Gig Review: Havok / Darkest Hour / Cephalic Carnage / Harlott – The Underworld, London (23rd April 2018)

Having toured practically non-stop since the release of their fourth full-length record Conformicide which dropped this time last year, The Underworld is right to expect a slick and polished but ruthless performance from Colorado thrashers Havok tonight. The band are not alone though, bringing one of the finer line-ups to hit the venue in recent memory, completed by Aussie thrash crew Harlott, tech-grind mind-melters Cephalic Carnage and melodic metallic hardcore veterans Darkest Hour. There’s not a bad set from any of the bands on the bill tonight and it makes for a fantastic evening of few frills, straight-up metal, showing the strength of this music and why there’ll always be an audience for it.

On the spectrum of opening bands, Australian thrash faithful four-piece Harlott are on the very highest end, to the point where they really ought not to be on this spot on any bill. The relatively prolific group, now on four albums in 7 years, armed with vocalist Andy Hudson’s million miles per hour vocals, leave a vibrantly strong impression on the Underworld tonight. The frontman’s quick-witted joking loosens the crowd and the goofy good-time nature of the three guitarists, who all just so happen to look exactly the same, provide the ground-level for the band to build on. And that they do with a really tight thrash sound drawing in equal measure from both bay area thrash and its harsher German counterpart. While they’re a really great choice to open the night, it would be even better to see them next time get a higher spot. Their set tonight is plenty evidence that they deserve it.

Continuing the party metal thread, Cephalic Carnage take to the stage, as brutal as they are silly. Borrowing Havok’s 5-stringer Nick Schendzielos and completed by Lenzig Leal (vocals), John Merryman (drums), Steve Goldberg (guitar) and Brian Hopp (guitar), this lot play what can only be described as a sort of tech-grind following a heavily marijuana influenced lyrical theme. Much like the previous band, aside from their ridiculous (yet brilliant) tendencies, the music is fantastic and the band are fired up, particularly Nick who has more urgency in his eyes here than in Havok, not to mention his brutal vocals that I’d love to see applied more to his day job. Lenzig too seems like the kind of guy who would brighten up any stage with his humorous antics and classic grind, bordering deathcore vocals. Easily the high point would have to be “Black Metal Sabbath”, introduced as “Snack Metal” by Lenzig, where the band, adorning black metal masks and horse faces (in Nick’s case) break into a full-throttle blast beat. Again, this band are fantastic and have sent me into a headlong dive into their back catalogue.

However, the insanity had to stop at some point, and as Darkest Hour prepare to storm the Underworld, a heavy aura of expectancy begins to stifle the room (not before Snoop Dogg’s “The Next Episode” blasts from the PA). Coming off the fairly strong Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora, it was surprising to see so little of it rolled out live. Nevertheless, the band literally exploded on stage into “Knife In The Safe Room” off the newest record to an eruptive reception. Vocalist John Henry’s vocals are ripping, reflecting the near perfect synthesis of hardcore and extreme metal the band have achieved over their 20+ year career. And yet, they still feel as vibrant and energetic as ever. You wouldn’t have assumed the band on the stage at the Underworld tonight would be as far as 9 albums into their career. Their performance would also wholly suggest otherwise. Drawing from nearly all of those albums, the band curated a 45 minute set no fan would want to miss, and there was still so much they could’ve played. They also throw in a cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” for effect and even with all the gems lifted from their lengthy career throughout the set, that was just as good. It’s a damn injustice that Darkest Hour haven’t reached the heights that their NWOAHM brethren have done, but if it means we’re to be treated to intimate shows like this from the band, we’re more than happy with that.

In the history of music, there will likely never be a better intro tape to any set across any genre than Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The semi-drunken, grotesque shirt-wearing, excited puppy-like thrashers, sporting all manner of battle jackets among other scene approved apparel shamelessly recite every word in a tone-deaf manner. That, coupled with the opening one-two punch of “Hang ‘Em High” into “Prepare For Attack” is the perfect way for Havok to begin their headline set with. Instantly the age-group defying pit begins circling the lone pillar in the Underworld, commencing an hour long highly Megadeth influenced set.

Having put out Conformicide around a year ago, it’s reassuring to see the band put their faith in the album, lifting what feels like just shy of half the set from the new record, a large majority of the rest coming from 2011’s Time Is Up. Early cuts like “F.P.C” are as charged and furious as they are funky with Nick’s genre-melding bass lines. A surprise appearance from “Masterplan” shows how little filler there is on Conformicide, slotting in fine alongside set staples and lead singles.

Vocalist David Sanchez’ screeching lines are gripping and urgent with the daunting political narrative while guitarist Reece Scruggs takes immense pleasure in playing through his fantastic sweeps with ease, pulling all the classic “guitar solo faces” under the sun in the meantime. Pete Webber is a mastermind of his instrument also. Having anticipated this show since before their Bloodstock appearance and watching countless drum cam footage clips, gazing in awe at his performance is like watching a seminar in drumming 101, particularly in the virtuoso album high-point “Ingsoc”.

They close the main set with album single “Intention To Deceive” before coming out again to tease the “Angel Of Death” riff to a maniacal response. They then launch into AC/DC’s “TNT” before closing with the phenomenally charged “D.O.A”. And with that, they’re gone without having even played “Give Me Liberty… Or Give Me Death” or “Dogmaniacal”. For their sheer skill at doing this particular music and the extra flavour they add in with Nick’s tremendous bass talent and the all-round off-the-scale virtuosity in the group, they may just about be the best modern straight-up thrash band around.

Havok: official | facebook | twitter

Darkest Hour: official | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |

Cephalic Carnage: facebook | bandcamp | twitter

Harlott: official | facebook | | youtube | bandcamp | soundcloud

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