One of the top European metal fests, EMM ends the year with a bang once again, gathering happy punters and 37 bands, even from as far as Australia. Headliners: Satyricon and My Dying Bride.

Friday saw Sydney’s The Amenta kicking off the proceedings from the Large Stage: their hard-hitting industrial death metal has gained them some praise, and their most known song, Vermin, seems to attract a reaction from an already buzzing crowd. Time to check out the first of the many Dutch bands showcased as always at the fest, Death Squad. Impressive! These veterans mix the directness of death metal with filthy thrash producing pure entertainment. The smaller Jägermeister Stage immediately reveals itself as the perfect place to enjoy full-immersion into proper underground metal, whatever its shade. The schedule is arranged so that music junkies can easily check out all of the bands; back upstairs the second Aussie band, Psycroptic, is revving up to launch its tech-death infused with traditional heavy metal, a combination that is particularly appreciated in a country that holds the metal tradition in the highest of regards. But ultra melodic old-school black metallers Christ Agony from Poland are on in my favorite crypt: their unholy show makes the blood boil, providing the first real fun of the fest. Veteran Flemish band Ancient Rites has the task to warm up for Dark Tranquillity. They have not been releasing albums for a long while but they are certainly amongst the best outfits from next door’s Belgium. The large stage does no favors to anyone though, and their old-school sound fails to excite me, but I am soon in for a treat when I descend once again to the smaller room. Local six-piece Herder came highly recommended, and with good reason! A concoction of past and present members of diverse and amazing bands such as Aborted, Urfaust and The Devil’s Blood amongst the others, guarantees the uniqueness of their sound, a great, catchy and exciting sludgy stoner doom with the surprise element of a new singer with a definite hardcore stamp on his vocals. Fans who knew them before were taken aback from the new vocalist’s style, but as a newbie I thought it sounded great! The band has one full-length under its belt and a sensational EP called Horror Vacui: they should be followed closely and I am delighted I will have the chance to enjoy them at Roadburn next year. Well it’s time for Dark Tranquillity, making up for the cancellation of their EU dates in support of the last album. The creators of the Gothenburg style were in scintillating form. Stunning were the visuals too, with the huge black and white skull peeling off into marvelous forms during the intro. The Swedes are a well-oiled machine and entertain the big crowd fully.

While legends Obituary perform their first classic three albums on the big stage, a real treat for the more than delighted fans going berserk at the energetic antics of the perennially long-haired living gods of Floridian death metal, I position myself in front of Belgian black metallers Enthroned, fully expecting to be blown away. I particularly enjoyed their latest album, a dark and twisted affair that I found rather interesting, yet the show ends up being a little disappointing, lacking somewhat impact and intensity, leaving me waiting for a special moment that would make me feel something powerful, whatever that might be. I do respect this band, but these days I demand a lot more from my black metal and tonight Enthroned do not offer anything special for me. Taake, on the other hand, fully deliver as expected: within a couple of minutes we are engulfed in a blazing storm of ice and darkness. Whether one is still turned on by the corpse-paint thing or not, it is nowadays the official Norwegian national costume: Hoest sports the emblem of Norway on his leather coat and on his belt buckle, and probably on his underwear too! Well good on him, especially because without the make-up these guys would fit in perfectly in a crust band, which is cool by me. It was a great choice to put them in the small room because that’s where black metal still means something.

Satyricon, on the other hand, belong to the main room: they are massive, they perform a massive gig filling up a massive stage because Satyr and Frost have created a bombastic, groovy machine capable to hijack the mainstream. They are undoubtedly super professionals: the legendary vocalist, plagued by an injury, leans onto a horned prop for the duration of the gig and still manages to look good and entertain. Hats off. Macabre entertain the audience downstairs, while Mexican masked ganstas Brujeria, in the middle of their European tourclose up the night on the big stage, always up for some gross, fat, scurrile brutality. One more band for me to check out with interest: Belgian symphonic black metallers Saille. Having failed to fall in love with their upcoming sophomore effort, in spite of Tom Kvålsvol’s expert touch, I am hoping that the live performance would make my unconvinced impressions sway. The show starts rather tentatively with a sound that is far from engaging, while a ragged guitar does not make a good impression. But Saille are a young band and it is bloody hard to write symphonic BM that’s not cheesy, boring, or too clever for its own sake, so I am still hoping for something truly exciting in the future. Friday night closes off with an after-party with Debauchery and French industrial black metallers Blacklodge, but for me it is Good Night!


