Having recently introduced myself to the darker side of the UK metal/hardcore scene it made sense to check out the relatively new festival, Ritual, which is run by UK Tech friend Daniel Vaughan. This second year sees fromer Emperor frontman Ihsahn top a largely crust-based line up. Lovely.
Ritual Fest Pre-Show
The pre-show is held at Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds city centre, which is a lovely, bustling bar downstairs with a laid-back roof garden and the large venue located in between. The room was bustling following a queue that seemed to extend throughout the bar!
Opening up the night – and technically the festival – is rising blackened death metal band Sathamel; the only one on the line-up to fully embrace the corpse paint, and the occult effect is enhanced by an incense candle burning at the front of the stage. Their satanic imagery is very much in the vein of Behemoth, whose intensity the emulate also. The music jumps between black metal blasts and grittier riff-based sections, and they even throw in an extremely groovy number for good measure. Frontman Kruk is also vocally impressive, meshing well with the black metal aspect, alongside some solid screeching guitar solos.
Once the incense has cleared, black metal quartet The Infernal Sea take the stage with guitarists sporting menacing Venetian bird masks in homage of their recent album The Great Mortality. Despite the less theatrical approach to their appearance – beside the facial adornment – their sound is much more akin to bands like Emperor, complete with backing orchestration. There are a couple of backing track issues with the dark, atmospheric violins, but their performance maintains a welcome intensity, partly due to their unrelenting drumming and gritty bass.
It’s three-piece folk black metal band Fen that steal the night musically. With their old-school Opeth vibe, elements of Alcest are also infused in their folkier aspect and imagery. Frontman and guitarist ‘The Watcher’ holds the crowd’s attention throughout their performance of recent album Winter, their fifth effort to date, which really shows off their seamless, progressive song writing.
The headliner’s drum kit is finally unveiled and scene veterans Akercocke take the stage as the evening’s main event; one for whom it appears a large majority of the attendees have been waiting, as they crowd to the front.
Their experience shines through as Jason Mendonca jovially addresses the crowd in between his operatic singing and death growls. Scrapping the traditional double bass drum, the band opt for a simple trigger kick which at first appears odd and out of place, but begins to make sense once their avant-garde take on death metal plays out.
Their extensive fan base is also evident in the largest pits of the evening; all in the same enjoyable nature as the band’s music. With moments that touch upon Strapping Young Lad mixed with a very British approach to metal, the result is something peculiar but refreshing in a stereotypically dark and serious scene. Certainly a good representation of the entire festival’s atmosphere.