Demilich and Deathbound in Kuopio, Finland

Demilich and Deathbound
July 22, 2006
Henry’s Pub, Kuopio, Finland

Every band is eventually confronted with the time when it is the best to quit as the objective has already been achieved, and continuing wouldn’t bring anything new or fresh to the world, while the remaining memory is being diluted by surplus effort. It is then better to focus to create the keenest edge and to refine the artistic monolith as impressive as possible, so that the world itself could be protruded in, like a monolith ascends towards the vast skies and its heights.

The venue, Henry’s Pub in Kuopio, Finland, was a rather homely and roomy enough little pub, which had space for both the more restrained members of the crowd as well as those who take music enthusiastically and physically: those who gather in front of the stage. The bar was obviously directed to older people before, as aged exceptions stood out here and there among the mostly dark clothed people. Some people wandered in amidst the bar, stopping to wonder at their surroundings without a clear aim, and slipped away as seemingly absent-minded as they were at their arrival; like zombies who return to the places familiar to them from memories of their previous life, but have no clue where to go, being just parts of mechanical formulae. The mood was calm, and speakers tinted the atmosphere filled with the quiet churn of wait with some metal, which however didn’t attract attention and ended up lilting in the background, filling the corners. Senses woke up when Deathbound climbed to the stage for soundcheck at about 10 PM, and after a while of noodling there, they launched their own furious set, which was meant to warm up the crowd for the main performer of the evening, Demilich.

Deathbound

Deathbound, whose members hail from here and there from Finland, presented a hefty serving of grindcore by their raw bursts of sound. Songs were concise and angry, and were intent upon blindly charging onto emptiness, which doesn’t really bow to social norms but rather, indiscriminately appears where it wishes to. After breaching this boundary they didn’t go further, however, but assured their position in a way and didn’t venture ahead, or show their theme from several different angles, giving clarity to the whole; the word “No” radiated from the flood of sound generated by the instruments at a steady pace. The last song, “I God”, was a potent manifesto, the last nail and confirmation; the end of one frenzied assault and the beginning of another journey, to which this band decently warmed up the audience.

Demilich

It didn’t take too long until Demilich stepped on the stage, and briskly started their set with the song “When the Sun Drank the Weight of the Water”, which possessed the crowd with the very first notes. The performance of the bassist Corpse (of Deathchain) was the most visual of the lot, while others remained mostly professionally calm. Song after song, in the order of the album “Nespithe” and a few other works thrown in, they executed with apparent joy and skill, presumably satisfied with the decision to bury Demilich at the top. The audience was understandably thankful of this act, and when the combination of three guitars, a bass, drums and the subterranean growling of Mr. Boman, all of them laced with passion and love for their craft, brought these works painted with precision and creative brush before the minds of people, they fully relished it: the tunes of the world’s mechanics were absorbed in moshing heads, and bewitched some to trance-like dancing, as well.

The music of Demilich: The drummer crafted abstract patterns, which were in their honesty the actual essence and structure of the monolith, in all its immensity and incomprehensibility; the rumbling bass gave it form, a surface existing similarly to a waving dream, which stretched the boundaries of reason as the eyes of our minds focused greedily on this apparition. Guitars cast the ultimate alluring texture and revealed the various strings of the fabric with their plunges and static swarms and quiverings of movement, as Boman’s voice of faceless depths dragged minds ever closer to Nothingness, into the crystal chambers of the World’s soul by every verse born, emerging from matter.

Mighty were their performances, and your reviewer was grateful for being able to witness a most excellent farewell concert, and as the streams of “Raped Embalmed Beauty Sleep” lapsed into space and coalesced with the atmosphere, clock 00:09 AM it was over: Demilich was no more. Although energy isn’t channeled to this celestial body anymore, in memories it will continue on the course which it was honed to travel. It is better this way than if it had been forcibly hanged on, as it is now a monolith of its own in the orbit, proud and brilliant among its kind, many of which are being grinded on until they are but a formless clump of confused dreams, set adrift on wastelands littered with the wind-beaten husks of similar failures, with oblivion and extinction as their fate.

Bands:
Demilich
Deathbound

Promoters:
Henry’s Pub, Kuopio

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Demilich and Averse Sefira in Texas

Demilich, Averse Sefira, Biolich, Abythos, Sothis, To Scale the Throne and Spliteye
June 3-4, 2006
The Backroom, Austin, Texas
Walter’s on Washington, Houston, Texas

To love something is to love the world enough to believe in love, and to sacrifice all future delights which could prove an obstacle to the beloved. Underground metal — or rather the artistic music within that genre which seeks to expand knowledge and experience instead of pleasing the Crowd with novel interpretations of what they already know — is a work of love. The Demilich/Averse Sefira shows in Texas were such a heroic undertaking.

With minimal funds for promotion, and a style that can both be recognized as technical yet does not fit into the “technical” vibe of jazzy death/prog rock, both bands undertook a journey of reconstructing an underground where the label underground has come to mean something as typecast and invariant as mainstream pop music. Because most people in metal are already invested in this predictable cycle of purchase impulse and reward, many of those already in the “underground” not only ignored but actively opposed this attempt to resurrect the better values of black and death metal’s vital years.

AUSTIN

Spliteye took the stage early and, entirely professionally, banged out their blend of old school death metal and nu-metal hitch beats to a few stalwarts. They were followed by Texas black metal band Abythos, who made wholly derivative sound that was musically competent but expressed nothing but the desire to be in a band, and California act Sothis, who fused Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth in a rock style. Sothis brought a trailer of equipment including extra amplifiers, three keyboards, guitar processors, and the like, which naturally blew the power system and shortened their set to three songs. After them came New York avant-grind band Biolich, who apparently began life as a Demilich cover band but now creates songs that hybridize Napalm Death, Neurosis, Godflesh and indie/avantgarde rock.

After a prolonged and somewhat futile sound check (the Backroom is built on an ancient Indian burial ground whose time/space distortion renders any sound system incomprehensible), Averse Sefira smashed out a set of five songs from Tetragrammatical Astygmata and three from their first two albums. Facing a tough re-integration for their first show of the Texas mini-tour, the band became cohesive on the third song but played a looser, noisier set that was reminiscent of early Voivod covering Immortal. Averse Sefira played nearly nonstop, the stage rattling with the pulse of their drummer’s battery, and provoked an excited crowd response. The looser rhythms gave the band a chance to work its stage presence, pushing the warriors in full regalia (spikes, leather, bullet belts, corpsepaint) nearly into the crowd. Among those who could understand compound sentences response was favorable.

Local luminaries from Masochism, Cthonian Appanage, Acerbus and Vex appeared during the Averse Sefira set, as did promoters from Extreme Texas Metal and Morbid Thoughts Records. There was a biker conference in town so several of these showed up determined to demonstrate that bikers are just as stupid as the rest of the population and thus worthy of assimilation into mainstream culture. Members of the crowd who were fond of one or another of the opening bands, adhering to the cognitive dissonance that supposes that bigger bands oppress smaller bands and that is the only reason smaller bands are openers and not headliners, stood back with disgruntled faces and drank $4 beers. No one noticed the whining, and by the time most observed the above, Demilich were doing their sound check and taking the stage.

Two things are immediately observable from Demilich live: the integral synchronization of five musicians through difficult material, and the sleepy-eyed offhandedly casual presence of frontman Antti Boman, who burped and gurgled like a demonic frog throughout the performance. Although Boman unites the action, the martial presence that leads it is the industrial/jazz hybrid drumming of Mikko Virnes. Although original bassist Ville Koistinen was absent, the low-end complement of Corpse (his day job is in Deathchain) thrust the music forward with the pulsing, visually dramatic attack found in bands like Motorhead or Suffocation, which enhanced the abstract tendencies of this music with an earthy, sensual grounding. It drove forward like metal, cycled in on its harmonies like jazz, and migrated between ideas like classical. This aspect of the music of Demilich suggests not only the potential seen by original death metal musicians, but calls to mind a time when most death metal bands were distinctive not because they sought a way to “be different” but because each had its own concept of reality and had crafted a musical style to express it. At the end of the set, diehard Demilich fans were satiatedly exhausted and the Crowd at the bar remained baffled and unsure of socially approved response. Thumbs up from this reviewer.

