Immolation, Astriaal, Cruciform @ The Manning Bar, Sydney 24/09/2016

...and now, the Sydney perspective

As much as I like to bitch and moan about attendance numbers at gigs and Sydney’s general listless enthusiasm for metal, sometimes you have to stand back and get a little perspective. How many bands roll through Australian shores each year? It has to be growing surely, and there seems to be an increasing percentage of them that are managing to make the trek for the first time in their careers. Immolation is one of those bands, making their first appearance in the country after 28 years. Certainly, the crowd at the Manning Bar was in for a treat.

First up were Sydney local veterans Cruciform; an interesting choice and a real deep cut band from the Sydney metal scene. There were definitely a few grizzled elders waxing nostalgic about seeing them play back in the mid-90’s. In fact, their set was split between their sole official release, 1993’s Atavism LP and newer, unreleased material for an upcoming album. The band plays a strain of death metal that evolved way back before everything became about how fast and how technical you could play. It’s slow, gurgling and focussed on being heavy rather than brutal. It was refreshing to hear something a bit different, but the slow nature of their music wasn’t the best way to open the night and get people excited.  A decent start, but things would get better. 

The running theme for tonight’s support acts seems to be 'long running Australian bands that haven’t released anything in a while'. Astriaal has been around since 1999, with two great albums to their name they stand up there with Nazxul as one of the great legacy acts of Aussie black metal. Having not released anything since 2010 and not playing Sydney in almost as long, this was something of an anticipated comeback for the black metal band. Taking the stage with some prime cuts off their debut album Renascent Misanthropy, the band instantly demonstrated their power. Their sharp and biting take on black metal attacked the crowd and whipped up some energy. Every riff was razor sharp and the band never missed a beat, the vocalist in particular putting on a furious performance. They even played a brand new track of an album that will hopefully be coming out sometime soon. Their set was strong and it’s great to see Astriaal becoming more active once again.

Considering the fact that it took them 28 years to get here, Immolation took to the stage to raucous applause and cheers. Bassist and vocalist Ross Doolan greeted the crowd’s enthusiasm with a big grin, before doing a complete 180 and furiously launching into the first song. The starting time of their set was delayed due to some technical issues during sound-check and those first few songs showed why; the drums absolutely drowned out everything else in the mix and just sounded terrible. Fortunately, this managed to be rectified and the rest of their set sounded great sound-wise. As for the songs they chose, the band had a lot of ground to cover and they would never be able to please everyone. That said, they did a corker of a job selecting choice tracks throughout their discography; there were live favourites like Into Everlasting Fire and Dawn of Possession which the audience ravenously ate up. There were also recent tracks from their last album Kingdom of Conspiracy and a track from the new album coming out next year, mixed with older stuff like the first song they ever wrote, the self-titled Immolation. The band played like a well-oiled machine, guitarist Robert Vigna in particular seemed like he could play blindfolded. Closing out at about 11:30, the band left us promising not to take another 28 years to come back. With a performance like tonight’s, I certainly hope not.