Brave Redrum Night
Katatonia, Akercocke and Gandalf
at the Camden Underworld, London, England
June 29th, 2001

by: Pedro Azevedo
Situated in the rather peculiar area of London that is Camden Town, it is my understanding that the Underworld is about as renowned for its spaciousness as it is for the average sound quality bands normally achieve there -- i.e. not very good. Tonight was to be the exception in both cases to a considerable extent: good sound quality and headliners that really were not bothered by the smallness of the stage.

Gehenna were initially advertised as the opening act, and I was quite looking forward to seeing how their gritty black/death would fare in a live situation. That was not to happen, however, as Gandalf replaced the Norwegians. Katatonia's and Akercocke's label Peaceville wanted a more balanced set, and the fact that both Gehenna and Akercocke play a kind of black/death combination might weigh somewhat against Katatonia.

Gandalf -- whom I have seen advertised as being an "unholy union of AC/DC and At the Gates" -- played to an initially rather indifferent, half-crowded Underworld. The sound was not bad, and the Finns were able to capture some of the crowd's interest with their brand of death 'n' roll. Gandalf tended to sound more like a mixture of In Flames (rather than At the Gates) and AC/DC to me -- melodic guitar leads and hooks and raspy vocals alternating with chunkier riffs and clean choruses. I couldn't help but grit my teeth every time the two backing vocalists decided it was time for another chorus, and their vocalist tried too hard to reach the audience, but I find that understandable given the style of music they play. Gandalf generally proved to be a fun live band, but I would hazard a guess that their music may come across as very uninteresting on CD -- I say stick to the mighty The Crown if you are looking for some superior death 'n' roll.

British Satan-worshippers Akercocke continued to make a name for themselves at the venue before they even started playing. First, add their T-shirt designs to the naked women and Satanic imagery in black and white images on their albums' front covers, and you get a very consistent collection. Furthermore, the band showed up on stage wearing their usual black and white suits (black ties included). Their set, however, was quite enjoyable.

In stark contrast to Gandalf, Akercocke are not an easy band to appreciate live if you aren't familiar with their material. Their involved mixture of blasting black metal and equally aggressive death with sound samples, clean vocals and various accompanying instruments seemed difficult to accurately reproduce live. As it turned out, the band benefited from very acceptable sound quality and delivered a highly competent set. They played a selection of songs from both of their full-length records, complete with insanely fast and precise drumming, shrieking vocals, death grunts and clean singing. My personal highlight was "A Skin For Dancing In", my favourite track on their new effort _The Goat of Mendes_ [reviewed in this issue], which came across very well live. The rather amusing stage talk about our master being with us tonight and the nasty faces the vocalist kept pulling seemed to be well received by the crowd that now packed the Underworld, a very significant part of which clearly enjoyed Akercocke's set. The band delivered just over half an hour of intense aggression, sometimes blurring one blast beat into the next, but generally keeping things interesting, enjoyable and always brutal.

Having been one of my favourite bands ever since their classic full-length debut _Dance of December Souls_, and having just released another brilliant record after all these years in _Last Fair Deal Gone Down_ [CoC #52], Katatonia were very high on my list of bands I would really like to see live. Nevertheless, I hardly noticed them getting on stage -- and I don't think many people did.

Having arrived very quietly, Katatonia proceeded to play "Don't Tell a Soul" from _LFDGD_ and "Nerve" from _Discouraged Ones_ [CoC #31] back to back. The first thing that really hit me when Katatonia started playing was how downright terrified vocalist Jonas Renkse looked. The livid frontman kept his eyes closed most of the time, and throughout the entire set usually put one hand on top of the other over the microphone, therefore hiding all of his face up to the eyebrows. Withdrawn yet vocally still very competent, Renkse seemed thankful for the Underworld's cramped stage -- besides raising his arms to put his hands over the microphone and nervously tapping his thigh with his right hand most of them time, Renkse hardly moved at all. Add to his sorrow-drenched vocals the genuine feeling of discomfort and of not wanting to be there that he exuded, and if you appreciate Katatonia's music then you should be able to imagine that their live performance became even more endearing.

