I like to listen to music while in the car and it so just happens that one of my side hustles involves me spending a lot of time in my Volvo driving about. What, did you think that writing alone pays the bills? In this economy? Today I found myself listening to Conjurer’s latest LP, Páthos (Nuclear Blast), while doing the usual of routine of picking up packages and dropping them off elsewhere. Conjurer was working nicely for me, but I recall the confused look etched on the young woman’s face who gave me my coffee at the Dunkin’ drive-through.
This multinational bill covered three continents and crossed several extreme sub-genres, which may have accounted for a disappointing attendance. A mere dozen witnessed Hampshire quintet Ageless Oblivion take to the stage but a Death-Groove explosion, orchestrated by the phenomenal drumming of Noah See, steadily roused the populace. The brooding, savage ‘Penthos’ displayed the band’s versatility, a pensive progression offset by bone-crushing main sections, and was the high point of a dramatic and technically superb performance.
The intensity with which Bell Witch drummer Jesse Shreibman leant over his kit whilst studiously watching bassist Dylan Desmond, accurately portrayed the belief and intent with which he subsequently laid waste to it. Desmond’s huge 6-string bass towered over the bewitched throng as he softly intoned into the mic, his fingers caressing the fretboard and producing notes usually out of reach to mere mortals. ‘…Awoken (Breathing Teeth)’ was harrowing, omnipotent and bewildering: Desmond’s mournful strings weighing on Schreibman’s bowed head until he pounded back in with the force of a fucked-off juggernaut, roaring to the sky like a wounded musk ox. The track’s frame-shuddering and impossibly moving finale sent more than one person to the benches, overwhelmed by emotion.
Auckland Technical Death purveyors Ulcerate displayed every element of their undoubted proficiency with urgency and muscular action. Guitarist Michael Hoggard and frontman / bassist Paul Kelland jerked lithely in almost reptilian fashion, their heads pouncing on the buckling beat like raptors. Jamie Saint Merat, meanwhile, considered one of the best sticksmen in the world, danced around his kit with the dexterity of Nijinsky whilst pounding the crap out of it. Involving yet brutal, the groove of ‘Soullessness Embraced’ was pushed through every bone by a wiry frontman wielding his bass like a demanding lover; while Hoggard, his freakishly long, flexing neck moving with the articulation of a Bosc Monitor, flung his instrument around like a toy in a kid’s hand. ‘Weight of Emptiness’ meanwhile, its sinister clashes and clangs shot through with brutal portent, highlighted again the incredible work of Merat who hypnotised all by slamming perfected, multiple rhythms down our throats whilst appearing to do nothing.
For a New Zealand band to perform 11,000 miles from home with this intensity to a room of 50 people was both criminal and admirable. An eclectic bill in many ways, Bell Witch just about stole it but every band played their part in a remarkable show of strength.
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY