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Friday 22 September 2023

A View From Beyond The Void: Cosmic Void Festival Day 3 (Live Review By Alyn Hunter & Natalie King)

Cosmic Void Festival Day 3, Camden, Sunday 17.09.23

Not that rain matters too much when bouncing back and fore between indoor venues, but it was certainly on the horizon today. We arrived in time to see a healthy queue growing outside the Underworld in anticipation of Blood Countess (8) who would be opening up the procedings as the UK representation in the Underworld. 

Coming out of the blocks absolutely raging, The Countess and her cohort delivered a savaging 40-minute spectacle, although unfortunately from our position in the crowd which was rapidly growing the mix was lead guitar unfriendly in particular, which meant we got a specific battering from the drums, vocals and bass, and some of the intricacies of guitarist Steve's lead-work was sadly difficult to find. That said however, when it did eek through the bombardment of blasts and kicks and Nina's fierce screams, it added the extra nuance and necessary dimension to the onslaught. Really solid 2nd wave-esque black metal to blow off the morning (or early afternoon as it was) cobwebs and hopefully will catch them again with a slightly more forgiving sound (we could've moved, but ultimately we wanted to be in the crowd and supportive!).

Over to the Ballroom which was not yet open, and instead had another biblical queue outside in the rain which quickly started pelting down. The same door/first band problems as the day prior had returned so we waited it out until the queue died down and then headed in to catch Austrians Anomalie (9) who were a thrilling spectacle. A UK debut for the epic post-Black band and they fully grasped the opportunity, and this was honestly one of the finds of the festival for us resulting in two CD's and a tshirt bought immediately afterward (whilst also glancing longingly at the extensive and exceptionally colourful Cult Of Fire merch offering). Another band that we'll be spinning a lot in future, taking a lot from doom and more modern interpretations of the genre, leaning heavily on the melody and grandiose sections that brought real goosebumps to the arms - somebody please bring these back, we'll be there.

Danish Angstskrig (7) came in as last minute replacements for the Greek band Gentihaa, and this was another change of pace for the weekend in general. Having been kept busy at the merch stand in the Ballroom acquiring Anomalie merch, we missed the first half, however Angstskrig treated us to a more upbeat blend with plenty of punk and some stoner-esque vibes piercing through. It also provided us with a hilarious moment that somewhat typifies a stereotype of some Black Metal fans where the vocalist declared that 'Sunday is funday, so we're going to play a fun one', followed swiftly by a punter nearby loudly declaring that humour doesn't belong in Black Metal as he made his exit. OK buddy. 

Black morph masks were donned a la Mgla, Groza, Uada etc, but almost tongue in cheek with their delivery, the Danes were hard not to enjoy from their sheer delight at being able to perform for their first time in the UK.

Mixed feelings became of us for Ved Buens Ende (7) in the Ballroom. Musically brilliant and bordering on genius, with very DSO-style dissonance interwoven between jarring time signature changes and impressive key-switches that lurched frequently, however the vocal delivery was always going to be marmite and it wasn't necessarily for us. The avant-garde Norweigans were another on a long list of historically important contributors to the genre present at the festival and initially high on the must see list, but reality was that eventually hunger came calling and that superceded any desire to continue to be challenged by their complexity. 

In some ways, quite a little gutted as would've wanted to have seen more from a band making their first UK performance since 1995, but in retrospect felt that this band would've suited a more intimate setting, and with their very niche sound this was always a particular performance that meant that if you weren't feeling it, you'd struggle to engage.

Another of the South American contingent Sol Sistere (8) had made their way over from Chile for this UK debut. Their craft isn't anything out of the ordinary or pioneering, slotting neatly into the modern atmospheric Black metal styling, but when that's the case in a quickly becoming over-crowded and popular sub-genre, it has to be delivered well. A large crowd lapped up the fact that this was exactly what happened as they shifted between blistering blast-filled sections into moving and emotive acoustic passages effortlessly with rapturous applause between every offering. CD bought, bearing in mind the distance it may be a while until they return, but a fantastic example of the talent coming in from further afield.

Where to begin for the band that probably drew the biggest crowd of the weekend? Cult Of Fire (10), was the vocalist making cereal? Are those guitarists SITTING? ON GIANT HOODED PYTHONS? MASKS? GIANT HORNS? Oh my. When the Ballroom has a legitimate use for its stage curtains opening and closing at the bookends of a set, you know that the stage-show is going to be just as important as the music, and this was probably the most intricate performance we've seen in a long while, even knowing that this wasn't even their "final form" due to stage size limitations (and presumably a ban on anything that emitted smoke like incense), no detail was second nor space was spared from the performance that probably used the bulk of the dry ice supplies of the weekend. 

Cult Of Fire are one of the few bands who can legitimately use the word Ritual when describing their forays and not have any questions asked as they theme their output around Hindu deities, but more importantly they deliver a mesmerising and complete show that veers between intense blast-beat laden black metal, occult serene passages, and magic(k)al and captivating lead melodies at a moments notice. In some ways, they made Batushka feel a bit ASDA-price. Judging by the crowd which was rammed throughout, probably the most anticipated set of the weekend for many, with just cause. A truly special booking and complete performance, and maybe should've headlined Saturday... just saying.

