London’s most ambitious extreme metal festival returns for another year, once again drawing crowds from around the country with a varied selection of quality local and international acts. Kicking things off at The Dome are blackened death metallers SATHAMEL , whose muscular and professional sound pummels the early attendees in suitably merciless fashion, though could perhaps benefit from a little more personality to separate it from the crowd. Downstairs, looking like they’d knife your gran, BLACK SKIES BURN’s  take on death grind is part yob brawl, but with a sharp intelligence conducting the melée. SHRINES  offer a less aggressive display, though one bearing more eccentricity and character, the progressive yet emotive songs delivered with clarity and passion. Featuring two members of Eastern Front, and not doing much to veer from the robust, militaristic black metal they’re used to, STAHLSARG  may not lay down much of a challenge, but do a good job of rousing the crowd. THE KING IS BLIND  are particularly on form today, their atmosphere-tinged yet always straightforward blend of metal styles hitting home. The band are showcasing material from their yet-to-be-released second album, so things bode well. Lacking some bottom end today, but forcing all their progressive manoeuvres upfront instead, DAMIM  lash their death metal to high-octane grooves and off-kilter riffage, led by a typically intense performance from new Akercocke inductee, Nathanael Underwood. In full, spiked regalia, NINKHARSAG’s  battle-ready black metal has a Boston Music Room of fists pumping their air, while upstairs TEMPLE OF BAAL  prove a fine example of the utterly committed and slightly unhinged approach of the French to Satanic BM. Their aggressive and notably dense compositions provide a hammer blow to the crowd even if it doesn’t necessarily energise them. A very different take on occult BM, CULT OF FIRE’s  psychedelically robed, masked, and ceremonial approach focuses initially on the more recent, almost shoegaze-textured material. The Eastern tinges prove as ambrosial as the clouds of incense, before their band’s energies are focused into a wave of ravaging riffs. SKINNED  change the tone with a dose of unpretentious but invigorating death metal, leaning toward the more modern brutal end of the spectrum.
The return of AKERCOCKE  has been something of an event in UK metal circles and expectations remain high for a new record. Live, their progressive and technical death metal assault still carries that familiar presence and sense of confidence, even if the dance moves of keyboard player Sam Loynes remain divisive with fans. Downstairs, a heavily muffled PA strips away much of A FOREST OF STARS’  bedlam-recounting mania and magic. Only a closing Gatherer Of The Pure reaches exhilarating fever pitch as frontman Mister Curse’s glare attempts to burn through steel. SODOM  have hardly spoilt UK fans with live appearances over the last few decades, the last example in the capital being their insanely packed-out show at The Underworld some years ago, one of the busiest metal shows at that venue ever. Thankfully theydon’t disappoint tonight and tear into their back catalogue with a passion and vigour that belies their years of experience. The appearance of Surfin’ Bird raises eyebrows, but otherwise this is a crowdpleasingsetlist, with such classics as Agent Orange, Sodomy And Lust and early tune Witching Metal delivered with hellish fury.
UK black metallersREIGN OF EREBUS  made some impact back in the 00s with their two full-lengths and have recently returned after a decade away, frontman Cthonian joined by a new roster of musicians. They remain a solid proposition, although there is still some work to catch up with a more crowded scene than existed first time around. ANAKIM’s  spirited but technical and progressive DM manages to balance accomplished musicianship with genuinely exciting songwriting. THE INFERNAL SEA  are one of the stronger UKBM bands vying for attention and today they demonstrate why, their vicious riffing and stomping swagger translating perfectly to the live arena. More orthodox, but one of the few BM bands of their ilk who sound like they’ve been charged to hold the fort rather than chasing after lost glories, NAHAMIA’s  intense performance goes down a storm. VEHEMENT’s  bandanas over the face may not be an entirely convincing ruse, but they’re one of the weekend’s biggest revelations, using space and internal dynamics to devastating effect. This is black metal with an internal and emotionally charged life of its own. DOMITOREM’s  keyboard-infused BM offers a compelling combination of stripped down aggression and more melodic and vaguely symphonic traits. Upstairs, DYSCARNATE  have become the last remaining hope of the new wave of UKDM heralded a few years back, their combination of tight, old-school awareness and contemporary-calibrated grooves suggesting they’d be a perfect support act for Decapitated.
GAAHLS WYRD  were always destined to be a highlight, and so they prove, the Norwegians giving their all. There is, of course, still a cult of personality surrounding the talented frontman Gaahl, the crowd clearly transfixed by his soulful performance throughout, but everyone is firing on all cylinders and the luxury of being able to cherrypick from a back catalogue of tunes means a totally consistent setlist. Lacking keyboard player/sampler Anonymous, META-STASIS  can’t quite reach the necessary level of lunacy today, their Slipknot-down-a-K-hole rampage falling flat this evening. SAMAEL  haven’t been seen here for a whopping nine years and the fans here literally welcome them with open arms. The choice of tunes is also a crowdpleaser, the band frequently revisiting their earliest works – written when they were a doomy ritualistic black metal band – and recreating them with the high-tech bombast of the contemporary incarnation of the group. It all fits together perfectly and the performance itself is electric, curiously inspiring a wave of crowdsurfers – much to the chagrin of the security. DERANGED’s  grind-scorched death metal rounds off the Boston Music Room in satisfyingly aggressive style, a wild-eyed Johan Bergström stalking the floor as riffs pound like the debris from a detonated heavens. 1349  close Incineration in suitably crushing fashion, their wall-of-noise approach flattening those still standing after two days of festivities. As it turns out that is a slightly reduced crowd, not least because the band perform past the last Sunday trains for many. While the more dynamic and hypnotic tracks are always a more than welcome inclusion, this blasting and overwhelming chaos is a fitting end to a fine weekend.