Ulcerate – Bell Witch – Ageless Oblivion: Star and Garter, Manchester (UK)


This multinational bill covered three continents and crossed several extreme sub-genres, which may have accounted for a disappointing attendance. A mere dozen witnessed Hampshire quintet Ageless Oblivion take to the stage but a Death-Groove explosion, orchestrated by the phenomenal drumming of Noah See, steadily roused the populace. The brooding, savage ‘Penthos’ displayed the band’s versatility, a pensive progression offset by bone-crushing main sections, and was the high point of a dramatic and technically superb performance.

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Ageless Oblivion. Star & Garter, Manchester, 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

The intensity with which Bell Witch drummer Jesse Shreibman leant over his kit whilst studiously watching bassist Dylan Desmond, accurately portrayed the belief and intent with which he subsequently laid waste to it. Desmond’s huge 6-string bass towered over the bewitched throng as he softly intoned into the mic, his fingers caressing the fretboard and producing notes usually out of reach to mere mortals. ‘…Awoken (Breathing Teeth)’ was harrowing, omnipotent and bewildering: Desmond’s mournful strings weighing on Schreibman’s bowed head until he pounded back in with the force of a fucked-off juggernaut, roaring to the sky like a wounded musk ox. The track’s frame-shuddering and impossibly moving finale sent more than one person to the benches, overwhelmed by emotion.

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Bell Witch. Star & Garter, Manchester, 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

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Michael Hoggard, Ulcerate. Star & Garter, Manchester, 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

Auckland Technical Death purveyors Ulcerate displayed every element of their undoubted proficiency with urgency and muscular action. Guitarist Michael Hoggard and frontman / bassist Paul Kelland jerked lithely in almost reptilian fashion, their heads pouncing on the buckling beat like raptors. Jamie Saint Merat, meanwhile, considered one of the best sticksmen in the world, danced around his kit with the dexterity of Nijinsky whilst pounding the crap out of it. Involving yet brutal, the groove of ‘Soullessness Embraced’ was pushed through every bone by a wiry frontman wielding his bass like a demanding lover; while Hoggard, his freakishly long, flexing neck moving with the articulation of a Bosc Monitor, flung his instrument around like a toy in a kid’s hand. ‘Weight of Emptiness’ meanwhile, its sinister clashes and clangs shot through with brutal portent, highlighted again the incredible work of Merat who hypnotised all by slamming perfected, multiple rhythms down our throats whilst appearing to do nothing.

For a New Zealand band to perform 11,000 miles from home with this intensity to a room of 50 people was both criminal and admirable. An eclectic bill in many ways, Bell Witch just about stole it but every band played their part in a remarkable show of strength.

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Paul Kelland, Ulcerate. Star & Garter, Manchester, 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price




Witchsorrow – No Light, Only Fire


For all the crushing, Iommi-like riffs, occasionally rampaging pace, and seemingly universal homage, the trouble with No Light, Only Fire (Candlelight Records), the third album from Hampshire heavyweights Witchsorrow, is the lack of both atmosphere and identity. Often prosaic structures negate the undeniable power and weight of the tracks and although the sinister crawl of ‘The Martyr’ and ‘Negative Utopia’ has the sinister feel of pure Electric Wizard-esque horror about it, the sound is too often uninspired and subsequently robbed of some of the punishing might one expects.

Nick ‘Necroskull’ Ruskell is at times a vocal ringer for Jus Oborn, and similarly tries to project his well-known despair and loathing for modern life through his medium. Despite an oft decent, sonorous roar, sadly his gravelled emanations are somewhat limited in range and depth: the epic ‘…Utopia’ sees a titanic performance from the rhythm section, its supremely squalling leads also deserving of a better vocal performance than the stunted bellow in evidence. As is the filthy, horrific crawl of the standout ‘Disaster Reality’ and the primitive rumble of ‘To the Gallows’.

It’s not impossible to fathom the album’s many plaudits. There’s a largely fiery nature to the music: the blend of devilish Doom and NWOBHM patterns grooving into the mind, the almost psychedelic riffs of ‘Made of the Void’ creating a warm cocoon from the evil intent outside, while Necroskull’s solo work is staggering throughout. His earthshaking riffs are also very reminiscent of the Wizard, and maybe this is part of the problem.

There’s a glut of wonderful, imaginative Low-end stuff out there right now…and even more copycat-style, slightly above average thundering.  There is a real beastliness to much of this album, perfectly embodied by epic closer ‘De Mysteriis Doom Sabbathas’: a slow, prime slice of Sabbath at their finest with some incredible leadwork. This monstrous power may ensure that the album grows more attractive after repeated listens but the heavily derivative sound, together with Ruskell’s vocal limitations, sees it fall short of the lofty expectations created by the panegyric heaped upon Witchsorrow’s very name over the last couple of years.