Photos copyright: Dawid Krosnia / The Goat Tavern
Photos may not be used without photographer’s consent
Throne Fest 2017
2-4th June 2017
Kubox, Kuurne, Belgium
Words: Jean Relapse
Photos: Dawid Krosnia
Throne Fest was an event I was looking forward for some months now. Belgium is quite a long way but we still managed to all get there as a full team, and this was a first. What better line-up could we hope for a first time? 15 bands, all of them being huge in the scene for one reason or another. We can’t help having second thoughts about Darkened Nocturnal Slaughtercult’s replacement, but I’ll address this later on.
As we arrived, we could see a couple of food trucks, which is nice as the venue is quite isolated. There was also a questionable security as they state ‘no bags inside‘ and nobody was checking anything. In terms of organization, this was the first false note, even if it was convenient for us. Anyway, 13:30, after getting (expensive!) coins and drinks, Ars Veneficum gets on stage on time.
I had heard of the Belgian band before, but I never really took time to listen to them. Good thing then, as I appreciate discovering bands on stage. Here, they can truly express their music and nothing is hidden. Ars Veneficum had the hard task of opening the festival. They did so with proper black metal, mixing classic melodic riffing and brutal hard-hitting parts. The stage presence is handled by classic corpse paint and artworks on each side of the drumkit. Sober yet effective. You might have noticed I already wrote the word ‘classic‘ twice. Unfortunately, this was on purpose as Ars Veneficum, despite many great qualities, follows paths already explored before. You can find some Merrimack or Inquisition feelings, most notably in the drum play for the latter. One may say it’s a compliment, and it is one as much as it is a reproach. Having the skills to remind of Incubus is remarkable (he wasn’t as good, sure, but he had nothing to be ashamed of), but not using it to go further is a pity in my opinion. Anyway, the appetisers did their job quite well. They might not have the most overwhelming stage presence or the most unique piece of black metal out there, but they were happy to be here, the crowd was already dense and cheerful, which was more than enough for a first band.
Cryfemal is one of these bands I never really understood, and today would not be the revelation for me. I was not expecting anything, which was the only good point of the show. If Ebola has one quality, it’s going on stage with full force. When he arrived, he showed some strength and dedication in his music, but that didn’t work for me at all. His vocals ousted all the instruments, and they were lacking control and restraint. I know this is black metal, this is supposed to be violent and not restrained by codes, but this was an Obscene Extreme kind of show we were witnessing there. I had to leave when he stated that ‘it was the worst song we ever played‘ or something like that. This was our first common point, and unfortunately, the last.
Now comes the first band I couldn’t wait to see. The Icelandic scene grew so much these last few years that it became hard to miss it. Among the many bands that emerged, I had the chance to see Wormlust and Mannveira once but that was it. I was then aware of the kind of sound I could expect. Allir vegir til glötunar is an album that I love for its oppressive atmosphere and its straight-forward approach of the genre. The least I can say is that they respected this attitude. The lights were close to nonexistent and communication with the audience even more but that’s not why you go see them. They delivered a gloomy and powerful show that could only let you struck. The singer was possessed, kneeling and getting back on his feet just to deliver harsher screams. The only drawback of this approach is that on record, subtlety and melodies are more perceptible than live. The last minutes of the performance lost a bit of impact as there were no real variations in the set. It doesn’t really matter to me, but someone discovering or being into more orthodox black metal could get bored. That’s a shame but we won’t deny ourselves the pleasure!
If things didn’t get serious enough for you with Naðra, Furia would settle the deal. I find surprising that such a band, jewel of the Polish scene, plays so early in the day. Of course the line-up was stacked with excellent and more famous bands, but I would have preferred seeing them a bit higher in the list. The Polish squad, which now plays in the National Theatre and in underground coal mines, experimented all sorts of black metal. From the improvised Guidoto the straight-forward Martwa Polska Jesień and without overlooking the various EPs and albums that all explored very romantic, experimental and personal atmospheres, Furia really dug experimental black metal without ever sounding progressive or too curious. They are rare live in Western Europe so this was a first time for me. The least I can say is that visually speaking, they are minimalist. No extravagant corpse paints or esoteric symbols. Sars’ tattoo (a ‘Nie‘, dripping with ink) sums it up, as well as Nihil’s attitude who sometimes looks empty, or rather fully absorbed by his music. Furia chose not to play songs from Martwa Polska Jesień, which gave their set an emotional tone. Exit the short and straight-forward songs. It doesn’t mean for all that it became a progressive or post-rock show. In a nutshell, Furia’s main strength is their control of violence. No explosion comes out of nowhere, and no restrain is unjustified or lengthy. Would I call it ‘intelligent black metal‘? Yes, please. I still left the show with pang of emotion. Certainly because I felt the venue was not confidential enough or that they didn’t play long enough to make it truly transcendental. I hope that I will have the chance to see them in even better conditions, just to let them valid my point and live it at least once.