HOUSTON

The nation’s fourth-largest city is known for its Los Angeles-style layout, having grown entirely after the advent of the personal car and the warehouse-style suburbs that boxily fringe the rotted core of unskilled labor that is the inner city. Consequently, any event requires travel, and to unite Hessians from the city wide requires good publicity, yet there’s no agency for such things. With the demise of the independent record store thanks to a shrinking profit margin and rising Internet file-sharing, there are few places to post fliers where metalheads will see them, and the magazine Rivethead is no longer in print so there’s no news source. Our L.A. Weekly-themed paper, the Houston Press, is expensive advertising for underground shows. And local bands? William Burroughs noted that “itinerant short con and carny hipsters have burned down the croakers of Texas,” and it’s not much different in metal: our scenes are cannibalistic. Each band self-promotes so aggressively that its only sense of community is as a means to that end, and thus plenty of lip service to “scene unity” occurs but no one takes the simple step of supporting only bands of quality. It’s either all or nothing. Because of this intense Balkanization of fans, each local band has its cadre of people who can be conned into coming to the show and for this reason each metal show in Houston has more bands than a compilation and the same 83 grubby people attend. The venue treated this performance like a local show, called the usual people, opened the bar and left it at that, so attendance was poor. To their credit, both headlining bands performed as if they were at Carnegie Hall and ignored the fact that this giant city produced only a few attendees.

The lineup was much the same as in Austin except with the addition of To Scale the Throne, a local band who throw in pieces of Emperor, Satyricon, Grand Belial’s Key and Cradle of Filth but play music that fits the patterns of punk hardcore: verse, chorus, breakdown, reprise. It wasn’t good; it wasn’t bad: it wasn’t important. This reviewer caught Biolich in Houston. Their performance was professional. The music can be described as modern hardcore with infusions of indie rock, early grindcore and drone. Two major factors influence appreciation of this performance. First, one cannot take a technique-oriented approach to producing art, because art is a communication between artist and audience in a way that is both entertaining and profound; the artist must have something to say, and use technique to that end, because making art on the basis of technique alone produces a uniform texture of affect on the audience. Next, one must realize that when emo and hardcore merged, they created a style of music based on skipping the path to a destination for cyclic demonstration of that destination’s importance, resulting in music without suspense or adventure. Ultimately, it drifted into “safe” territory both ideologically and musically, and reduced its own importance. With this in mind, it is clear that while Biolich are musically adept and have pushed many boundaries of technique, their songs remain unconvincing. The suspended rhythmic hook of progressive hardcore rapidly starts to resemble the bounce of nu-metal, and the jumble of styles creates a neurosis of inspecific contextual framing. Elements of this music were quite good, including the crisp but jubilant drumming and experimentation beyond obvious harmonics extending to Godflesh-like implied melodies via drone. If this reviewer had any advice, it’s this: stop trying to shock or stimulate, chuck all the grindcore parts, and finish the songs you started on the indie parts, because that is where this music really shines. As it was presented, the music seemed promising but insubstantial although the professionalism of band and stage show were appreciated.

Since the venue was in a Beirut-style urban meltdown area of Houston and the audience paltry, this show felt entirely like an underground chamber music event during the Inquisition. A city oblivious went on watching overtime repeat “Friends” episodes and buying furniture at Ikea while an exceptional and artistic performance graced its sonic topography and one of the most amazing metal performances to ever grace the city tore apart the night. Averse Sefira took to the stage first without pretense and lanced ears with a fast, accurate and yet impassioned version of their setlist from the previous night, with the addition of “Detonation” in the middle. Touches of improvisation in vocals and stringed instruments created an organic specificity to the music which belonged to that night alone, and the energy level remained high as the music moved between different moods. What distinguishes this band is their willingness to write passionate melodies and put them in songs that uphold all of the savagery and feral wisdom of heavy metal, and this came through in a mesmerizing forty-five minutes of complex but intuition-friendly music. Those who were present exchanged glances as if to say “How did we get this lucky?” and several longtime observers commented on how effective this band is in a smaller setting. If you missed it, punch yourself in the face.

Demilich assembled onstage and, exchanging a glance, launched into their set like a machine firing in the mist and frost of a neglected morning. Utilizing three guitarists, their brand of technical death metal relies on complement more than a continued layer technique, with each instrument presenting a different view of the whole and then achieving synchronization over the course of songs. Stringed voices peel off and converge, then take on parts of the whole much as earth and sky are required for a horizon. One guitarist, sds, plays chords underlying the melodic lead riffing which is exchanged between two lead rhythm guitars harmonizing while Boman’s belching underscores the rigid yet engaging percussion. The setlist was the same except for a new song (title unknown) which veered between peaks and valleys of tone with sweetened acid melodic differential between riffs, producing an aura of instability yet deliberation. The lead rhythm guitar of Aki Hytönen was as exactingly precise as it was freespirited, and often melted off into solos both chaotic and commenting on the sonic landscape beneath. Like evolution viewed through geographic time, the band fell off and reunited with a depth of harmony that caused the entire club to resonate with the distinctive symbolism of geometry. A drained audience filtered into humid darkness after a set demanding of both listener and band; it was probably the most technically impressive performance of mainstream music this reviewer has seen (jazz itself, while requiring one basic skill, does so at the expense of reasoned composition, and soon approximates a mean without dramatic fluctuation in intensity). Did you miss it? Punch self in face.

Luminaries from abroad and local dotted the crowd: Cynicalkontinual, Keltic Myth, g0sp-hell, Gestalt, Lyle from Brooklyn and one guy from Hellwitch who demonstrated the importance of having a video camera where Children of Bodom is concerned. There was a sense of privilege and fortunate accident for all who witnessed this unique performance, and an unsettling feeling that perhaps Houston has some inner fracture which prevents its metalheads from recognizing the musical (but not “scene points”) importance of such a gathering.

OBSERVATIONS

As metal is a hybrid, made half of ancient belief and filled in with modern popular art, its artists are suspended between getting the attention of “the community” and expressing something of that which is eternally metal, namely the worship of raw power and realism in a human world of sentiment which avoids it. Most of its artists convert this into a sterile emotion which like the receptacle tip of a condomn catches anger and neutralizes it, but the best escape this mould. However, repetition does not enhance a genre but makes it prone to erosion, since repeated structures fall in a row when the same force is applied to them. Ask all the hardcore punk fans who, after “equalizing” the genre into a participation-fest, were stunned when it evaporated overnight because no one could any longer tell the difference between bands. “The community” is its own worst enemy, and far from being manipulated by a twisted controller, it is driven by the desires of individuals who, when enough join in, drown out any clear voices with the distorted murmur of a mass.

Thus for those who seek quality music, it is more important to assess the music itself than to care about the most popular pundits, because these people are walking brainstems who repeat in “unique” ways what others have said and quickly run the genre into uniformity. This form of informational entropy seems important when it’s new, and is hard to distinguish because the bands in question will probably be able to play their instruments just fine, but have nothing to say. The musics that exemplify the opposite tendency, which is for the few realistic and yet imaginative artists to create works which will be praised years on by listeners baffled as to why more people did not “get it,” are ignored — for now. Yet we are all familiar with the old refrain that it was better back in the formative years, and all of the bands now lack something the founding bands did not. They are more distinctive in using different instruments, mixing in different styles, or having “unique” appearances, and they’re musically far more competent, but there’s a question as to what the music means. Interestingly, this blight is shared across literature and music and visual art at this time, suggesting that a combination of populist “entertainment” and a lack of comprehension of meaning itself among artists, has obliterated not only quality but the valuable tenet of having something to express in art among these contemporaries. Self-importance of the artist, and preaching to the converted through “safe” ideologies, has produced music that repeats its own premises instead of discovering not new but experience-laden ground; these songs and stories tell us nothing other than to sit quietly and imbibe the cliches and commonly-held truths of a culture that, lacking an integral component, derives its knowledge from paid entertainment that appeals to the broadest possible group. Could it be a sign of the decline?

It is no surprise then that it is neutral art, whether we call it bourgeois or suburban or plebeian, because we learn nothing from it except a unique combination of aesthetic values. Paintings do not touch our souls, but they match our towels and perhaps are calibrated according to the paint colors for sale at our local malls. Music is background to television watching or work, and cannot be unsettling or educational or evocative or provocative, no matter how many obscene or blasphemous elements it uses. How many of those kids chanting “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” along with Rage Against the Machine actually did anything about it? It’s false art, propaganda and degenerates rapidly. Art like the actual underground nurtures what is true and denigrates the false through a representation of experience and wisdom, and never comes full circle to its premise like postmodern art. It takes one through a wandering route to a new place that is also familiar with the old, with its origin… we can only praise those who are slowly but embitteredly learning that there are no new truths, only new statements of eternal truths, and that our entire detour into “progress” in music has been on the surface/aesthetic level and has resulted in empty, pointless, interchangeable “art.”

