It might have been on the first of April, but it’s no joke that the 2017 edition of Lords of the Land has been the best extreme metal lineup the UK has seen in a very long time, so much so that I dragged my sorry carcass a dozen hours each way on trains and coaches to make it up to Glasgow for this. But whoever’s unfortunate decision it was to book this and Heavy Scotland festival in Edinburgh on the same weekend must have made it a difficult choice as to which festival to attend for a lot for Scottish metalheads, the allure of Behemoth, Arch Enemy and co. probably being the main reason that this spectacular Lords of the Land lineup wasn’t close to being sold out, with only around 70% of tickets sold before the day and tickets available on the door. But regardless of the turnout, it was still a great festival in an excellent venue, and easily one of the best days of live music I’ve ever seen in the United Kingdom.
Finnish group Rotten Sound have never been a grindcore band I’ve ever enjoyed a great deal, with a scathing heavy approach that ultimately comes across as style over substance, barbaric in approach but leaving me with nothing that stuck in my head when their album finished, no riffs, vocal lines or anything. Technical difficulties had them starting about twenty minutes late, and they played a solid if unspectacular set of intense grindcore. A smallish crowd with the venue still filling up reacted fairly weakly to a band that are anything but weak in tone, but ultimately weak in the songs themselves. Memoriam may be a new band, but the pedigree of their members should need no introduction to fans of UK death metal, formed by members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction. However, while they have a bit of a groove and the unmistakeable vocals of Karl Willets, their overly trebly guitar tone didn’t work with the slow death metal riffs, which a lot of the time weren’t really interesting enough to get one headbanging or really involved, despite the efforts of Willets’ between song crowd-interaction. Resistance that was the only song of interest in their set, a groovier, more involving track. One wonders if many would be listening if it weren’t for the Bolt Thrower connection and you’re probably better off listening to them or Benediction (the latter the better band, but that’s a statement for another time.) After two solid if uninspiring performances from the opening acts, it was time for Lords of the Land to get kicked up a few notches.
Acid Reign are a band I was almost completely unaware of, other than knowing they played thrash and had recently reformed after splitting up in the early nineties. In other words I had no idea just how goddamn fun this was going to be. Fun and bouncy party thrash, similar in style to Nuclear Assault they played an absolute blinder of a set. With a classic thrash style with riffs that were practically impossible NOT to headbang along to, an energetic performance with everyone running around on stage, and hilarious banter throughout (“Hello Heavy Scotland!”) from frontman Howard Smith meant that they were the band that provided the most outright fun of the whole day, a fact that was solidified when he was crowdsurfed all the way to the sound desk and back. The second band of the day I wasn’t aware of except by name before the festival were Dragged into Sunlight, who were a completely different prospect altogether. Before completely drenching the barrowlands ballroom in dry ice, making the stage barely visible, they played creepy/gory footage on black and white on a screen prior to taking the stage, making it obvious that this would not be a comfortable watch, nor listen. The low lights and the wall of fog created an intense atmosphere, and facing away from the crowd most of the time, as well as barely being able to see them anyway meant that the band were letting their evil, insane music do the talking for them. With one of the loudest sets I’ve ever seen at a club show, their music was brutal sounding black metal, similar in style to Marduk but with the intensity of a grindcore band in the sheer intensity of the riffs and vocals, with little in the way of melody most of the time other than a few of the tremolo picked riffs as a bridge, as they just set out to rip your eardrums to shreds with aural devastation. Most of the time they blasted away but when they slowed it down with an unmelodic, staccato rhythm they created a sense of oppressive and unrelenting doom. It was an uncomfortable but awe inspiring performance, that felt like it lasted much longer than the slated thirty minute time slot. The most evil performance of the day (impressive when you look at the bands to come) – it was pure goddamn sonic terrorism from the depths of hell.
