Direct Underground Fest @ The Corner Hotel 18/03/2017

Direct Touring throw a massive fifth birthday bash.

So this year, Direct Touring turned the Big Five years old.  To celebrate, the crew at Direct Touring brought yet another, and perhaps the biggest lineup of bands to Australia. Tonight was Melbourne’s turn to be consumed by darkness with five intense acts from various corners of the globe. Headlining the night were notorious Swedish dark militants Marduk, with first-class supports in Canadian death metal band Gorguts, incognito Polish black metal band Mgła, New Zealand’s three-piece powerhouse Ulcerate and Tasmania’s immersive post-black metal extraordinaire Départe.

I arrived as Tasmania’s Départe began and confess that my first response was doubtful that this band was energetic enough to really kick such a show off. My traitorous mind was soon altered, however, as by mid-set I was thoroughly immersed and by the end of the set,  completely empowered to take on the forthcoming intensity. I have seen Départe perform a number of times and The Corner Hotel was by far the largest stage and venue at which I have seen Départe perform, and a I can see it now – it’s been there all along – this band’s profound dimensions can expand to celestial proportions. Départe were the perfect band to act as a portal into the realm of darkness that was Direct Underground Fest.

The next act was New Zealand’s Ulcerate, who I have seen live many years ago but with whom I was not entirely familiar. For a three piece death metal band their sound was huge and indeed blackened and seething with rage. Vocalist Paul Kelland has a truly savage growl and musically this band’s set was really engaging, shifting from chaotic fast to murky mid-paced instrumental sections. The final number Everything is Fire had a thundering start from drummer Jamie Saint Merat, whose performance throughout the set was consistently powerful. There was some sweet guitar work by Michael Hoggard, and I felt that the edgy harmonics placed through Ulcerate’s material created an effectively unsettling atmosphere. I liked how this band shifted dynamics without losing the overriding anger and energy, and I am keen to get to know more of what Ulcerate have done.

Mesmerising, broodingly heavy and musically tight as I have ever heard a band perform, Polish black metal band Mgła were an absolute standout for me. This band, with faces shrouded in mystery, brought together hypnotic immersion, frightening speed, crushing breakdowns and eerie blackened riffs in a terrifying onslaught of a set that I couldn’t take my eyes off. One feature of Mgła’s sound that I find extremely capitivating is the use of rhythm, driven by drummer Darkside, which works with extreme speed but also interesting patterns, such as the phenomenal rolling opening to Exercises in Futility II, and the cascading drums in Exercises in Futility I,  which also showcases the impressive speed of live guitarist E.V.T. This band doesn’t need an eventful stage show, for the music just consumes you with primal rhythms and actually quite catchy riffs, such as With Hearts Towards None VII. The set built up to a violently bleak finale with vocalist M. and live bassist-vocalist Shellshocked screaming pure hell in Exercises in Futility VI. Possibly, and it’d be a tough call, Mgła were the grimmest band of the night.

Gorguts are a niche Quebec-based death metal band with a hardcore fanbase and these people brought some serious show of support to the Gorguts set at The Corner Hotel. I enjoyed this set too; there were some seriously entertaining moments of guitar interplay between vocalist-guitarist Luc Lemay and guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and indeed more than a few quirky solos within the extended songs that at times pulled back to a delicate sparseness, only to hit back heavy as hell. The kind of chaotic heavy intensive stemming from the complicated songwriting iconic of Gorguts manifested brutally in their final song Inverted, which oddly enough lead me to believe this was the most eclectically entertaining segment of the night.

However, for an oldschool black metal diehard such as myself, it was Swedish purveyors of blackened anger Marduk that were the real prize. Knowing ahead of time that the Heaven Shall Burn…When We Are Gathered album would be played in its entirety, I was so extremely psyched for this set as this c.1996 era of Marduk’s catalogue is where I first joined the legions of combat-boot-stomping-teutonic-cross-wielding Marduk fans. As always, the opening song Beyond the Grace of God and Infernal Eternal were lethal and soon a hectic pit had formed. Seeing vocalist Mortuus majestically lead Glorification of the Black God into frantic speed was spectacular but the crowd grew thicker with each song and very soon I was completely consumed by the steady, neckbreaking grind of Dracul va Domini din nou in Transilvania and I was lost to the mosh pit. By the time the Heaven Shall Burn playthrough had expired and I heard those iconic riffs of Frontschwein, I was front row and headbanging my soul straight to hell.

What a birthday bash for Direct Touring. In a classy move, the proceeds of the Direct Underground Fest are to be donated to two worthy charities – The Song Room and Rabbit Run-Away Orphanage. Five bands that totally slayed it, and the community benefits. Gifts all round.