Candlefest 2013

author MST date 01/09/13

For those that tend to look for hidden gems in extreme metal in the underground, Candlelight Records will most certainly not be a foreign name. Many of the label's bands are based in the UK, but there are quite a few international names on their roster as well. In 2010, the first edition of Candlelight Records's own festival dubbed Candlefest took place at The Underworld in Camden, London. That year and the year after, it was a 1-day event showcasing the best of Candlelight's local bands in the London area. Naturally the narrow selection of bands that Candlelight have to choose from would make an annual Candlefest sort of repetitive, but after the festival took a break in 2012 it returned in 2013 as a full-blown 3-day festival featuring both the label's domestic and international bands.

Venue and Surrounding Area

The Underworld is located just across the road from Camden Town Underground Station, so getting to the venue couldn't be easier. The Underworld is located beneath the World's End pub, and as the name may imply, The Underworld is in fact sort of the basement of World's End. Camden is a perfect part of London for any metal event; everything from the architecture to the metal and rock-themed pubs makes it the place to be, especially for the metal tourist like myself and Marika 'MH' Hyldmar for this particular weekend.

The venue hadn't been altered much compared to a regular metal gig. A stand with a huge selection of vinyl as well as some CDs and tapes attracted a fair amount of people. The merch booth was big on Saturday and Sunday because of the amount of bands playing, and getting to talk to the bands was easy most of the time. The bar was reasonably effective most of the time as well. But obviously the main part of the venue was what mattered. There's one major problem with The Underworld: a large pillar in the center of the room near the stage, similar to that in the now closed Copenhagen venue, The Rock. Other than that the venue was great, and the sound was good most of the time. Now, let's get on with the bands.

Reviews marked with "EW" written by Ellis 'EW' Woolley, all other reviews written by MST.

All photos by Marika Hyldmar

Friday

Voices

Voices

The opening band for the festival was Hybris, a young local thrash metal band. Like was sadly the case with all opening bands, we missed Hybris and arrived as Voices were starting their set. Voices are a fairly new band as well, yet they should be known by quite a few people as Voices is the new project by former Akercocke members David "The Earl" Gray and Peter Benjamin, as well as previous Akercocke touring keyboard player Sam Loynes. Though the black metal that Voices play isn't exactly identical to the progressive death metal that Akercocke excelled at, there are clear differences to be heard. But as EW concluded in his review of the band's debut album it sounds like they haven't completely found their sound yet. Guitarist/vocalist Peter Benjamin clearly felt at home on stage after his time in Akercocke, but overall, some things were just missing: for a black metal band of their sort, the show lacked a fair share of intensity. But during the more extreme parts of the set, there were definite redeeming moments. I guess the deal with the performance was the same as how I feel about the band's music: there are good moments, but Voices are rarely memorable enough. They could potentially be great, they just need a little something extra. [6] MST

Palehorse

Palehorse

Palehorse are a very different beast. I had more or less written them off as irrelevant noise after the quick listen I gave them back home, but the live experience revealed more than I was able to discover for myself. Palehorse are a 5-piece from London, and they play a noisy slab of sludge/doom with two bassists and no guitars. Nikolai Grune's vocals are mostly sludgy screaming and yelling but also spoken word and the occasional growl. Additional vocals are added by Mark Dicker who also takes care of the electronics that make some of the songs sound even more dirty and noisy. It's all really lo-fi which was part of the reason why it didn't appeal to me at home, but when Palehorse performed their noisy music on stage it seemed strangely appealing in an almost hypnotizing manner. The slowly pounding drums and deep, thundering basses made heads bob back and forth in an almost ritualistic manner, and the at times manic vocal utterings (often a duo) helped in making Palehorse's performance something to remember. Mind you, it still didn't exactly make me like the music and I think the music was in fact what kept the whole experience from becoming truly great; the slow, sludgy music was neither energetic nor very insightful or emotional, so the performance was basically slow movement to the beat of the basses. Grune's falling unto his knees towards the end elevated it all slightly, making Palehorse a very interesting experience as a whole. [7½] MST

Anaal Nathrakh

Anaal Nathrakh

Anaal Nathrakh was without a doubt the biggest name on the bill for Candlefest 2013. Their brand of chaotic, yet often very melodic blackened grindcore has made them a loved band among many extreme metal fans. Despite being a big fan of the band I had never seen Anaal Nathrakh live before attending this festival, a fact I regret immensely now. In the relatively small confines of The Underworld, Anaal Nathrakh curated a massive, chaotic party of moshing maniacs, crowdsurfers and general insanity. The whole band came off as amazingly convincing performers with vocalist David Hunt (a.k.a. V.I.T.R.I.O.L.) obviously making the biggest impression with his downright maniacal behaviour and frightening statements. He looked like such a nice guy when I saw him in a pub earlier during the day, but on stage he was the very image of the music he plays.