What could I hope for after such a show? Staying with a Polish band didn’t create a bond between the two. Hate was the only death metal band of the week-end, except for their blackened death imagery. I was curious to see the band with the new line-up because last time I saw them, Mortifer died two days after. The squad delivers what I’d call a mid-career Behemoth. It works well, the show is well-oiled and Adam’s voice is as powerful as you could hope. Two downsides for me were first that I don’t like it as much as I like my previous comparison and that I wasn’t in the mood for that, between Furia and Nargaroth that I couldn’t wait for. I still have to admit that I stayed for a few songs and that it was massive and crushing. The crowd was dense and people looked happy to be there. A success, then.
I never had any interest in Absu, and my stomach had been empty for too long. Sorry!
Nargaroth, on the other hand, was one of the bands I couldn’t wait to see. As I said in my review of Era of Threnody, I dropped the band in 2011 after a show that I considered terrible, but this latest album was a second chance. After having a word with Ash at the merch stand, I found him quite humble and available for the people. Nice move. The band gets on stage with three songs from the new album. I’m delighted as the sound is good, the songs work as well live as on record and I get the feeling that the set will be mostly oriented on Era of Threnody. Wrong guess, because these three songs will be the only ones. The set then heads towards pure aggression. As cheesy as it is, Black Metal Ist Krieg hits the target, as well as Possessed by Black Fucking Metal. The fire-eater that came on stage at that moment seemed really mad and possessed as even having his hair burning didn’t prevent him from shouting and haranguing the crowd. He even came back with a whip and his torch, and I was quite happy not to be in the front row. The very good point of all this, despite it being cliché, is that it worked. At some point, I was wondering when someone would get harmed or when a fight would start. The atmosphere was tense, aggressive and negative. I would have loved to hear more from the latest album, but this was what ‘trve‘ black metal is about.
The last bit of the show got a bit calmer, with Seven Tears… for example, on which someone decided to crowdsurf. Let’s thank him for looking stupid and ruining the song for some people. Then, after a political rambling from Ash that I won’t comment, they played a Burzum’s cover (War) just to settle the deal. The crowd got insane one last time, with people moshing and with punches thrown here and there. My left eye won’t forget this memorable moment! In a nutshell, Nargaroth managed to pull a show that mixed their more ambient work with the pure hateful songs without sounding awkward or out of place for a minute. For that, I can only salute the performance. On the other hand, I would have loved a longer show for them to include Love is a Dog from Hell in the ‘brutal‘ bit and ending the show on My Eternal Grief, Anguish Neverending to make it perfect. Can’t wait for next time!
Deströyer 666 is one of these bands I listen to mostly for fun. Their black/thrash is one of the most efficient in the scene as they manage to inject epicness and aggression in it. This show wouldn’t make anyone reject this statement. The quartet came victorious, willing to fight to the finish. The set-list was regular, with many of their hits (Wildfire, I Am the Wargod…) and the audience was responsive. On stage, each time I see them, I’m overwhelmed with their energy, specifically conveyed by the fact that three of them sing, move, come to interact with the audience… it gives a real positive energy as they always look happy to be here. I won’t ramble on more, any of their live video would sum up the shows quite well.
