Saturday the 28th of March saw Glasgow University’s very own Morgul host their twice successful North of the Wall festival for a third time. Having commandeered the Classic Grand the day was to be packed with a total of eleven bands covering two stages over the course of almost eight hours; so one had to be careful not to over imbibe in the Black Metal Brewery goods for sale.
Saor were the first band we saw upon arrival. Scottish black metal is probably not as rich as it should be considering we’ve got all the essential elements; the bloodied past, the sublime landscapes and the national pride. Despite my misgivings about Saor, arising from a promo pic of them standing kilted in a forlorn glen, their mix of simple high-pitched Celtic melodies with a brutal electric back-beat was a powerful combination. The word “freedom” came to mind but this was undoubtedly a strong performance for the band’s first ever gig.
Cancerous Womb, one of a minority of death metal bands, opened the upstairs stage with a raucous display of primal dominance. Mael Mordha then ambushed us looking like a tribe of angry Picts in search of a human sacrifice. Their brand of Gaelic doom-metal attracts generous and not misplaced comparisons to their countrymen Primordial. The most captivating aspect of this performance was surely their chest-beating frontman whose vocal range was as impressive as his energy, ranging from low throat screams to virtually operatic wailing.
The band I was most looking forward to seeing was Bolzer and the packed turn-out told me I wasn’t alone. Easily the most hyped band on the bill, they arrived in Scotland from Switzerland on the back of two EPs and did not disappoint. The atmosphere was something close to an occult ceremony with the frontman’s summoning howls to the ether often lost in a torrent of sonic buzz and gothic tremolo guitar. Comprising of a drummer and guitarist I was astonished at how such a decimating sound could be produced by just those solitary figures on stage. My only complaint would be: why haven’t they released a full LP yet?
Now, how do you solve a problem like Gama Bomb? It is not unheard of for a metal-head to qualify the praise of “I like them” with “but I can’t take them seriously”. Coming on stage looking like extras in Miami Vice, it’s clear that they revel in such criticism. Never did a band look more comfortable on stage than they: the adrenaline filled riffs were delivered with proficiency akin to 80s Megadeath and no sooner was one toxic onslaught done than another rose up to take its place. Speaking afterwards to their singer Philly, I asked how he responds to those who say they are the Tenacious D of thrash metal, to which he replied “We’d love to be that popular.” I staged a small survey asking audience members who their favourite act on the night was: Gama Bomb clinched it. It seems Philly’s confidence is well placed.
The party spilled out into Ivory Blacks where metal classics were blasted till the early hours. North of the Wall, with its fondness for most genres within metal and its choice to have a thrash band top a largely black metal bill, still feels like a festival in growth. But its very diversity makes it an ideal moot point for a genre with so many sub-genres. And I wonder, when this rough beast’s hour of maturity comes at last what fearsome thing will slouch towards Glasgow in years to come.