Anaal Nathrakh and a certain handsome Danish man!

The setlist was a brilliant mix of songs from all records except the weaker 2007 effort "Hell Is Empty, And All The Devils Are Here". Apart from "The Destroying Angel" from 2006' "Eschaton" which was missing I was completely satisfied with the setlist, as even "Drug-Fucking Abomination" from 2011's "Passion" worked really well as an opening track, and with old classics such as "Submission Is For The Weak" and the iconic "Do Not Speak" the show turned out to be a moshfest from start to finish. The atmosphere in the room was tense, and throwing oneself into a sea of moving limbs seemed like the only good idea there was. Anaal Nathrakh were absolutely brilliant as they ended the first night of Candlefest 2013, and on top of an amazing first live experience I went back to Denmark with a sprained ankle as an additional souvenir. [9] MST

Saturday

The Earls of Mars

The Earls of Mars

We arrived on Saturday afternoon as The Earls of Mars were playing their last song. These fine gentlemen play psychedelic rock and they have a single demo under their belt so far. Obviously a single song is not enough to properly assess a gig, but I definitely felt like I had missed a good show. The large electronic upright bass (resting on the floor like a traditional double bass) was as prominent a part of the music as the single guitar, while the vocalist was the center of attention in the middle of the stage behind his keyboard. The Earls of Mars both looked and sounded like good things are coming with the release of their debut album.

Ancient Ascendant

Ancient Ascendant

Next up were Ancient Ascendant who play slightly blackened death metal. The music played by the 4-piece was pretty straightforward most of the time with mid to fast paced drums, vocals varying between screams and Vader-like shouty growls and both groovy death metal riffs and tremolos to add the blackened touch. Ancient Ascendant did stand out from the crowd once in a while though with some great guitar melodies and solos occasionally as well as some proggy passages. In terms of performance the Reading-based band did little to surprise, so it was pretty much up to the music to speak for itself. Certain songs were definitely capable of that, such as "Blood Calls" from the band's latest EP from 2012, which contains some great melodic riffs. But overall Ancient Ascendant were too average in the grand scheme of things which made them quite forgettable. [6] MST

Crown

Crown

At last it was time for the first international band to play the festival. Crown is a French sludge/doom duo of two guitarists with a backing track of programmed drums playing in the background. The two guitarists had brought a third guitarist with them, a gentleman by the name of Frederyk Rotter from the Swiss sludge/doom band Zatokrav who were to play the festival later during the night. The guitarist stationed on the right had his guitar tuned way down to sort of act like a bass, and he would handle most of the vocals with cleans and shouty growls very much like any other sludge/doom band. What made Crown an unusual band, however, was how atmospheric and personal the music seemed. The programmed drums were extraordinarily simple, so the guitars and vocals alternated between atmospheric passages with clean vocals and heavy sections with growled vocals. Oftentimes it worked quite well, but as time passed it all started to feel very samey. The programmed drums made it all feel like there was no variation at all, and that is not really that far from the truth as the music was built up by longer passages of more or less the same music. This was very much the type of music that is best enjoyed with your eyes closed so the performance was pretty much irrelevant, and if it hadn't been there would have been nothing of note to see. When experienced this way, Crown were enjoyable for an appropriate amount of time, but I found myself drifting away and forgetting about the music after a while. [7] MST

