Negura Bunget; Northern Plague; Agamendon; Grimegod
Bannerman’s, Edinburgh, 15/05/15
From bad to blackened to bizarre…or combinations thereof.
To use the cliché that Grimegod ‘kick-off’ this evening would be a slight exaggeration – it’s more of limp, weepy shove. Describing them as the members of Negura Bunget’s melancholic doom side-project isn’t entirely true, as the band have been having a miserable time since around 1991, predating Negura, but remaining tellingly overshadowed. Having given their latest record Wrong Roads (2014) a spin, it’s gloomy, heavy and listenable enough, but, this evening at least, their downcast doom is neither exciting nor atmospheric enough to be particularly memorable (5.5/10).
Now this is where things start getting a bit odd. Unbefitting of their standard melodic death, Agamendon strangely take to the stage in collared shirts with the frontman completing his look with braces and waistcoat, topped-off with a bowler hat. Backs to the audience, these sharp-dressed Germans, begin their set with a painfully long recording of The Godfather theme, which goes on to seemingly bear no relation to the pretty average set that follows. Maybe there’s too much starch in the linen but Agamendon are pretty stiff other than the frontman’s periodic strolls round the floor, failing to incite much of a reaction from the crowd. Credit where credit’s due, the vocals are easily the band’s best asset: impressively guttural one moment and ticking the death metal pig-squeal box elsewhere; but this is pretty non-descript stuff hindered by the cringey gimmicks (5/10).
Luckily Northern Plague are next up and take their craft, attitude and headbanging a bit more seriously. Supported by the strength of the song-writing evident on their debut EP Blizzard of the North (2011) and highly recommended first full-length Manifesto (2014) their technical and tight blackened death makes them easily comparable in sound, and arguably quality, to their fellow country-men Behemoth and earlier Decapitated. Not only an improvement sonically, but Northern Plague also provide the first engaging performance of the evening and likewise leave rewarded with the first proper cheer (7.5/10).
Touring in support of divisive new album Tau, long-time Romanian enigmas Negura Bunget are met with anticipation, no doubt in part due to the presence of the curious wooden folk-type instruments approximating the stage (what I can best describe in my admittedly musically inept way as a kettledrum, skinny didgeridoo and, um, upright-wooden-carving-of-dragons-percussion-xylophone-thing..?) Though both critics and champions of Negura’s more recent offerings have been quick to point out the greater keyboard and electronic presence on Tau, as well as remark generally on the band’s progression towards more folk-influenced post-metal, live the band expertly balance a blend of atmospherics with crushing black metal riffing. The clean, echoing vocals, sang and spoken in Romanian, provide a further evocative layer as do the brief uses of the novel (but presumably arcane?) instruments, which proves their worth as not simply superfluous muso-indulgences and in no way replace the band’s black metal core. Negura Bunget carve a fierce but atmospheric musical landscape at once confirming expectations, but exceeding presumptions (7.5/10).