Given the enormous task of having to follow that, Helleruin (7), one of the few corpsepaint and spikes-clad bands of the day still manages to play to a packed and attentive Underworld. In total honesty, having just witnessed such a complete performance it felt difficult giving full attention and shifting down a gear to the more primitive catalogue of blasts, spikes and tremolo-barbed rage provided by the Dutchmen, but the one-man-band turned live act did a solid job of giving the show his fans craved even if not boundary-breaking. Definitely an act we'd catch again, just preferably not after having to spend time collecting our jaws from the floor. We might even have missed the disco-beat and cowbell moment from Riddles In Devil's Tongue if it was performed... so ultimately we're not doing them any justice here.

Back to Norway's prolific Keep Of Kalessin (8) and their self-styled blend of epic extreme metal at the Ballroom. Unfortunately, the Norweigans had to cancel their last scheduled tour back in 2022 due to poor sales across the board, although whether this was purely down to the post-Covid effect though or some unworkable logistics/legitimately low demand is a debatable topic for another time. Picking up acclaimed YouTube drummer Wanja 'Nechtan' Groger was a stroke of genius though as he slotted in perfectly with their often immensely demanding drum parts and handled them seemingly effortlessly. 

London was promptly taken on a tour of the discography, punctuated with a lot of between-song narration by an exceptionally cheery Obsidian C who was happy to play the showman and talk the talk, tracks were performed from all eras of their anthology with the recurring theme being blistering speed and unrelenting bombast. The crowd had noticeably thinned compared to Cult Of Fire, but this was ultimately epic extreme metal performed exceptionally, although clearly got the best of a few, or some who just wished to pile into Sinmara early. Perhaps a stark reminder that very few bands have the privilege of living off legacy alone, but it was good to see the former Eurovision entrants (honestly I cannot even imagine...) finally get their time back on these shores after so long.

With that, it was time to be absolutely crushed by Sinmara (9), the second of the two Icelandic bands ready to bludgeon a heaving underworld. Shades Of Akhlys from last year arose with the Underworld having a queue to get in. Dissonant and brooding tones and cavernous vocals captivated the heaving crowd, with menacing cuts from their eponymous record 'Hv√≠sl Stjarnann' forming a good portion of the set. Bathed in dark red light with minimal fanfare, this by contrast to the comparatively flambuoyant Keep Of Kalessin was an ominous and evil performance that reached into truly dense and sinister territory through their intricate riffing and harrowing songwriting. 

Icelandic Black Metal is held in rightly high regard at the moment for their unique interpretations of the genre genetics, and for good reason as Sinmara gave an absolute masterclass in how to be wowed by complexity whilst simultaneously melted by the sheer density of their sound. It's a rare treat to have two of the leading visionaries make their way over to demonstrate their prowess, so here's another call to get these rebooked these for a UK tour and bring Abduction along for the ride, that's a perfect match made in hell right there.

Somewhat exhausted after a weekend of largely special sets pulling us from venue to venue, we ventured back to the Ballroom to find Borknagar (10) who were the billed Saturday headliner, though not the final band playing. Having a number of attempts at bringing them over scuppered for various reasons such as the ill-fated Manorfest, the capable hands of Cult Of Parthenope were able to finally deliver on bringing the enigmatic Norweigans over for the first time in 25 years, and this was a performance befitting a headliner without much pomp or self-indulgence. 

Magnificent duopoly between vocalists ICS Vortex (renowned for his time with Dimmu of course and his impressive vocal gymnastics) and Lazare who was also handling keyboards, the Ballroom was treated to singalong material from start to finish giving the festival a real closer with all the relevant showmanship. Having been punished with blast-beats and razor-sharp riffs most of the weekend, there was something palpably warming watching a room of engrossed metalheads with weary necks singing along to Voices that resonated long after they had finished. Performing cuts from across their extensive history and closing with the anthem Winter Thrice, Borknagar treated Camden to a well overdue performance with the sole downside that due to the scheduling limitations of the Ballroom and their curfew that it couldn't have gone on longer.

As we were getting through the day, and our legs were starting to fail, Germans Desaster (9) weren't necessarily seeming like the most enticing option in prolonging the suffering of the cartilege in our aching knees, but damn we were glad we put the effort in at the end. The Underworld filled out one final time for the German Black/Thrash outfit who would be closing out the festival in a post-headline performance that felt like it took very little effort from them to easily draw out whatever intensity remained from the remaining fans who went absolutely apeshit. 

There's something incredibly endearing when you see a band with years behind them still having such a great time on stage and engaging with the audience, and arguably no crowd did it better this weekend than Desaster showing the virtue of experience, with one guitarist leaning over into the front row at every opportunity, high-fiving all outstretched reaching arms and having the time of his life. How do you not get behind a band that have that much fun and also deliver such a energised and consummate rampage? Desaster left an indelible impression as the perfect party-band closer in a genius move from the organisers, and one of the sets of the weekend that'll remain a lasting highlight for those in attendance.

Overall, Cosmic Void has delivered the goods once again. It's a festival that has barely put a foot wrong in the short time that it has existed, and has quickly become a must-attend feature of our year for their uncanny knack of attracting the new, the established, and the surprising UK debuts and exclusives for us to fill our boots with (and empty our wallets to) over a weekend. It goes without question that we'll be back next year, and there is a tempered excitement already over who they'll be surprising us with next time. Overall festival rating? Easily a 9, this is a true gem that only loses out a little on some of the logistical and expense fronts. Dang London, yo expensive.

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