It is Tuesday in London and in terms of the weather, it’s an awful day. Most of the afternoon has been washed away by heavy, steady rainfall. The murky water has been filling the streets with deep puddles, many of these are being churned up by passing buses and other traffic into torrents of wet spray. Do not stand too close to the curb. You will get soaked.
By the time I reach Camden’s Electric Ballroom, the hole in the bottom of my shoe – the one that has been giving me absolutely no trouble throughout the summer months – has become a problematic inlet for the autumnal conditions. I descend into the Ballroom with a squelch!
Inside, there is some further misfortune – it is reported that tonight’s five-band lineup has been reduced to four. Due to unforeseen circumstances, UK’s Viscera will not be performing this evening. No doubt this will be bad news for anyone who enjoyed the band’s recent single, Sungazer, and I overhear some dismayed comments about travel delays being the reason for their no-show. I use the event’s postponed start time to settle in, browse the merch stands and prepare for things to get noisy – which doesn’t take long.
Hailing from Rotterdam, Distant have become the event’s official openers. The lights go down and the band takes to stage with the crushing downbeat of Hellmouth smashing into our collective ears. The weight of the track’s mid-tempo lurch inspires the crowd to shift into formation. A wide space opens up on the dancefloor and becomes a playground for those taking the opportunity to flail and throw themselves into the music. Songs like Oedipism and Exofilth provide a perfect soundtrack to the mosh. The former crunches its way through a cycle of riffs, shifting towards a slower finale, while the latter picks things up and scatters them into a barrage of staccato rhythms and impressive guitar work. As the barrage continues, the band members look thrilled. Frontman, Alan Grnja, roars his approval as the musicians build up their energy level with their movement and enthusiasm for the show. The crowd responds accordingly, pounding along to tracks like Heirs Of Torment and the band’s triumphant set closer, False Gods. Lifted from their 2019 album, Tyrannotophia, it gets performed here with the ferocity of a band who understands just how powerful heavy music can be to a room full of eager metalheads.
Oceano understands this too – “Make some noise if you like blast beats!”
It doesn’t take much to imagine the volume of the response when Adam Warren asks this during the second set of the evening. The vocalist for the Illinois bruisers stands on the lip of the stage with the confidence of a man who knows Oceano can deliver no matter what the response. Alongside his bandmates, he has been whipping up a storm, using his formidable bellow to give resonance to the dense rattle of Dawn Of Descent. Behind him, Matt Kohanowski has been leaning into some of the most brutal drumming I’ve seen on the Ballroom stage – hitting his snare drum like it’s been insulting his mother and letting fly with a flurry of bass drums. He is undoubtedly the heaviest-hitting drummer on the stage tonight. When Warren announces a new track – Mass Produced – from the upcoming album, Kohanowski machine-guns into his drum kit with savage aggression, pushing both the band and crowd to feed off his relentless attack, until… it all suddenly comes to an end. We are promised two more songs, then after a brief negotiation, this is reduced to one. Then confusingly, with little more than an “oh,” the frontman shakes his head to confirm that it’s all over. There are “boos” of disappointment from the crowd as the band sheepishly packs away their instruments. It’s difficult to know if they are pissed off, dejected, or a bit of both, but sadly it seems a decision was made to cut their set short, and ultimately, three songs were all we got. No explanation is given, and it feels like a flat and awkward ending to what had otherwise been an excellent performance.
I head to the bar and hydrate – just water tonight – as if enough of the stuff hadn’t been falling from the sky all day! I guzzle it back and contemplate the running order for the rest of the show. It’s a double headliner and I’m not sure what the order of events is for the remainder of the night. On this lineup, Decapitated are the band I most wanted to see, so I experience a wave of excitement as a backdrop depicting the front cover of the recent Cancer Culture album getting hoisted up behind an impressively stacked drum kit. Judging by the number of people rapidly making their way back to the stage, my enthusiasm is shared by others, so I join them up front and wait for the anticipated onslaught.