Bands:
Demilich
Averse Sefira

Promoters:
Morbid Thoughts
Extreme Texas Metal

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Averse Sefira, Images of Violence, Devourment, Pleasant Valley, Insidious Decrepancy, Hatchetwork and Scattered Remains in Austin, Texas

Averse Sefira, Images of Violence, Devourment, Pleasant Valley, Insidious Decrepancy, Hatchetwork and Scattered Remains
March 11, 2006
Redrum, 401 Sabine Street
Austin, Texas

The Texas metal underground has historically been a divisive place: too many bands wanting to be number one and not helping others, so that there are infinite favorites but no greats. With the return of Averse Sefira to Texas after a long absence, a resurgence in confidence is seen in Texas metal. Not only has collaboration come to visit, but the community seems hungry for a few talented acts to represent a scene that was once overburdened with also-rans. This change in attitude is fortunate, because at this show not only did long-running Texas black metal legends Averse Sefira showcase a resilient and enduring sound, but also local death metal upstarts Images of Violence demonstrated the power and synchronicity of their new lineup.

After opening sets by Hatchetwork and Scattered Remains, one-man death metal machine Insidious Decrepancy banged out a set accompanied by drum machine. His music knows two modes of thought: first, a thunderous chromatic rhythmicism reminiscent of the elements of Morpheus Descends that inspired NYDM legends Suffocation, and second a fastpicked scattering of notes with minor key melodic implications in the style of technical death metal bands like Necrophagist or Martyr. The music is easy to listen to and gratifying in its old school attitude, yet seems to make no clear or forceful statement, even if in form – including vocals, guitar and the nonintrusive drum machine – it is highly polished. After this came Pleasant Valley, who craft a style of death metal that varies its consistency-heavy riffs with breaks and interludes that seem inspired by “found sounds” music in their attempt to mimic daily life. It was hard to figure where this band was going with their music or what was the desired content of articulation, but they were faithfully attended by a small crowd.

Images of Violence took the stage next. Fronted by local tattoo legend Jonzig and supported by former Acerbus battery expert Larry “The Professor” Jackson, this band have come together from the primitive death metal of their origins. Riffs flow smoothly together and those of little impact, the space-holding chorded disorder that many death metal bands use to connect disparate statements, have been dropped entirely. With new guitarist Dauber filling riffs with varied texture, including strumming speeds that would be oppositional to the motion of riff except for the high degree of internal counterpoint to the riff permitting parallax motion, Images of Violence have become more ambitious in addition to closing gaps in the conceptualization and execution of songs. They sound like an updated version of Montrosity that thanks to Larry’s percussion is able to stack rhythmic breakdowns in a constructive manner; other influences would be a smattering of Suffocation in the corrugated internals of riffs that are on the surface basic patterns that by virtue of simplicity and boldness demand attention, and a sense of progressive melody in guitar fills, perhaps Pestilence or Gorguts. The essence of this music is an old school roar like Obituary or Malevolent Creation, but bleeding from within is a desire for a voice that speaks all languages in the experience of death metal, and the result is an articulate band that sacrifices none of the pleasures or impact of the germinal form of death metal.

In the short break that followed, most of the attendees of this show coalesced back onto the floor, watching the stage. Averse Sefira is not a band that permits fence-sitting; people tend to follow them religiously or despise them with ornery ecclesiastical passion, but tonight there was a sense of appreciation for these musicians who braved public disapproval of black metal in the early days and in its later days, endured being lost in the masses of nearly identical bands who like spawning salmon recorded demos and, stranded up a stream they could not navigate, died. Averse Sefira outlasted them all and recently released a triumphant third album that capitalizes on their technical skill and spirited, occult vision of metal as an art form (and not simply entertainment, like a video game or sitcom). The club darkened suddenly after a cursory soundcheck. Concentration broadcast from three sets of eyes, and an introduction composed of opposites, the sonorous and the abrasively rhythmic, the ancient and the modern, the smooth and the dispersed, filled the room. It was followed by a sudden attack. Being a three-piece, this band requires each member to fill sonic territory like an occupying chieftain, and after two songs and an improvised speech on the heroic values potentially accessible to the Texas scene, the band tore into the rest of their set like a marathon runner escaping sodomitic jailers. The highly specialized application of guitar and bass came together, and arch-drum veteran The Carcass (also of Death of Millions and Show Me on the Doll) held back his legendary energy in order to fit into the contours of each song. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne channeled the spirit of deceased Voivod guitarist Denis d’Amour by wrestling with lushy discordant noise and messy squealing harmony, but he used this mess surgically by applying it in counterpoint to his more emphatic playing, which smoothly synchronized to the rigid rhythmic structures supporting it. The result was an impressive hybrid of Immortal‘s triumphant romanticism and the lost wanderings in violent wastelands portrayed by Morbid Angel, with influences from throughout metal’s developing lineage. The collected experience of these band members, including for nearly a decade of death metal and radio presentation before Averse Sefira, gave them the confidence to pull off a performance that did not just “nail it” but was able to flex some muscles in the process and give depth to this experience. None of this was lost on the Averse Sefira diehards in the crowd, who lost it somewhere during the first song and probably did not regain mental stability until late the next day.

The crowd was respectful of this act who have bravely and steadfastly worked their way up the black metal food chain without compromising their ideals for anyone, or backing down from their high ideals of what makes excellent, enduring art. Interestingly, the audience of this show were mostly older, a fact given context by the emo-core and ambient alternative stoner grunge zydeco blaring from nearby clubs like Emo’s and The Velveeta Room: the horde of clueless kids who will find something to champion for their years between 18 and twenty-five have moved on, finding black metal to be less pleasurable than the next trend. These people bloated black metal in a situation reminiscent of microcosmic imitation of human behavior; they discover a good thing, and finding that people want it and people wanting it mean power, distill it into a basic but accessible experience and then flood it with wanton, careless, selfish people, at which point it collapses into a polluted ruin. Such behavior was more common five years ago but now has mostly run its course, since the imitators brought in so many bands that they diluted quality down to the level of mainstream radio rock, at which point most people who could pass the GED were heading away from black metal as a genre. Although this situation is still rampant, wiser heads have prevailed, and the ranks have thinned alongside the hairlines as the black metal generation has grown up and maintained the faith while the trendfollowers have scattered like their own vapid thoughts. Those who attended this show saw how this historical process affects bands through the newfound diligence of the crowd and the way that the few drunken failures who did turn up were rebuffed, quietly, as one might purposefully ignore a homeless person at a eugenics conference. Respect was given where deserved more than before, and this bodes well for the Texas scene not only recovering from black metal’s latefound popularity but getting over its carny hipsterism that caused problems for bands in the 1980s, as anyone who remembers dead horse deconstructing can attest.

Devourment played last with a style of disconnected technical metal that is both intriguing and completely visible as the bare bones of a simple animal: no matter how intricate some of the riffs will get, these songs like those of chug-metal veterans Skinless plod along with the aim of gratifying a primitive groove instead of shocking us through transition and layering as all the great bands in the style did. Although one of their guitarists came from legends Imprecation, it’s doubtful that this band will be anywhere near that important.

For some this was a first introduction to the Redrum club, which is a nice enough place built like conventional Austin housing on a raised platform over a winding polluted stream ridden with trash. Its airconditioning was insufficient, its bar lavish, its sounds system not just competent but endowed with a sound engineer who was dedicated to finding a representative sound for each band and watching over them during the show. The setup was more professional than past metal shows, and while it didn’t change the agenda of the bands onstage, it did make it easier to witness. It is no wonder that more Austin shows are going to Redrum than other venues. Thanks to the labor of several different entities, the entire show fit well into this kind of casual professionalism, and endowed the fans of these older but increasingly valid styles with a varied and yet consistently powerful concert experience.