And now comes the last band for this first day. Marduk, the Swedish armada with 13 albums and countless demos behind them, have a turbulent history that was part of history. Tonight, they are playing Heaven Shall Burn… When We Are Gathered, their 1996 opus (it may be 21 by the time you read this if I’m not fast enough!). It is not my favourite from them to be honest, and I am still grieving Legion’s departure (yes, even after all this time). How will Mortuus adapt this album to his voice and his style? The show starts and the first impression is power. How original of me! Stating that Marduk is fast and powerful. I couldn’t find anything better to suit it. As the instruments go on, Mortuus really convinced me. He took this album as his own and I didn’t find the show odd at any moment. After the album played entirely, they have been generous as they kept playing for quite a long time. Frontschwein, Blonde Beast, Panzer Division Marduk… I could have been pleased if they didn’t play for that long. I think that playing after a full album special show relevant, as the band don’t want to stick to a 35-minute set, but there were lengthy parts and a lack of coherence to me. Every song was played well and I wouldn’t reproach any technical aspect, but I found that having an album and then songs gleaned here and there in such a discography disconcerting. Maybe my exhaustion at this point of the night didn’t help, but I didn’t appreciate Marduk to its full extent. I still have been convinced by Mortuus and his impeccable interpretation of old and new songs and that’s already something!
Welcome back to Kuurne! Didn’t you have enough yesterday? Well, come in again then, and don’t be late because The Committee announced on Facebook that they were to play earlier to play more songs! So, what did your servant do? He arrived late of course.
Running into a venue with The Committee playing wasn’t exactly how I pictured the start of my day, but as we had technical problems, I missed a (couple of?) songs. Never mind, because I will be delighted to see even a bit of this show, as I couldn’t wait to see them after such a brilliant album. A reading desk, a scythe and five masked men are handling quite a full room for such an early hour. People clearly knew that the running order didn’t plan to put an amateur show for the warm-up. This show was clearly professional, with charismatic musicians and a Joseph Stalin t-shirt. After all the alt-right / völkisch / neo-nazi (circle the good answer) symbols that invaded the scene, why not? The band deals with historical themes, conspiracy theories and human eradication. The set-list was composed of songs both from Power through Unity and Opus Memorandum as they almost played for one hour, I think. The two albums being equally good (with a slight preference for the second, as far as I’m concerned), it resulted in a solid show.
How could we cope with Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult’s cancelling? My expectations were high as the latter is clearly a must-see, and this was one of the few opportunities. Because of an injury from the drummer and the lack of time to find a proper replacement, they decided to cancel. This decision is more than understandable, and we wish him the best. Meanwhile, Throne Fest announced Alkerdeel as a replacement. They had to move the schedule as they were not as highly-awaited and famous as DNS. The Belgian band, with members from Leng Tch’e, practices a surreal, sludgy and in-your-face kind of metal. Of black, it has the name and the colour, but certainly not the traditional sound. I approached the stage with curiosity, yet apprehension as I was still disappointed with the replacement. No offense, but I was hoping for something more alike, that would have been more appropriate. The strob lights and the crushing sound were raging, and people who came out after the show were quite satisfied with what they had seen. I wasn’t.
Wiegedood is comparable to Alkerdeel in the sense that they play a very modern type of black metal, and also by being from Belgium. This time, the members don’t have a death metal/grindcore background, but rather a post-hardcore/doom one, with members from both Amenra and Oathbreaker, two bands I particularly appreciate. Having seen them less than a month ago, I knew what to expect. Atmospheric yet violent, Wiegedood forces you to cling tightly to your chair. The quasi-constant blastbeats, the grazed tone of voice in the screams and the noisy riffing, are only interrupted by ambient, post tracks that announce a resume with greater intensity. Such a strength worked quite well, but not as much as in a 200-people venue as the previous time I saw them. No disappointment for me, just a less transcendental journey, toned down because of the inevitable comparison.
Here comes the second and last Icelandic band of the fest. As joyful as I was to see Naðra, it wasn’t even half of the excitement to see Misþyrming. Same guys, same genre of black metal, but don’t ask me why, one works better than the other on me. The stage presence remains the same. Low lights, sober corpse paint and an indifferent, detached attitude. This doesn’t please everyone, but this characteristic of some modern black metal scenes has an impact on me. No blah blah, no political rambling (cough cough), no posing, nothing but music. I couldn’t tell anything about the set-list as the tracks sound very similar one another, and they obviously don’t announce them. I guess most (if not all of them) came from their only album. But do tracks have an importance? No more than the rest. Come, witness, appreciate and/or leave. A feedback? I’d go back there as much as I can.
