Obscurity, Tyrant and At the Gates in Malmö Sweden

Obscurity, Tyrant and At the Gates
September 3, 2008
Kulturbolaget
Malmö, Sweden

After a round of alcohol to suppress the academic background noise from that same day, we took the bus to the shit hole of the south of Sweden, Malmö. Once a great cultural market city, today a polarized ghetto, famous for its sky rocketing crime rates and ethnic segregation. Despite the social decay, Malmö has got a fascinating city life and impresses with its architecture, public events, and first class symphony orchestra. Likewise it’s the center of many metal and electronic acts, and tonight it was none other than At the Gates who would enter the stage at Kulturbolaget. A small, compact club greeted us once we stepped in, while the black/thrash metal band Obscurity was playing uninspiring satanic hymns in the old Bathory vein. The monotonous noise melted in with the screams and laughter from the nearby bar, setting me in a state of mind where the outside world seemed to be just another peripherical dream.

Observing the surroundings, one thing struck me immediately: a small portion of the audience seemed to be old veterans who’d obviously come only for listening to At the Gates, but the rest consisted of the typical Gothenburg crowd, which you’d expect for an In Flames show. Even fat kids with hip hop pants and Slipknot shirts showed up and were more concerned of acting hip and talking in their cell phones, than to pay attention to the music. It gave an unserious impression and made it clear that metal today has become more of a social thing for confused teenagers than being about art, ideals and principles. The next thrash band took the stage one hour late and crossed an abundance of pointless bridges with speed metal riffs and beer drinking. It was hard to take the music seriously, but the nature of these sloppy Bathory-clones made it seem like it was some form of tribute to the early Swedish metal scene, although the quality of the music said otherwise. When the concert was over, I chatted up with some of the people by the bar, most of whom were post-black metal fans, meaning they understood death metal as the aesthetic template found in “Slaughter of the Soul,” but didn’t understand the older material and couldn’t grasp the architectural differences in song writing between death and speed metal.

The people who came for the music were easy to spot, because they spent less time socializing and more time contemplating the musical experience. When At the Gates finally took the stage, the atmosphere in the club changed. The band began playing songs from later albums, and it was clear that Tomas Lindberg was in top shape. Although missing their old guitarist Alf Svensson, Tomas’ desperate screams from the red album, and the fact that the acoustics in the club compressed the sound of the riffs, this was At the Gates with full energy and expression. The feral, creative spirit of the band impressed me, and technically the performance was flawless. Tomas got almost nostalgic over the fact that they’d played in Malmö back in ’96, and now they were here again for the last time. The tour was obviously a dedication to the fans and to the music, revealed by the fact that they’d chosen to play songs from every album released. Songs that made a special impression on me were “Windows” from the red album and several classics from “With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness” and their first EP. It was a fresh experience, like a brutal realist nightmare, containing mental states of insanity:

Windows, sharp, cold
Wrap your psyche in blankets of pain
No more light of day
We’re the windows to your insanity

And the mandatory blasphemy of religious dogmatism:

The beauty in twisted darkness
Raped by the light of Christ
We were not born to follow
We don’t need your guiding light

This is the essence of death metal: a rejection of a morally principal approach to life, and the celebration of the raw, physical nature of mankind. The wild, dissonant power chords perfectly layered like a mental journey, backed by the typical death metal percussive rhythms and bridges, launched a macabre symphony together with the painful vocals, and stirred the crowd into unisonal head banging. Few things offer you the experience of feral freedom, like banging your head in rhythm to the sound of death metal, and feeling that the rest of the social world suddenly is reduced to noise. At the Gates provoked us into such a mood through its atonal riff patterns and ascending harmony, proving that they were still masters of the genre. The band was right in avoiding a sell-out by only playing later songs, but naturally, the crowd liked performances like “Under a Serpent Sun” best.

The reason to why people will always praise “Slaughter of the Soul” as the best ATG album is for the same reason that black metal bands like Dark Funeral, Xasthur, Drudkh and Blut aus Nord today obscure the great classics: it’s a musically shallow template that distils 3-5 years of death metal aesthetics into a neat package, kind of like how The Abyss created the musical template for 98% of all third wave black metal bands to come. We think it’s death metal, until we pay attention to the song writing, which is basically speed metal impregnated with the harmonic riffing and technical percussion that mark the band’s musical legacy. The mainstream appeal of the album makes it easy to understand and grasp, but doesn’t contribute anything outside of its technical concept. “Slaughter of the Soul” is a merchandise product, and the audience clearly enjoyed it. Although my best moments of the concert were performances from the two first albums, possibly something from “Terminal Spirit Disease” as well, the band was energetic and keen on playing later material for the new generation of death metal fans, and in a sense you could feel that what At the Gates was doing with this tour was to prove that the spirit of Swedish death metal was still alive and causing havoc.

The whole performance gave a very respectable, professional and worthy impression, and the band received admirable appreciation from the audience after the finale. When the concert was over, the Gothenburg crowd slowly descended out on the streets, among traffic lights, illegal taxis, and the enormous, clear night sky. The rush of energy, passion and alcohol still boiled in my blood, as I contemplated a new perspective on a band, whose music I’d otherwise reserved to lonely nights when the world had seemed more insane than usual. Death metal, not only as music, but also as an existential passion, was pointing my life in a new direction. Through this concert, At the Gates had proved that Swedish death metal is not a legacy, but an ongoing strife to deal with life intimately and choosing endurance as value in a world reduced to hollow social values. Despite the downfall of the genre and much of its audience, the music continues to emphasize the heavy in life, and the presence of death in our immediate everyday life. “Kingdom Gone” is the scream of mankind out into black space, without response, yet with the certainty that life needs to go on.

– Written by Alexis of SNUS

Bands:
Obscurity
Tyrant
At the Gates

Promoters:
Kulturbolaget

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Possessed and Sadistic Intent in Austin, Texas

Possessed and Sadistic Intent
June 29, 2008
Red 7
622 E. 7th Street
Austin, Texas 78701

Sadistic Intent played their first-ever show in Austin last night, which was ostensibly more auspicious in that they were also serving as Jeff Becerra’s backing band in the current incarnation of Possessed. The band came out to a well-attended room and delivered a set of now time-worn but authentic tracks taken from the series of EPs they released in the mid-90’s. A distinct sense of “Abominations of Desolation” permeated the set in their favor, as few bands of the current era are able to draw upon their predecessors in such a convincing manner. Momentum was lost as one of the two guitarists suddenly had string problems and appeared to be unable to resolve it without consultation from both of his axe-mates. The unit left the stage after three songs but then returned to complete the set about ten minutes later. The audience reacted appropriately with multiple phalanxes of whirling hair and horns held high, and ultimately Sadistic Intent proved why their name continues to endure despite a spare discography.

Following another more prolonged intermission, the band retook the stage again with Jeff Becerra in tow. There was much curiosity leading up to this performance because save for the notorious vocalist this was effectively a Possessed cover band. Compounding this was Becerra’s confinement to a wheelchair since 1989 after being shot in a drug deal gone bad (these circumstances have since been obscured through revisionism and the fact that the event occurred before the advent of the internet), so expectations among the assembled faithful were punctuated with question marks and guarded commentary.

It takes courage to carry on after such a devastating blow to one’s health and mobility, and if Becerra had presented with conviction and dignity he would have easily overcome his perceived limitations. In this venue, unfortunately, he wore his handicap and a still-apparent substance abuse problem around his neck like an anvil and proceeded to turn the event into a spectacle. The man is admittedly scary in a way that transcends metal; mad-eyed and clearly unstable, he wheeled around the stage and spent most of the time crowding or hitting the dutiful members of his backing band or gesticulating to his handlers for more beer (which, once received, he continuously poured over his head). Sadistic Intent, to their massive credit, lashed convincingly through a set of tunes comprised of the proto-death classic “Seven Churches”, and seemed they focused on working as a unit in spite of the dubious situation. It was no surprise that they seemed divorced from the vocalist, given his complete lack of poise. Becerra rasped and yelled his way through the songs in a fashion that made it seem more like he was interrupting rather than contributing. There were a few glimmers of the hellish voice that made him famous, but it was hardly a showing that would have resurrected any former glories. The set’s highlight was the modern classic, “The Exorcist”, which led to several subsequent injuries in the pit and further acquitted the band’s efforts. The end of the show was marked by Becerra’s leap from the stage, wheelchair and all, face-first into the middle of the floor. For a moment it looked as though he had managed to finish himself off but his attendants managed to scrape him up and carry him past many bemused onlookers.

