Stage boundaries mean nothing to this force of nature who spends as much time writhing across the monitors and screaming in faces from within the crowd as he does in the intended vocalists’ spot.
The band are on top form too, playing an unbelievably tight set. They work as a solid and cohesive unit, effortlessly shifting between all out metal on songs like Vakuum, and more exploratory and dynamic numbers like debut title track, Jord. The set highlight comes in the form of penultimate song, Bruma, ‘a song about death’ according to Kim. It’s a beautiful, intricate and emotionally resonant work and one of the best songs of 2018. This performance does nothing to dull that lustre. The whole show is incredible from start to finish, and solidifies MØL as one of the greatest live bands around.
After the quickest gear change in human history, headliners, Ghost Bath, take to the stage in ferocious fashion. Unfortunately this means the room is only half full for the introductory songs of the set, but Ghost Bath play as if it’s a full house nonetheless. The nameless Dakotan five-piece bring a gorgeous atmospheric black metal landscape to the room. For the duration you’re not in the downstairs of a pub, but transported to a icy cold mountain top, wind lashing against you in time with the agonising screamed vocals. The guitars are played with the speed that would make any band balk, picking hands being a blur against the strings. The trio of six strings create an extra level of punch, filling the sound out to monolithic proportions.
There is a case to be made that in having three guitarists, there is no excuse for a backing track, but it’s understandable as inter-song silence would break the spell the band cast upon all in attendance. The magical effect is entirely the band’s own as the stage production is as bare bones as is possible. No backdrop, no dry ice, just five incredible musicians and red stage lights. Achieving such a mesmeric performance under such circumstances is commendable, and Ghost Bath prove themselves as one of the greats in their scene. They can go toe to toe with the best of live acts, and come out earning the respect of anyone lucky enough to see them.