Last Friday, we were kindly invited to watch five bands play at The Unicorn pub, situated In North London (along Camden Road). The Unicorn is renowned for its live music and is seen as a social hub for punk, rock, and metal lovers alike and tonight’s event was put together by Retribution Alive. With the capacity only reaching a few hundred, the gigs are always intimate and close. The band interacts with the crowd, and vice versa. It hosts debuting bands as well as established ones with some shows even being free.
This show was a mixture of both debuting and established. With five bands playing, each one at a different stage in their careers, the only similarity was that they all had a love for metal music.
Sacrificial Slabs took the stage shortly before 8pm, making their debut. As it was still early, people were scattered through the pub more than they were rallied around the stage, but the turnout was still impressive. Though the band had never played before, they still managed to engage us with their energy. They describe their music as “death metal… with a little twist”, and the twist was definitely there. It’s in the vocals.
With two vocalists it’s all too easy for them to merge into one sound, each one getting lost in the other. However, this definitely wasn’t the case. With one being significantly lower in tone than the other one, there was a surprising contrast between how it sounded that worked well with the music itself. The stage presence was high, and they opened the night in a way that told me I wasn’t going to forget this show any time soon.
Grimpulse were on next. Unlike the previous band, their music revolved more around the instruments than the vocals. They had two guitarists and a bassist, so the riffs and chords were what ultimately stood out in their music. Once again, there were two people on the vocals, but they were more similar. They added another level to the music, adding depth to the sound. What stood out the most, however, was the banter between them and the crowd. The smiling and laughing was infectious – it was clear that they loved playing and loved being there. They even managed to open a pit towards the end.
At one point, a member said, “I sometimes wonder why we do this”. They were quickly answered, “because we love metal!”. And that was definitely clear from the performance they gave.
Sturmtiger, whose music is based around the concept of war, came on after. With two members wearing gas masks and the other wearing a balaclava, it almost felt like they were calling us to battle. The music itself did this too with energetic riffs and commanding vocals, drums that made you snap to attention. You couldn’t take your eyes off of it, it was almost hypnotizing in the way that they made you feel like they were preparing you for something. They describe themselves as “total war metal”, and that was definitely a huge part of their performance. The main vocalist’s eyes stood out from the pitch black material of the balaclava, and it felt like he was determined- as if he wanted to win something.
Cambridge born band Akilla took the stage afterwards, and they were instantly different to the others that had been on that night. They play “melodic death metal”- the melodies are slower, but the vocals are harsher and the riffs energetic. Each song seemed to build up and up until it was at an intense level, before they filtered out again. It was an experience of being built up, of feeling everything come together through each song. They communicated throughout the show, going up to one another and it was clear that they loved being on stage with each other. The chemistry was infectious, and the crowd responded eagerly. By now, there were more and more people watching, and every single person was into it. They promoted their new single which had recently come out and revealed that they are working on their debut album, set to be released this year.
Mørktår took to the stage at 11:20, and the experience immediately felt almost ritualistic. People were packed into the small room now, closing in on the edge of the stage, trying to get as close as possible to the headlining band they’d been waiting all night to see. As the number of people escalated and the temperature rose, the band prepared themselves. They set up an incense burner and two or three pillar candles that cast a warm glow onto the stage.
The three fronting members had their backs to us, as the smoke from the incense wafted onto the surface, twisting in the air as ominous music readied us for the experience that was about to begin. When they turned around, they revealed that they were covered in corpse paint, and the spotlights glinted off of their studs and chains. The crowd watched the frontman closely as he conducted them, walking up to the edge of the stage, gesturing to them. At least, until the music started. After that, they were lost in black metal that sounds pure, and sends shivers down your spine.
The music that was played by them was raw black metal, and the vocalist – Thrym – seemed to control the crowd with his every movement. The pounding vocals that raised the hairs on your arms, and the booming beats of the drums that controlled the rhythm of your heart.
The night ended on a high as Mørktår closed their set- definitely a band to see, and an experience that will remain with me for a long while yet.
Photos by Abi Rose Photography