Abigail Williams / Viatrophy / Xerath
25 November 2009
Camden Underworld, London

With Johan not well enough to make tonight’s show, it was left to me and my compact camera to document tonight’s show.

With a reasonable but small turnout, the Underworld’s main bar had been closed leaving the venue in its Mini-World set up.

First up tonight were cinema-graphic, techno metallers Xerath, a band I had hoped to catch at Bloodstock this summer, but absorbed in Saxon and booze had missed their set. Tonight was a great opportunity to put that right, as once again the Underworld’s sound system appeared to be behaving itself. My cinema reference comes from the band’s use of soundtrack like orchestration, which in the live environment was presented on backing tapes.

Meshuggah is an oft citied reference for this Basingstoke four piece and it’s easy to see why, with stop start riffing in odd time signatures mirroring the Swedes math-metal. Obviously you need to be a tight band to pull this off and it was hard to believe new bassist Nik Wolf has only held this role for a month, given how tightly he locked in with Michael Pitman’s drums. Owain William’s impressed with his unyielding riffing and during Reform (Part 2) showed off his infrequently used virtuoso soloing skills.

Richard Thomson’s energetic vocal delivery helped catch the crowd’s attention, however on occasion, with an extended song outro on backing tape, the audience seemed confused whether the song had finished and hence the band missed out on cheers and applause for that song. My personal favourite False History wrapped up a strong set.

Xerath set list:
Intrenity / Reform (Part 1) / Consequences / Abiogenesis / Alterra / Reform (Part 2) / False History

There seemed to be a mass influx of people to stage front as Viatrophy’s intro tape of Lux E Tenebris was played. Noticeably there were many in hardcore attire and it seemed many were here solely for the Reading band. The sombre tones of that intro tape were a vast contrast to the band launching into the ferocious Mistress Of Misery, which had them charging to the front of the stage like they were coming out of the trenches.

Frontman Adam Mayes barely stood still as he barked, growled and yelped over the band’s metalcore riffing. Viatrophy do however possess a unique edge in that they occasionally slip into more ambient, reflective moments mid song, before once again punishing with crunching riffs. The look and approach of Mayes contributes to Viatrophy seeming more on the hardcore side of the fence than, say, a band like Sylosis. A band Viatrophy have things in common with, not least guitarist Gurneet Ahluwalia who is an ex member of Sylosis.

By Scenes Of Extended Peril we were mainly stood at the edges of the venue with a large pit opened up, populated by a handful of kung-fu style dancers. Mayes worked tirelessly to build the numbers in that pit, offering free t-shirts for the craziest reactions. Xerath’s Richard Thomson nearly bagged himself a shirt with a headbanging foray on stage. Viatrophy’s style is not exactly to my own tastes but there was no denying that their short set was impressive.

Viatrophy set list:
Lux E Tenebris (intro) / Mistress Of Misery / Scenes Of Extended Peril / Chronicles / ? / ? / The Ethereal Darkness

I really didn’t have high expectation for Abigail Williams tonight after hearing that they learned on arrival for their flights to the UK that their keyboard player Alana Potiocnik had bailed on them and joined Winds Of Plague. Oddly she is the second keyboard player to do this with Kristen Randall making a similar defection. Compound that with frontman Ken Sorceron ending the band’s set after 15 minutes in Leeds for a trip to hospital and you can see the omens weren’t favourable.

Soldiering on keyboard-less must have been a tough call for a band who’s sound leans so heavily on symphonic backing. However, as Acolytes kicked in it was great to hear that the band had managed to source backing tracks of the keyboards and against all odds the sound was blistering with the guitars soaring.

I’ve got to confess that prior to hearing their In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns release, I’d over looked Abigail Williams as I’d expected them to sound completely different after seeing their promo shots. Pressing play on the CD, whilst the cover artwork matched what you’d expect from symphonic black metal, Abigail Williams are without the expected corpse paint, leather and spikes and are often mistaken for a metalcore band which clearly they are not.

Continuing mismatched expectations, following youtube clips of the band I was surprised to find Sorceron handling live guitar duty on top of his lead vocals. Combining with fellow six stringer Ian Jeckeils, the pair created a tight, powerful wall of guitars, however the obvious limitations of staying near his mic stand cut down Sorceron’s on stage movement. Following Into The Ashes, he apologised for the lack of a keyboard player, with no explanation other than “Shit happens.”

There did feel to be a resigned sense of getting on with things as best as Abigail Williams could under the circumstances and they certainly pulled a triumph from potential tragedy. The disappointment however came after 30 minutes when Sorceron told us that the lack of keyboards, and presumably prepared backing tapes, meant Watchtower would be the last song. The band promised to return and hopefully they can secure a more committed keyboard player for this.

Abigail Williams set list:
I (intro) / Acolytes / Empyrean: Into The Cold Wastes / Into The Ashes / Floods / I Am (God) / Watchtower

Abigail Williams