There are common points between MasseMord/Furia and Misþyrming/Naðra. MasseMord share most of their members with Furia (the same way Misþyrming and Naðra do), but here, the drummer becomes the singer and the singer/guitarist drops the vocals. Each time, we have two bands with very, if not exactly similar line-ups. Musically speaking though, we are on a register quite different between Furia and MasseMord. Where Furia is about construction, experimentation and transcendence (I might go a bit too far, but that’s how I perceive it), MasseMord is about ‘screaming at people’s faces‘. The experience, despite being quite different, was equally good to me. The conviction with which they played this different register was astonishing. It’s funny to see how drummers are often people who tend to be in the background, if not hidden behind their kits. Sars is one of them, but not with MasseMord as he becomes omnipresent, concentrating the attention around him. The others are not outdone, partly thanks to Nihil’s presence, which remains the same as when he sings (shout out to him playing laying on the ground!). My only personal disappointment is that they started the show with Water of Life, which is (my favourite) a perfect ending song, as it is in the album. It didn’t tone down the quality of the whole set though.
Cult of Fire
Considering the crowd gathered before the start of the show, one could easily say that Cult of Fire was one of the highlights of the weekend. No surprise as the Czech band managed to mix so-called ‘Orthodox Black Metal’ (subgenre that means, way too often, Deathspell Omega rip-off) and Hinduism. Peculiar, original, yet effective, their shows are said to be absorbing and transcendental (no exaggeration here!). Ritual desks, incense, capes and faces hidden by masks, the band plays with very few movements. The audience has nothing to do but closing eyes and getting transported. I won’t go into details as the show spoke for itself. Cheerful applauses between songs and utter respect during them from everybody. I got into it too, way more than I imagined, and songs from Ascetic Meditation of Death are as delightful live as on record (that’s their release I know the most, hence the focus).
When people said this day was stacked, this was an understatement. After Cult of Fire, it was hard to get back on earth, and in less than half an hour, Gaahls Wyrd starts. The band, despite being quite new, is, for now, a cover band of songs from Gorgoroth, God Seed and Trelldom. It is, as the name implies, focused on Gaahl’s career. As a fan of his, I was excited to see this new band (has the chance to see God Seed once, but never Gorgoroth when he was part of it). On the other hand, I feared some feedbacks I had from friends. ‘His voice sounds terrible’, ‘they don’t bring anything new’… Carving a Giant, Sign of an Open Eye, Steg – those are timeless songs, so the second criticism is pointless to me. I couldn’t be happier hearing such songs live. Guests were also more than welcome, even though we couldn’t hear Kati well enough which is a shame. About Gaahl’s voice? He was terrific and terrifying. He mastered high-pitched and furious screams as I had never heard before. It may have taken him a bit of time to enrich his vocal range, but that was more than worth it. Going from his Wardruna-like singing to these screams from hell, without dropping his usual black metal tone on the way is just brilliant. Hats off to this legendary show that, I hope, paves the way for an album soon!
Here is already the last show of the week-end. Unfortunately, I have never been a fan of the Swedish band, and this show didn’t help. I recognize The Secrets of the Black Arts as a great, if not legendary, album, but their very conventional approach of black metal lacks epicnes and soarings to me. They represent the good part of the weak underbelly of black metal. Now that I got stoned to death by their huge fan base, I will admit that the pyro-technic aspect of the show helped to get into it, as well as Heljarmadr, who I prefer over Emperor Magnus Caligula, for his odd tone of voice. I won’t leave it without mentioning Dominator’s impeccable, professional and mind-blowing play. Is he one of the best drummers in the black metal game? Certainly. I’m not a drummer myself so I won’t go into details that I don’t master, but he is truly awesome, and he gives a boost to the whole.
Throne Fest was, in the end, one of the best indoors festivals I’ve ever been. Despite some ‘politically incorrect’ moments (haha) and organization quirks, the audience as well as the bands were all in a very ‘positive’ mood (so to speak) and brought quality, friendship and music to a whole new level for me. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the fest, and I’m already looking for cheap flights. See you next year!