Gig Review: Rivers of Nihil / Fallujah / Allegaeon / Inferi / Harbinger – Thekla, Bristol (26th November 2022)

One would like to think that the list of gigs that are still to be played due to rescheduling is nearing its end. A vile night in Bristol sees another one put on hold from 2021. It’s cold, wet, and miserable on deck but as we dive into the bowels of the Thekla’s cargo hold, the temperature is about to warm up – considerably.

Harbinger (c) Paul Hutchings

The first date of the Rising Merch Faces of Death tour has arrived in the UK and it’s a stacked line-up. Two weeks into the run, and the bands are on fire. It’s unsurprising that the gig is sold out. Thankfully, the venue has installed the barriers at the front, allowing some respite for the poor photographer (yes, that’s one other tog and me!) from the swirling pits that begin shortly after opening act Harbinger hit the stage and don’t recede until the final bars of the last song of the evening.

It’s 5:45pm but the venue is already pushing to capacity as London’s Harbinger bring their ferocity to the evening. It’s no gentle start as the band are intent on ripping a hole in the hull. Snarling frontman Dilan Alves has more than a touch of Randy Blythe about his delivery, his hyperactive movement, and throwaway lines reminiscent of the Lamb of God vocalist. Alves and bassist Kris Aarre storm the barrier, reaching into the front rows, urging more effort and intensity from the crowd, those at the rear are verbally chided and dragged forward. It’s a crunching 25 minutes, the band’s technical metalcore style working up the sweat not only on the band but those in front of them. Powerful, muscular, and certainly aggressive, the five-piece are an incendiary package, ideal for warming the evening up. Ferocious, and even dragging another vocalist on stage for a Raging Speedhorn style song, Harbinger do everything asked of them. It’s a ferocious start.

Inferi (c) Paul Hutchings

The rest of the evening belongs to the USA. It’s Nashville’s Inferi that arrive next, following a Grand Prix speed change over. The bands and small crew are working overtime to keep within the timings due to the ridiculous curfew for a club night on the boat. Inferi see Harbinger’s start and raise it by another couple of degrees. Probably the only band named after something in the Harry Potter novels, only guitarist Malcolm Pugh remains from the original line-up that formed in 2006. They unsurprisingly draw their set from more recent albums, including a couple from 2021’s Vile Genesis. Frontman Steve Boiser is the focus of attention, his long dreadlocks presenting an intense visual whilst he roars his way through the five-song set. Although the band are crammed to the front of the stage, something that every band apart from Rivers of Nihil experience, there is plenty of movement with bassist Andrew Kim a candidate for headbanger of the night. Pugh plays it safe, stage right and effortlessly shreds with co-guitarist Mike Low, Pugh also bringing some brutish death growls to the evening. It’s another visceral set, and there are plenty of exhausted faces in the pit with three bands still to come.

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Allegaeon (c) Paul Hutchings

2022’s Damnum is one of the finest albums of the year, and it has been ages since I’ve seen the Denver based tech death outfit Allegaeon so alongside many others in the room, their arrival on stage was when shit really got real. With Ezra Haynes back in the fold to replace Riley McShane who left mere months ago, this was a fresh look Allegaeon albeit one with a familiar face back on the mic, Haynes having previously fronted the band from 2008 – 2015. Whatever the changes, nothing was stopping a strong and brutish performance that was fluid and well delivered. “Vermin” was one of two from Damnum to feature, whilst the band dipped back into a couple of older tracks for the rest of their short set. The third outfit to feature five musicians, Allegaeon bring a slightly more melodic style to their music, but with a steel spine that rarely even threatens to bend. Fiercely interactive, it’s a joy to watch this band lay waste and it’s to their credit that the walls were dripping with moisture by the time they departed the stage.

Fallujah (c) Paul Hutchings

Two bands to go and the ante increases another notch with the arrival of the blistering Fallujah. Another band prompting a new release in the excellent Empyrean which marked the debut of singer Kyle Schaefer and death metal legend Evan Brewer Kilian Duarte on bass. Founder member and lead guitarist Scott Carstairs, drummer Andrew Baird and touring guitarist Sam Mooradian complete the line-up. Having reviewed the album for another site, I was content to say that I felt Empyrean was probably Fallujah’s best album to date and there was nothing in this performance to dispel that feeling. Five songs from the release dominate the set, with highlights including “Embrace Oblivion” and a bruising finale of “Mindless Omnipotent Master”. It’s a high octane set, with Schaefer the coolest man in the room, retaining his denim jacket despite putting in a huge shift. Carstairs is the epitome of focus, his attention on his seven-string guitar. Brewer is one confident bassist, he slaps, picks, and thumbs his way up and down the fret with spider-like ease. It’s a majestic performance, and one delivered with a humility that isn’t always on show. They may not be as smooth as Allegaeon, but they sure as hell hit as hard.

We’ve reached the heady heights of 8:50pm and Rivers of Nihil hit the stage to rapturous applause. For all that the other parts of the package are superb, it’s the headliners who are the big draw for many. They are no strangers to Bristol, having played at SWX and The Fleece in the past, as well as a slot at this year’s Arctangent festival. It’s been mere weeks since singer Jake Dieffenbach left the band, so it’s bassist Adam Biggs who is handling both bass and vocal duties. He does it with a style that suggests he may be the permanent solution, with those 13 years of backing vocals proving invaluable. It’s a set that Rivers draw predominantly from the 2021 masterpiece The Works. The band are a rage of chaos, their progressive death metal interspersed with bursts of alternative melody, saxophone and cello as well as Biggs’ brutal growling delivery. It’s a masterclass from start to finish, with the band blending the subtle elements of their music with bone-crushing blasts. By the time we get to “Where Owls Know My Name” to wrap things up, it’s time to simply reflect on a quite astonishing evening.

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Photos by Paul Hutchings

Rivers of Nihil: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

Fallujah: facebook | instagram | spotify | youtube

Allegaeon: facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube

Inferi: facebook | twitterinstagram | spotify | youtube

Harbringer: facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

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December 27, 2022 7:33 PM

[…] to Thekla for MT and a night of technical brilliance with the Faces of Death tour. Five bands delivered a stunning night of death metal, with change overs that would rival a formula […]

June 29, 2023 9:45 AM

Kilian Duarte was playing bass for Fallujah BTW

Reply to  Steven
July 6, 2023 5:40 PM

Fiddlesticks. Thanks for that! Always hard to keep track of band changes, people covering slots and so on.