In this reviewer’s opinion, the legacy of Possessed is in terrible danger of being further maligned and invalidated through appearances such as this. It was an experience to be sure, but more befitting of a rodeo or a circus than the revival of a seminal metal act. Even a top-flight backing band cannot account for the psychotic and counterproductive behavior of its frontman, and ultimately it is Mr. Becerra whose reputation is at stake. For now it seems like he is a full-time resident of a truly dark and painful place, and if he does not find a way to surface then he will likely consumed by the very demons he invoked on his albums so many years ago.

– Written by David Anzalone

Bands:
Possessed
Sadistic Intent

Promoters:
Red 7

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Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ in Houston, Texas

Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
March 2, 2008
The Meridian
1503 Chartres
Houston, Texas 77003

Long ago, before heavy metal was even a glimmer in the eyes of King Crimson and Black Sabbath, when the land of south central Texas had nothing on its pan-flat surface but swamp and hogs, a developer’s eye gleamed and soon a city was being sold to northern suburbanites as a green, natural, sunny and pleasant place. To this day developers continue to create it, sprawling across the humid plane like pancake batter, and so the city pulses through a serpentine mesh of freeways which converge at various points, some forgotten and some celebrated.

At one of these convergences, to the northeast of downtown, an innumerable series of obstacles prevented our reviewer from hearing the Gates of Enoch set and the first four bars of Averse Sefira. Having just released their fourth album (you probably have the MP3s already) Averse Sefira from Austin showed fine form on the end of this tour of established acts. In all fairness, every band on the tour showed massively professional performance ability, so what distinguished one from the next was showmanship and songwriting. In these crucial areas a separation occurred but proved itself to be so messy that few want to untangle its inextricable threads.

Averse Sefira

Averse Sefira took to the stage with the power of those who carve a place for themselves by both fighting the status quo and not fighting the reality of what will be eternally rewarded; they mix traditionalist black metal with the aggressive machine motion of death metal in its peak years, relegating the latter to rhythm with the former insurgent within it as leadership of each song. This enables them to preserve the mystique of underground metal which is the fusion of seemingly random bits into a whole order, an occult process in itself during a time of linear causal logic. Their rhythmic composition comes straight from the halcyon days of early Deicide and Incantation, but their melodies, fusing Graveland and Enslaved and something as uniquely American as Thomas Wolfe recalled a graveyard angel, surge straight from the heart of black metal.

Advent Parallax, the newest from Averse Sefira, steps forward in technique and adjusts the previous sense of concept albums into a new lexicon, where the concept is revealed in serialized views of a prismatic, untouchable reality. They did not back down; they made it more technical, shaped the songs from less obvious shadow forms of structure; gave themselves license to play with elements that dour conventionalists might find threatening, yet kept them in the spirit of the most traditional of all underground black and death metal. Not surprisingly, the album sounds better live, because its synthesis is new and still supple, and putting it to a click track (or even the knowledge that it would be recorded) could dim some of that resonant light.

Mixing two songs each from their last three albums, Averse Sefira delivered a set with more technical verve than previous adventures. Where some shows had been chaotic and organic, and others sniper-precise, the fusion of the two is a grand adventure in pushing things out of control and then with the paranoia of a sentry snapping it back under control. This delightful duality shadowed not only the playful but militant spirit of their music, but also the fusion of ludic black metal and mechanistic mimetic death metal. The triumph came in not only holding together these raging daemonic tendencies but pouring them into form, using the crucible of the classics and an exploratory fire of the now.

Setlist:

A Shower of Idols (Advent Parallax)
Descension (Advent Parallax)
Nascent Ones (Battle’s Clarion)
Helix in Audience (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
Battle’s Clarion (Battle’s Clarion)
Plagabraha (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)

Belphegor

After Averse Sefira, Belphegor played a super-competent set of ultra-generic black/death metal. There is no way to criticize it, like most modern travesties. No notes were missed. Rhythms were exact. The crowd loved it and bought tshirts. Yet it did not recommend itself, either. It is as one critic has said of life itself: “The problem is not in being mediocre. The problem lies in not being great, because that is all that stays the memory once the last royalty check is cashed.” Indeed — we move away from this artefact of history and the juncture of styles at this point in metal’s career, a conjunction that has mastered the aesthetics of these intrusions without knowing in any way their derivation, significance, or even that they could form a language and not a procession of forms cut from whole shadow shapes.

Immolation

Immolation played the most varied set of the evening, comprising one simple song from their first album (“Those Left Behind”), several from their most recent entitled Shadows in the Light, one from the nu-metal influenced Harnessing Ruin, and a smattering from other albums, priming us for their epicenter with “Nailed to Gold” from Here in After, probably their most ambitious and engaged moments of the night. Relentlessly professional, they played both exactly and with a good deal of the microscopic re-evaluation of intention shared between individuals in a musical outfit that encloses “feeling,” giving the energies of the crowd and the band a chance for chiasmatic influence within the rhythms of what was played. Their material improves greatly with the new album. Retrospective analysis suggests this band, formed in 1986, never fully left behind the ambition to join Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer in the speed metal camp, and they have filtered through underground death metal their impulse to write surging rhythm riffs with an accelerated rock beat ever since.

The result, a trademark anticipative recursion and complementary unison offset by a shuttling opposite architectural closure, called by fans “that Immolation riff,” shows up too much in their work; some hypothesize that it began with the use of pinched harmonics to accentuate an expected rhythmic closure, which showed this band how much the dimly lit faces glow when presented with something so digestible. Since that time, Immolation have fought their impulse to write bouncy technical rock, and struggled for death metal. They come farthest on Shadows in the Light. They still could benefit from more diligent staging of their work, so that when they crash into a gratifying chorus or transition, it is rarer and so purer in context though less pure in immediate essence. Their set was as solid as any in metal, rock, jazz or blues, but with a good deal more energy. They could learn a great deal from the first Metallica album if they wish to continue this course.

Setlist:

Passion Kill (Shadows in the Light)
Swarm of Terror (Harnessing Ruin)
Burial Ground (Dawn of Possession)
Nailed to Gold (Here In After)
Son if Iniquity (Harnessing Ruin)
Hate’s Plague (Shadows in the Light)
Immolation (Dawn of Possession)
Lying with Demons (Shadows in the Light)
World Agony (Shadows in the Light)
Bring Them Down (Unholy Cult)

Rotting Christ

Rotting Christ showed this audience the greatest technical performance of the evening. They not only played difficult material. They played it as if it was no big deal. Their problem is that while they write beautiful choruses, and have many creative riff ideas, they like writing boring songs. A two-part stomp beat, a trudging power chord ride that shifts position upward like the “after” part of a weight-loss commercial, and in the ensuing mixture whatever beauty is created is crushed under the weight of the trudge. Beauty is what they aimed for, and what they created at rare times, mainly through an excellent knowledge of harmony and a willingness to write melodic lead rhythm picked riffs and harmonize them. One participant put it best when he said this band have become generic metal. There are black metal vocals, speed metal drums, death metal strumming, power metal choruses, and heavy metal rundown verses. It was both inspiring and the greatest disappointment one could have. Caught in the veil of humanism, which presupposes personhood to supplant nature’s judgement of skill in presenting the dynamism which drives the universe away from entropy, this band played to please an idealized, averaged, mythical crowd and as a result they had people standing in cadence during verses and becoming animated for choruses. Guys, take a risk — write something from your minds and not your hearts.

