Though it tends to get less mentions than its neighbour Norway, Sweden has boasted one of the strongest black metal scenes since the early ‘90s – perhaps not surprising considering it gave the world Bathory, one of the unquestionable fathers of the movement. Dark Funeral were one of the groups that put the country on the map in the early ‘90s and remain one of the most popular and recognisable acts there, maintaining their unambiguously aggressive and blasphemous sound and aesthetic. Always a hard-touring band, the group hit London as part of a European tour promoting their new album Where Shadows Forever Reign – here’s five points the night highlighted.
Support act Krisiun can still raise hell, even after 25 years
Just as Dark Funeral are veterans of the black metal scene, Krisiun have long been held in high regard within the death metal community. One of Brazil’s most successful metal bands period, their tight, lightning-paced assault on the senses actually has much in common with that of Dark Funeral in terms of its visceral qualities, even if Krisiun put a little more emphasis on brutality than atmosphere. Clearly they still have enough potency to provoke a strong crowd reaction and indeed their set was briefly brought to a halt due to ferocity in the pit and a clash between fans and security. What’s more, the band had to personally intervene to stop one audience member being ejected, specifically a certain UK vocalist whose own band’s shirt was coincidentally being sported by Krisiun guitarist Moyses Kolesne…
Black metal visuals may have evolved since Dark Funeral formed, but the band have stuck to their guns
Back in the early ‘90s it was almost mandatory for bands to use a stark and uncompromising appearance that would echo the qualities of the music – “spikes, chains, leather and black clothes”, to quote scene godfather Euronymous of Mayhem, plus of course the black and white corpsepaint now synonymous with the genre. But times have changed, and today popular black metal bands are as likely to look like accountants and mortgage advisors as they are hellish demons from the underworld. But Dark Funeral look much the same as they ever did, all stage armour, studs and facepaint – and it’s clearly a popular choice since an unusual number of people in the audience are likewise attired, something of a rarity at black metal shows these days (perhaps for good reason).
The seven year wait for a new album hasn’t affected the band’s popularity
When Dark Funeral dropped their fifth album, Angelus Exuro pro Eternus, in 2009 fans had no idea that there would be a seven year wait until the next full-length was released – a pretty large amount of time in today’s fast-moving scene. This year the band issued Where Shadows Forever Reign, a record that saw the group returning to their roots somewhat in terms of sound, evoking some of the vibe of earlier works, such as debut album The Secrets Of The Black Arts. Fans have responded positively, not least in the UK – in fact, remarkably this is the second packed out show the band have played in the capital in less than six months, having headlined Incineration festival in May.
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Time has done nothing to soften the band’s musical attack
Many of the black metal bands that formed in the early ‘90s have either split up or instead evolved in a more progressive and less punishing direction over the years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course – look at the fascinating journey bands like Enslaved have made for example – but it’s also refreshing to see that some of the old guard are still making angry Satanic metal the way they did in their youth. Guitarist Lord Ahriman is the sole original member of the band and the group acquired a new vocalist and frontman in the shape of Heljarmadr in 2014, but the various changes have done nothing to compromise Dark Funeral’s single-minded icy attack and last night’s show certainly stands up favourably against their appearances here in earlier eras.
Black metal has more than proven it’s enduring appeal
When black metal returned in the early ‘90s and resurrected the spirit of earlier pioneers such as Venom, Hellhammer, and Samael, it was treated with disdain and outright hostility, with many accusing the second wave explosion to be something of a fad. It is now a quarter of a decade later and bands such as Dark Funeral are still packing out venues and selling records. And as tonight’s show makes very, very clear, this is a genre that has an appeal that crosses generations, with many attendees clearly not having been born when the band’s first albums were released in the ‘90s. In a few months Dark Funeral will be 24 years into their career – to put that in perspective, that is (roughly) where Iron Maiden were at when they released Dance Of Death and where Metallica were when they issued St Anger.
All photos by Jake Owens.