Ruins, King, Hybrid Nightmares, Mar Mortuum @ The Northecote Hotel, Melbourne 21/7/2017

An epic night of blackened metal to launch two stellar albums.

Melbourne unleashed some phenomenal blackened metal Saturday night in a perfect line-up for this intense double-album launch at the Northcote Social Club. After witnessing King in support of Enslaved last year, I was keen to see the formal launch of Reclaim the Darkness. As for Australian black metal icon Ruins…this is an elusive band I’ve had the privilege of seeing live a number of times over the last fifteen-odd years. I reviewed and even placed their release Undercurrent as my ‘Number One Album of 2016’. Billed along with two of Melbourne’s strongest upcoming acts, prog-extreme band Hybrid Nightmares and black metal band Mar Mortuum it’s fair to say that I had high expectations of this gig.

And it delivered.

One of the most immersive and captivating black metal live acts that I’ve recently seen, Mar Mortuum lured the swelling crowd with two epics from their recent EP Tomb.  This is a band incredibly capable of sustaining a profound stage presence through extended, intricate songs such as Tomb I and Tomb II, characterised by dynamic shifting from chaotic energy to foreboding mid-pace solemnity to frenetic outcry and driven through frighteningly fast sections by drummer Azavtm. Nightmarish delirium seeped from the guitar intro by Morgue in Ritual Abandon to explode into intensive speed. Vocalist M. tore into Enlightened Vicious Scorn with one of the most desolate and spine-chilling black metal snarls to deliver this unsettlingly edgy, extremely fast song. Mar Mortuum closed with a mysterious new song, promising the next offerings from this intriguing band grow darker and more complex still.

Hybrid Nightmares are one of the most active and entertaining bands on the Melbourne scene. With the earthly manifestation of the ‘Obelisk’ firmly in his clutches, vocalist Loki opened the set with the high energy Destroyer of Worlds amidst a sea of horns and roaring crowd. Hyper-entertainment doesn’t gloss over musicianship in Hybrid Nightmares. Emperor showcased Loki’s vocal range, and the technical precision of guitarists Ben Plant and Michael Gumley, who procured some silky smooth soloing to finish the song. Hybrid Nightmares introduced a new song, Terra, which featured some gorgeous guitar interplay between Gumley and Plant, whose delicate finger picking and soloing rendered a slightly mournful edge through this new track that brings a whole new dimension to the Hybrid Nightmares sound. Despite a curious sample interruption, this crazy set wrapped up with crowd favourite Thrown To The Wolves and a hectic mosh pit ensued. This band is the full package and I’m excited to hear their forthcoming release.

Befitting of its name, King is a stately blackened death metal band that commands authority through the domineering vocal presence of Tony Forde, the richly diverse guitar of David Hill and the thundering drums of Dave Haley. Entering through a brooding storm of intense double kicks and tight tapping solos in Cold Winds, a strong sense of narrative across the set became apparent to me this time. All In Black picked up the pace even further in a pummelling song with dramatic cymbals and seriously heavy bass runs by live bassist Cam Wilson. This set just swelled to increasingly epic dimensions as Reclaim the Darkness incited a killer mosh overlaid by weeping solos and cascading riffs, and Night Sky Abyss locked in a heavy as lead groove into a vocal crescendo of majestic proportions. Seething rage exploded in The Journey Begins that then gave way to steady strength and control in My Destination The Stars. The sense of purpose and mission culminated in the bold, impressive song Winter Sons that had the audience pounding the foldbacks in a tempest of headbanging.

We gather here, to build our hall…’ came the ominous lines from Ruins frontman Alex Pope as the headliner launched into the confronting, bleak and hard-hitting first track from Undercurrent, Shadow of a Former Self. The raw power was overwhelming. Three familiar songs drove the set further into straight up insanity beginning with Cult Rapture unleashing insane drums and a possessed vocal performance that proved while a lyrical poet on paper, Pope is a bona fide maniac on stage. Dave Haley is just one of those drummers who just as you think he is breaking records with ballistic onslaughts he ups the game again. Such was the case with Where Time Is Left Behind and it was an experience to behold to see Dave Haley fully open fire on this classic Ruins song. The furious blackened thrash guitars of Joe Haley and new guitarist Luke Ray further intensified the crowd’s energy to the pulverising complex rhythms of A Lesson in Ruthlessness.

Then the moment I was waiting for – a run of tracks from Undercurrent, and to my delight, two of my top picks. I had been very curious to see how these tracks could possibly be enlarged from the recordings to live performance but as soon as Joe Haley’s destabilising intro to Rites of Spring ignited into Pope’s grim vocal ‘desires of primitivism…’ it was clear that these songs manifested even more passionately live. Then my night was made to hear my favourite track Faust robustly delivered in full-bodied intensity to a psychotic crowd; this is a song that is as cutthroat live as it is lyrically deep, the layers of this song astound.

Two further Ruins mainstays closed this electrifying set. The rollercoaster of frantic guitars and galloping drums descending into hedonistic slower sections of Keeping This Crown lead into the huge promenade drums and discordant riff of Suicidal Pulse to a satisfy a raging audience with a hellishly heavy finale.

Reclaim the Darkness and Undercurrent are two stellar albums and were launched in Melbourne in grandiose style with four bands that thoroughly slayed four immense sets. Direct Touring nailed it once more.