Any regular gig-goer can attest to the trepidation that strikes your heart when a solitary band member takes to the stage before the set time. Not many things can silence a metal crowd but when Fleshgod Apocalypse's drummer Francesco Paoli hobbles on-stage there is a collective freeze amidst the audience. As he begins to explain his apparent ankle injury (the backstory of which I lose in the midst of my brain frantically begging "Please don't cancel! PLEASE DON'T CANCEL!", he informs us that the bad news is he'll be playing at fifty percent capacity (with additional technical aids) but that the good news is (in typified tradition of FA's dramatic flair) the show will go on!
You'll have seen the phrase "Classical music is just metal music before electricity", now imagine that Bill and Ted in their Excellent Adventure travelled back to the Renaissance period and transported a more than irritated Monteverdi and Gesualdo centre-stage, electric guitar in hands: this is Fleshgod Apocalypse. In fact, from the visual spectacle of the band in their eloquent (if a little decayed) attire, enhanced by masked prima donna Veronica Bordacchini and encompassed within the flickering lights of multiple candelabras, it would be easier to envisage that the greats themselves had been raised from the ground and were prepared to play the last gig of their lives... or deaths? Flowing seamlessly between each asymmetrically-timed opus, the 3 vocalists (with bassist Paolo Rossi giving any castrato a run for their money) weave a varied yet cohesive tale of treachery, charged by the anguished tinkling melodies of Francesco Ferrini and interspersed with defiant monologues fervently spat out by Tommaso Riccardi. The addition of synchronised wind-milling amidst artillery-fire percussion throughout the more recent Syphilis to the crowd pleasing The Violation (how has it been 6 years already?) invites mass 'headstomping' (a skilled combination of headbanging and marching in tandem) and most impressive wall of death of the weekend. When FA command it, you do not ignore.
Fleshgod Apocalypse are the type of band who can both pummel your aural senses while sitting alone at home with a nice glass of Barolo (they do actually sell their own wine) or when downing a lukewarm can of Tennent's with your mates inside a festival tent. I've read before that your bona fide opera may not hold them in the same esteem as a metal fan but I disagree. If this band in all their majestic glory, played with a full orchestra at the La Scala Opera House there would be but one response. Bravi!
Just as you're wondering how you're going to get back up after being crushed under such an exquisite wall of noise, along come the penultimate act in stripped-down SDM stalwarts Grave to drag you further into the depths with the eerie opener and monster-movie growl of 'Into the Grave'. Providing a frenzied, yet fluid set spanning almost 25 years and featuring debut album favourite 'Deformed' to the more recent release 'Out of Respect for the Dead' Grave deliver a devastatingly raw, full-throttled performance harking back to the glory days of old school Swedish death metal. Even though 'You'll Never See' is introduced as an 'old fucker' it is clear from the flailing youngsters in the pit that this full-blooded, sense-battering track holds up today as strongly today as it did in 1992 and is delivered just as furiously.
Pounding percussion accompanied by chugging bass notes, sludge-driven guitar melodies which literally wail for mercy, guttural vocals that would make Godzilla jealous and a resistance to modern trends are what make Grave a force majeure. I was going to say 'stor kraft' (Swedish for force majeure) but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Due to earlier technical difficulties the band played a condensed, yet accomplished set further opening the pits of hell and blazing a brootal way for our headliners. You may have only played 'one time before' in our 'beautiful' country (thanks for that) but haste ye back!
An infernal, soul-splitting shriek and a flashback-inducing scent of incense I can only associate with the mandatory Catholic funerals of my youth heralds the arrival of Behemoth. It's their first time playing in Edinburgh (which explains why the Corn Exchange is suddenly rammed) and my first time seeing them outside an open air arena and I dunno, but there's something pervasive about the atmosphere in this shadowy, contained space which feels... well, more malevolent somehow; perhaps that's just my negative association with enforced religion though? Anyway.
An imperious Archbishop of the Antichrist, flanked on either side by 'Magister Satanas' and guitarist 'Seth' and Kurgan-esque bassist 'Orion', invites an almighty roar of approval as the unmistakable commanding notes of the 2013 critically acclaimed 'The Satanist' begin to sound out. A collective crowd chant-along of 'Blow your trumpets!' matched with the bemused and slightly disquieted looking faces of security bring to my merrily half-cut mind, an image of an abashed looking Gabriel frantically trying to conceal a now trombone under the baleful, soporific ('Kaa'-like) gaze of Adam 'Nergal' Darski. If you don't get the reference then I'm afraid you don't know Behemoth, or Disney. In-between the donning of black horns and cowls to a background of occult imagery, an influx of enough dry ice that would have an asthmatic clutching for their inhaler and ritualistic riffage that will stay in your head for days, the stage is transformed into an altar and the attendees, initiates to the 'kvlt'. I mean, how can you not fall on your knees at the Church of Behemoth while enthusiastically reciting 'For Thine is the kingdom. And the power, and the glory!'?
There's something about Nergal; he's one of those true artists who must be witnessed live. As Bruce Lee (I'm a big fan) assumed varying animal personae in his physical displays, Nergal appears to 'become' onstage; morphing seamlessly between the forms fallen angel, malevolent demon and all-powerful tyrant. I was momentarily compelled to shout a request for a blackened rendition of 'Cross My Heart And Hope To Die' from his current tour with dark country side project Me And That Man but frankly, I was intimidated in the face of such diabolical majesty. This genre-defying and trailblazing band are (excuse my language) 'popular' within the realms of metal and there's a reason why. With a ceremonial, neck-wrecking set including personal highlight in the savagely anthemic 'Conquer All' and culminating in the blackened death-disco 'Chant For Eschaton 2000', Behemoth prove that with a perfect blend of impeccable musician and inimitable showmanship, extreme music can transform into the impurest forms of art.
Photo accreditation: Bruce Cowie