Baptized by Fire and Beer
Marduk, Mortician, Vader, God Dethroned, Amon Amarth, Mystic Circle, Sinister, ...And Oceans and Bal Sagoth
at the Hafenbahn, Offenbach, Germany, April 14th 2001

by: Matthias Noll
No Mercy tour again. And in the shitty Hafenbahn again, too. This place should really get eradicated from the face of the earth. Packed like a cattle transport, incompetent personnel at the entrance, no place to sit or rest other than the slime-covered floor, a heating system running on full power during a seven hour plus gig. The situation was worsened by hordes of stereotypical dumb-faced black metal retards whose intelligence was obviously just sufficient to put on a Burzum T-shirt and by unknown means of transport arrive at the location, only to collapse during the first two or three gigs due to an overdose of German beer.

The first two bands, Bal Sagoth and Finland's ...And Oceans, were equally crappy. Bal Sagoth's dwarfish vocalist, his face covered with a leather mask, posed with a sword straight out of the King Arthur memorabilia shop in Cornwall, England, while his colleagues created an absolutely horrible and undistinguishable rumble in the background. Utter crap!

Commencing in this interesting style of performance, more appropriate for a bad comedy show, the ...And Oceans singer wore a white T-shirt, white boxer shorts(!) plus biker boots(!!). His bald head and the T-shirt were smeared with blue paint. This looked neither weird nor psycho -- it looked nothing other than totally moronic. Backing him up on his crusade for more humour in metal were two baby-faced six stringers who turned out to possess a master's degree in the art of motionlessly watching their left hands fumbling the neck of their guitars. From time to time they hid their faces behind angelic blond hair and engaged in head banging of a type even people with serious spine injuries would consider healthy. A bass player with a plastic bag over his head and a surprisingly normal looking drummer without any noteworthy skills completed this theatre of tragedy. I'm not really sure if there was a keyboard player, because from where I was watching I couldn't see anyone, but keyboards weren't audible at all anyway. Before someone accuses me of judging a band on the visual impression alone: the music was likewise. My original plan for the night had included buying their new album, _AMGOD_, from which I had heard a convincing track, at the merchandise booth. Some plans are made to be changed.

Holland's Sinister, whom I did not really remember for anything but a couple of rather average records in the first half of the '90s, must just recently have joined the ranks of death metal outfits with female vocalists. A dainty brunette with quite a mean grunt. With songs like "Bastard Saints", the Dutchmen sent the audience into a frenzy I had never expected so early and definitely not during Sinister's gig. Their simple but effective death metal was very well executed and there were enough old school death metal freaks to initiate some considerable chaos in front of the stage. Others were also surprised by how well Sinister went down and got rid of objects hindering them in their thrashing. A full plastic mug emerged from the front row. The owner must have been a specialist in ballistics, probably a veteran of the German World War II rocket factories in Peenemunde, because once on its trajectory the mug sailed over the crowd without spilling any of its content. I saw the projectile coming straight at me, but my arms were pinned to my body by the crowd, so I wasn't able to do anything but slightly bow my head. With a weird sound, which was audible to bystanders even with Sinister playing, the mug hit my forehead and provided me with a baptism in true Teutonic style. Despite this unpleasant but funny incident, Sinister were good enough to make me order two of their albums from Nuclear Blast today.

Germany's most hated black metal band, Mystic Circle, played in fourth place. I saw quite some people in the audience with Nargaroth T-shirts, having the quite entertaining back print "Anti Count v. Beelzebub Corporation". The much-hated count turned out to be a not really Satanic looking, bald shaven guy, who would have been well advised to wear a T-shirt instead of presenting his wobbly chest. Their music never left the realm of cheesy, typical keyboard laden black metal with incompetent guitar solos. To my ears Mystic Circle sounded like a watered down, simplified and uninspired Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth rip-off. Some in the audience showed their sympathy by constantly flipping the bird towards the stage, others engaged in weird dancing as if listening to disco type music. Mystic Circle completed their set without commenting on any of that, and even if there's no reason to hate them I can agree with the Nargaroth fan base that Mystic Circle suck.

Amon Amarth were next and one of the four bands that had already played on the No Mercy tour 2000 [CoC #48]. This time they didn't impress me quite as much as last year. This was mostly due to a muddy sound, which was heavy and in your face but made most of the guitar melodies inaudible. They also omitted all their older material and played only songs from _The Crusher_ [reviewed in this issue]. There's no doubt that this is a great album, but I missed songs like "Victorious March", which worked so brilliantly last time. The band played a very short set of approximately 30 minutes and performed tracks like "Bastards of a Lying Breed", "The Sound of Eight Hooves" and at last the brutal "Masters of War", which must have caused some snapped necks in the crowd. Amon Amarth's stage performance was convincing as usual and singer Johan Hegg (a man with the proportions of a mountain) never lost control of the audience, which in return gave Amon Amarth a level of response worthy of a headliner.