Conclusion

The show proved an adventure worthy of undertaking for the power of Averse Sefira and Immolation. All things considered, Averse Sefira impressed most, because their set was the least contrived with honest and goofy joy and worship of the power of their own music replacing a more serious mien. Immolation played as well and with more technicality, and also took great gleeful pleasure in their songs, but that performance proved more self-cognizant and less self-reflective, as if they were watching themselves from the audience. The musicians of Averse Sefira were less aware they were onstage and playing music, and seemed to be lost (60%) in the music they clearly enjoyed hearing and (40%) in the emotional and energetic tides of the crowd, although a scan of the audience revealed they appealed to a portion of the audience more likely to watch intently than drink, “mosh,” or chant only the choruses  they knew the verses also. Even more importantly, their songs are written less from a template, and retain the chaotic inspiration that their wide-ranging lyrics bring. Yet neither Immolation nor Averse Sefira were justifiably missed, as both delivered top-notch performances upholding the distinctive DNA of underground death metal.

(Thanks to Cynical and M.S. for the setlists.)

Bands:
Gates of Enoch
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
The Meridian, Houston Texas

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Rotting Christ, Immolation, Belphegor, Averse Sefira and D.I.M. in Minneapolis, Minnesota

D.I.M., Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
February 16, 2008
7th Street Entry
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Few metal bands maintain their essential character for anything beyond the ephemeral. This tour package brought together four death/black metal bands who have been cultivating their respective crafts for at least a decade each: Averse Sefira almost exactly that, Rotting Christ and Immolation twice as long, and Belphegor somewhere in between, all with varying success in this regard. This longevity reflected well in the clarity of presentation, and also brought out many contrasts among these four acts.

With a nod to Rotting Christ, whose showmanship was attention-keeping despite the banal simplicity of most of their material; and Belphegor, who are effectively blunt but textureless, this was the tale of two bands: one gathering energy and pursuing immortality, the other guaranteed it and marching onward under its burden.

Averse Sefira

The first of these, Averse Sefira, were there to pick up the pieces after the tolerance-shattering performance of the local opening act. For this reviewer, who is intensely familiar with their live performances and the evolution thereof, the chance to see them yet again was still a most welcome one. Having known in advance that the show would feature material from the just-released Advent Parallax it seemed better to remain willfully ignorant of the album as a test of its standalone abilities in this setting. The first two tracks of the set were indeed taken from it. The fatigue of frontman Sanguine as reflected in his sickness-stricken voice was not enough to quell the energy put into these songs by the band. As the sound works itself out at the beginning of the night, and the audience is fresh, the foremost efforts of the band can sometimes fall short, particularly with unfamiliar material. This is the small disadvantage of needing to display new material within the limited confines of the opening slot.

It should be stressed that even when the mix is good, as it was for most of that night, and the material familiar, Averse Sefira manages to be cryptic enough to require a revelatory moment in the thick of some tracks in order for the listener to grasp their place within the song and be moved along with it. With unfamiliar works this is obviously more difficult still, but the audience was attentive and responded well nonetheless…a testament to Averse Sefira’s commanding stage presence, something quickly becoming solidified in their legacy. The rest of their unfortunately short set was a smattering of older works that were played with conviction and precision the way a band coming into the fore would be expected to do. More importantly, they were played with confident posture of a band assuming their audience is privy to the work. It is promising for their future that they seem to be right, and that the audience seems increasingly eager and ever larger.

Immolation

As a band to whom Averse Sefira owes much of their character, and with whom they share much camaraderie, Immolation is possibly the most appropriate choice for a pairing with them anywhere on the bill. Bowing to their foreign comrades on this tour and taking the penultimate slot in the line-up, they maintained status as the most well-received act, with help from their unique on-stage performance.

This mastery of the live setting brings up a crucial point about recent Immolation history. There is some sense of formula in their most recent recorded works, the seeking of trademark over creation. The falling back on “Immolation” themes seems in many cases, including in otherwise throughtful songs, a bane to their ability to match the beauty of their earliest material, something more akin to the needs of groups of captive observers than the lone listener, though they make it work very well as a result. Their manner is alternatively frenetic and menacing, and the visual accompaniment is enough to turn some otherwise absolutely flat passages into more sensible transitions when taken all together.

Particular highlights were the renditions of a few tracks long unplayed live from the first album, including “Those Left Behind.” Mixed feelings accompany the recognition that these songs were much more interesting than the tracks from their more recent output – although not without a tinge of nostalgic longing. However, Immolation has carried their craft well beyond, and with more grace, than most of their early peers who fizzled long ago. To have actually enjoyed their set through most of the night states much for their importance and lasting abilities.

Conclusion

If one is to average one metal show per year, this is probably the best one could have hoped for without excess travel. Unprofessionalism, regret, disappointment, and abject boredom were all conspicuously absent from the experience, even with half of the bill being of the “high-quality” but low-interest brand. What was most fortunate to witness was the juxtaposition, alluded to earlier, of a band making their mark and another leaving theirs behind. Averse Sefira, continuing into their own, has much territory to conquer and the excitement of the path it may take; Immolation, driven professionals and legends, acting every bit their equal yet voraciously displaying their prowess. That said, it is likely Averse Sefira will be making their mark again in the future, though the fate of Immolation seems less certain than it even did five years earlier. Seeing the two cross paths was a fortunate moment in time to witness.

– Written by kontinual

Bands:
D.I.M.
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
First Avenue/7th Street Entry

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Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland

Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland
February 1, 2008
Tampere, Finland

Soon after the new year, Finnish newspapers Aamulehti and Turun Sanomat and the tabloids Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti published news items both online and in print which claimed that Finnish neo-nazis Furore Finnum were organizing a tour of neo-nazi bands. Despite a massive email campaign against the show, and other brilliant strategies like publication of the gig organizers’ home contact information on the Finnish anarchist site takku.net, the show was to go on.

A public venue was arranged for Tampere in a well-known metal bar and another, more private, gig was arranged for Turku, with the location spread carefully. The gig in Tampere was sold out, but not to neo-nazis: on the contrary, our reporter found that no more than 10 percent of the people who were interested in the gig, either in the negative or in the positive sense, had made any research towards the philosophy, interviews, lyrics and imagery of the particular bands. This is not to condemn the metalheads, who sensibly were interested in these bands and what they would be communicating musically, visually and spiritually and not at all interested in becoming caught in some political discussion dating to the 1930’s whose one of the sides in some countries it is criminalized to take.

The night at Tampere was a phenomenal success. Despite some late attempts by the mass media to stir up trouble by warning the immigrants of Tampere not to go out during the night because there are nazis about, there were absolutely no problems in or near the gig taking place. The police scouted the area a bit, a couple of reporters came to ask irrelevant questions and so on, but that was it. People at the door were also checked with metal detectors. Some people came in rather drunk because for bureaucratic reasons this night the place was not allowed to sell except the mildest drinks, but I guess no-one was refused entrance which is lucky considering the hostile reputation of that bar’s doormen. Hundreds of fans, musicians, artists, distributors and casual listeners with differing political, spiritual, musical and social outlooks were present. This is exactly what had caused so much fear and rejection: the normal person interested in metal, underground rock, etc. does not buy anymore the moralistic condemnation of ideologies that for various reasons utilize the symbolism of fascism and/or National Socialism. Many of them may be ideologically opposed to those ideas, but they do not support censorship of them, which is a perfectly self-consistent view.

Goatmoon

Because there was only 3 and a half hours of time for 4 bands to perform, the pace was rather hectic. I would have liked to chat more with the wonderful people present but did not have the occasion because soon after we arrived Goatmoon started blasting away on stage and even later between bands there was only 10 or so minutes of interval. Goatmoon, which is essentially a solo band of BlackGoat, consisted of 4 members in this performance, including Harald Mentor and a rock guy who fell on his face near the start of the gig. The drunken and hysterical energy and an “amateurness” that some people despised were actually the traits characteristic to Goatmoon this night which made the performance feel very personal. They went through a short set of hit songs from their two albums and closed with a cover of Finnish RAC/Oi band Mistreat. The cover song was possibly the most memorable piece of their set and really got the audience going.

