Gorguts & Marduk – Kings Arms March 11, 2017

Let’s start with some personal context: Gorguts are a very big deal for me. They’re one of Those Bands, the ones your mates know will always come up eventually in drunken music discussions or late night YouTube searches. Their album Obscura changed my whole perception of extreme metal, and it’s hard to say if I’d be the fan of the genre I am without it. So while I knew Marduk were a huge deal, and I was keen to catch the local acts, there was no doubt in my mind who I was at the King’s Arms to see.

Aucklanders Setentia kicked off right on time. I’d been very impressed with their 2016 release Darkness Transcend, and they didn’t disappoint. Playing a twisted and ambitious brand of progessive death, they’ll draw inevitable and complimetary comparisons to Ulcerate. Their three guitarists created dizzying and complex walls of sound, guided and held together by the dynamic drums. My only criticism is some of the details I know are on the album version seemed a bit lost in the mix.

There’s something very satisfying in Bulletbelt’s live show- possibly just how every element of their well-executed thrash fits together just as it should. Nicely soaring solos, galloping riffs and drums, piercing black metal vocals; Bulletbelt aren’t re-inventing the wheel, but it’s a lot of fun watching them roll with it.

I’d seen Carnal open for Gorguts on their last Auckland gig in 2014. Maybe it was because they were immediately followed by Ulcerate’s crushing live set, but I didn’t remember how good they were. I’ll remember now. These guys did some crushing themselves, switching between tight, quick riffs and blasts to the occasional stop-start breakdown. Neck-snapping stuff.

Then my men of the hour, Gorguts took the stage. They took straight to business, bursting into Le Toit du Monde from their last full-length Colored Sands. Perfectly executed, unfortunately distracted by some kind of popping over the speakers.

That minor sound glitch was sorted soon, though, as the band went into their centrepiece for the night, a full performance of last year’s EP Pleiades’ Dust. One half hour epic song, it’s full of complex patterns, dark atmospheric melodies, and abrupt tempo shifts. Not simple stuff to play, and executed flawlessly. The ambient interlude two-thirds in felt a little long heard live, and I could see people starting to chat and order drinks. But the closing section showed off all the technicality and surprising composition Gorguts have become known for. Sending us off with bizarre old favourite Obscura, they reminded us that there’s still really nothing that sounds like it.

I very much wasn’t expecting to report this, but Marduk were the highlight of my night. Gorguts met all of my high expectations. Marduk blew my expectations out of the water. You know you’ve been impressed when your planned review starts to sound like a press release: unrelenting, pummeling, demolishing- not hyperbole.

They took the stage with hellish intensity and no let up for their hour long set. I’d listened to the album they were performing, Heaven Shall Burn…When We Are Gathered, and I’d found it good but not a favourite. Performed live, it was a whole different experience. It didn’t matter if the song was breakneck or mid-pace, the same sinister electricity was in the air.

Every member impressed, but the fluid, martial and blazingly fast drums stood out for me, as well as the commanding stage presence of vocalist Mortuus. The latter exhorted the crowd to adulation, throwing his arms wide, rasing fists and devil horns, and once crossing his arms over the fray like a stoically proud father. Marduk showed us last night why they command such a legacy in black metal.

There is one last spectre I feel I should address. Marduk are no strangers to controversy and offence, as with most black metal bands. But for a while now some accusing fingers have preceded cries not of blasphemy or Satanic themes- which would be true enough- but fascism, racism, and Neo-Nazism. This topic got especially hot in the States, where it saw one of their shows cancelled, and has seen a small amount of discussion on our own shores.

I would not choose to see a Neo-Nazi band, even one playing with one of my all-time favourites. But all the research I’ve done has showed lots of accusations and very little evidence. Marduk have some songs about World War Two and German soldiers. One album seems to be about tanks. Some seem to feel this is association enough. For myself, I saw a band play a set of songs about Satan, with no relation to politics at all, unless unrepentant blasphemy is political. I did see one Swastika adorning a patch jacket; complete with a big red, Dead Kennedys Nazi-Punks-Fuck-Off cross through it.

Cameron Miller

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