Bands:
Devourment
Images of Violence
Pleasant Valley
Insidious Decrepancy
Averse Sefira

Promoters:
Redrum Club
Extreme Texas Metal

Media:
Averse Sefira video Live in Quebec (WMV) 

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Immolation, Deicide and Skinless in San Antonio, Texas

Immolation, Deicide and Skinless
June 22, 2005
Sanctuary
San Antonio, Texas

It’s not often that one gets to see one of the few enduring pieces of death metal history, and even rarer than the performance is memorable. By now, most death metal bands have either lost momentum and stopped caring, or have in a misguided attempt to sell records turned themself into the same old thing, at which point no one gives them any respect and they in turn stop caring about their audience. A few remain, and Immolation is one of them: an Immolation show is one of the few to which you can take someone ambivalent about metal, and know they’ll see the genre at its finest and be exposed to the minimum of destructive elements.

Unfortunately, this show was at a little hole of a club called Sanctuary, which has a large amount of physical space but so little class that it feels like watching a show from a polyester-sheathed bathroom. $24 tickets at the door were accepted with avaricious glee by the club owners, who then managed to do so little right that I wondered if $4 would be paying too much. They were basically morons, but no one noticed, since most of the crowd there were clueless little kiddies who wanted to rebel and listen to some evil metal, therefore were busy scurrying around doing anything but paying attention. It was a terrible place for anyone with a brain. Only the credulity of the audience saved this club, as if the audience had been 50% or more savvy people, they would have had a riot on their hands for their terrible sound system, collapsing light display, arrogant low-IQ security people, and of course, usurious policies at the bar, merch stands and door. The Sanctuary is garbage. Never go there.

Skinless

There were several opening bands, but by the time our intrepid reviewer arrived, Skinless was beginning their set. The guys from Skinless are undeniably nice people, quite personable and cordial, but their music is the kind of waste of time that degrades metal to idiot fodder and attracts fools into the genre, creating a kind of negative evolution by which the audience gets dumber and thus, to sell CDs to them, the bands get mega-stupid. The artistic statement that Skinless makes can be summarized as “4”: 4/4 time, first four frets, and about four minutes before your eyes glaze over. They attracted mainly the kind of dysgenic blockhead that I generally experience as taking forever in grocery lines, slowing traffic, or finding landmines with pickaxes. Waves of thudding bassy power chords, a bouncy cadence, and some throbbingly one-dimensional vocals are the appeal of this band; it’s like death metal with all the adventurous parts taken out, leaving a constant breakdown that has more in common musically with hip-hop than the brainy acts in underground metal.

Immolation

The real highlight of the night for anyone who could count to ten backwards without a visual aid was Immolation. Hailing from New York, this band has battered out the tunes since 1988, and while they have “progressed” in a convergent approximation of contemporary “metal” with the recent album, the quality of the music itself is high, and my feeling is that they’ll move on to something with more enduring impact. What makes nu-metal distinctive is its tendency to want to sound like trash, because people devoid of self-confidence, like mice, like to burrow into garbage and hide. Luckily the numu elements on the latest Immolation, “Harnessing Ruin,” are a tiny influence considering the whole of its composition, which is mostly a musically erudite version of their 1990 masterpiece “Dawn of Possession.” A welcome change is that they like using more harmonic playing and phrases sinuously deployed on the partial beat, which shows off the guitar work of Bob Vigna and Bill Taylor.

Taking to the stage with characteristic nonchalance, Immolation played mostly new material, but live it took on a life that is not captured on record, being partially faster and more aggressive, but also deprived of any studio finery and stripped down to what can be done on the fly on some stage in some club. New drummer Steve Shalaty was not only completely on cue but also knew when to restrain himself. This and the collective attitude in the band enables them to work together as one, without members standing out or contributing random elements by error, and the result is a militant wave of coordinated action that hits like an occult ceremony. A few older works filled the set, but the band had tired of playing songs from the first album, and this let them adopt their newer persona in full. For this reviewer, it was a welcome move: the band was staying current where so many others lingered in the past.

Vigna’s guitarwork is always impressive not just for its precision but for the flair with which he manhandles his guitar; some joker from Deicide sprayed him with silly string during the first song, and in some sympathy between accidental symbolism and reality the sticky ropes of plasticine goo joined Viga to his guitar like the organic connective tissue of symbiosis. Ross Dolan, on bass and vocals, threw his entire reserve of energy into the perfomance as always, and created not only deafening bassy growls but a surly, contorted facial expression that altered itself in time with the music: eyebrows moved to the high hat, chin to the bass drums, and snarling smile to the pulse of four-string and snare. It seemed too much for the retrograde elements in the crowd, as the dufus horde retreated to the bar and bathroom to let the most complex band of the night play.

Deicide

To his credit, Glenn Benton seems like a nice guy, but the years have clearly taken a strain on him. Where there was once belief and direction in his life, now there’s duty, and Deicide suffers for it, since he was the glue that held that band together, along with drummer Asheim, and now they’re the only two original members. Some loser who used to play guitar for Tampa Christian metal band Death joined one of the losers from Cannibal Corpse, and together, they filled in for the mercurial Hoffman brothers, but that didn’t matter much as the PA cut out halfway through the first song. Then some idiot woman who was apparently dating the loser ex-Christian metal guitarist started pitching water on the crowd, and all the kiddies – many of whom were literally under five feet tall – started showing the effects of the beer and weed they had oh so rebelliously consumed. Personal drama overwhelmed the show, and Deicide kept playing despite the fact that no one could hear them. When it became clear the sound was not going to get fixed, the few remaining smart people left, abandoing a crowd of groping, sweating, posing, whining teenagers who could not have comprehended Deicide in its prime. The club, having collected $24 from each person there, didn’t have any staff members will to lift a finger to help, so at this point the concert degenerated into a day care center and your intrepid reviewer left. Summary: never go to the Sanctuary in San Antonio. It’s a wasteland.

Summary

Immolation played an excellent set. If one attended with a brain, this was the focus. It’s a shame they weren’t given more time, as apparently the wise and expensive club decided to cut short each band’s set, which was convenient as, this being the last night of the tour, they all had to jet off to different places and were ready to leave. However, it was unsettling to watch Skinless recruit more people so profoundly dumb they’d already failed at life by seventeen, and equally disturbing to witness Deicide – what’s left of it – egging on a crowd so braindead it couldn’t tell the guitars were inaudible. On the whole, I have to say that San Antonio is probably even more mentally defective than Austin, as there were very few people there would could have read a Joseph Conrad book and understood it. This to me shows the parallel decay of metal and American society, and having seen this vapidity in action, I now know why mediocre bands are praised and bands like Immolation are slighted.

However, Immolation never let it show – their performance was impeccable and highly professional, and I got the impression that these gents were so focused on creating their music, and then reproducing it well live, that they were almost oblivious to the fluctuations of the crowd. As Dolan said in an interview,

What’s kept Immolation going all these years? We love what we do, plain and simple. It hasn’t been the easiest road to travel down and for almost 18 years… sometimes I think we certainly must be nuts, but then there is nothing else I would rather be doing. That includes every aspect of what we do, from writing, to recording, to rehearsing, to touring and traveling and meeting people all over the world. I stop and think about how fortunate we are to still be doing this and to still really enjoy it and that’s all that matters in the end.

– Ross Dolan, Immolation interview (source)

This attitude resurrected this show from being a total loss to a performance that showed the power of death metal in its original form. The cryptographic song forms and abrupt technicality of Immolation invoked the same effect that death metal as a whole did when it emerged, as people realized they not only could barely recognize it as music but, being well versed in rock, had no language for even understanding it. For this reason, their shows are devoid of the “evil” posing, sophomoric political stances, and blatant blockhead cultivation that blights most death and black metal today, and it makes it worthy to see this band if they come to your town (as long as it’s not at the Sanctuary club in San Antonio).

Bands:
Immolation
Deicide
Skinless

Promotors:
Sanctuary Club, San Antonio

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VNV Nation and Imperative Reaction in Austin, Texas

VNV Nation and Imperative Reaction
May 14, 2005
La Zona Rosa
Austin, Texas

The choice of venue for this show was particularly apt, as it avoided the twin pitfalls of Austin clubs, which are either cheesy, deliberately-seedy rocker establishments or urine-stained bars with a stage attached. La Zona Rosa is clean and utterly utilitarian, with a medium-sized bar, a good stage and a wide concrete floor for attendees. It can fit quite a crowd, and its airconditioner was working at peak performance, which is appropriate for a show where digital technology is the primary instrumental focus. This created a backdrop of non-event and let the event itself stand out.