Although I failed to understand the reasoning behind this particular sequence of bands, Holland's God Dethroned played after and not before Amon Amarth. They went down a lot better than on the year 2000 version of No Mercy, but considering the amount of crowd participation, they should have been placed before Sinister as well. With a new permanent skinsman and not Tony from AngelCorpse behind the drums, the band played a very tight set, including tracks like "The Art of Immolation", "Boiling Blood" and "Serpent King", plus a couple of tracks from their new album _Ravenous_. Despite some decent song material, they never managed to cross the frontier that separates the good but slightly insipid from the great live acts. They ended their set with an almost unidentifiable cover version of Death's "Evil Dead".

The first band to have the full stage and play on the main drum set was Vader. Unfortunately, the continuously bad sound was responsible for the only disappointing show I've seen from the Poles so far. While Peter's solos were more at the forefront than ever, his and Mauser's rhythm guitars remained almost inaudible throughout the set. This became so frustrating that I was almost happy they didn't play my favourite song "Xeper", which would have been completely ruined by the lack of guitars. Still, the audience went crazy to the sound of tracks like "Carnal", "Silent Empire", "Sothis", "Wings" and two songs from their latest release, _Reign Forever World_ [CoC #52]. The band's stage performance was as energetic as ever but could not really make up for the sound problems. Fortunately, they'll be back in late Summer, supported by Cryptopsy and a couple of other bands, and from my last encounter with Vader on the _Litany_ tour I can testify that under more favourable conditions they are on par with the very best live acts. If Vader and Slayer would play on the same day in different places, you wouldn't find me at the Slayer gig. I hope this illustrates how highly I rate this band.

Now it was time for the second headliner, Mortician. For some people this band is the most brutal thing around, but I'm more with Paul Schwarz and the 0(!) points he gave Mortician for _Chainsaw Dismemberment_ [CoC #42]. They were entertaining for exactly two songs. And, like a slightly above average joke which is good for a laugh and a half but gets incredibly annoying when told twenty times in a row, things got extremely tiresome from the third song onwards. Would the next song start with the staccato riff and end in the blur of noise or vice versa? It got truly hilarious when the guy at the mixing desk got confused which song-intro to select. Directed by Will Rahmer himself from the stage, he skipped through a couple of tracks on his CD to finally find the right piece of gore movie sample. As if it mattered. Unfortunately I can't give you any song titles, as I didn't bother to take any notes and also did not attempt to unscramble announcements like (in a normal voice) "This is from _Domain of Death_" and then (obviously starting the evil machine from Hell) "Uuuuuuurghhhh uuuuurghhhh uuuuurguguuuurgh". Probably one fifth of the audience enjoyed Mortician's gig and there was some moshing in front of the stage, but most stood and watched and a small minority obviously had a good laugh.

It was around 11:15pm now and I had been standing in the shitty venue for more than six hours -- my desire to listen to metal had already given way to complete exhaustion. Even worse, Marduk was not part of my must-see list after one bad and one okay-ish encounter in the past, and only pride made me stay even though I was tempted to leave. Unexpectedly, Marduk did absolutely slay on this occasion. After the intro they launched "Azrael", the lightning-fast opener of _La Grande Danse Macabre_ [reviewed in this issue], operating at an almost unbearable volume. The whole band seemed to be far more agile than at the previous shows I had witnessed. Even B. War had replaced his "stand still and stare, looking as evil as possible" stage acting with serious headbanging. Legion whirled around like a demon from Hell and showed that he has developed remarkable frontman skills. I even became worried about how much longer his voice was going to endure the strain of endless touring and recording. His rasp was popping in and out like listening to music on headphones with a broken cable. Somehow that made the aural onslaught even more ferocious and genuine. I wouldn't have been surprised to see him spitting blood sooner or later without him caring about it. The sound experience was not only like standing behind a starting 747, the engineer got the mix dead right with clear and powerful drums, a punishing guitar sound and, surprisingly for a black metal show, audible bass work. Continuing with a mixture of old and new material, Marduk really convinced me this time, and that means quite a lot taking into account that I had almost left the venue before they started. A killer show, during which almost everybody in the audience mobilized their last bit of energy and which ended with the doomy "Summer's End" -- and at last the No Mercy tour was saved from being a disappointing event.

(article submitted 13/5/2001)


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