Satanic Warmaster

Next was Satanic Warmaster who provided the most mystical and melancholic black metal experience of the night. The band is known from sweeping, rocking, emotional black metal anthems that refer to older black metal in a tribute-like patchwork of intense feelings. Satanic Tyrant Werwolf, who acted like he personally knows each member of the audience, and for all we know he does, gave some sharp and clear statements on stage about the importance of the event and recommended the audience to behave themselves. They hammered the audience with a set of tracks such as “Vampiric Tyrant”, “Raging Winter”, “Carelian Satanist Madness”, “Wolves of Retaliation”, “The Burning Eyes of the Werewolf”, “A New Black Order”, impeccably executed by a lineup of session musicians. The feeling of dark might especially towards the end of Satanic Warmaster’s performance got me thinking that this is how Emperor should have been when I last year saw them in Helsinki. The art of Satanic Warmaster is so dramatic and personal that it actually works as an esoteric trick on behalf of Satanic Tyrant Werewolf in reducing his ego from the picture and becoming a medium for the whole audience, and black metal in general. For a spontaneous listener it will seem like a bag of cliches, or a masterwork, or actually both. This goes for others of his projects too.

Der Stürmer

Der Stürmer managed to up the level of intensity even further by marching on stage, imposing figures illuminated from behind, raising arms in salute while music from Wagner’s Siegfried was playing as intro music. One could not help but visualizing the mighty shape of a victorious eagle, rising from the shades of long gone battlefields. The dreams and hopes and sorrows and battles of the won and the lost wars of Europe manifested there for one instant. Then the pounding started. Der Stürmer’s violent, almost nihilistic battle metal filled the air. The most dominating in the atmosphere were the big skinhead -style vocalist brutally shouting the manifestoes and slogans of W.A.R. with equal intensity in songs and in between songs and the skilled drummer who managed to interrupt blastbeats with militant marching fills and invoke something resembling a more technical version of Capricornus’ drumming madness on early Graveland. While the performance continued without flaw, the hour or more of Der Stürmer’s vengeful attack was maybe a bit too long for their minimalistic and monotonous style.

Absurd

Seeing the infamous Absurd performing live was of course the thing most of us had been eagerly waiting for since the gig was first announced. Despite the original philosopher of the band being present behind the scenes, understandably the line-up was the new Absurd, with no common members with that which performed the classic albums “Facta Loquuntur” and “Asgardsrei”. Nevertheless, when Herr Wolf captured the stage after the “Leben ist Krieg…” intro and launched into the title track from “Asgardsrei”, there was little doubt that this new incarnation of the band is capable of evoking unique radicalness and danger as only Absurd could, from its inception. Ask the members of the audience who were at the receving end of the flying mic stand! Wolf’s close-cropped haircut and chest armor brought to mind a medieval warrior, Oi! provocator and Judas Priest at the same time. His absurd (how else?) stage mannerisms included bouncing to the beat, grinning at the audience, picking fights and talking in German. The songs they played included “Werwolf”, “Gates of Heaven”, “Pesttanz”, “Eternal Winter” and “Der Sieg ist Unser” from “Facta Loquuntur”, “Als die Alten jung noch waren” and “Für Germanien” in addition to the title track from “Asgardsrei” and an assortment of tracks from the later albums which I do not know well enough to name, but they all worked very well to these ears. It’s doubtful that the old lineup could have played the songs with this technical precision, but of course I do admit to a slight mourning in my soul at that the earlier, most cult, lineup disbanded.

Conclusion

After the gig ended, everyone had to leave as soon as possible because the band had already stretched the limits of the reservation of the place. It was wet outside and lousy weather so we returned to our hotel without further adventures, to rest from this very positive experience and to prepare for forthcoming battles. Overall the gig was very memorable and positive and one of the best in a very long time. People who attended the next night’s gig in Turku said it was a full success too. My deepest appreciation goes to Furore Finnum & the bands for bearing with all the trouble and mess caused by ignorance and cowardice of some people. It will be remembered as a triumph of idealism and spirit over moralism and repression. It’s a gift to live in a country where this was possible and where exist people with the right spirit to make it possible.

– Written by Devamitra

Bands:
Absurd
Der Stürmer
Satanic Warmaster
Goatmoon

Promoters:
Takku

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Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension in Hollywood, California

Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension
April 13, 2007
7021 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90028

Confusion marked our entrance into the Knitting Factory, where it was being decided that bands would not play in the order originally listed. Making it more chaotic, they all played on the same stage, ensuring that hasty transfers of band would scatter personnel and equipment across the stage and inevitably result in some “who has the voice mike” satire. Despite this tower of live performance Babel, the bands involved bravely sallied forth with loins girded in guitar straps and gumption alone.

The first band, Ascension, played to a mixed reception. Their style would be hard to describe except that it is that fusion of death metal and black metal that underneath the skin sounds like it was assembled from old B-list speed metal bands, and so is very chorusy and bangy but not very clear. It would be hard to tell much about this band from their presentation at the event, but this did not appear to jar them as they bashed out a comprehensive set.

We were excited to see Averse Sefira play as the third band after several other local acts which presented music in varying degrees of conceptual completion. Most of these bands are good at what they do; they can play their instruments, know enough of the genre to make a competent stab at it, but the question is “what do they communicate?” It is a hurdle every new band, no matter how old or seasoned its members, must overcome, and seeing these new acts struggle to define themselves by what they would give to their audience in the form of transferred experience drove our pulses to fury in preparation for the main act.

The crowd gathered, expectantly; you could tell this mix caught the curious and the diehards alike. I have often wondered what impels the choices people make in attending shows, and why they would pick one metal band out of thousands, as if it alone differentiated itself enough to be meaningful or relevant while others became slag in the battle for mining threads of coherent mentation. Most metal bands, like most people, are working in an archetype or combination of archetypes, assembling a product which fits into their known scope of experience and little more. They qualify as metal but other than the clueless and the fans who attend a weekly show in hopes of bolstering lives of boredom, attract few hearts or minds, and not for long.

It is in this arena of meaning that Averse Sefira reign supreme as occult art… Where metal bands can narrate tales of war, AVRS the have the *soul* of a man *engaged* in an apocalyptic war. You feel the same hellish strife that perhaps the hobbits Frodo and Sam struggled with at Mordor in Tolkien’s *Return of the King*, or the epic conflict a lone hunter finds when crossing the frozen north to reach a new land. Whether or not metal “has” soul, these tales of soul-conflict are what sustain its listeners during a time when every other pressure exerted on them is an exhortation to give up and make the kind of compromise that makes products not leaders.

When Wrath and Sanguine were testing their microphones, they were demonic beasts barking as wolves do when threatening their prey. The sound guy was having trouble getting everything right, then a projection screen rolled down on Wrath’s head which infuriated him and the apprreciative listeners of AVRS. They were in the middle of their first song, but he continued to play well. This show in Hollywood may have had problems, but the occult war music of AVRS transcended this and remained powerful on those beings that understand it.

I brought my friend and battle-comrade Mateo, and he called for a song, Argument Obscura. Wrath heard, so the band played. The Carcass like an animal seized sonic space with aggression toward dominion, and Sanguine’s fingers were claw-like tentacles across the mangled fretboard of his guitar. Wrath continued his defiant performance, bass weaving with the military aerobics of his stage presence, ignoring all obstructions (see passage above about chaos onstage) while returning to the surging rhythm of the music like a descent into hand-to-hand combat. The band held a posture and backed it up with quality, complex music and a performative impact that was both metaphorical and literal: this is war for art.

The crowd, as always, hovered in uncertainty without an echoing voice of overlord to tell them what to think. Many would have been happier with an updated version of Motorhead like Goatwhore, or the mishmash of metal successes over the past thirty years that most bands try to mix into a whole with few real standouts. The Averse Sefira assault caught them by surprise because it was not just aesthetics, not just music, and not just presentation: it was a whole, a moment where art spoke a worldview through the methods of its creation and the mentation required to get there. Open mouths and a buzz of generic dialogue flickered to life after the band left the stage.

Much of the metallic occult, with Yamatu — contra (“pvre”) stereotypical Black (“fucking”) metal — brings one into an ancient world long forgotten, like Atlantis or Lemuria. Averse Sefira’s performance was no exception, although given a “so-so” when they really deserve the highest praise, but this seemed to go to 1349 who managed a tight, dynamic set but did not achieve that vector of ideas that separates the great from the competent. Their performance was reminiscent of Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis dom Sathanas” and matched it in intensity, but did not leave that otherwordly sense one has when confronted with ideas that change the way future ideation will form. It was not the trance-like cessation of reality, except in metaphor, that Averse Sefira brought to the stage.