Despite all this, Renkse's vocal delivery was still very good -- better than I expected, as a matter of fact, and improving with every song. Meanwhile, the two Norrman brothers (who really do look like brothers) did their job without looking particularly involved; drummer Daniel Liljekvist delivered a superb, perfectionist performance; and main guitarist Anders "Blakkheim" Nystrom was the complete opposite of Renkse's stage presence. Frequently singing the lyrics to himself, often headbanging and always seeming to really feel every riff and every guitar lead, Nystrom (the band's only long-haired element these days) seemed at ease from the very beginning and confidently led the band through what might have otherwise been a rather difficult set.

Benefitting from a sound that allowed all instruments to come across with clarity and power, Katatonia's performance was flawless and, it goes without saying, highly emotional. Midway through their set, I had already accidentally spotted three people crying in the audience -- one of them a middle-aged, long-haired man. The Underworld audience completely surrendered to Katatonia, who in turn delivered an absolutely memorable set. Following the aforementioned "Don't Tell a Soul" and "Nerve", Renkse timidly announced they were Katatonia, from Sweden, and -- something that happened throughout their set -- explained which tracks they were playing and what album they were from. "Deadhouse" from _Discouraged Ones_ was next, followed by _LFDGD_'s single "Teargas".

At about this point, a juvenile dimwit in an Offspring T-shirt who had been "stage diving" throughout Akercocke's set (note: the stage is about one whole meter above ground level) thought Katatonia's music was as good for having fun as any other, and again made his way onto the stage. Damn, how I wish I had a shotgun sometimes. Renkse, however, wasted no time after the song was over and succinctly asked the audience to "please keep off the stage". Fortunately, the message was understood.

"Right Into the Bliss" was the band's first excursion into _Tonight's Decision_ [CoC #42] material, and whilst that is my least favourite Katatonia record (which isn't saying much), I have to say the three live renditions of songs from _TD_ were highly enjoyable and well chosen. Katatonia then returned to the present with "Chrome" and "Tonight's Music", both off the new record, before returning to _Tonight's Decision_ to play "For My Demons". An impeccable rendition of _LFDGD_'s "Sweet Nurse" then followed, with its superb chorus, and then "I Am Nothing" from _Tonight's Decision_ and "Cold Ways" from _Discouraged Ones_. You may have noticed that I am trying to save the adjectives here, because in my opinion these are all -brilliant- tracks, and with the good sound quality and Katatonia's excellent delivery, this was an outstanding concert already. My only regret was that my better half, herself a great appreciator of Katatonia's qualities, could not be by my side tonight.

But Katatonia weren't quite finished yet. When Jonas Renkse announced that they were about to play their last song, he said it was going to be a song from _Brave Murder Day_. Much of the audience immediately roared in approval, and Renkse added the song was "Redrum" (how much of a reference to "The Shining" this was, I do not know). I could hardly believe my ears as Katatonia ripped into "Murder" (the real title of track two from _Brave Murder Day_). Nystrom seemed to feel every cycle of the downward progressing riffs and the agonizingly painful slow guitar leads, but it was when Renkse unleashed his massive, desperate death growls that I was really blown away. Not having heard any of his death vox since October Tide's _Rain Without End_ [CoC #30], I was very surprised by the sheer power and feeling he imbued those vocals with in the live situation -- but maybe that shouldn't have come as a surprise after that October Tide record, or after his vocal performance in Katatonia's now distant _Dance of December Souls_. Renkse more than emulated Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals on _Brave Murder Day_ to create an unforgettable experience, and the band even added some of _BMD_'s characteristic double-bass drumming to the end of the song to finish their set. Somehow, Katatonia managed to pack more brutality into that one song than the sum of all of Akercocke's blasting and screaming -- a very different kind of brutality.

I could barely believe an hour had gone by -- or that Katatonia only played for an hour, for that matter -- and of course the band did not come back for an encore. It would have been unlike them to do so, and in any case, there was little or no point in coming back after having finished their set with "Murder". The cycle was now complete.

(article submitted 12/8/2001)

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