Watain

Talk about an extreme stylistic clash. My last review job was reviewing the high-energy, youthful post hardcore of Your Demise in front of a packed, clean-cut Academy III. Tonight however couldn’t have been more of a shift, with both Watain and Shining dwelling in the darkness, providing an eye-raising double-headed mix of depressive Scandinavian black metal and disturbing nihilism. Both bands have gleefully courted controversy throughout their respective careers, and welcomed it with both open arms and open veins.

Shining

Arriving at the Institute just after half eight I was surprised to see SHINING already on stage, and it was to no surprise to see troubled vocalist Niklas Kvarforth staggering around onstage, a drunken mess, seemingly on the edge of violence. From reports of the previous nights ‘festivities’ in Liverpool, the singer took it upon himself to cane a whole bottle of Jack Daniels before projectile vomiting on the audience. His history of onstage self-harm and scarification gave the indication that the show could end up, not like GWAR’s Technicolor vomit-fest re-appropriation of ‘Braindead’, instead like some kind of disturbed performance art version of ‘Martyrs’. It turned out that Kvarforth was relatively restrained this evening, apart from one instance where he appeared to try to recreate the previous night’s party trick, but instead ended up pathetically dribbling puke all down himself, presumably to the mass relief of the front rows.

Shining

The lack of onstage shenanigans meant that attention was forced towards Shining’s musical endeavours, which were constantly the wrong side of sloppy at best, just plain shit at worst. None of the bleak dramatics of their recorded output were allowed to resonate, instead coming across like a ropey pub band devoid of power and fronted by a shambling drunken lunatic. Its worth pointing out that despite doing his damndest to booze himself comatose, the tapestry of scars fronting the band possessed an undeniable charisma that one can only call their own whilst holding no consideration for their physical or mental wellbeing. He doesn’t care if you think it’s sloppy, he doesn’t care if you think it’s shit. He is performing music ripped from the very core of his basest desires, and will perform it as he sees fit, thankyouveryfuckingmuch.

Shining

The bleak gallery of depravity was lightened only momentarily by a brief snippet of ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ before plunging straight back into the darkness. Rumours were tossed around during the set that one of their number had gone AWOL after the previous nights show, from either a full-blown breakdown (likely) or was in hospital after being involved in a fracas with either punters or the band (again, likely!), which suggested that this particular bout of sloppiness was at least due to semi-valid reasons. Either way, the ill-fitting aviator shades perched atop the guitarist’s pale visage seemed to hide a multitude of sins.

Watain

At the close of the set, a number of the crowd I spoke to were extremely unimpressed with the Shining, and from a purely musical standpoint, I can sympathise. However, what I took from the show was that even in a state of being 1000% arseholed, Kvarforth exuded a charisma that lesser frontmen would kill for, even when sober. After a glimpse into the darkest recesses of a mans troubled soul, a little light entertainment was to be garnered by watching the steady construction of WATAIN’s stage set. With the telescopic candelabras and tridents arranged symmetrically beside their carefully positioned backdrop (with the inverted cross ‘T’ dead centre, looming over all) it gave the stage a grandeur and atmosphere that doubled once they were set ablaze.

Watain
Watain

I have to mention the smell. It gets to you minutes before the band take to the stage. The stench of the carcasses they store their stagewear with. The stench of the rancid animal blood they were covered in, and the honk of burning cows heads scattered liberally across the stage. The trademark Watain Pong, which – and I do not wish to be crude (rather using complete journalistic objectivity) – but which smelt as if someone had done a shit on a bag of rotting fish. With their latest album, ‘Lawless Darkness’ receiving rave reviews almost across the board, the busy crowd affirmed their newly-crowned position of being one of the worlds top drawer Black Metal bands. Ploughing straight into ‘Death’s Cold Dark’, the opening track from their latest opus, it gave the set a rousing immediacy and noticeable impact. With the effortlessly headbangable Celtic-Frostisms of ‘Malfeitor’ following immediately afterwards, their musical impact was as undeniable as their stage presence was thrilling, with all members clad in corpsepaint, rags, spikes and blood. Vocalist Erik Danielson cut a pitifully slight yet disturbing figure, giving the impression of the reanimated witch from Suspiria, and had a presence that ensured all eyes gravitated towards his performance. With all of the members clad in similarly outwardly aggressive stage clothes and mixed with the aforementioned stage set and smell, it became apparent extremely quickly that this was less of a standard rock show than a legitimate black ritual.

Watain

Whilst there are undoubtedly more extreme BM bands, more melodic BM bands and more technical BM bands out there, Watain are the only act I’ve seen live to genuinely walk it as they talk it. The aura they possess in a live setting is infinitely more captivating than their admittedly top-class recordings, and the conviction with which it was played and presented was laudable. It’s difficult to put into words how impressive they were, metaphorically ramming their spikes into your shoulders to fix your gaze upon the ritual. THIS is how Black Metal should be experienced. I’ve long been an advocate of the argument that the best Black Metal is measured in terms of the feeling it creates rather than how fast the blastbeats are or by how many spikes they can fit onto their cricket pads; probably why I rate Wolves in the Throne Room as highly as I do Darkthrone, trueness or fakery be damned.

Watain

I can’t deny that the smell helped no end, and to dismiss it as mere stink is to do it a grave injustice. When coupled with the ornate, baroque grimness of the stage set, it lent the band, and perhaps more importantly the live experience, a truly immersive, multi-sensory bent. It conjured up mental images of musty churches, of dead bodies, of smouldering ashes. If James Cameron wanted to make a sequel to Avatar, albeit one where the Na’avi’s home planet had turned to a massive pile of human shit, then he could save a lot of money on expensive 3D cameras and just have Watain sitting behind the screen wafting their aroma towards the audience.

Watain

For the first half an hour, they were pretty untouchable, with the band sticking strongly to the BM tropes of minor-key tremolo riffs welded to an unyielding undercurrent of blasting, as mesmeric as the blackened, spiralling vortex that graces the cover of ‘Lawless Darkness’. But for the second half of their set, my mind started to wander and the magic seemed to fade, just like how my nose had gotten used to the smell. Not that there’s anything wrong with the intensity of the likes of ‘Wolves Curse’ and ‘Total Funeral’ for example, but over an extended period they just couldn’t match up to the exhilaration of their initial impact. A couple of songs shaved from the set would have helped stretch that opening magic throughout, although the diehards seemed happy and I’ve only had a cursory listen to their records, new one excepted, so take of that what you will. But in terms of a live experience it was as memorable a show as I can remember, and I bet the security guard on the door who spent the whole gig with a handkerchief over his face won’t forget it any time soon either.

Watain Gig Review by Duncan Wilkins
Watain Gig Photos by Gobinder Jhitta Email Gobinder

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