Murmurs of a mind in pure suspension of disbelief, a state like that before birth, the steadfast concentration without effort from the conscious mind of the warrior, concealed in vigil of death, on the edge of the forest… We are falling beneath the Earth (degrading to the regions of Malkuth)… We must return to an evolutionary path. By choice, or after the hymn of death has rung (renewal by fire): pulling ourselves into a black vortex, the yawning void of war. This is what their message conveys to me. Not many else today merit praise as warriors. The concept albums of Averse Sefira are Evolan retellings of Kali Yugas past and future, and the cycle has returned to the time for that era.

– Written by G.R.M. Pixeque

Bands:
Averse Sefira
1349
Ascension

Promoters:
The Knitting Factory

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Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Nachtmysticum in St. Paul, Minnesota

Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Nachtmysticum
April 9, 2007
201 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 5510

This show is one of those memories you forget is real, and find yourself a week later thinking how it occupies a space between thought and dream and a pinch-yourself moment in the midst of chaos. Arriving late after a harrowing evening involving taking a good friend to the hospital after he ate a rack of Xanax and downed half a bottle of Absolut, I was barely inside the door before a familiar guitar tone rose up into the soundcheck. Other people were hurrying toward the stage as well, and I found myself caught up in the anticipation.

Averse Sefira took the stage a short while later, and in summary, they were more confident with better presentation than any of the four previous times I’ve seen them. They stormed the stage with the confidence of a band who knows that they’re contenders, even if not everyone in the metal world has yet noticed. In harsh tones of deliberate rage, they announced their presence between songs, but the rest of the time they skipped the periphery and played like madmen. They were there for the attack, and it delivered.

The sound was superior to any previous Averse Sefira show I have seen, although as this was their first appearance in this venue, there is no previous instance for direct comparison. Balanced and powerful, the wave of audial information radiated from the speakers and preserved every pick strum, drum hit and overdriven vocal rage as it drove them into the audience. Although the performance was more important than the sound, it helps to be able to hear exactly what’s going on, a rarity at most shows.

They’ve honed their live presence since I saw them last. Not only are they more cohesive as a phalanx on the stage, but they have grown into their sound and stripped down their motions onstage to be simultaneously efficient and impulsive. This band will manage a tempo change without an eyebrow flicker, and then at exactly the moment when it is least convenient, add a flourish of rage in a gesture or the proud indomitable stab of a guitar. The combination of better sound, and more forceful performance, clarified their music in a live setting where previously it seemed a difficulty. In general, the only bands that have it easy live are the simple ones.

The set itself was obviously polished as well, this being their third week on tour. All tracks came from the two most recent albums. “Helix in Audience” is turning into a flagship song – a great, diverse, momentum-driven track with which they bring the set to a boiling point. Other tracks include “Detonation,” a great opener, “Plagabraha,” “Battle’s Clarion,” “…Ablaze” and several others from Tetragrammatical Astygmata. After an impromptu request for “Deathymn” screamed from the shadowed angles of the crowd, the band consulted each other with their trademark silent nods, guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne hailed the requester, and the band launched into it all guns blazing, to great effect.

Their stage presence was typical Averse Sefira, but it cannot be taken for granted. None of the ingratiating, gregarious, vapid banter and skit-like dramatics lit up the stage, but a force of concentration, expressed less in the trivial acts than the commanding performance they gave. There was none of the mixed confused emotions that plague most bands on stage, where they’re half there as a job, half as a hobby, and unsure of whether to resent the audience of grovel before them. With Averse Sefira on the stage, the shared assumption that we were all of us there to see a performance to conclusion like a ritual united us, and we did not need reminders.

At the end of the set, I staggered out into the night appreciating what I had seen, but in skimming over the society functions of the night and cutting right to a powerful musical performance, it gained an atmosphere of the unreal… like something from a time long ago, when warlike honor was more important than whether the guy from the promotions company got his free beer or not. With delivery like this, these better-funded tours will be massive for Averse Sefira, as their live show is ethereally charismatic and puts so much back into the recorded material the two can barely be separated. Based on what seems to me like a clear success, I have a feeling they’ll be back on the road again soon, and don’t want to miss it.

– Written by kontinual

Bands:
Averse Sefira

Promoters:
Station 4

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Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony Orchestra perform Shostakovich’s Suite on Sonnets of Michelangelo and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in Houston, Texas

Hans Graf / Houston Symphony Orchestra
March 4, 2007
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana
Houston Texas 77002

As the cultureless void of “pop culture” (more accurately known as “mass culture,” appealing to the lowest common denominator) surges upon those traditions of artistic development which have sustained high-quality minds for centuries, symphonies defend themselves by appealing to what they hope are broader audiences. In doing so, they achieve a fragile balance between the known commendables and newer or more esoteric pieces, more accurately known as being the fringes of classical music that did not merit induct into its archetype: history rewards either excellence or pure mediocrity.

The Houston Symphony, being a storied classical house under assault from the “new music” deludoids as well as the pop culture drones, attempted on Saturday, March 4, to mix a known cornerstone of classical music with one of its more recent deviations, a presentation of sonnets by Michelangelo Buonarroti who is more frequently cited for his works of sculpture, as embedded in the works of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert as a whole was a failure; the Beethoven was an eyelash short of as magnificent as this fallen time can offer.

Shostakovich

To dispense with the execrable Shostakovich, it is safe to say that Michelangelo’s poetry, while not incompetent, falls entirely within the boundaries of cookie-cutter Romantic poetry and is prone to the same excesses of emotional gesture and broad symbol that makes the genre easily mocked to this day. Like the music for short commercials, each piece consisted of 2-4 short themes played while verses were sung, then a conclusion in absence of direction as much as anything else.

The defining feature of classical music — a poetic continuity, a narrative and a conveyance of emotions from one state to another — is in Shostakovich supplanted by a series of slightly mixed emotions that ends when the sitcom-like drama of the bad poetry does. His phrasing is simplistic; his melodies cut from textbooks; his emotion cheap, like the perfume and loud music of a mass culture crowd rushing forward to claim the prominence of classical music without the achievement that granted it that state. Although a few of the have-nots in the crowd were delighted with this moronic affair, many members of the audience appeared to be ready for it to end early and hastened their applause to drive that trainwreck of an audial confusion from the stage.

Beethoven

Conducted by the amiable and competent Hans Graf, the orchestra launched into one of the definitive works of Western culture after returning from a short break. Beethoven’s third symphony, or Eroica, is as its nickname suggests a heroic Romantic march through melancholy themes to the triumphant in praise of heroism. Few who have active nervous systems can not notice its power, but in the hands of idiot conductors like Klemperer its rhythms are homogenized and its passion reduced by a de-emphasizing of subtlety in favor of dramatic gestures that make it a smooth blend of self-satire. Graf mostly escaped this trend which seems to delight populists, as if the humbling of a great symphony made their own positions stronger.

Graf treats classic pieces as entities that while alive might benefit from upgrade to the wisdom of a progressive time, and in that state of mind he mixes a quaint style that appeals to fans of older Mozart and Haydn with a modernist twist that propels pieces forward with increasingly off-time, theatrical pauses and rhythmic expectations. It is as if Graf is a modernist who views the quaint as one of the many voices he tries to capture, and in doing so, he often loses sight of the piece as a whole, which is where he will remain a B+ and the Furtwanglers, von Karajans, Salonens, et al. will surge forward to the higher grades.

The first movement fell under this treatment; after a strong beginning that truncated the traditional shock tactic of repetitive unison, the orchestra launched into an uptempo version that emphasized the accompaniment of the main theme and periodically slowed it in an attempt to de-emphasize its uniformity. This technique ultimate backfires, in that instead of using consistency to background repetition, it showcases the repetition by attempting to hide it. For most of this movement however Graf kept his players on track and it concluded with a strong finish.