Kontinuum

Kontinuum

Iceland's Kontinuum are a difficult band to pinpoint into a specific genre. Much like is the case with their countrymen in Sólstafir with whom Kontinuum share more than nationality, there is definitely progressive metal and lots of emotions in the music, but I wouldn't simply call it progressive metal. Whatever the music is called, Kontinuum have released a single album of it in 2012 called "Earth Blood Magic" from which the songs played at Candlefest were taken. The band consists of 5 members, among which 3 play guitar. The soundscapes created by said guitars were rich to say the least, and although Birgir Thorgeirsson's clean vocals and occasional harsher shouty vocals were very enjoyable, most of the time the instruments alone and a few samples here and there were what made up Kontinuum's music. In terms of performance Thorgeirsson proved to be quite the frontman, both in how he addressed the crowd between songs and how excellently he performed the music; passionate vocal deliveries and generally a clear emotional presence. This could be said about most of the band, so although I generally haven't gotten properly into this kind of music I was positively surprised to find that I wanted more when Kontinuum said their goodbyes and walked off the stage. On top of delivering a rock solid live performance, Kontinuum may have opened my eyes to a whole new type of music. Well done! [8] MST

Zatokrev

Zatokrev

The last international band to play the festival was another sludge/doom band, namely Zatokrev from Switzerland. Apart from the bands I already knew and loved, this was probably the band I was looking forward to seeing the most because of the excellent song "Medium" that I managed to check out before heading to the UK. Led by guitarist/vocalist Frederyk Rotter, Zatokrev were on a mission to destroy. The music coming from the speakers was a lot more energetic and aggressive than the sludge that Rotter helped Crown play earlier, and also a lot more accessible. It was heavy and dirty, and with Rotter's semi-screams and the second guitarist and bassist providing backing vocals, the music was definitely there just waiting to provide the base for an energetic live performance. And Zatokrev delivered. Coordinated movement and headbanging made the band look really professional, but not to the point where it all looked like an act - it was a really engaging show that demanded headbanging from the crowd as well. For the entire duration of the show, through great tracks such as the aforementioned "Medium" and the old "...Zato Krev" with a chorus you won't be able to forget, Zatokrev gave it everything they had in them. Even when bassist Marco Grementieri broke a string while laying on his back during the last track he kept playing on the next string until all had been said and done. Zatokrev impressed the hell out of me, and this will not be the last time I see them live. [8½] MST

Xerath

Xerath

Xerath have been gaining lots of attention in recent years as they are yet another band to jump on the symphonic death metal wagon. PP seemed to love both of their albums ("I" and ("II") so how this band would fare in a live setting would be interesting to see. Obviously there isn't room for an orchestra on such a small stage and most of the symphonics were without a doubt created on a computer, so Xerath are another band who base a huge part of their sound on a backing track played from a laptop. I don't particularly mind this, but it does eliminate part of the experience of actually seeing a band play their music live. This became particularly evident as Xerath played their first song and then, after a few seconds, the backing track disappeared. What we were hearing was chug-heavy, Meshuggah-inspired death metal with little to get excited about, though I should note some of their songs have much more interesting compositions without the need for the symphonics. It quickly became awkward as the band members were looking at each other and over their shoulders to figure out what was going on. When the song had finished, vocalist Richard Thomson said: "We need to get our backing track sorted. Without our backing track we're shit." Though I'm sure he was trying to be humorous, in that particular song it wasn't really that far from the truth as it did indeed become quite boring. A minute or so was all it took for the backing track to be back up, and everything went smooth from there in terms of the music. Thomson certainly did what he could to get the crowd back on his side after that little mishap: he was smiling, interacting with the audience and inciting "hey-heys" a couple of times, but his band members didn't exactly help him carry it home. When the backing track was working and Thomson was doing his thing Xerath were definitely not bad though. [6½] MST

Altar of Plagues

Altar of Plagues

There is one, single, simple reason why I'm even writing this review: Altar of Plagues. The Irish black metal band who released "White Tomb", an album which means incredibly much to me and has done so ever since I got properly into it in 2010. Altar of Plagues cease to exist in 2013, and their show at Candlefest 2013 would be one of the last shows they would ever play, and certainly the last I had the chance to see, so with all the other great bands playing the festival this year I had to attend to finally see this band live. Since this was the last show the band would play in the UK it came as no surprise that The Underworld was packed when the trio finally ascended the stage. I say trio, because the band's bassist Dave Condon who did much of the vocal work, at least on the band's earlier material, was absent for some reason, leaving lead guitarist and main composer James Kelly as the sole vocalist.