After a mad search for earplugs to protect what was left of my shattered eardrums, it was time for some classic heavy metal fun with Venom Inc. They’re made up of ex-Venom members Mantas, Demolition Man and Abaddon, and for this show they were doing a classic Venom set. They may not have the name, but they’re a vastly superior prospect to the “real” thing made up of the egotistical Cronos and his band of musical merceneries. At a Venom show you get the sense of Cronos feeding his massive ego, whereas Venom Inc. just look like they’re having a lot of fun playing classic heavy metal songs. The sound was a little muddy, but with songs like Black Metal and Welcome to Hell they had the first big moshpits of the day and though their set was an hour long it just flew by. There’s too many classic Venom songs to get them all into a short set, but the only shame was not to hear In League with Satan. Practically every band on the bill wouldn’t be where they were if it wasn’t for Venom and with a set like that the songs are as relevant as they ever were. Swedish black metal legends Marduk play very regularly, but never play a set that lets you down. A special one this time around though saw them play Heaven Shall Burn in it’s entirety twenty one years after it was first released. Though it’s considered to be one of their best albums they rarely play songs from it live anymore, so this was a treat. The sound was perfect after Venom Inc’s was muddy, and they blasted through the album with their usual killer live show, a great performance from Mortuus and co, the vocalist slinking around the stage with a killer black metal presence. Their black metal interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Glorification of the Black God was a particularly evil piece live, while the melody of The Black Tormentor of Satan and slow grim atmosphere of Dracul va Domni Din Nou in Transilvania made them great songs to see live. With the album being so short they played two more afterwards, the slow and morbid Accuser/Opposer is a particularly dirgy piece of black metal, and Nemtheanga from Primordial came on stage to give an extra touch of evil with his guest vocals in one of the highlights of the day. As usual a devastating blast of extremity finished the set off with Panzer Division Marduk. A special set from the Swedish black metal stalwarts.
I had seen Primordial the day before at the Underworld in Camden before travelling up to Glasgow to see them again here, but the venue’s iffy sound ruined what was, as always, a good performance from the Irish five piece, so I was really looking forward to seeing them again here. This time around the sound was perfect and they looked much more at home on the bigger stage. With Nemtheanga’s fantastic theatrical stage presence and ability to get the crowd going coupled with their rousing folk-metal, they played an absolutely awesome set, opening with the fantastic Where Greater Men Have Fallen, with As Rome Burns giving an opportunity to get everyone singing. The slow and more progressive Babel’s Tower is a bit too much of a change of pace for the band that are usually faster and heavier and whilst that slowed the momentum of the set down a little, they more than made up for it with the blastbeat fuelled Traitor’s Gate, and from that moment onward the rest of the set was nothing short of perfect. The Coffin Ships and Empire Falls closed the set, and as usual these fan favourites were the highlight, everyone at the front singing and feeding off Nemtheanga’s seemingly limitless energy. An absolutely storming set and the best from five times seeing them. Mayhem had the largest crowd of the day for their performance of the seminal 1994 black metal album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in full. With Hellhammer’s huge drum kit on a riser giving an indication to the waiting fans of what was to come, they pumped the room with dry ice to create a dark and cold atmosphere before coming onto the frigid and blastbeat fuelled Freezing Moon. Less obscured from view and ritualistic at the start than their performances in Oslo, the start of their set was simultaneously blisteringly heavy and darkly atmospheric. With all the band dressed in hooded robes, a corpse painted Atilla’s strange movements and snarled vocals sounded fantastically grim against the punishingly cold sound of the music. In a big venue with an appreciative crowd it was a performance that really brought the grim atmosphere of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas to life, especially with the satanic chanting of the titled track and the fearsome riffs and twisted atmosphere of Pagan Fears. Mayhem may have been hit or miss live in recent years but they absolutely crushed it with this performance.
Even though it’s been 27 years since Autopsy last played Scotland, the crowd thinned out slightly before they played which is a huge shame for a rare performance from one of the biggest death metal bands going. However they weren’t perturbed and played a fantastic set, and as such had the best response from the remaining audience with the biggest moshpits and most crowdsurfing of any band of the day. Chris Reifert’s instantly recognisable growl has lost none of the impact since they formed thirty years ago, and that twisted snarl and his demented drumming was a sight to behold, while the doomy-death riffage from Cutler and Coralles, which influenced hundreds if not thousands of death metal bands that came after, cut like a surgical knife throughout the set. Most of the songs came from their first two, and most popular, albums Severed Survival and Mental Funeral. Ridden with Disease, Gasping For Air and Disembowel were three of the highlights of the set in this regard, the incisive death-doom riffs meshing with Reifert’s frantic drums and vocals to really get the crowd moshing. They’re not a band to just rest on the classic output though, as the insanely slow and brooding Burial from 2014’s Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves was a doomy headbanger before it exploded into a frantic display of speed at the end. Unfortunately due to a curfew their set got cut short, but they finished in style with a performance of Charred Remains which was so unrelentingly heavy it was like having your face blowtorched. “Feel the flesh drip from your face” indeed. Autopsy performances are few and far between, but much like at Netherlands Deathfest last year they give 110% effort and energy and are still one of the most fun, crushing bands in the whole scene. Anyone who missed out of this by leaving earl completely missed out.
Overall it was one of the best lineup’s the UK extreme metal scene has ever seen and from Acid Reign onward every band delivered – just when you thought you had seen the set of the festival, each band that followed somehow managed to blow you away even more. I’m not sure how they will manage to get a lineup that will top this year’s, but with the great venue and the friendliness of both crowd and staff I’m almost certain to go back for a 2018 instalment.