Launched with a dramatic caesura, the second movement swung to life like the dawning of a forest day, its more melancholic themes emphasized a sliver too strongly but pulling together mid-movement for a strong conclusion and dramatic continuity. It was on the third movement that Graf deviated from the script. He allowed the horns to introduce more staccato than normally propels the triumphal theme, giving it an erratic and hesitant nature, and in several paces slowed the pace so that instruments normally complementing the theme could speak their own pieces as if taking the lead in composition. Here some heads did nod in the audience, and with a good point: this part of the piece especially benefits from being seen as the harmony of voices and not an egoistic prominence of each, as it is about the sympathetic fallacy of environment mirroring the questions of a soul in disarray after initial defeat.

In the fourth movement Graf made a strong return, although like Klemperor he often prefers dramatic pauses to introduce obvious changes in theme, and complements them with a tendency to play repeated themes slowly like a movie soundtrack and elide them with rhythmic consistency and a lack of distinction for the subtleties that prepare us for their shifting. It is probably not a failing of intellectual ability on his part, but a desire to belong to the fashion that includes modernism and postmodernism, or the idea of subjecting all things to a mechanical process and controlling them through rules of self-interest which promote egoism and other out-of-context appearance of supporting structures. It can reduce complex music to a one-dimensional machine transferring energy between otherwise equal parts.

Conclusion

On the whole, the Houston Symphony performed intensely on a technical level, and for the bulk of the symphony, played it according to a timeless artistic interpretation which understands where Beethoven made clarity of the confusion of attempting tasks perceived as far beyond the individual, even abandoning a care for personal safety: heroism. Some poor choices were made, including the dubious selection of Shostakovich’s soundtracky goop for an opener. Despite this confusion endemic to our time (Rome falling in alabaster dust, Mongols at the gates of Kiev) through the energies of these musicians the heroic power of this symphony shined above the confusion, and even the dusty gates of the machinelike city, to unite different times upon something eternal to all humanity.

Composer:
Ludwig van Beethoven

Performer:
Houston Symphony Orchestra

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Vex, Averse Sefira, Ayasoltec, Dagon, Abythos and Nodens in Austin, Texas

Vex, Averse Sefira, Ayasoltec, Dagon, Abythos and Nodens
January 27, 2007
Redrum
Austin, Texas

Extreme Texas Metal presents a number of shows adapted for the new millennial audience. As is demanded by those who own clubs, these shows address the problem of too much music and too few willing to buy by lumping together related bands into a longer show, hoping to create a sense of similarity in a genre and to help each band market itself through exposure, much as bands now market themselves with MP3s. In addition, as black metal and death metal have both ceased growth and are now in a time of middle age maintenance, set upon by tedious hybrids like metalcore (emo) and nu-metal (hip-hop), these allow the genre to circle its wagons and retain whatever of its own identity it can preserve. Unlike most promoters, Extreme Texas Metal have been mostly successful in picking acts which share aesthetic similarities enough to provide a contiguous show.

In this naturalistic view of music, the local favorites are grouped together and given a chance, after which we all see who rises and who falls. Names and faces from the past have come and gone, with some remaining, according to an order that previous generations would have seen as the will of heaven and in pagan years before that, as the judgment of nature. The show began on an interesting note with death metal band Nodens, who came from Houston to play to about thirty people. Their music resembles the mid-paced death of former years as updated with a simple form of the harmonic churning popularized by Burzum and other black metal bands, but it retains much of the punch and drop from rising drive to collapsing breakdown that makes death metal popular to this day. While it is clear that Nodens are still developing, there is promise here should they choose to develop it, although at this time the effect is somewhat underwhelming owing to a prevalence of simple patterns designed more to carry a crowd that express what the more esoteric and ambiguous portions of their music offer.

Ayasoltec

After presentations by Abythos, who emit a black metal mixture approximating the mean of Dissection and Darkthrone, and Dagon, Watain-inspired melodic black metal battery, the show took on a different aura when Ayasoltec took the stage. This band rose from the ashes of longtime Texas legends Masochism, who united a sense of Chicano identity with the insurgent desire for localization of early-1990s death metal like Cenotaph or Sepultura, creating a unique voice that never came fully together through lineup changes and the confusion of identity that plagued death metal after black metal arrived. With Ayasoltec, the musicians responsible have clearly targetted a new direction but are still feeling out how to develop it. Their desire is to evoke the second culture of the Americas, who integrated an ancient race of explorers (probably those who created also Easter Island and the cities of pre-Incan Peru) with the Amerinds who arrived later from Asia. These ancient cultures, as seen in Toltec and Olmec and Aztec, produced works of vast culture that are recently being discovered more in depth throughout the Yucatan and Central Mexico, and unlike the Catholics to follow were sun-worshippers who adored the idea of blood sacrifice as much as they relentlessly invented nurturing societies and high culture. One of the most revolutionary statements a band can make today is to bypass modern American culture as well as modern Mexican to exhalt these ancestors of amoral, occult religion and culture.

Ayasoltec balance this concept unevenly between wanting to find an outlet for their death metal riffcraft and exploring those genres which might unite a group of people behind an idea superior to anything else offered as relevant to them today. In this, their obvious guidepost is Sepultura’s work from “Arise” through “Roots,” which integrated indigenous rhythms and themes with the tumescent power of death metal. Their material as such is balanced between rhythm riffing which is often single-string playing, like a hybrid between “Roots” and early Vader, and the adroit riffcraft of Masochism, as well as new style based upon fast harmonic motion that would be called “solos” except for its rotating sequence of pattern choices that make a growing melody out of what would otherwise be a series of riffs. Like Gorguts attempted with “Obscura,” this new effort uses less conventional guitar techniques and a tendency toward abundant noise and develops songs around conventional riffing mated with exploratory work, as if bringing us out and then inside an esoteric mystery.

It is quite promising for a band to develop this much imagic and musical specificity, but this is balanced by the growing pains of fusing death metal with the more rock-oriented rhythmic format that Sepultura adopted in their later work (as did other bands; Sepultura is the most convenient example). Songs incorporate doomy riffs, the aforementioned riff cryptograms of periodistic development, and the acerbic ripping death metal in the style of Imprecation or Massacra that distinguished Masochism. The audience was fortunate to hear a good deal of this before one of Ayasoltec’s amplifiers decided it desired the hatred of the 150 people gathered there, and began intermittent failures through which the band and lead guitarist Juan Torres played with aplomb until it was obvious that catastrophic equipment failure ended the show. It was a highly professional performance and all attending channeled ire at that amplifier and hate it to this day.

Averse Sefira

After Ayasoltec, the undernoticed but unflagging Texas metal legends Averse Sefira took the stage with no fuss but much anticipation as the crowd swelled. The concept behind Averse Sefira is esoteric as that of Ayasoltec, in that they unite the stages of spiritual development between earthbound and celestial through the mysteris of Kabbalah, an ancient Sumerian science later appropriated by Judaism and Christianity in less of an amoral, blood worshipping form. Through this voice Averse Sefira channel abundant pagan nature worship and cosmology, as well as a healthy dose of modern heroic transcendental holistic idealism, using a synthesis of melodic black metal and the savage energy that early technical death metal bands like Morbid Angel and Incantation held high like a banner of war. As drummer The Carcass was playing on an unfamiliar, triggered drumkit loaned graciously by Ayasoltec personnel, it took Averse Sefira a song to reach a balance of intensity while adapting to the new rhythm format, but after this a set of songs from their past two albums seared the ears of the audience. In this, they showcased their most aggressive and imaginative attack to date, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” with standouts from the sleeper hit “Battle’s Clarion” that never got the distribution or production it needed to become as legendary as it is in live presentation.

The Averse Sefira attack is well-honed not only from touring practice, which the band have gotten on jaunts to South America, Quebec, and Europe, but also from a study of successful extreme metal during the past twenty years. Like the most vital years of Deicide and Morbid Angel, they are short on pauses and small talk but launch immediately into each song with a one-line introduction adapted from the style of Slayer’s Tom Araya but with more lyrical relevance and grace. Their songs use a thematic flow of melodic riffs balanced against interludes of pure rhythm in the form of “budget riffs” that assemble a few notes into direction changes or augmentations, and build a rhythmic attack as they cycle periodistically but not linearly through a developing motif. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne slashes out riffs in his precise tremelo playing while growling and whispering and screaming in a range of timbres in a style that must have been influenced by Burzum, yet in live performances balances the adroit precision of this playing with a small amount of swing that kicks in a demonstrative gesture of attack and release. Noisier adaptations of past riffs are deliberate, not accidental, and contribute to both the organic feel and the edginess of this performance.

