The live music scene is full of small pleasures but I guess nothing compares with getting the chance to see a big band in a small venue. There’s a feeling of private party about it that beats any other concert experience. We don’t get many of these; it mostly happens when bands split up and the emerging projects start once more from the bottom, touring small clubs and cafés in search for that primal indispensable contact with the fan base. But to see a band, which has been constantly around for more than 25 years and tours festivals all over Europe, in a club of 200 people capacity? That’s as rare and precious as it’s awesome.
Even though Rotting Christ is an already well-respected name consistently built through the years with articulate metal approach and uncompromised steadiness, they applied a label that screamed ‘underground’ all over their live performance in Liège on a Good Friday, using songs from their first 3 albums and demos. Or, to quote them precisely, ‘a hellish old school Metal Massacre’. And they delivered exactly what they promised.
For those who can not imagine how the world might have been in the early ‘90s, here’s a taste of it: you cannot buy tickets online 6 months in advance; you get in contact with the organizers or pray that they are not sold-out by the time you reach the doors. You cannot find the setlist of similar concerts to rehearsal the lyrics at home; for a custom-made show, you go through a back catalog of 10 names and pray they would sing your favorite song. And most probably they will.
Rotting Christ arrived at L’Escalier Café in time for the gig and entered the venue like normal people do, by the front door. Their first concern: ‘Are we on time? We’re not late, right?’. ‘Not at all, you start when you’re ready.’ Shortly after, they installed themselves on stage for a thorough 10 minute soundcheck while the venue was slowly getting packed. Finding and keeping a presumably ideal spot to watch both Tolis brothers in action, was getting more and more difficult.
But finally the soundcheck proves satisfactory and they are good to go. Dim the lights, paint them blue and be ready for welcoming the band in the occult sound of ‘666’, a great opening song. It’s the last one on ‘Κατά τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού’, roughly translated as ‘True to your own spirit’, their most recent release. There’s no better follow-up to a late studio recording than live performances.
The charisma spread out like wildfire and the audience got headbanging disease in seconds. Sakis finds a break within chanting to greet the crowd ‘Good evening, Belgium! Are you with us tonight?’ and then went back to rocking out. ‘666’ was perfectly linked with another new track. ‘P’unchaw kachun – Tuta kachun’ , also from their latest album, set the venue in total motion in a dynamic mosh pit, yes, right from the second song.
After such slow, heavy and steady beginning, Sakis takes over the mic for a short speech, to reveal it’s their first in Liège. ‘It’s a special evening for us’, he continues. ‘From now we are going to play songs from our first 3 albums and demos, that’s why you are here.’ Passage to Arcturo was revisited with ‘Old Coffin Spirit’ and ‘Forest of N’Gai’. Waves of energy were spilled out from the stage in heavy riffs, guitar solos and the synchronized headbanging of Sakis Tolis, George Emmanuel and Vaggelis Karzis, plus the thunderous vibrating drumming of Themis Tolis. Someone in the audience insists on requesting ‘The Sign of Evil Existence’ and he gets it right next, together with other fast and furious metal riffs from Thy Mighty Contract. The audience was quite hard to believe; a real mosh pit constantly took place in such a small place without any security fence at the front. That was madness. That was Sparta. And those not prepared for it had to brace themselves ‘cos there was more to come.
An extreme first part of the concert required at least a tiny break for water and breathing. Next, Sakis announced another return to 1989 and the count-up restarted with ‘Feast of the Grand Whore’, which lead the way to the most blasting Rotting Christ early numbers. Headbang in peace and, if you can, nevermind the moshing, here it comes ‘King of a Stellar War’, ‘Societas Satanas’, ‘Visions of the Dead Lovers’, ‘Archon’.
The end of the setlist was not really the end. It would have been a pity to break that dark magic floating everywhere. They came back on stage only after few seconds (Themis never even left). ‘You want one more? You want two more?’ ‘Three, four!’ the audience echo responded. They had to end with ‘Non Serviam’ otherwise they wouldn’t have been probably left alone so quickly. Although there was plenty of energy left, or at least the adrenaline effect was telling so, there was no other request for more. But they did not left the stage before thanking and shaking hands with fans; they never do.
As frontman, Sakis creates heaven with black metal music. The notion of crowd control becomes an offending term when it reaches his openness, honestly and the natural connection he makes with his audience; one of the most organics that I’ve ever seen. He does not have to speak a lot, just say ‘Go’ and sets things in motion. He doesn’t have to request headbanging, all he needs is doing it himself and people follow.
What happened that evening was Rotting Christ proving that they are always strongly linked to the underground scene by taking the first third length of their career and putting it out there live, loudly and with passion. Every piece of their historical material can come to life straight away. And it only means that they indeed kept the spirit alive and fresher than ever, 25 years later. How many bands can claim the same?
Setlist (from Sakis Tolis):
Full set of photos by Antonios S.: http://www.concertmonkey.be/photos/rotting-christ-lescalier-caf%C3%A9-li%C3%A8ge-belgium-%E2%80%93-3-april-2015-photo-reportage-antonios-s
Rotting Christ @ l’Escalier
More info on Rotting Christ:
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