Saturday is the longest of the two days, packed with good acts for every taste. Dutch industrial metallers Deadcell open up on the big stage with two gothic-looking, ass-kicking ladies on guitar and bass. Their music is heavily influenced by Killing Joke, hence quite entertaining. Not bad at all. I join the Gospel of the Horns in the small room downstairs for a welcome dose of healthy, honest, working class, anti-Christian Aussie thrash. So nice to see! As Belgian progressive black metallers Gorath play their last show ever, progressive deathsters Talanas replace at the last minute Thyrfing on the main stage. The Londoners seem quite excited to present their material to a new audience but, although they must be usaccustomed to large stages from having just toured with My Dying Bride, their sound does not elevate itself to reaching the desired impact, although it gives more than a glimpse of promise. Well, I am a fan of Ed Warby’s doom-death project, The 11th Hour, and I was looking forward to immersing myself into their slow, melodic and beautifully melancholy and grandiose sound. given the short time allocated, they play only 4 long tracks off their splendid two albums and I love every second of it, although, mindful of their epic performance at Madrid is the Dark, I think they belonged to the bigger stage. Time runs out all too quickly, but Ed’s sorrowful clean vocals ebbing and flowing over Pim Blankenstein’s  bleak growls linger in the mind and soul for a long while yet. Gory deathters Aborted have already taken the stage upstairs, so I fall from my dreamy bitter-sweet mood right into the pits of hell: the Belgians veterans shred like they were still in their twenties… Amazing!

All-star Swedish band Krux (members of Candlemass, Opeth, Entombed) follows the carnage with their big, dark sound, but it is Zombie Inc., another band packed with well known faces (Pungent Stench, Belphegor, Lacrimas Profundere, etc.), that I wish to see performing in the crypt. These proficient musicians truly enjoy themselves on stage and that is highly contagious. Inspired by the raw, good old-days of Autopsy/Carcass/Obituary, they provide a lot of fun, except (or perhaps even more so for some) when the singer swallows some raw chicken pieces before chucking the rest into the crowd: gross!!! Gothic metallers Deathstars have conquered a rather big following, and they are indeed one of the bands capable to own the main stage completely. The Swedish version of The Murderdolls are one of those poppy/cheesy bands that made their fortune onto the club dancefloors and, although they are not as outrageous as their American counterparts, they can surely fill in the gap left in the market. So, swiftly moving on, I miss Austrians Disharmonic Orchestra in order to prepare myself to receive my live initiation by none other than The Devil’s Blood. This Dutch band has been on the lips of the connoisseurs of occult rock for a while, their live sets likened to spellbinding black masses. Well I am glad to say that TDB spend more focus onto the music, keeping their rituals simple, honest and right to the point. Aesthetically, they all appear on stage dripping in blood, setting people’s minds into the right dimension. But as I said, it is the music that provides the tide that eventually elevates this show into one of the most intense and cathartic I have seen in a while. Guitarist Selim Lemouchi has a mission to fulfill, and that is clear. His inspired playing is otherworldly and yet deeply rooted into the mystery of the blood, a symbol of life seen as a path towards the liberating embrace of death. His jams tonight are stunningly good and mesmerizing, the sound of his Strat as liquid, smooth and delicious as David Gilmore’s once young psychedelic blood. Selim’s sister surprises me and captivates me with her well modulated yet totally instinctive voice, and I like her trance-like stance. TDB deliver my favorite performance of the entire festival by miles.

It takes a lashing of old Sodom to bring me back from the dark trip I have just embarked on in the small room, and I am soon grinning to the energetic show put on by the ever-willing Germans celebrating here their 30th anniversary! Well done: when the heart is in the right place, longevity and unwavering appreciation is a well deserved prize. Two more acts are on my schedule for this edition of EMM, both performing in the small room. First off, local heroes Carach Angren, who intrigue me with a well-crafted, arty kind of black metal that marries the bombastic theatricals of Cradle of Filth with a strangely twisted German cabaret feel. With just a singer/guitarist, a keyboard player, a violin player and a drummer, they do not re-enact the flamboyant shows of Danny Filth & Co (yet), but rather an art-performance. The singer is quite alluring to watch, looking like a strange heterosexual jester/witch on speed. Musically, each time the keyboards sink the act into tedious déjà vu, semi-acoustic syncopated breaks punctuated by the violin rise the standard to a captivating uniqueness that this band needs to cultivate. So one more act, which comes highly recommended: Totenmond. A few notes in and it is clear that this martial, Spartan in fact, German trio doesn’t sound like anybody I have ever seen, and yet it soon becomes familiar and utterly engaging. Somehow, by dismembering the very core of punk, blackened thrash and doom, they forge a hard-hitting, basic, primordial slab of molten metal that makes you inevitably dance around… yes, just like in the olden hardcore-punk days! And there is no better way to end this fun metal weekend in one of the capitals of metal.

Color photographs courtesy of Fabiola Santini.

B/W photographs courtesy of Paul Verhagen (Achrome Moments Photography).

Many thanks to both for sharing the good times.