For the past few years, North of the Wall has been a highlight of extreme metal in the UK. The Glasgow-based festival is a two day celebration of extremity, with the organisers hand-picking the best of black, death, and doom – with a few surprises thrown in, too. This year was the first time I’ve been able to go, and despite costing me a fair bit in travel and hotels, it was more than worth it. Here, I want to talk about my five favourite performances of the weekend (a full review is available on the Patreon page for TSNTW)
Cult of Fire
Cult of Fire were the main reason I paid approximately £300 for ticket, travel, and accommodation for the festival. Aesthetic Meditations of Death has been one of my most-played albums since it was released, and the Czech black metal band are one of the most interesting of our time, with their Hindu-themed melodic black metal. They have a hell of a live reputation. So, my expectations were incredibly high going in – and that they were met should say something. Do I remember which songs they played? Not really. I don’t recall the last time I felt so swept-up in a performance, wide-eyed with absolute joy at what I was witnessing. There was something undoubtedly celebratory about Cult of Fire’s performance, and whilst there’s no doubting that the stage show adds to their live show, such is the quality of music on display that I’m sure they would still have been my favourite performance of the weekend without it. But what a show it is! With the stage set up as a temple, and with the band in ornate robes, it was like witnessing black metal from the beyond, the only real signs that humans were involved being when the vocalist gave thumbs-up in response to the crowd, who were obviously having a great time. Cult of Fire are the best black metal band I’ve seen, and their performance is surely one of the best I’ve ever been witness to. Incredible.
In some ways, going straight from Cult of Fire to Dool was unfair. The Dutch hard-rock band were a stark sonic contrast to Cult of Fire’s black metal, but their performances both struck similar chords, being ultimately joyful, life-affirming experiences. Granted, they did so from different starting points – with Cult of Fire reveling in the certainty of death, whilst Dool did so by simply rocking incredibly hard. Here Then, Where Now is a hell of an album on record, and the songs sounded even better played live. The smaller G2 Stage suited the band perfectly, and made for a performance that felt simultaneously intimate and welcoming. I left with the impression that, given the right push, Dool could become absolutely massive – stadium-filling massive. Dool also provided something of a needed contrast to the extremity that made up the majority of the festival, and it’s to the organisers credit that they book such bands.
Whilst Cult of Fire and Dool provided something joyful, Urfaust‘s performance was one of almost spiritual minimalism – guitar, vocals, drums, no fancy lights or stage-show, just solid black metal. Guitarist/vocalist IX stood off-centre, focusing intently upon his craft, whilst drummer Vrdrbr attacked his kit with gusto, simultaneously restrained and barbaric in his playing. It was a performance that was absolutely captivating, and left me in no doubt as to why this band are held in high regard by so many. That said, I was fortunate in finding a space where I could comfortably see the stage – for those at the back, I imagine something was lost. Still, for me, this was a real highlight of the weekend.
Along with Cult of Fire, Dead Congregation were the band I was most looking forward to, and they absolutely delivered. The death metal of the Greek band draws heavily from the classic records of Morbid Angel and Incantation, but whilst many bands are walking a similar musical path, few are doing so with the sense of character and conviction that Dead Congregation are. Their performance was pummeling from start to finish, with Closer ‘Teeth Into Red’ being a particular highlight – chanted ending and all.
Dragged Into Sunlight
Dragged Into Sunlight are building up a real reputation for devastating live shows, and this was just the latest bit of evidence as to why. With the stage draped in red lighting and candles, back turned to the audience, Saturday’s headliners delivered one of the most punishing sets I have ever seen, surpassing their performance at 2017’s Damnation Festival. It’s testament to their power that Dragged Into Sunlight are headlining such festivals despite not having released a new album since 2012 (their 2015 collaboration with Gnaw Their Tongues excluded), and it says something that, despite the vast riches of black, death, and doom on display over the weekend, Dragged Into Sunlight delivered by far the heaviest, most intense performance of the weekend.