As with many musical genres, electronic music is not clearly defined; to generalize, it was an outpouring of people trying to reinvent music after rock went stale in the late 1960s, finding themselves opposed to the mindnumbingly predictable spectacle of rock stardom, fan worship, and schmaltzy brainless songs about love affairs and other ego-drama. Interestingly, of the early electronic music acts, most of them took a more functional view of life, seeing humankind and technology as working together for some purpose, with the role of art being to define that purpose. This was a dramatic contrast to the “me, me, me” attitude of rock music, and was manifested in things like Kraftwerk’s poignant warnings about the robotic psyche of modernity, Devo’s hints that perhaps our individualism drew us away from meaning, David Bowie’s notorious interview in which he praised far-right dictatorships, and of course the repeated appeals toward a new collective order which boiled over into industrial music.

In this collision of subcultures, styles have proliferated, each with their own tendencies, but over time, critics have observed, these have veered back toward the indulgent self-drama of rock music. One anomaly has been VNV Nation, who take industrial themes and put them into a positive, techno-influenced, trance-y form of synthpop which bounds across the eardrums in regimented throbbing beats, with classically-influenced keyboard playing underlying it. It is as Romantic in a sense of morbid foreboding as industrial music, but it is practical like pop, in that it channels its doubt into an energy returned to the audience with the sense of rising above the morass. It steers a tight path between the mournful and serious tirades of industrial and the vapid and distracting arias of pop, as if deliberately created to bring the two attitudes together for a values definition in the tradition of electronic music.

While VNV Nation drew the crowd, the opening act was Imperative Reaction, who inhabit that misty world of industrial music crossed over with gothic-styled synthpop, emitting a bouncy but dark and sacrificial vision. The gravel-tinged voice of the lead singer mixed with the shoutlike delivery of the keyboard/console player, who sequenced sounds and riffed along on the keys while adding necessary density to the singing. That is, it was often sung, but as frequently pitched in the purring whisper of throaty chant that seems popular in this genre. A live drummer skimmed digital pads with energy, contrasting the dancelike motions of the vocalist and the constant bobbing of the keyboardist; the result was visually engaging, although somewhat trite to those cynical observers who clustered toward the rear of the audience.

Imperative Reaction’s music is wrapped in the guise of pop industrial, complete with haircuts and eyeliner popularized by Trent Reznor most recently, but at its heart, it is simple pop; its construction ramps up to a cycle of verse-chorus and then segways through a conclusion to reach equilibrium and conclude. This left an anticlimactic pause after each song, leaving the audience with memories mostly of lush, ceremonial choruses and surly growl-murmur verses. This band is talented, and writes memorable pop songs, but there is nothing more to their intent and thus not much else to derive from the performance. Audience reaction was favorable.

After the usual set break, the VNV Nation logo appeared on two video screens and the intro to their latest album, “Matter and Form,” played softly. A brief hush gusted through the audience, and then the band took positions behind two keyboard-laptop units, an electronic drumkit, and a microphone. Singer Ronan Harris immediately drew focus for his aerobic mastery of the stage, introducing himself while pacing the range of the stage, and then launching into the first track from the new album. While his presence was commanding, the rest of the band performed with a term that describes the entire VNV Nation set – professional. They moved in time to the music and accentuated each motion they made in performing it, which is necessary when one’s set involves activating switches at the right time, whether on laptop computers, synthesizer keyboards or drum pads.

The professionalism was evident in the band’s tight set, with no technical lapses audible and short breaks between songs, and in their interaction with the crowd. Beaming as if he were in a state of perfect mental balance and joy, Harris massaged the audience with questions and jokes, hinting at the concept behind this music: in a dying world, focus on what can be done by bringing people to a doubtless, energetic and exuberant mental state, in which any self-sacrifice that might be necessary comes without the neurotic confusion that comes with existential fear. He brought health and benevolence to the group assembled before him, clearly happy to be where he was, and also expressing interest in those who had assembled. While it was definitely cheesy, in the way any stage banter tends to be, it was also somewhat fulfilling: a connection between the philosophies, music and appreciators of VNV Nation.

Drummer Mark Jackson at what looked like six feet six inches tall was the most imposing presence on the stage, his strong-chinned British face shining over the metal array of his drum triggers, and put this presence to good use through regular, commanding motions that resembled a cross between martial arts and modern dance. On either side of him were the two keyboardists, who kept a flow of sampled sounds integrated with their keyboard patterns through sequencing software on their laptops. Harris introduced them later; one was Norwegian, the other German. During the same interlude, he brought up the topic of languages, and addressed his audience in English, German and Gaelic, while speaking indirectly about the pleasure one can take in heritage and history.

The music played is both easy and difficult to quantify: it is a fusion of techno and synthpop, with the unrelenting pounding beat of club-oriented music, but it is styled in song structure like some of the more adventurous industrial bands, and in aesthetics like radio pop. Keyboard tones are friendly, and there is little of the indulgence in abrasive or otherwise amusical samples, nor is there much attempt to manage atmosphere through aesthetics: that is done entirely through the writing of the music itself. The result presents well and is easy to hear, but nonetheless more emotionally engaging with greater range than “alienated” bands, while avoiding the saccharine addiction to lovesongs and other personal drama that marks rock music.

VNV Nation started their set with a selection of their work that is alarm-inducing in its insights of the psychological mindset of our current time, then drifted into lighter fare from older albums, interspersing it with five non-instrumental songs from the most recent album. Older material was tuned up a small bit, but not so much as to lose its anthemic familiarity with the crowd, and newer songs were played much as they are on record, although it seems the keyboardists improvised with effects and timing in parts. After a satisfyingly long show, in part enabled by the band’s insistence on pausing for only a few seconds between most tracks, VNV Nation delivered a double encore, closing with “Perpetual,” which as the last song on the newest album serves as an answer to the first song played (“Chrome”), and “Entropy,” both of which dissect the thought process of modernity in excruciating detail reminiscent of 1980s industrial rantcore.

This concluded a full show on the material which most accurately posits a mental response to our time, and grants to those who listen and hear a method of conceptualizing a response, including some of the most ontological lyrics in popular music. In this it formed a culmination of sorts, as if summarizing the entire VNV Nation concept and history into a tangible, practical course of action, even if on the spaciest of topics. As if to reinforce this idea, during two of the encore tracks Harris and Jackson performed alone, as they had done on previous tours. The lights dimmed finally, and with a wave and some friendly words, Harris and company departed looking as satisfied and glad to be alive in the company of the like-minded.

Bands:
VNV Nation
Imperative Reaction

Promotors:
La Zona Rosa (Austin, TX)
Austin, Texas

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Permafrost, Gates of Enoch, Vex and Averse Sefira in Austin, Texas

Averse Sefira, Vex, Gates of Enoch and Permafrost
April 9, 2005
Live at the Backroom
Austin, Texas

What is it that makes people become headbangers? After all, it can’t be the material reward. Every person at this show who was identifiably a metal person (for lack of better term) had given up something: jobs that longhairs can’t have, tattoos that scare off landlords, preferences for the loud that keep away friends and potential mates. It can’t be as easy as it seems, even for the high schoolers, who are different from adults mainly in that they don’t have to constantly pacify the system of money and image that drives this sad excuse for a society. They’re probably sick of hearing it from their peers.

Most academics who study metal make a big deal of the concert “ritual,” but this is generally a product of academia itself, which builds upon established ideas and finds it difficult to take new directions, and since academia started its study of rock music with the notion that concerts are a cathartic ritual, they extend it to metal as well. They’re not entirely wrong, but I think they miss most of the metal experience, which begins before the concert. After all, the fans choose which concert they wish to attend, and which bands they pick says a lot about what they’re thinking. This is why metalheads wear tshirts: your taste in bands reflects what you can comprehend, and thus is a good basic guide to the person beneath the shirt.

Before the show, these people decided to become headbangers. The vast majority of metal fans are sluggish minds moving sheeplike toward something that promises what they couldn’t otherwise have, whether it is a spotlight in a local community or a steady pot connection. The few who think tend to be selective about what they hear; it has to have, more than a certain sound, a certain spirit, and these discerning fans eschew that which falls short of their goals. Terms like “sellout” and “trendy” are used as pejoratives to dismiss those that fail. Much as metalheads pay a price for being metalheads, these selective fans pay a price for being choosy within the metal community. But to the concert they come anyway.

