There are numerous unlikely events going on in London today. Firstly, it’s snowing. That never happens. Secondly, there’s an awesome tour package coming through town with Sepultura, Obscura, Goatwhore and Fit For An Autopsy. Thirdly, Cannibal Corpse are playing on the other side of the city. London is apparently the place to be tonight if you’re a trve kvlt living, extreme metal listening, icy weather loving Norse God of destruction and pain. I didn’t get the memo. Suitably, the Sepultura package is held at KOKO, possibly the capital’s lushest music venue around. The place is decked with three balconies, all open to wander in and out of. There’s classical art ornamenting the walls and everything has an affluent shimmer to it. It’s rather quaint, if you ask me.
The heavy metal playlist is on point too. From Pantera to Maiden to Ozzy to RATM, it’s a full-on karaoke to which opening band Fit For An Autopsy enter into. As they take to the stage promptly, they look very peculiar in the lavish surroundings. Previously, I haven’t been too moved by the recorded material but live, there’s just something so irresistible about the deathcore formula that Fit For An Autopsy nail right on the head. Their playing is so immediate and face value that it can’t help but be engaging, and with the sound gremlins sparring the openers (shout out to the sound guys), this is multiplied tenfold. The gargantuan, chug-heavy closer “Black Mammoth” really seems to connect with the audience (despite being somewhat thin) and sounds like the band are bringing the venue down, one sledgehammer blow at a time. While Joe’s vocals were perhaps verging on being uncomfortably close to CJ’s from Thy Art Is Murder, their set was fantastic. Playing a maximum of 5 or 6 songs in what felt like 20 minutes, they were literally in and out. There’s no messing around with these guys. Brilliant.
Walking on next, absolutely looking the part in their chained writsbands, were Goatwhore, whose singer, Louis, addressed the crowd from a propped up flight case due to a broken leg. Initially, it was quite noticeable how less powerful their sound was. Coming off the back of the über low end approach of Fit For An Autopsy, it wasn’t until a crowd heckler managed to rationally and intelligently convince them they needed more bass. After that back-end came in, everything fell into place. With the aesthetic nailed to a tee, it was just a pleasure to just stand back and watch an awesome metal band play some awesome metal music. “Under The Flesh, Into The Soul”, “Vengeful Ascension” and “Apocalyptic Havoc” to name a few are just metal through and through. And, with the inroads to traditional metal, thrash, black and death metal, all plain to see, Goatwhore may just be one of the most accessible metal bands ever. (For a metalhead that is.) With the music taking such a front seat, it almost goes unnoticed that Louis is flight-case-bound and that still doesn’t stop the frontman being as enigmatically animated as his bandmates.
Then, swapping beer-infused, hell-raising, cricket-bat-to-the-face metal for a clean, precise, aural decapitation is Obscura. It’s a weird transition and perhaps their technical wizardry falls on a few deaf ears at a Sepultura concert but Obscura aren’t here to do anything else. They’re just themselves, playing a set almost entirely of material from 2016’s Akróasis. It can’t be ignored that when you’ve got bands that bleed as much personality as they do book-ending either side of your set, there will be a bit of a mountain to climb. Such is the case with Obscura. Nevertheless, they did just fine. The vocals of Steffen Kummerer are absolutely shredding, piercing the air. Their epic, challenging songs have such a dense construction but when the band come together in the sweet melodies of set closer “Centric Flow”, it’s great and that’s where it seems most enjoyed. Perhaps in front of an audience more catered to their sound it would be a different story.
And like a pack of rabid dogs, as the headliner’s set approaches, “SEPULTURA” is bellowed around the room in a drunken football-like manor. The setup is magnificent. A gleaming drum kit set in front of a 20-foot backdrop of the magnificent Machine Messiah artwork. It looks, funnily enough, biblical. “I Am The Enemy” is a brilliant set opener, lifted from the new record. In mixing a hardcore, Discharge-like approach to classic Sepultura with significant nods to modern metal, it’s definitely the best song off the album, and when the rollicking breakdown hits, everyone feels it. Andreas’ wailing guitar solos over the top is just too much for some.
The entire set is quite Machine Messiah heavy, pulling a good 5 or 6 songs off the album and throwing in songs from just about every era of the band. Three tracks off Against are delivered to mark twenty years since the album and twenty years of the incredible Derrick Green fronting the band. The title track of Kairos is received brilliantly with its tribal chorus going right back to the band. Off the new album too, the instrumental “Iceberg Dances” makes an appearance, making for a nice dance in the pit area.
Other than the opener, “Resistant Parasite” is probably the standout song from the new record, few realising how good the track is till it was played live. In all transparent honesty, songs like “Sworn Oath” and “Machine Messiah” could possibly have gone a miss. Other than that, it’s great to see the band put so much confidence in their new material.
Despite the back-to-back of classic Sep cuts “Territory” and “Desperate Call” coming in quite early in the set, very little else is played from the Max Cavalera era until the very end. Whether they’re putting off the material till the end or saving it for last is possibly too semantic to argue. “Are there any old-school Sepultura fans in the house tonight?” Derrick asks, potentially oblivious to the fact that certain rabid fans are in the audience tonight, who queued out in the snow, have artwork from the early albums tattooed on their skin. They play what feels like a victory run with 6 or 7 tracks (encore included) from Arise, Beneath The Remains and Roots, the highlight of which was undeniably “Ratamahatta”. The vocal trade-off between Derrick and Andreas is monstrous, with the former laying down a tribal beat by the drum kit.
The comparison with the Return To Roots troupe is a tough and nasty one to make. The injection of energy into the classic tracks was certainly noticed with tonight’s performance but so long as Sepultura are happy making new music and moving forward and the Cavaleras are happy with their billions of side projects, it doesn’t really matter. For what it’s worth, the venues both played when they made their way through London are more or less comparable. Ultimately both are seemingly beloved at the moment. It’s terrific seeing a lot of Machine Messiah in its naked beauty live and consequently, I’ve found myself neck-deep in the Derrick-era since. Doesn’t that say it all?