Decapitated arrive to a cacophony of cheers and take their places to the marching roll of From The Nothing With Love. The intro track – taken from the aforementioned, Cancer Culture album – builds its way to a familiar crescendo and explodes into the rapid-fire blast beat of the album’s title track, then quickly shifts into a solid bounce for the verses. The crowd takes their cue from the song’s crushing riff and pushes forward, banging their heads as they do. I notice that the guitars have more clarity than they had during the previous sets. Vogg’s melodic lines are singing out in a way that we’ve missed from the other players on stage tonight. It gives the band a sonic edge that absolutely confirms Decapitated as a deserving headline act. Just A Cigarette and Earth Scar are met with some increasingly rowdy movement in the pit. People latch on to Rasta’s encouraging roar and smash themselves into each other, rebounding off other bodies flailing nearby. It’s all done with a smile.
A moment for recovery is taken during the more cerebral track, Hours As Battlegrounds. While it is a comparatively less savage composition, it is still an eye-watering masterclass in drum work and features a particularly soaring guitar solo. It’s also a moment to reflect that Decapitated have, so far, played with an emphasis on their latter career. The Cancer Culture album has featured heavily in the set, and the further addition of Last Supper demonstrates the pride they have in their newest recording. However, when the riff to Spheres of Madness drops, and we are reminded of the potency of the band’s early material, activity in the pit is taken up a notch, and accelerates further as a reaction to the brutality of, Nine Steps, a song taken from the band’s debut album.
These gems in the performance are powerful reminders of the enduring quality of the band’s work, and how fully formed they really were at the start of their career. They also boost the energy levels up to an ecstatic level for the climactic moments of tonight’s set. A frenzied rendition of Never is played before Decapitated sign off with Iconoclast – another track from their 2022 album, which (on the recorded version) happens to be a collaboration with Vogg’s other band, Machine Head. The track is met with a final surge in the crowd and a satisfied cheer as the track comes to an abrupt and sturdy end.
Decapitated bid us farewell, leaving a challenge for our final performers to top what has been an exemplary performance from the Polish four-piece.
Despised Icon are a band who, just like their co-headliners have sustained a career for more than two decades now – albeit with a four-year hiatus. They are no strangers to the live circuit and have six full albums to draw material from. Anticipation in the room is high for the Montreal natives.
Bounding onto the stage and appearing extremely pleased to be here, the six-piece carries an aesthetic that tells me they are very much putting the “core” into Deathcore. They open their set with the chugging guitars of, Furtive Monologue from 2009, The Ills Of Modern Man record. It’s a solid attention grabber that anchors the room before the band’s drummer, Alex Pelletier unleashes his full blasting capabilities and, figuratively speaking, sets off a bomb in the crowd. From here on in, the pit is a fist-swinging jumble of limbs that punctuates all the shifts in tempo with swaying velocity. With no let-up, the band challenges the crowd to keep up with them by dropping, A Fractured Hand in to increase the weight of the music. Surveying the maelstrom from the stage, and looking pleased with what they see, the dual vocalists, Steve Marois and Alex Erian trade vicious snarls at each other and bark their lyrics across the music. You can feel the venom as they spit the words, “Snake In The Grass” during the track of the same name.
The pit has once again opened up to give space for the hardcore fans to windmill and spin – people are kicking the air as if to block the riffs from crushing them, it is a battle that rages until they are forced to submit and embrace the monolithic breakdown of, The Sunset Will Never Charm Us.
This ongoing battery is how Despised Icon continue to deliver its set. The riff. Blast. Breakdown. Repeat. The Aftermath, Doomed, Beast, Day Of Mourning. There are no lulls in the set. Just big, grinding tracks and full-throated vocals. It’s a rigid template but when the songs are delivered with this much ferocity and enthusiasm, who’s complaining?
The Canadians close the night with a double punch of In The Arms of Perdition and Purgatory, both songs aren’t so much performed, as they are machine-gunned into the crowd in an open fire of blast beats, melodic soloing, and heavy, HEAVY riffs. When the lights come back on, the sense of aftermath is palpable. It has been a fantastic night. Stunned and satisfied, we all make our way back out onto London’s streets and guess what… It has stopped raining!
A superb night of international Deathcore in a classic London venue. The sound can be a bit muddy in the Ballroom, but all the bands bought their A-game and looked to be having an enjoyable time on stage. It’s unfortunate that Viscera were unable to perform and that Oceano’s set was cut short. However, these setbacks did little to diminish the crowd’s enthusiasm for a ferocious night of heavy music.