It would be hard to give an assessment of metal as a whole, then, but let’s focus on the interesting fans: those who look for something and give a damn. Those are the ones who willingly make sacrifices to their subculture, knowing they will never fit into the mass no matter what they do. They like the bold bands, the ones that step away from repeating the tired cliches and create a world of their own imaginations – a world that possibly looks in some ways enough like this one to be a comment on it. They like the loud, and vigorously assert their intention to deny the foolish and temporary illusions that people drift into. They affirm imagination, but as a basis for it, they also demand reality.

Forget the amateurs posing as “evil.” Look past the posturing people who lack self-confidence and compensate with beer, drugs, or obnoxiousness. In any crowd, there are a few who for reasons inarticulable, know what’s going on. These are the ones you look toward. They show us that there’s a reality to being a Hessian, a reason to stand proud and independent, to cast aside all reality except a few slices of idea expressed in music and to say, this is closest to my ideals. As televisions and politicians alike babble on incoherently, the few who think take their stand, and often do it by picking of the thousands of metal bands the smart ones to support.

This could be seen at tonight’s show, both in positive impression and its inverse. The ones who were there for the music and the spirit were focused on the music, and maybe it approached the ritual described by academes – not a cathartic one, but a ritual of bonding to a certain vision of reality, of affirming it and vowing to live by it. In the photonegative, there were the clueless ones, drifting lost in a haze of beer and awkward, socially retarded actions that are pathetic only to those who know the contrast. When bands took the stage, it was revealing to see toward which audience they played.

Permafrost

In truth, this reviewer did not make it to the venue in time for Permafrost, but can relate secondhand what occurred: this young band were happy for a chance to prove themselves, and showed their passion by working past adversity to get that difficult first big show over with. While the name is terrible, and the music has a ways to go, Permafrost made up for that to some degree with a lack of rockstar attitude and genuine caring about the music. It made the experienced fans glad at least to see that recognition of the reality of metal: adversity is your friend, as in struggling against it, you get better. Those who care about the music value getting better, while others are simply there to look like they’re important. It’s a crucial distinction.

Gates of Enoch

Although this band showed energy and technical poise, there was something missing in the complex puzzle of black metallic art that unites thought and emotion, structure and substance. While clearly they are fine instrumentalists, and can execute complex rhythms and passages with ease, Gates of Enoch linearize the concept of black metal into a rigid and numerical exercise. As a result, their songs have power as parts, but not as a whole, and the sum of the parts is less than the whole as each element leads the whole in a contradictory direction. It makes sense to define art, “objectively,” as a process of communication between artist and listener, and if that is the case, Gates of Enoch communicate disorganization and lack of purpose, without the intent to use that as an artistic statement.

For that reason, the band was able to punch out a competent set that meant nothing to those listening except a few cool riffs. Like most metal music past 1996, the experience was therefore one that was not bad, but was not memorable either, and thus left one feeling an appreciation for the skill of the band but not their vision. Instrumentalism was competent but unsubtle, and this was not demonstrated more effectively than in their choice of covers, a song from later Dissection and “I am the Black Wizards” by Emperor. The Dissection cover, being like Iron Maiden a slightly more informed type of rock music hybridized with metal, went off well and benefitted from their dispassionate regularity in playing; on the other hand, the Emperor cover was a disaster.

Where the point of the original was to have guitars detach themselves in diaphanous fronds of frothy sound from the animalistic battering of drums, and to then develop the song with subtlety, Gates of Enoch slash and bash a rigid and unyieldingly obvious version that while still beautiful misses the gently interwoven emotions of the original delivery. It sounded like a deathgrind band covering Emperor. A similar critique could be applied to their songs: the drummer rode his snare too hard at the end of each phrase, and composition tends to follow a two-step pattern of melodic decoration crashing into percussive anchor riff. Guitarists play like they’re reading tab, but with plenty of energy, which is gratifying. The vocalist clearly listens to a lot of Gorgoroth.

In reality, there are only two types of music reviews: “it’s good” or “needs work,” no matter what permutations we invent to euphemize those extremes. This reviewer is not crafty enough to disguise the truth as I see it and too experienced to lie: Gates of Enoch needs work. I do not say this to discourage them, however; depending on where they are in their development, it is possible they have far better things ahead. My advice to them is to stop studying their black metal favorites as technique, and begin studying them as effects on the listener, working backward to diagnose in that context the function of technique.

Vex

Hybridized from death metal, power metal and black metal, Vex is a band with a great name and plenty of promise, but remains disconnected from producing great art because the focus seems divided between the music and secondary elements. For their age group, these musicians are impressive, having mastered not only playing the notes but a range of techniques to add tension, emphasis and texture to each phrase. However, there’s a lack of artistic consensus, which shows not only in how they perform, but how they compose.

Live, Vex sounds most like a death metal band with black metal elements, although a diverse lineage of metal can be discerned from among their winding riffs. It shows an impressive knowledge of metal, but ties together poorly, being reliant on a duality of elements that unite in chorus and then potentially shift through a series of “unexpected” riff changes to convey to the audience — well, what? Mostly what comes across is the contribution of individuals in the band, or so it seems, as sweet riffs get piled onto one another without regard for the sound as a whole, or any concept of organization to the piece in question.

The vocalist needs to change his sense of rhythm and vocal texture, as currently he sounds like an emo or metalcore vocalist, and the effect is one to offset the already busy rhythmic background with a cadence more appropriate to an Iraq war protest than a metal concert – and for those of you who are thinking about open-mindedness, it also fails to lift or augment the music. Guitar playing is fabulous, as is bass and drums, but their integration is one of mathematical timing and little else. Their stage presence however is energetic and appealing.

Ultimately, Vex is another “needs work.” Rhythmically the band integrates its work fairly well, and thus to most listeners, these disadvantages are not apparent, but over repeated listens, they’ll become apparent. This is not an attempt to discourage, because the impression one gets is that this band is perfectly capable and if they could all agree on what each song they’re writing hopes to express, the raw tools they have at hand are overabundant for the purpose. It reeks like a collision of personalities. This may not come in the form of disagreement, but perhaps too much tolerance for cramming in admittedly excellent pieces, soup style, into what eventually emerges as a formless and indistinct mass of sound.

Averse Sefira

Taking to the stage with customary elan, Averse Sefira stepped out of the blackness and proceded to abrade their audience with slicing aural intensity delivered in a disciplined and natural style. In perhaps one of the fastest black metal sets on record, they performed the entirety of their new work, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” followed by an encore of three of their most popular songs from previous albums. Although there were two pauses in the rendering of the new album, and one lengthy break before encore, the songs themselves were ripped out in a martial style at high speed with only a few seconds separating them.

A smooth continuation of previous works, the newest songs from Averse Sefira are, like those on the previous album, “Battle’s Clarion,” a hybrid between the fast melodic work of Immortal and the relentless aggression of maniacal bands like Demoncy, resulting in a type of black metal that uses the foreboding and oppressive speed of death metal in the context of songs which interleave moods through streams of notes changing color like a singing human voice. An addition from the last album is the use of simpler riffs at times, giving the music a primitive and unsettled feel, and the circuitous redirection of song structures to replace repetition with a cycle of gained intensity. It is both highly listenable and challenging in its mystical architecture of symbols, tones, and textures.

Drummer The Carcass has upgraded his technique to use a lighter touch on the drums without dropping precision or helicopter blade cadence, extending his stamina and allowing drums to sound at a volume which integrates more cleanly with guitars. The result is a style less like an execution and more like a battle, allowing the organic ambiguity of rhythmic inflection to smoothly reinforce guitars. Bass playing has reached beyond doubling the riff and now counterpoints it with internal rhythms and explosive underscores, sometimes surging along calmly before degrading into pure noise from which it returns with a mechnical plunge to take up the motif of the riff.

For a band with one guitarist, Averse Sefira create a wall of sound that leaves no doubt as to its allegiance to Apollo and worship of Dionysos, constructed rigidly with plenty of chaos in the naturalistic, erratic rhythms of strumming and the use of Burzum-style sweeps of harmonizing notes, like an underwater arpeggio heard through the resonance of metal and water. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne pauses strategically and then not so much plays but leaps into the guitar, causing it to splinter from silence and rise in dopplerizing melodies which shudder downward like collapsing escarpments. The guitar is both creator of abstraction and death hiding in an open but twilight-shrouded landscape.