The Carcass adapted well to the new drumkit after some experimentation, and was able to shape his organic battery around the highly audible exactitude of triggered drums, producing a sound that was more militant than previous Averse Sefira shows. The third member of this cosmological wrecking party, Wrath S. Diabolus, wielded his base with what seemed to more than one observer a greater degree of comfort and familiarity, showcasing a newly flexible style that complements the improvisatory chaos of his stringed counterpart. The band played six sounds with the presence that has made them legendary, standing defiantly in front of the crowd and delivering a top-notch show, while maintaining the mystery that has made this band a favorite of underground observers since their 1996 demo (and it is only fair to note that all members were in artistic projects for nearly a decade before that). It is hard to see why this band has not been acknowledged as the successors to Absu and Necrovore as the vanguard of Texas metal, but it is in part their quiet professionalism and musical and conceptual depth that makes them alienated from much of the scene which would prefer easily digestible music. No sonorous Twinkies here.

Vex

Coming out on stage after a brief equipment shuffle, Extreme Texas Metal band of the year Vex both impressed and disappointed. When one thinks about it, bad record reviews for competent musicians all take the same form: the elements were good but did not fit together into something that made sense or communicated an intent, so becoming like quality wallpaper an interesting accessory but not the experience of transcendental rediscovery of life that truly powerful art provides. Vex has become a similar story: their style ranges from At the Gates to Gorguts, but their songs are more a collection of riffs bent around a verse-chorus structure than a coherent whole or communication. Their new vocalist adopts poses and attitudes adopted most clearly from Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, sounding as out of place as a NAMBLA member at a Klan meeting, and the discoherence of overall songcraft allows each musician to masturbate profligately without enhancing the song. Guitarist Cioran seemed to contribute the subtler and more intelligent aspects, but the rest were jamming along to a tune known only to themselves, and the result sounded like a collision between Opeth and Cannibal Corpse trying to be a lounge act. Although many praise this band now, unless they gain enough discipline to pick a direction and have each individual make the sacrifice in glory necessary to make it work, they will become more of the detritus lining the long road back from failure, at least in the eyes of those fans who make their biggest contribution as a genre winds down by picking those who history (however brief) will remember.

The show as a whole was magnificent, in that few areas are fortunate enough to have this kind of force of organization making available the choices in art that we have here in Texas, and the promoters and club are to be praised for enforcing sensibility without making decisions the fans alone can make (or hopefully, the smart fans: a proliferation of the usual Austin crowd of dilettantes, hipsters, hangers-on, poseurs and assorted parasites were present but not overdominant, but we the thinkers would rather those idiots make no decisions for us). The night is best summed up by remembering the triumphs of Ayasoltec and Averse Sefira, the good initial effort from Nodens, and the speech made by Averse Sefira’s Wrath during the final soaring of their set, in which he drew a distinction between those who feel and believe in the music as a way of life and a mapping of philosophy that shows us a values system for living heroically, and those for whom it is only fashion. Time will tell that ultimate judgment, but for now, the power and determination of these bands suggests an intense future for Texas metal.

Bands:
Vex
Averse Sefira
Ayasoltec
Nodens

Promoters:
Extreme Texas Metal
Redrum (Austin, TX)


Another take:

Fall has ended; winter has arrived, and the die-off is upon us. Those who saw metal as a fun trend are hopping onto the next one, and, resultingly, there will be fewer and fewer bands aiming towards this crowd. With this dying of the bands, however, comes room for new entities, similar to how a pack of wolves picking off the sick and weak deer creates room for more deer to exist. This show seemed to reflect aspects of this transition; the percentage of bands worth seeing was perhaps the highest of any show this author has been to.

Nodens

Nodens plays relatively brutal death metal, but with some melodic enlightenment, with two guitarists playing deft riffs in counterpoint over the requisite blasting drums. Songs do a good job at shifting moods in a logical order, implying a coherent narrative, although the overuse of certain songwriting techniques (all instruments dropping out to create a climax while bringing in a new riff) robs them of their power, and each song seemed to lack a finale, a closing statement, a destination to the journey. Nodens is worth keeping an eye on, and worth witnessing live, but in their current form, they still need work to reach the upper eschelons of the genre.

Dagon

Watain for retards.

Abythos

Seemingly attempting to combine every sub-genre of metal known to man, Abythos is probably most comparable to the more tolerable parts of the post-“Slaughter of the Soul” Gothenburg sub-genre, in that it melds mostly traditional heavy metal riffing with distorted vocals and occasional blasting sections, with a few doom sections and undistorted intros thrown in for “good” measure. The problem is that in this mish-mash of ideas, no internal logic shines through, and thus the entire thing can only be interpreted as disconnected emotions, pure sacharrine, melodrama with no drama, which quickly becomes BORING. Musicianship is good, but who cares? Only reccomended for those trying to cure extreme insomnia.

Ayasoltec

It’s impossible to win when fighting against problems with gear, but Ayasoltec handled it as well as imaginably possible. On the border between avant-technical death metal and a distinctly Mexican take on Graveland’s “Thousand Swords”, Ayasoltec thrives on serpentine, arcane lead-riff work, with amazingly organic song progression crafted from the ability to manifest small changes in a melody to profound effect over time, and in the usage of discordant “solos” (quoted not as a method of slight or insult, but simply because it’s difficult in this case to determine what should be considered as a solo, and what should be considered more of the lead riffing, so complete is their integration) that flow in and out of the lead riffing amazingly well. The band also wins favor with this author by having a bassist who is not simply a stage prop, but who, while mostly following the melody of the guitar, brings in differently accented rhythms, giving a second angle on the music. Unfortunately, the appreciation of the music was somewhat dampened by factors beyond the band’s control; the guitarist’s amp had problems, causing the guitar to frequently drop out. The band handled this admirably, though, with the two remaining members continuing to play while the guitarist sorted out the issues as quickly as he could, and managed to get right back into where the band was without faltering, until the next drop out. A few rough edges exist musically- a few of the transitions are unduly sudden for music that largely depends so much on flow and gradual change- but, for those who would like to experience art that is truly mystical, art that conjures storms and spirits from beyond this world, Ayasoltec is strongly reccomended.

Averse Sefira

Judging by the number of people on the floor, Averse Sefira was the first of the bands who played that night who attracted Hessians to Austin. Facing difficult circumstances, with drummer The Carcass playing on triggered drums, a sensation completely unfamiliar with him, the band faltered at first, but quickly pulled together, in a particularly noisy and intense set pulled entirely from the band’s most recent album, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata”. Guitar and bass combined to form a musical haze of sound, creating something akin to a more poetically evocative version of Antaeus’s “CYFAWS”, intertwining energetic physical motivations with a zest towards the transcendent ideal, bestial fury with spiritual contemplation, in a manner such that the former of those pairs exists to work towards the realization the latter. Guitarist and vocalist Sanguine Mapsama provided the central element of the assault, with fast, dissonant lines inciting the flesh towards bloodlust and throat-damaging shrieks programming the audience by example of their complete inhumanity. Master percussionist The Carcass, who is apparently too demanding for ordinary mortal drum sets, created amazingly complex yet completely mesmerising rhythms, tastefully enhancing and embellishing the guitar’s rhythms, and directing the dynamics of the pieces. And finally, Wrath Sathariel Diabolus, the bassist of the trio, anchored the band’s sound, occasionally briefly playing with no accompaniment, as a forshadowing of renewed attack, and also greatly helped the band’s stage presence, being the most visually imposing and physically active member of the band. The crowd was appreciative, if not fully understanding, of what occured before them, and all were seemingly changed by the experience. Then again, who could remain un-touched after witnessing such a potent, if obscure, art? A special word must be given to Wrath’s short speech on the meaning of metal as a genre. War is raging between those who see metal as a genre communicating the transcendental and eternal, as a lifestyle striving for meaning in a plastic world, and those who see it as trivial social entertainment, and Wrath directed that which he is named for at the latter camp, to the appreciation of a surprising number of those in attendance.