Altar of Plagues

Firstly I'd like to point out that I could probably not have asked for a better setlist. The band did have 70 minutes of playtime so there was time for a lot of songs, but normally you'd think that a band who have recently released a new album would play a lot of new songs, but the band's 70 minutes were evenly divided between the band's three full-length albums. Opening with songs from the new album which I just cannot get into, Altar of Plagues immediately made it clear that they had come to London to make a lasting impression as a final farewell. Despite the emotional nature of the band's songs and the passionate performance that Kelly and live guitarist Eric Netto delivered, there was pretty of movement and actual performance going on, on top of everything else. After a few newer songs it properly began for me as "Earth: As a Womb" brought a few tears to my eyes, followed by an altered version of "Earth: As a Furnace" and two great songs off 2011's "Mammal". James Kelly's less raspy vocals didn't cover all of the vocal work originally featured in the recorded material, and the vocals were slightly too low in the mix, but knowing every single word uttered in that debut album of theirs just hearing the lyrics and the music being played live was an overpowering experience for me. Between playing original material as it was recorded, Kelly and Netto would spice things up by experimenting with guitar pedals in their knees or picking up single drums and pounding on them slowly in a ritualistic manner; you could see how much the music meant to them, and feel what a bittersweet experience it must've been for them to play these last couple of shows. I am very glad to have witnessed Altar of Plagues live before their conclusion, but I will always wish that this wasn't the only chance I would ever get to enjoy this experience. [8] MST

Sunday

Cnoc An Tursa

Cnoc An Tursa

Sunday was primarily filled with black metal bands, and after just missing the gothic punk band Cold In Berlin as the first band playing, folk/black metallers Cnoc An Tursa were the first proper act of the day for me. Cnoc An Tursa hail from Scotland and their brand of Celtic-tinged metal brings to mind bands like Cruachan, Wolfchant and Suidakra. The first thing which surprised me was how good their leads actually were; from the great melodic lead riff in "The Lion of Scotland" to the more blackened passages in "Bannockburn", the music was definitely there - quality and diversity. What I and many others have noticed though is how completely out of place the vocals are; they sounded more like hardcore shouts than anything you'd expect to find on a black metal album, and that ruined, and still ruins some of the musical experience for me. With the keyboards played as a backing track, the 4-piece played their short set in front of decently sized crowd, but they didn't do much to win over any potential doubters. Granted, the instrumental parts of the music were definitely good enough to keep everyone's attention, but in terms of a performance there was next to nothing to actually look at save from occasional headbanging. Guitarist/vocalist Alan Buchan acted like more of a random band member than a frontman. The music is there for Cnoc An Tursa, so with more of an actual performance this could have been pretty good. [6] MST

Eastern Front

Eastern Front

Having not exactly been enamoured by their "Blood on Snow" LP I must admit to having low expectations from this performance from Eastern Front. Though they may wish to hail from the ruins of Stalingrad circa 1943 Eastern Front are London natives and the 'truest' BM band Britain has to offer at the moment, if local recognition is anything to go by. Like all acts across the festival they were tremendously well supported by the soundman and audience alike, giving the best opportunity for their withering Marduk-inspired tomes to hit home. Frontman Nagant is the owner of a hideous blackened howl (in more ways than one) and more belligerant deathly growl, using both within each song, but more magnificently than this allowed himself to speak in-between songs in a decipherable language. Hallelujah! For a band rocking the corpsepaint look, where usually only the grimmest of stage performances are found, EF were happy walking around the stage and offering a visual spectacle to go with the otherwise unremarkable BM fare but this was still an improvement on my expectations and further upping of the ante into the evening's bands. [6½] EW

Falloch

Falloch

This was a first live and sonic introduction to Falloch for me after having read of their name numerous times since the release of sole album "Where Distant Spirits Remain" in 2011. Those references to the Glaswegians have often hinted at strong similarities to Agalloch, and this comes in more than just the song structures - the very name and logo bear an uncanny resemblance to those brilliant Americans. Listening to Falloch live one can tell of a stringent attempt to play on that atmospheric/folk/post rock/metal (delete as appropriate) vibe with the gradually developing songs, agreeable guitar tones and pleading vocal style of Tony Dunn all conjuring up a fairly determined style of play. And it must be said that too the physical delivery of theirs was alright; requisite levels of headbanging provided some onstage movement to go with the otherwise notable absence of image within the band. However, ultimately, it was the amateur-ish delivery of the songs which lingers most in the memory. The songs aired lacked the emotional involvement of classic Agalloch and even Fen material, and never reached the peaks of enlightenment which can be found elsewhere in the genre. Had these been backed up a top-quality vocalist the damage to the grade could have been reduced but the performance of Dunn did not give me the impression he has the power or range to prevent their songs from becoming a quickly disappearing memory following their conclusion. Falloch do have some things going for them, for sure, but it's a long, long way to the top if you wanna truly rock 'n' roll. [5] EW