The result of this battering ensemble of morbidity and passion was not lost on the audience, most of whom appeared to be motivated specifically to see the headlining band. While there was action and violence in the pit, most eyes were on the instruments and the personae who played them. The band rounded out the show with “Ad Infinitum,” “Battle’s Clarion” and “Fallen Beneath the Earth,” at faster speeds than on the albums, and at that point, an exhausted audience was grateful for their abrupt exit and the fading of the lights.

Bands:
Permafrost
Gates of Enoch
Vex
Averse Sefira

Promotors:
Extreme Texas Metal
Morbid Thoughts
The Backroom

The organization of this show was professional; the club did an adequate job. Thanks to the staff at Extreme Texas Metal, Rigor Mortis Records, and Morbid Thoughts for their work.

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Summer Warfare: Bahimiron, Averse Sefira and Masochism in Houston, Texas

Bahimiron, Averse Sefira, and Masochism
August 28, 2004
Cardi’s
Houston, Texas

This city stretches like a dry riverbed across the flat land of South Texas, ending near the mud-brown ocean in which floats medical waste and human shit. Like most modern cities, it is both strikingly ugly and possessing some rare beautiful architecture, but the majority of it is open shopping centers and freeways. Lots of concrete to reflect sunlight and absorb toxic rain which rises in a sticky mist. Its strength is its verdant natural land, but as more people from every country on earth pour into it, this too is consumed.

Naturally, a place like this is perfect for a black metal show.

The show promoters at Extreme Texas Metal put together a type of show that is popular today, called in the vernacular the “shotgun,” since it is formed of a collection of marginally related bands fired out in sequence with the hopes of finding at least one that each member of the audience can like. Consequently, they are schizophrenic in atmosphere, with the decorum of a food court as portions of the audience assemble for each band while others sit back and comment. However, this is how one must make money in a bloated “scene,” and the Extreme Texas Metal staff did a competent and fair job of setting up the show.

Being a dilatory malcontent, our reviewer showed up late and was able to catch the last three bands, who together represented a battering ram of black and death metal.

BAHIMIRON

At this point, Bahimiron were barely taking to the stage. With an original member of Texas evil metal legends Imprecation (think of a more ritualistic, less bassy take on first-album Incantation) on vocals and lead guitar, and the two deviant minds of “Where’s My Skin?” magazine on bass and drums, this band is clearly a powerhouse of minds in the present community. Its adaptation to the current scene both affirms and negates it, making for a rocky adjustment as this band finds and refines its style.

Their style is a hybrid of the grim and necrotic fast and simple black metal of the later changes to the style, merged smoothly with the grand interiors presented by architectural melodic black metal such as Gorgoroth or Impaled Nazarene. Songs generally cycle between riff pairs at different tempos, then reach a stage of presentation in which pace often shifts dramatically, before inverting the process of reaching it and drawing out to a violent and usually abrupt conclusion.

On this night, the band professionally presented the same, with the addition of more confidence in moving and playing onstage and greater technical accuracy and synchronization. A new guitarist has joined the band to their fortune, as his rhythm guitar solidity allows a foundation on which other members can build. Percussion varied from hardcore rally beats to the metals-heavy blasts which allow them to pick up speed, no simple task since most chords are strummed at high speed regardless of tempo.

Vocalist/guitarist Grimlord, formerly of Imprecation, commanded the stage with his voice whipping from guttural to shriek to conventional singing as demanded by the material; his guitar playing is fluid and self-assured, and allows him to enhance his vocal delivery. Bassist Jenocide added a mute aggression and bulletlike low-note commentary to her impassive stage presence, while drummer Blaash was precise and energetic. Tearing through a mixture of old and new material, this longstanding Texas-Arizona front presented well and left no doubt as to their stature.

As many bands have, they suffered under the hands of sound production problems, mainly because Cardi’s was breaking in a journeyman audio engineer that night, and as a result peaking monitors cut out and distortion sometimes became a wash, disrupting the forward motion of the band. To their credit, Bahimiron held out until the problem was mostly corrected and then moved forward without losing atmosphere or becoming bitter, which was as unusual for a current band as it was appreciated by the audience.

If our reviewer had to make irritating suggestions, it would be that they worry not at all about having a “unique” personality and let their music talk. There is no need for a whisky-based endorsement in black metal, nor does this band need any cachet to invoke their (dark) spirit. The music addresses all that they have to say. If they have a weakness, it is on the knife-edge between minimalism and the hopelessly indeterminate riffing of the black hardcore bands; they will be fortunate if their more ancient and eternal influences win out. Regardless of these footnotes, this band is one of the few worth tracking in this age of black metal.

AVERSE SEFIRA

Many in the audience assembled had come to see Averse Sefira, if the sudden proliferation of metalheads at the stage and their equally conspicuous disappearance after the show was any indication, and the veteran metal band did not disappoint. Having apparently decided long ago to focus more on bringing their music to the world than on gratifying the comatose Austin metal market, Averse Sefira showed every bit of their touring experience and nailed out a highly professional set with very few breaks. This reviewer wonders why the club did not let them continue further, as there was time to spare thanks to three-count pauses between songs.

Guitarist and vocalist Sanguine A. Nocturne, astride a gleaming red B.C. Rich monster axe, seared the halls with a hissing and animalistic vocal delivery, backed up with the more on-the-beat enunciations of his cohort Wrath Satariel Diabolus, who roared into life with a black monster of a bass whose undertones drove the music forward with an urgent possession of emotion. This was framed and accentuated by the bullet-precise drumming of The Carcass, whose experience in numerous death and grind bands does not hide his familiarity with the technicality of percussion, mastering both exact timing and the deft transition of texture necessary to impel the music without drowning it in method.

Lucky enough to hear new material, the audience absorbed it in a state of contemplation and shock that would have pleased a Vedic philosopher, watching for details and essence alike. The newer songs can be described as an outpouring of this band reaching a musical and worldview apex, in which their mission has developed past requiring elaboration to the point of being demonstrated in many different forms; with their intent clear, they are confident in approaching even broader range of technique without fear of corrupting what is to be communicated.

As an example, rhythm is far from the rigidity of their first album or the delighted violence of the second, but like a groundswell changes topography to accentuate the expression particular to each part of a song. What was once abrupt is now sublime, and without venturing into jazz-metal territory, they invoke the languid as well as the militant in alternating sequence, creating an aura of insidious infiltration. Guitar technique has branched as well to use quick erratic notes in a wash of distortion as an instrument of harmony, creating a queasy uneasiness that like oil on water blooms into a rainbow when revealed in the contrast of light.

Newer songwriting continues the Averse Sefira tradition of writing epics, confronting the audience with a basic motif and then descending into its explanation, letting dissonance swirl around the audience as unexpected twists and turns converge on an occult mystery unifying the visible and the unseen. Clearly the presentation of older material has been affected, as it shows successive layers of adaptation reflecting both the changes in writing for Battle’s Clarion and the preparatory musical adaptation for the new album. It will be both exciting for the fan and an event for the community when their new work comes out.

Their playing reflected precision and professionalism throughout, with the presence that only an experienced band can have, dominating the stage and, as most cannot, using that supremacy to take a wide range of emotions and channel them into an expression of their work. Without falling into matyrdom at all, they bore out the indignities of periodic sound production problems and humidity without flinching, even honorably dedicating their set to the memory and continuing legacy of Imprecation.

MASOCHISM

It was with a great deal of professional integrity that this band took the stage, the hour having grown late and most of the fans departing after Averse Sefira slashed through their set. This would crush most bands, and is the most difficult circumstance under which to perform, but to their credit Masochism took the stage and wouldn’t let it go until they had sent their sonic disturbance into the universe.

This was fortunate for our reviewer, who remembering the performance of this secretive and rarely-sighted act from an Austin event two years prior, anticipated the set with high expectations. These were not disappointed.

Lead guitarist Juan Torres, who has supported a diversity of metal acts with his practiced and charged playing, forms the majority of the sound and direction of this band, and this night he led with alternately pummeling chords and incredibly fast lead picking which makes this music a study in contrasts. A progression leads into a song and varies through two riffs, then slams home with a conclusive dirge, only to be torn apart in the undulating rise and fall of melodic lead rhythm playing.

