Tonight, I am dropped straight into the maelstrom. I present my ticket and push through the doors of London’s Kentish Town Forum, only to experience the immediate impact of Lyn Jeff’s double-bass drums reverberating through my chest and loosening my skull.
Manchester brutalists, Ingested are already onstage, playing their brand of slam-infused death metal to an impressively packed room. Tonight is a sell-out, and even from my current vantage point at the back of the room, the band onstage is generating such potent energy, it creates the feeling I’ve been transported forward in time and I am already watching a headline set. As I move further into the venue, I can see the pit has established itself into an early whirlpool of bodies, instigated by the band’s frontman, Jason Evans, who calls for maximum carnage as the band charge into the discordant, machine gun rattle of Shadows In Time.
Checking my ticket for the door times, I conclude that things must’ve kicked off early and I’d missed an early set from Stormruler. It’s a shame for me, because last year’s, Sacred Rites & Black Magick album had piqued my interest as a particularly chilling set of soaring black metal anthems. Anyone turned on by a blend of blackened savagery and melodic flair would do well to check them out. A few hundred excited metalheads seem to agree, and it’s clear Stormruler’s performance had been enough to light up the room and start things off with a triumphant intent. I’m disappointed to have missed them but pleased to acknowledge off the back of their opening set, the atmosphere in the building is electric!
Carrying that momentum forward, Ingested continue to blast on with confidence and power. Despite the aggression in the music, there is a real positivity contained in the band’s delivery. Between songs, Evans offers his encouragement to the crowd; thanking London for their enthusiasm as they reciprocate his boundless vitality with movement and volume. I, Despoiler, Impending Dominance and the appealing grind of Invidious are all given a world-class performance – each track slams home and is met by those on the main floor with a celebratory mosh. Echoes of Hate brings the impressive set to a close, and the frontman signs off with a smile and a message of sincerity to all in attendance – “as always, peace and love!”
The buzz that permeates the aftermath of Ingested’s set is palpable. People move around the room, smiling as they look for their friends, purchase a t-shirt or find their spot at the bar. While all this bustling activity plays out around me, a particularly imposing storm cloud appears to be incoming. If Ingested’s set left the room full of light, Dark Funeral’s arrival feels like an unnoticed, drifting fog has engulfed the room and is now drawing those inside it back into the darkness.
Standing in a central position on the stage, vocalist Heljarmadr cuts an intimidating figure as he glares out into the room. His fellow musicians launch into Nosferatu from the band’s most recent album, We Are The Apocalypse – and thus begins an hour of blackened malevolence.
For a while, I’ve been looking forward to seeing Dark Funeral in an appropriate setting. The last time I watched them was in the glaring sunshine of the extraordinarily hot Bloodstock 2022. While that was an enjoyable set, watching a track like My Funeral performed under theatrical lighting in the gloom of an indoor venue, absolutely increases the sinful characteristics of the music. The darkness framing the stage adds weight to tracks like The Secrets Of The Black Arts and When I’m Gone Nail Them To The Cross. Each composition now feels like a vile sermon.
Movement onstage is minimal – The band rely on a foreboding stage presence that is a counter to the metallic zeal that went before it. Rooted in an indomitable formation, the musicians appear as ghoulish apparitions in corpse-paint and layers of leather body armour. Anyone with even just a passing interest in Black Metal – which is arguably more accessible than ever, thanks to mainstream, lighthearted films like, Metal Lords and Heavy Trip – will appreciate Dark Funeral‘s use of theatre and costume to accentuate their ungodly music. It’s all part of the experience, and the crowd are more than happy to roar out their approval.
To the vocalist’s right, guitar players, Chaq Mol and the aristocratically named, Lord Ahriman hold a stoic presence. They occasionally break into a unison of headbanging as they play, but their make-up conceals all reaction and expression. It gives the impression of aloof composure as each riff lacerates through Jalomaah’s blast-beats and threatens to break away from the gravity of Adra-Melek’s low end. The climactic moments of the set are ushered in by Heljarmadr who leads an impassioned chant of “HAIL SATAN ” before the band join him for an absolutely exhilarating version of, Where Shadows Forever Remain. The frontman waves a gigantic flag emblazoned with the band’s name to signal the closing moments of the set. Leaving the stage, the band bid us farewell and return to the crypt which they have undoubtedly stowed in the luggage hold of their tour bus.
Their set has been fun and full of dark drama, but now it’s time for a beer as the anticipation for tonight’s headliners kicks in. The venue is as full as I’ve ever seen it – the upstairs seating is just as full as the downstairs area which is heaving and full of movement. I’m struck by what a good mood people are in. Chatter and laughter permeate the crowd while people try to squeeze themselves a little closer to the stage. A huge cheer goes up as the Cannibal Corpse backdrop is hoisted up behind the drum kit, and I take this as my cue to find a good spot to watch the show.
