Altars of Death – Purple Turtle, London – Sunday 28th August 2011

Round the corner from the Purple Turtle, with the sun beating down and the oppressive Sunday hours dwindling away. There we sat, benched, awaiting Altars of Death. Over by the Sainsbury’s, the cackles of polo-shirted scumbags, the sight of another metalhead adding colour to the sad wasteland that surroundsMornington Crescent.

People would appear as if yielded by the cracks in the road. Burped up by the gaseous guts ofCamden. Sliding southwards, down from the town, then disappearing again beneath the surface at the crossroads. Few would stop to congregate at this point, as if radiation had infected the terrain and cessation promised only death. Take either refuge underground or plead for entry into the citadel that is the KOKO.

The rest of us opted to stand stationary at the epicentre. All the assorted cancers would come regardless of any action at this stage. Resignation, they call this. That and a perverse desire for realising the evolutionary potential inherent in the situation. The chitinization of the skin may be useful for future wars, or at least make for a funny story at a party.

And why this disregard for health and sanity and such?

We’d been told that a day of Death Metal was happening at the Purple Turtle. Ten bands spread over the day – an intensive Metal experience, broken only by fifteen minute intervals between the bands. Homes had been rushed out of in the hope of making the3pmstart, running to catch the beginning of a multi-band ascent up the hours of a brutalised Sunday.

Frenzied as we were, we arrived early, allowing us time to spit upon the craven fools caracoling past. They had already spent a day living and were now done. We and the other patrons of Altars of Death, on the other hand, had barely emerged from our cocoons. They had already smoked twenty cigarettes and were now trying to shake off the STDs from the night before. Us, we had only begun to imbibe the nectar of the day.

Inside, Oblivionized were setting up. The venue was still relatively quiet, with only a few people loitering around, a barmaid looking slightly bored by the flank. The morning mist had risen to the rafters, away from the floor but visible. Openers Cemtex presumably had to struggle through it – the apathy of the less-than-heaving crowd – carting their openers’ burden with them like a crucifix. At least their march toGolgothawould have been unimpeded by arseholes giving them shit.

The first point to make is the obvious one: the sound in the Purple Turtle is invariably awful. The banner propaganda may read “Sound by professionals”, but this is not the crisp clarity one would expect from professionals. A two-hour online course does not make a professional. A certificate does not make a professional. Knowing a guy who once had a PA and talked about it repeatedly to the same person because he had no other friends does not make a professional. And just by blazoning it across the banner above us does not make it so. Status is earned, and the only thing earned by the so-called pro at the Purple Turtle is a slap in the jowls.

Such ineptitude really doesn’t help bands like Oblivionized. The dizzying technicality exhibited by this band failed to have any effect as manic fretwork dissolved into one annoying drone. We could see the extravagant sweep picking and the mid-riff finger tapping – but could we hear any of it? Not a chance. Admittedly, Oblivionized offer the same sort of incomprehensible mess on record, and so would likely have slipped into monotone even if the venue’s auditory engineering were up to scratch.

Ancient Ascendant sounded better. Their grasp of musicality rendered them less susceptible to the sort of erasure brought about by the sound mix, freeing them from the dampening and undermining that ruined many other bands on the bill. Last time, Ancient Ascendant were the victims of a dodgy mix; this time the set proceeded without incident. With The Grim Awakening finally out, the band’s momentum was clear to see. More patrons had arrived by this time, making for a favourable contingent of Metallers to enjoy the sophisticated Death Metal delights of the guys fromReading.

Our expectations multiply each time, like parasites attaching themselves to teats and other extremities and making us heavy with worry. We’ve come to expect a high standard from Ancient Ascendant, and any deviation from excellence would be intolerable. It’s a credit to the band that every time they satisfy our expectations, which was no less the case this time.

Sadly Ancient Ascendant’s syndrome of awesomeness was not contagious. Cancerous Womb’s grinding brutality was sucked up into the distortion mechanism of the venue, leaving only the sight of a young boy on guitar and a Phil Anselmo-a-like screeching into a microphone.

Morphosis, too, had to struggle against disgruntled technology. The guitarist had his murmuring notes cut off at the beginning, bringing to the stage a minion from the back. Some wires were touched and puzzled over. After a few minutes a solution was found and the music could take off again. What followed was half an hour of very average Death Metal by the Dublinband. Their Rise of the Bastard Deities, despite the cool title, is a soporific affair, and their live set was too.

Basement Torture Killings raised the quality level. They’ve done this before and, if the musical universe continues to be plagued by mediocrity, it’s likely to happen again. The spooky spoken-word intro was enough to tell us that better things were imminent. By the time the guitarists were trading discordant solos and Kennith was surveying his victims, we could happily stand and watch, enjoying the improvement. Even the sound quality was acceptable.

Like Ancient Ascendant earlier, we have to boringly stamp Basement Torture Killings with the Excellent as Usual imprint. No doubt they left the day with more fans in the bag (hopefully literally). And if the superb set didn’t put the name of the band in the heads of the audience, the final tape loop of “Basement Torture Killings, Basement Torture Killings, Basement Torture Killings…” surely did.

Amputated continued the trend of listenability. Their thrashy Death Metal reminded us of Blood Red Throne, which is never a bad thing. Songs such as ‘Cunt like a Sewer’ bristled with a fine chugging heaviness, potent enough to have parts of the audience breaking from a long day’s fatigue to start a pit.

Cerebral Bore finished us off, and chose to do so in strict academic style. Rather than an explosive finale where quality and clarity collided, we had the reappearance of the traits that typified Altars of Death: drab Death Metal. This was the recapitulation of all the threads of the day. The gems notwithstanding – and they’ve been hailed as such; they know who they are – most of the bands had to contend with shit sound and shitter material. Cerebral Bore were not terrible. In fact, they were okay, and their album Maniacal Miscreation isn’t bad. But for the headline act we expected something a bit more special. To have the guitarist desperately encouraging the formation of a pit struck us as weak and undeserved. By the last song, we were shuffling to the doors.

These one day events are a great way to bring together, and give an audience to, upcoming bands. Altars of Death’s worthiness is inarguable: just because a lot of negativity hangs over these words and we’d refer to the Lugal many of the bands for judgement and suitable punishing, does not mean that the spirit of the venture goes unappreciated. We fully support further enterprises of this ilk. Take from us all our Sundays, for there’s fuck all to do anyway.

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