Juliette wakes up from a bad trip…

Clichés spring to mind when I try and explain what I saw last week at the Palladium. My vocabulary is failing to fully appreciate the experience that is Gutterdammerung.

Advertised as a film created and directed by visual artist Bjorn Tagemose, as well as co-written by Henry Rollins (who featured as a hard-line priest) I saw a promo for it online and just the mention of the cast meant I had to see this. Putting together the likes of Iggy Pop (The Stooges), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal), the powerful Grace Jones, Tom Araya (Slayer), Slash (Guns ‘n Roses) and the incredible Lemmy Kilminster (Motorhead) in a black and white film with an almost unpronounceable title and tagging it as the ‘Loudest Silent Film on Earth’ I could not stay away. 

The word Gutterdammerung itself is linked to German mythology, the definition according to Google is: the destruction of the gods and of all things in a final battle with evil powers: erroneous modern translation of the Old Icelandic Ragnarǫk, meaning “fate of the gods,” misunderstood as Ragnarökkr, meaning “twilight of the gods.  In essence a modern fairy tale told in a rock ‘n roll context with a live band. I was hooked.

The Palladium is a theatre associated with Sunday night variety, not the leather clad ‘top knot’ extravaganza that turned up. The atmosphere was one of a metal gig which seemed to clash with the polished brass banisters, crystal chandeliers and regal red carpet of one of London’s most famous theatres. (Think Sid Vicious in his video for ‘My Way’)

Finding some decent seats we settled in with some beers as the lights very slightly dimmed for a support band – Steak Number Eight. A Belgium band I had never heard of before but my goodness they were sensational. Powerful, melodic, aggressive, energetic and original.  The singer even launched himself into the first rows of the audience performing half of their last song upside down with his head in between two seats. It must have been unusual for them to perform in front of a seated theatre crowd but they were excellent and I highly recommend them.

After the warm up set their kit was dismantled and the safety curtain came down. The audience anticipation was almost tangible. Shortly after the curtain was raised the stage appeared empty except for a giant dark screen and an empty orchestra pit. The house lights dimmed and a spotlight shone through the screen onto a woman behind it singing a haunting operatic solo in a heavy black cloak. The film itself then began with musical accompaniment by a band also behind the screen.

The story itself consists basically of an angel throwing a guitar down to the ‘bored looking’ humans on earth to give them some excitement.  The ensuing battle between the puritanical and violent forces of ‘good’ represented by a virtuous character named Juliette and her quest to return the guitar to heaven, against the ‘evil’ of rock ‘n roll and the rebellious freedom it represented portrayed by the stereotypical bad girl, Billy, who wanted the guitar to ‘raise hell’. 

Iggy Pop as the angel eyeing out the humans on Earth (Photo credit: Gemma Thomas)

What could have been a merely interesting experience became unique and surprising with flamboyant use of lighting and smoke machines, with various singers and guitarists appearing in front of the screen while film sequences were being played and occasionally paused. The songs were a combination of some original music along with classic covers including Black Sabbath, Deftones, Rammstein and of course Motorhead. 

Josh Homme armed with ‘Death’s Dominion’ (Photo credit: Gemma Thomas)
Homme takes aim (Photo credit: Gemma Thomas)

As soon as a famous face appeared on screen the audience erupted with screams and applause as if they were there in the flesh, especially for Lemmy who passed away in 2015, playing a military General (shooting from a tank of course!). 

It is very hard to describe what happened. It was a film, but it was also a gig with high production value which elevated it to theatre. I have to say that it was indeed art. After the film action had finished the screen rolled up to fully expose the band which erupted into a metal and operatic version of Oh Fortuna from Carmina Burana which still gives me chills thinking back. 

Henry Rollins’ preacher comes to a sticky end with the band visible (Photo credit: Gemma Thomas)

A standing ovation ensued as the singer of the band noted we had all made a lot of noise at the appearance The General. The screen then rolled back down behind the band to show a regal profile shot of the man himself as they broke into their second rendition of The Ace of Spades much to the delight of us ecstatic head bangers.

A salute to ‘The General’ – Lemmy Kilminster (Photo credit: Gemma Thomas)

Just as the rapturous applause started to fade slightly Lemmy himself had the last word when they screened a snippet of him saying ‘if you don’t like it, fuck off’ with a cheeky grin. The most appropriate ending to a night of incredible and passionate performances.

This was one of my most amazing and surprising experiences and as I sit here listening to Steak Number Eight casually head banging to myself, I know I will never forget it. If you have a chance to see this masterpiece, go. Run towards it and never look back. I’ll see you there.