On March 31st, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Primordial, Fen, and Crom Dubh show at the Underworld in Camden. Accompanying me was a fellow metal music academic, composer, and Primordial fan Bill McGrath.
The Underworld is a suitably named venue. You descend almost immediately after entering, and are placed into an intimate venue that has a capacity of 500. I was thrilled to see Primordial in this setting: prior to this, I had only seen the band at festivals. Because both Bill and myself are staunch believers in seeing opening acts, we arrived at The Underworld in plenty of time to see all three bands.
The opening act, a black metal banded called Crom Dubh, played well. Their set got progressively better and better, and set the mood for the show accordingly. Since they are based in London and the South East of the United Kingdom, I look forward to seeing them play again.
The next band, Fen, really impressed me. At one point during Fen’s set, I turned to Bill and shouted ‘THIS IS KILLER’! Under the ‘Influences’ section of Fen’s official Facebook page, the band writes: ‘Twilight descending upon empty heathland and the cries of the crows that wheel in the bunching stormclouds’. After seeing them live, I can say this is apt. Fen’s progressive black metal rocked The Underworld, and after the show, Bill and I added Fen t-shirts to our Primordial merch. I walked into the venue not knowing what Fen was all about, and left a fan, and that is the testament to Fen’s musical ability and performance.
Primordial was the headliner of this show, and the reason why I attended. On their official Facebook, Primordial describe themselves as calling ‘…to the shadowed kind, To men of myth, etched in stone, Whose songs are heard no more’. I have to preface that Primordial is a band that I hold extremely close to my heart, and is one of the bands that I can honestly say helped me immensely in my personal life. I would not be where I am today without Primordial’s music. I have strong emotions when I see Primordial play: last year, when I saw them play at Tuska Open Air in Helsinki, I was brought to tears when Primordial played one of my favourite songs. For these reasons, I identify strongly with the research of Owen Coggins, who discusses (among other things) the religious experiences fans of metal bands may have at shows.
I was not disappointed by Primordial’s performance. Primordial’s vocalist, Nemtheanga (Alan Averill), is an incredible frontman. I would argue that he is the black metal equivalent of Freddie Mercury. I very rarely take videos at gigs, because I instead want to focus on the music and the experience right in front of me, but after a quick discussion with Bill, we both agreed a brief video would be necessary to further illustrate Nemtheanga’s showmanship. Below, I have linked a tweet that has a video of Nemtheanga performing at the gig:
— Amanda DiGioia (@amandadijoy) April 1, 2017
As you can see in the above video, Nemtheanga is engaging with the audience and performing at a high level, even during the droning dirge quality of ‘Babel’s Tower’. The Underworld, being an intimate venue, also allowed Nemtheanga to interact directly with audience members: after he pointed at me, and then held his hand over his heart, I turned to Bill and said that ‘I could die now’. Nemtheanga was like a minister, leading the congregation of nightmare, in revelation and celebration.
Nemtheanga also addressed issues of nationalism (the topic of Modern Heavy Metal Conference 2017 : ‘Music and National Identities’, in Helsinki, Finland). In the middle of the set, one of the anecdotes Nemtheanga shared with the crowd was that Ireland has a complicated history. This was appreciated by Bill (who is a citizen of the Republic of Ireland), who later said:
“I really appreciate how Nemtheanga acknowledges the complexity of Irish history. With a band that seems very concerned with the history of British colonialism in Ireland (titles such as ‘Coffins Ships’, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand) and that seems to present an image of opposition or defiance, I felt it’s important to acknowledge that the situation is more nuanced than that. Without ever condoning or erasing the history of colonialism in Ireland, when addressing these issues and creating a national self-image it’s important to base it in an accurate understanding of historical events.”
The Underworld showcased London’s diverse metal scene. While Bill (an Irishman) and I (an American woman) were queuing in line to enter the venue, we stood next to a Hungarian woman, a Dutch man, and chatted with the venue’s Polish bouncer. Inside the venue, we stood next to an Iranian and Polish metal fan couple. This was the first venue I went to in the UK that had a heavy metal audience that was not exclusively white, which is always a positive in my book.
The only negative thing to occur all night was an issue of gendered harassment, directed towards myself. Bill and I had sequestered ourselves by the stairs to the lower floor, as it was the best place to view the band without being in the pit. As I was standing, an older British man rubbed against, loudly proclaiming he was being pushed to do so by the crowd, before turning to his friends and shouting “SCHWING” . Bill and I promptly asked the man what he was thinking, before he and his friends vanished into the sold-out crowd. Dated Wayne’s World reference aside, this is just one, among many, examples of male metal fans marginalising women at metal shows: in this case, I am nothing but an object to be lusted after, or objectified.
That negative experience aside, this gig is an experience that I will never forget for more favourable reasons. Fen was a great personal discovery. I was finally able to see one of my favourite bands, Primordial, at an intimate venue, not a festival. The Primordial gig at The Underworld was one of the best shows I have ever attended. Primordial live is a gig that I believe every fan of heavy metal should experience at least once. Nemtheanga’s final words to the crowd: ‘No remorse, no regrets’, still ring in my ears, and will continue to shape my life for years to come.