Immolation, Astriaal, Nocturnal Graves, Ignivomous @ Max Watts, Melbourne, 23/09/2016

The long wait to finally see death metal legends Immolation take the stage in Melbourne is over, with a killer lineup of Australian blackened-death metal bands in another stellar offering from Direct Touring.

Sometimes, you have the honour of witnessing a concert of truly spectacular dimensions. Heading into Max Watts in Melbourne to see longstanding kings of death metal Immolation, I expected to be impressed. What unfolded, however, from the lineup of Immolation, Astriaal, Nocturnal Graves and Ignivomous brought together by Direct Touring, was an unforgettable night of jaw-dropping, soul-scorching, chest-pounding blackened-death-metal that completely blew my mind.

The opening bands of the night set the pace to high energy, blistering speed, eye-popping technical proficiency and thoroughly enthralling heavy-as-lead breakdowns. Melbourne death metal band Ignivomous came out firing with serious moshpit grind and tight shredding solos. The title track of their 2012 album Contragenesis displayed full on drumming and drove the mosphpit hard. Just as I thought the pace was set, Ignivomous fired up the speed again with The World Upon Nihil.

Melbourne-based ‘blackened thrash metal’ band Nocturnal Graves literally shook the floor as L. Wilson showcased lightning fast drums, taking the set into the sheer speed and menacing tone of Nocturnal Maniac. Nocturnal Graves brought peaking energy to showcase a new track Lead Us to the Endless Fire featuring some tough rhythms by L. Wilson and sweet soloing by guitarist Shrapnel. Nocturnal Graves played a killer set, with their huge, heavy yet eerie sound slaying it in songs such as Where The Demons Feast, displaying Shrapnel’s knife-edge soloing, and the bloodthirsty song Ascension Through Lucifer's Might.

As the stage darkened and the foreboding rhythm of dark enchantment revealed a hooded figure at the microphone, the return of longstanding Brisbane-based black metal band Astriaal was upon us. Not seen since 2012, Astriaal made a profoundly powerful comeback. This is ‘blackened death metal’ at its darkest. The black hymns of Astriaal typically combine doom-laden monastic chant-like mantra and soul-scowling vocals with blistering speed and jaw-dropping technicality.

This captivating combination was epitomised for the hungry audience at Max Watts in Empathy for None. As the blood-curdling scream of Arzarkhel launched into rapid-fire moshpit madness, the resurfacing of sombre recital again gave way to edgy menacing speed. Next a celestial guitar intro gave life to Reaper of Dark Ages as it transformed into thundering, cascading riffs. This slightly older, slower-grind song is an epically addictive, full-bodied and sublimely luscious black metal track and I was completely immersed. Liberty in Suffering, an exciting new track from Astriaal’s forthcoming album Opus III, brought back astounding speed on the part of drummer Gryphon and magnified black metal snarl from Arzarkhel. The closing song of this epic set Visceral Incarnate sent the sea of headbangers wild before sliding into a murky, brooding close.

As the air became electric, Max Watts’ packed out crowd compressed to the front to finally witness that mighty force of death metal, Immolation, take the stage in Melbourne. The suspense was shattered in a fury of blasting and riffage and the classic guttural roar of Ross Dolan as Immolation came out firing in a ballistic opening infusing the moshpit with pure insanity. The thundering of Swarm of Terror set the pace for the unrelentingly heavy set that was to come. A satisfying trip to the old school in Everlasting Fire further fired up the raging crowd as Robert Vigna flew through some epic tapping solos. Immolation then took us back to the Year 2000 with their straight-up gritty, raw headbanger anthem Father, You're Not A Father. This song exemplified the sheer drilling of drummer Steve Shalaty and blistering soloing of Robert Vigna and was pretty much a trip down memory lane for me. The energy continued with a bouncy familiar favourite, No Jesus No Beast.

In advance of their tenth album release in January, Immolation unleashed a new song, entitled Epiphany, on the totally wired crowd. If this song is any indication, Immolation are set to nail it again with such huge, thundering ‘blackened death metal’ songs that feature classic death metal bone-crunching blasting with eerie black metal riffs resonating through. The soaring, mournful soloing of Robert Vigna tailed off this exciting hint at what is to come, and brought us back to the hectic old school in the next number, Burn With Jesus with its playful pinch harmonics and wild guitar interplay between Vigna and Bill Taylor. To celebrate the realisation of bringing Immolation to Australia, the next classic song World Agony (from 2007’s Shadows in the Light) was dedicated to Direct Touring and it was death metal at its grimiest, darkest and finest.

In a truly special nostalgic moment, the crowd were treated to a performance of Immolation, the first song ever written by its namesake band, in 1988 and recently re-recorded this year. In sheer gratitude, the audience unleased crazy to this timeless song stacked full of wild heavy technical brutality. The precision drumming of Steve Shalaty and mighty growl of Ross Dolan heralded the final song All That Awaits Us from Immolation’s most recent album Kingdom of Conspiracy leaving the elated crowd roaring for more.                                                              

With this resounding statement that Immolation are stronger than ever, the show concluded. That was truly a thundering, flawless concert featuring four mind-blowingly ferocious bands. Enormous credit to Direct Touring for selecting three outstanding Australian support bands that fronted one of the most perfectly matched bills I’ve seen in a long time. The energy never let up. Each song of each set hammered with brutal, heavy, technically astounding precision. It may have taken Immolation twenty-eight years to get here, but the wait was worth it, 100% worth it.