When I make this sign, it means I stand for metal as an art form, and as a way of life. It has nothing to do with your stupid metal cartoons or your Spinal Tap movies. Think about what you mean when you make this sign. If it’s something you think is fun to do on the weekends, something that you think is funny, something that makes you smile, then FUCK OFF! We’re taking it back.

– Wrath of Averse Sefira

Approximate setlist:
Plagabraha
Decapitation of Sigils
Helix in Audience
Cremation of Ideologies
Hierophant Disgorging
Mana Anima
Detonation

Vex

A stark contrast to the previous band; rather than a statement of the esoteric, Vex seemed to be an embrace of the transient, fulfilling every metal cliche along the path to entertaining many yet making no definitive statement. If you can imagine a non-musical sign of a bad crowd-pleasing metal band, it was probably present here; from the tough-guy vocalist wearing a tank-top, to said vocalist jumping into the crowd to mosh, to one guitarist’s utterly insipid way of trying to sound “cool” while asking for water. Musically, “fragmented” barely begins to describe it; blasting death-metalish sections are followed quickly by random acoustic parts, followed by traditional metal breaks and doom passages, into outright stadium rock. What is sort of tragic about this, though, is that many of the individual pieces are quite good. Guitarist Ciaran obviously has a good ear for a melodic riff, and if the band would focus on these aspects of the music, without worrying about throwing in other elements to keep people of all tastes entertained, and give each song a clear concept to work towards, an overarching vision, it would be excellent. However, this doesn’t seem to be happening, and therefore this reviewer is unable to reccomend this band to others.Compared to the previous show seen at this venue, operations have improved vastly. The club was much more “under-21 friendly” (previously, they charged more for minors), and the bathroom, while still not pleasant, was improved. The venue continued its tradition of letting people to congregate on the outside porch between bands and during bands which they had no interest in seeing, an idea appreciated by this reviewer. Also, the crowd featured fewer attention whores and seemingly fewer hipsters than the previous show this author attended (probably by virtue of it not being marketed as a Halloween party), an appreciated improvement. The show ran smoothly, and the soundman seemed to know what was going on, and found a reasonable sound for each band.

– Written by Cynical

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Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony Orchestra perform Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in Houston, Texas

Hans Graf / Houston Symphony Orchestra
January 13, 2007
615 Louisiana St
Houston, Texas 77002

Saturday brings crowds to the record stores, looking for the experience of being around music. Yet as relaxed fingernails trail down the spines of thousands of CDs in the Used rack, it might occur to us how transparent these ruses have been for the past four decades. Rock music succeeds where it panders to expectations without revealing the manipulation that so resembles parents and high school teachers. But to one iota of that is the comfortable anarchy zone of “if it feels good, do it” that makes rock millionaires.

This image lingered in the mind for the long passage through the winding freeways of downtown Houston, through the parking lot where newsprint stained thumbs are licked to separate change for a twenty, and into the dark cavernous quiet of Jones Hall to hear Hans Graf conduct Anton Bruckner. Opening the piece with a chorus singing Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” from the lobby, Graf paused briefly and then raised his wand, to which a synchronized rising of instruments announced the descent from our world of tangible objects into the abstraction of music had become. The concert began from a silence in which the echoes of human voices still faded.

Since we live in a time that has produced almost no classical music of note for several generations, we are burdened with interpretations, as if the truth passed us once and now we are bickering over the details. As if a mirror of our political and social systems, there are two extremes in the history of Bruckner performances, namely Eugene Jochum and Herbert von Karajan; others, like Carlo Maria Giulini take a more emotive and earthy approach. Jochum and von Karajan however are the yardsticks by which Bruckner performances are assessed, and if von Karajan is the stormy “Beethoven” approach, Jochum is the more “Brahms”: an organic wave of emotion that approaches Bruckner less as a logician than a channeling of an inherent spirit, a will toward a spiritual view of existence.

Into this difficult environment Graf descends with little more than an exuberant love of Bruckner on his side, but it seems enough. Of all things that could be said about this performance, it is most important to state that Graf appreciated the juncture between personality and intellectual direction that defines Bruckner. We know him as a simpleton in political matters, but a humble genius who preferred simple pleasures and intangible spiritual ecstasy to the normalcy of function. Graf captures these traits in the gestalt of his conducting, yet also adapts his technique to be fertile to this unification of ten thousand nearly inobservable details. He is the interpretation of Jochum applied to the methods of von Karajan, with the kind of technical eye for modernism that an experienced interpreter of that era such as Esa-Pekka Salonen can provide.

Graf’s interpretation of perhaps the most challenging Bruckner symphony not just to conduct but to introduce to a public, despite being very much organic, targets the logician in Bruckner as well. Graf has his orchestra play individual phrases and themes with a bouncy old-world air, as if Haydn-izing Bruckner for the sake of appealing to his ancient soul. He places these suddenly humanized phrases into the dynamic delivery of a von Karajan, but dynamism sensu Graf is more aware of how too many dissonant phrases rising into clarity before expanding into vast harmony of unison can tire an audience. He is selective and if von Karajan is a stormy genius and Jochum a religious contemplative, Graf remains a humble observer of nature. His Bruckner is looser, without the regularity of rhythm that makes it machinelike, and yet descends to earth for its spiritualism. Motives are presented less in an apocalyptic storm than a natural evolution from their simpler origins.

As noted in the program guide, Bruckner composes “prismatically,” so that there is little linear or formulaic repetition, but so that each meme is repeated as a reintroduction of theme like familiar symbols in poems. This creates a labyrinthine navigation between known points and a form of internal discussion that relates them to both similar and dissimilar themes, meaning that musicians must both play the work accurately and never lose sight of its narrative. The Houston Symphony, known for quietly performing undernoticed masterpieces when it is not distracted with more populist classical fare, performed diligently in this intermissionless marathon. A few glitches in the brass section stood out momentarily, as did an unintended dissonance in the strings, but these were minutiae compared to the whole of a not only solid but energetic and powerful performance.

Graf never flagged, perched deftly on his stand and attacking the score with an inner vitality that showed not only dedication but interest. The intensity was compelling, as was the response of an orchestra that navigated a circuitous pattern of overlapping motives with alacrity and grace. For almost eighty minutes, the audience was bathed in a hush of concentration brought on by the abject sensation of beauty and inner mental silence this piece triggers in its listeners. Whether history will record this grand performance, or even last long enough to notice, becomes academic for those who were there to be thrust into the existential colonnade which in classic Brucknerian style unified the ambient and the linear to become immersive, revealing space within itself in the best definition “prismatic” can offer, and from that point of contemplation unleashing a profound stillness and re-introduction to life as majesty and divinity.

Those who were there were changed, unless numb as cut wood, and in this transformation glimpsed a chance for a life on earth that aspires to the organization and beauty of the celestial, much as humble heavens-gazer Bruckner must once have done in creating it. As the transcendental onslaught ceased, and those who listened were drawn back into the world of rustling concert programs and strange winter clothing exuding odors of the still air of closets, it was clear this was not the same audience who had entered the concert hall with their thoughts divided like panicked insects. These were people who had been brought to the point of realization by a musical experience, and the inherited wisdom showed on their faces of calm concentration.

Outside Jones Hall the streets pulsed with a cold wind from the north as people hurried home, or to the warmed bars for a drink before braving the solitude of sleep. A few miles away the record store slept in the abrasive hum of its security lights, the titles of several generations of rock aspirants slowly relinquishing their fascination with the here and now and sensual in steady decay, bombarded by space-traveling particles from before Bruckner was born. Industrial machinery rose over the landscape, awaiting the dawn light that would begin its own process of breakdown, and the ghettoes and suburbs alike rocked with discontent, hidden in one case behind doors and polite words. But to seize that moment when the culmination of intricate virii of phrase wrapped themselves into a final peace, a state of mind both stormy and compassionate for life itself, that was to leave all of this behind — and perhaps to determine in the inner world each person carries where an impetus to change might begin.

Composer:
Anton Bruckner

Performers:
Houston Symphony

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