Similar in style thus to older Incantation and Sinister, the essential form of this band stretches to include a plurality of influences, ranging from older speed and heavy metal to modern black metal styles, something which is absorbed by a deft understanding of how riffs fit together. Transitions are often breathtaking in their boldness with enough subtlety that they are unexpected, and the procession of textures that compose verse material are both hypnotic and jarring.

Bassist/vocalist Kean Koite held down the set with remarkable free-hand (not picked) stringwork, being a master of both the techniques required to give his playing thunder and enough of bass playing as a science to insert adept fills and accents. One of the highlights of the show were his semi-poetic introductions to each song, in the style of Tom Araya many years ago, where a small vignette concluded in the topic and then name of each song; this may not be to everyone’s taste (and what is?) but it was appreciated by those of us attending as it brought a small intrigue to anticipation.

Percussion was exact and bellicose, matching the tight structure required by this style with an underplayed reliability that eschewed sophistication for effectiveness; few players have the ability to set aside getting more personal attention for the promotion of the aura of the presentation as a whole. Masochism are musically ahead of most local bands as they are in songwriting, but song titles and some stylings seem stuck in the late 1980s-early 1990s death metal movement, which suggests an update.

While Masochism are masters of fitting together surprisingly convoluted riffing with adept translation between radically different textures, their songwriting could benefit from more use of a unifying theme or concept around which to wrap this tapestry of forms. It is not a disadvantage, but this final tiny fraction of the creative process is what awaits to take this band from being overpowered for the style they have chosen, dominating it almost too much with their talent, to matching form and content and creating something of enduring breadth and significance.

As a side note, it was gratifying to see a clear national pride in Mexican origins shared between band and fans, with Mexican flag present on an amplifier; nationalism fits all ethnic groups, and pride in one’s tribe is a trait common to all strong individuals. If anything, this should no longer be downplayed, and in an age when NSBM and covert use of nationalist symbols is common in black metal, perhaps Masochism should visit aztlan.net more frequently and take advantage of that freedom and speak loudly and clearly about their cultural preference.

Impressive in performance, and in professionalism, they were an essential part of this concert presentation, and those who left early missed out. As a symptom of their single-minded determination to perform well, the band did not let it usurp their intent and ploughed right ahead. If you get a chance, witness Masochism when they come to your area; the right-hand guitar technique and interplay between bass and drums from a technical perspective, alone, makes it a worthwhile experience.

CODA

At this point the night was well underway, and even a giant cosmopolitan wasteland charged by the momentary escape of work drudgery afforded by a Saturday night was finding closure, so all departed into the flamboyant heat and uncountable incandescent advertisements of the Texas night. The show was a success because of the strength of the bands and the relative laxity of the promoters in encrusting a successful platform with too many local band-of-the-moments, but if this reviewer had one wish, it would be that next time these three bands and one local band (perhaps the reformed Crimson Massacre, who could not play because of personnel issues) could share the stage and complete the show earlier, giving each of these standouts more time to show us that among the few quality underground metal lives on.

Bands:
Averse Sefira
Bahimiron
Masochism

Promotors:
Cardis
Extreme Texas Metal

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Absu, Krieg, Ouroboros, Black Witchery, Noctuary and Infernal Oak in San Antonio, Texas

Absu, Krieg, Ouroboros, Black Witchery, Noctuary and Infernal Oak
December 1, 2001
Sam’s Burger Joint
San Antonio, Texas

With underground metal lacking an official convention the yearly un- covering of filthy, degraded and intellectually unstable metal bands has to find whatever common ground it can, and this year in San Antonio’s “Sam’s Burger Joint New Music Compound” the hordes gathered with a lineup of epic proportions: Absu, Krieg, Ouroboros, Black Witchery, Noctuary and Infernal Oak among other local bands.

Infernal Oak played earliest and while much of their set became confused after a technical glitch became known, the performance was similar to their first celebrated appearance at the Atomic Cafe in Austin (thanks to Lord Ashteroth for that mini-festival). Covering in stocking caps they marched to the stage and performed dark, rock-n-rollish metal with a rhythmic surge to it like Celtic Frost meeting P-funk. The music needs some work and so does the stage show but in their nascent state both are intriguing enough to cause curiosity about future works from this band.

Noctuary kept their set compact despite its length, jamming songs back to back in order to fit them all in. Their metal while not visionary in concept or aesthetic is reasonable heavy metal in the Iron Maiden style, when the shrieking high black metal vocals and garnishments of extremity are removed. Drummer Rob Alaniz (formerly of Rise) gave a command performance of dexterity and precision, while both guitarists were impressive for middle experience players and are clearly proficient with mainstream styles.

Black Witchery was missed because the reviewer was elsewhere.

Krieg, with a volunteer tribe of luminaries from North American black metal bands to cover instrumental duties, was a revealing performance from Lord Imperial in which both the completely unleashed and irrational power of his screams and the design by which he accents tone in composition with his howls were exhibited. A handful of Krieg songs including the majestic crowd pleaser “Cold Wind Flame” were issued before a Von cover brought out the rage in audience and performers.

Ouroboros are a Canadian trio consisting of Sebazios Diabolus from Lust and two other musicians of his choice, all of whom were surprisingly competent considering how unsteadily they seemingly played. Their music was the most distinctive of the evening, using internal fills with abrupt self-conflicted breaks to balance phrases which used absurdist stalling and twitching motions to conclude. Often of a hidden melodic nature and sometimes random power chords thrown into pointless rhythmic filler, their music encoded all of its motion in texture and stopped as abruptly as it began, although each song seemed to have some unique form of harmonic shape.

Clearly what many were waiting expectantly, eagerly and even timidly for, the original Texas black metal band, Absu, entered the venue suddenly and went quickly to the stage for setup and performance. With a stoic new guitarist and their classic lineup in full form, the black metallers covered a brief sampling of their works from 1994 to the present before retiring after a brief encore. According to Proscriptor (drums) this was the band’s first concert in four and a half years, and follows his successful appearance at last year’s SOTNC with Judas Iscariot.

Absu is one of the most professional metal bands to be witnessed live. Proscriptor’s drumming and vocal performance is nearly unbelievable and guitarists are competent. The spooky bassist handled his parts well when manic depression did not overwhelm him. They are all excellent musicians who are weathering the storm of criticism, internal struggles and the usual constraints of musicianship and monetary need in conflict.

Infernal Oak are similar to hollenthon with less focus on keyboards and samples. There is not much else to say. They are nearly universally disliked among the black metal crowd for being more rock- n-roll and heavy metal in style than black metal, and this is a fair criticism. This band should stop trying to be underground and should market themselves to the same audience that enjoys Hollenthon, Girls Under Glass, later Pitchshifter, Ministry and Godflesh.

After the Absu event, an exhausted crowd fell back on the burgers, beers and soft chairs (and flirting with Dana Duffey of Demonic Christ) and since the hour had passed eleven many including this reviewer dissipated. While this was not the most polished or visible metal festival one could imagine, it was competent and accomplished its goals by bringing together bands in the scene without standardizing their concert appearances.

Bands:
Absu
Krieg
Ouroboros
Black Witchery
Noctuary
Infernal Oak

Promotors:
Sam’s Burger Joint

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Acerbus in Austin, Texas

Acerbus
November 19, 2001
Metro Club
Austin, TX

Acerbus took to the stage tonight preceded and followed by local acts tangentially related to the demanding and asocial sounds of technical death/grind. Inspired by bands such as Suffocation and Pyaemia to instill further intricacy and complexity of communication within extreme metal, Acerbus stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the more recognized bands from United Guttural and Unique Leader labels. Their songs are mostly intricate lead finger patterning stitching brief integrations of harmony into place and driving the unceasing rhythmic variation and pummeling that is their trademark. Characteristically unaffected and professionally self-criticial about their instrumentalism, Acerbus battered their audience with seven originals, including one new song and six older ones played seemingly faster than the demo from which they are taken, culminating with a cover of “Angel of Death” by Slayer for which Doni of Vesperian Sorrow chimed in on vocals. This event was held at one of the nicer clubs to ever have a metal show in Austin, the Metro on 6th street. If you missed it, do I have to be the one to tell you that you screwed up?

Bands:
Acerbus

Promotors:
Metro Club

 

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