Wodensthrone

Wodensthrone

It began, and then it was all over. That was how it felt when the British atmospheric black metal band Wodensthrone played their criminally short set at Candlefest 2013. Now reduced to a 5-piece after the departure of former vocalist Brunwulf, Wodensthrone had two amazing albums in "Loss" and "Curse" to choose from and with the short set times, the three songs played were over far too quickly for my liking. With vocal duties now split between the two guitarists, the two songs from the most recent album "Curse" sounded more genuine, but the magnificent "Leódum On Lande" from the debut was brilliantly executed nonetheless.

Wodensthrone

A single bit of facepaint across one of each member's eyes were a nice subtle touch to the mostly bald-and-bearded band who elevate themselves in most reviewers's minds by actually having a keyboard player on the stage; being able to see Michael "Árfæst" Blenkarn play the band's keyboards made the experience feel a lot more honest especially on "Leódum On Lande" since the keyboards are so prominent on "Loss". On stage, the whole of Wodensthrone seemed to enjoy playing as much as I loved watching them, with every second delivered with genuine passion. This band truly did everything right, and yet the experience wasn't quite right; Wodensthrone's music just cannot be compressed into a 3-song set, and in this case it wasn't just a case of walking away wanting more, it was a case of walking away being disappointed because the 3 songs really just were not enough. I look forward to hopefully being able to experience the true potential of Wodensthrone. [8] MST

Mael Mórdha

Mael Mórdha

Coming off the back of the inspired and transcendental Wodensthrone performance, Irish pagan warriors Mael Mórdha brought a very different feel to what had come before. Their battle-rousing anthems are closer in aura to (old) Amon Amarth than the blackened fare this show was built around, which when coupled with their 'Braveheart' appearance lent MM the benefit of being the stout filling in a scything English sandwich.

Mael Mórdha

Down to a four-piece these days the focal point of their half-hour is without doubt frontman Roibéard Ó Bogail, who plays the whistle, performs from within the crowd and delivers his lines with his usual excitable and charismatic voice to leave little attention spare for his bandmates. In truth Gerry Clince (guitar), Dave Murphy (bass) and the barely visible Shane Cahill on the skins go about their jobs more diligently than spectacularly, allowing the songs aired from new album "Damned When Dead" to fit in well against their older material. With their easier sound and less intimidating sound than the other bands on the bill Mael Mórdha worked their pagan-blackened-doom to a strong audience reaction, making the most of the more personal nature of their songs to bring back memories in this writer of this past performance here in support to Irish brothers Primordial. [7½] EW

Winterfylleth

Winterfylleth

This was the second time I saw the British atmospheric black metal band Winterfylleth live, the first being at Wacken Open Air in 2012. At that festival show, the band seemed either shy or scared (or both) of playing at a big festival like WOA. Back in the UK where they're "born and bred" like EW put it during the show, they looked like a completely different band from what I was expecting. Winterfylleth looked incredibly confident on stage as they played a surprisingly diverse setlist, and the band's confidence was infectious. The music was performed with passion while at the same time each band member remained active at all times making the show something you really wanted to keep watching. Guitarist/lead vocalist Chris Naughton even came through as an excellent frontman both during songs and when addressing the audience inbetween tracks. He looked genuinely happy as well as he curated the whole ordeal.

Winterfylleth

Though it wasn't exactly a perfect setlist, "A Valley Thick With Oaks" and "The Swart Raven" from 2010's "The Mercian Sphere" and 2012's "The Mercian Sphere" respectively were great picks before the eternal fan favourite "Defending The Realm" ended a brilliant weekend by showcasing some of the very best that Candlelight Records have to offer on record, and apparently also on stage. Brilliant. [8½] MST

Comments
comments powered by Disqus

Legal

© Copyright MMXIX Rockfreaks.net.