Arcturus, live in London

Norway's avant-metal heroes take North London on a fantastic voyage

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It’s a shame the early start has trimmed the attendance for Krakow [8], as they’re are excellent way to open a night of music that’s intelligent without ever being chin-stroking. Their crush is unspeakably heavy, but there is a curious lack of brutality, leaving the atmosphere as pure menace instead of out-and-out destruction – which, oddly, gives the riffs much more impact than it might otherwise have. There’s no bludgeon at the front of the sound, which means it presses down on you and won’t let go, rather than the short-lived gut-punch it could be. Plus the moments of calm clarity stop you getting used to it. Highly impressive, and all too short.

Their crush is unspeakably heavy, but there is a curious lack of brutality, leaving the atmosphere as pure menace instead of out-and-out destruction – which, oddly, gives the riffs much more impact than it might otherwise have. There’s no bludgeon at the front of the sound, which means it presses down on you and won’t let go, rather than the short-lived gut-punch it could be. Plus the moments of calm clarity stop you getting used to it. Highly impressive, and all too short.

Caronte [7] can’t quite match that level of oppression, but their Saint Vitus-esque doom is sufficiently reverent and charismatically delivered to pull it off. The only slight detraction is singer Dorian Bones repeatedly turning his back on the audience to raise his hands to the sky at the back of the stage, like a priest giving devotions to an altar – only there’s nothing back there but Hellhammer’s drumkit. It’s distracting, not captivating.

Attic [3] are, on the other hand, a god-awful mess. They are so Mercyful Fate you can almost hear Portrait’s tuts of disapproval at how blatant they are, and they aren’t good enough to get away with it. Their ensemble is lax, the musicianship is too strained to make power chords look comfortable, and the corpsepaint so comically poor, you think they should probably be sat next to Postman Pat rather than standing on a stage. Woeful.

That may make the band that follows them look even better, but there’s no denying the consummate, insane brilliance of Vulture Industries [9] tonight. The Norwegians’ frontman Bjørnar Nilsen looks like a crazy Baptist minister preaching to the congregation, jumping down into the crowd at points to implore people individually, his face in theirs, and even initiates a conga line so crazy Lawnmower Deth would be impressed. Plus the bizarre mixture of the vicious prog metal instrumental parts with the soaring melodies of the vocals is inspirationally bonkers. It’s like someone threw Motorpsycho and Ihsahn into a percolator with Jaz Coleman’s coffee, and then injected it straight into your cerebro-spinal fluid. Only not as rational as that sounds, and more fun.

It says much that Arcturus [8] look comparatively sane in their flying helmets and other paraphernalia, but that doesn’t last, as the complexities and quirks of the music quickly take over and force you to pay attention. What sells it – beyond the obvious quality of songs on display – are two things. First is ICS Vortex’s clarity of voice, which ties the more challenging aspects of the music together and makes each song accessible, even if you don’t know it – although judging by the huge singalong at the end of Alone, there aren’t too many here who don’t at least know some of the songs backwards. The second, and probably the most important thing, is how obviously they are enjoying themselves. The band are acting out the music too much and too naturally for it to look like a contrived performance, looking enthused and selling the songs completely, no matter how bonkers they are. Vortex himself gets progressively more relaxed into his role as time passes, so by the time Master Of Disguise indicates we’re on the last stretch, he’s even dancing a little onstage. No one does mad quite like Arcturus, which is why it’s so great to see them in such good form.

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