My mind is cycling through all the potential lightning blasts that the band might choose to open with. but my focus on Corpse’s speed and savagery does not prepare me for the gargantuan weight of Scourge of Iron as it locks into gear and opens the show with all of its Sabbath infused weight. It sounds f*cking massive.
The Time To Kill Is Now comes next and brings with it enough deranged acceleration to send the mosh pit crazy. As a statement of intent, this one will take some beating, but it soon becomes clear Cannibal Corpse have more than enough straight up, hard-edged bangers to maintain this breath-taking level of intensity. Inhumane Harvest and Code of the Slashers represent the band’s more recent output. Each track smashes its way out of the sound system and pushes people into a frenzy that springs towards rapture shortly after Corpsegrinder pauses to make a brief dedication to the band’s female fans – He asks for a cheer, and everybody cheers. He chuckles and reminds all the men in the room to shut up. Another cheer follows, only this time it’s a rousing, celebratory roar from the women; one that proves the presence of the female fanbase is strong tonight. Corpsegrinder chuckles again and leads into the first Barne’s era song of the night – F*cked With a Knife.
The response from everyone in the room is incredible and evokes another surge of movement towards the front, which gives both The Wretched Spawn and Gutted something extra to push against. Rob Barret digs into the track’s churning riffs, eventually stabbing out the opening refrain to one of my favourites, Kill or Become. By this point, it is clear the band are casting wide and drawing from a healthy mix of their entire catalogue. It also highlights just how strong their body of work is too. Did Cannibal Corpse ever make a sub-par album? Nope. It seems not.
I think about the length of the band’s career, the depth of their catalogue and the changes that have occurred along the way. I realise tonight is my first-time watching Eric Rutan perform as the band’s permanent guitarist. Of course, he has sat at the producer’s chair for many years now, but as a performer, I think he’s a perfect fit. His playing is exemplary, – that goes without saying – but it’s his onstage demeanour I find especially appealing. He reminds me of Anthrax’s Frank Bello in the way he looks to be having SUCH FUN. In between each frenetic solo, and without a microphone, he roars out the lyrics in unison with George Fisher and proves himself to be a real asset.
Speaking of assets; Surely one of the things we ALL came here to see tonight is the legendary girth of George Corpsegrinder Fisher’s neck. Just as expected, the vocalist has spent much of the night doubled in a headbanging whirlwind – but for I C*m Blood, he lays down the gauntlet. Tonight’s challenge is to match his velocity for the duration of the song’s opening bars. “You will fail, miserably,” he reassures us, before proving himself right when Mazurkiewicz’s blast-beat drops and Mr. Fisher leaves us for dust.
Corpsegrinder’s playful nature is an effective contrast to the density and depravity of Cannibal Corpse’s music. It amplifies the schlocky intent of the lyrical themes and I wonder if the band’s appeal would’ve endured had they not made the switch from Barnes to Fisher in ’95. I’m thankful they did, because jokes and banter aside George Fisher also consistently kills it on vocals. In fact, Death Walking Terror, Necrogenic Resurrection and Devoured By Vermin (featuring THAT opening scream) prove beyond doubt that ALL the musicians have a commitment to an exceptionally high standard. Perhaps, no-one exemplifies this more than bassist and founding member, Alex Webster. Webster is a phenomenal musician, and watching him match both Barrett and Rutan, riff for riff, in both speed and dexterity is worth the price of admission alone. Tracks like, Unleashing the Bloodthirsty pummel forward thanks to his raging finger work.
Amazingly, tonight’s set has cut across 33 years and a whopping 13 of the band’s 15 studio albums. A Skull Full Of Maggots is the only track to reach as far back as the debut album but it sets up a trilogy of classics to draw things to a close. Stripped, R*ped and Strangled is teasingly introduced as “definitely” the final performance of the evening – but Fisher’s humour gets us again and the familiar punch of Hammer Smashed Face crashes in and stands reassuringly, as the set’s genuine climax. It gives everyone one more chance to go wild – which is exactly what people do.
The noise and applause from the crowd confirms it’s been a tremendous performance from a legendary band – and as the dust settles, maximum respect must go to George Fisher, who remains on stage while the crew packs up the equipment and dismantles the set dressings. Fisher signs autographs, hands out setlists, fist bumps and talks with the fans. This humble gesture really makes a huge impression at the end of an evening of peaks and highlights.
Cannibal Corpse remain at the very top of their game. It has been an excellent night.
Live Performance4.5/5 Very goodThe noise and applause from the crowd confirms it's been a tremendous performance from a legendary band.
Overall Sound4.5/5 Very goodWebster is a phenomenal musician, and watching him match both Barrett and Rutan, riff for riff, in both speed and dexterity is worth the price of admission alone.