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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Until the Light Takes Us

(Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, 2008, 93 min, $16)

If we ask why instead of how an event happened, we find out what made the humans behind it do as they did. “Until the Light Takes Us” explores the why of early 1990s Norwegian black metal. Designed for people with no knowledge of that subculture, the film explains the black metal movement while making its actors emotionally accessible so we feel an urge to understand it. In a time of a sudden interest in metal documentaries, this film stands out by exploring the personalities and ideals that made people invent the music; other films look at the facts of how the music was invented but never the why. We don’t need another documentary telling us millions of people worldwide go crazy for heavy metal so it’s OK if we want to as well. We need to figure out what makes people pick this genre over every other. “Until the Light Takes Us” gets into the why of black metal and the church arsons, murder and media circus that followed. Through fragments of media footage, interviews, and footage of black metal musician Fenriz as he prepares to visit an art exhibit about black metal, this film explores the clash between fantasy and utilitarian modernity that sparked the radicalization of heavy metal. At its culmination, the documentary shows past colliding with present, and a fervent ideal of being against the modern world and believing in a mythic life full of fantasy, adventurous violence and conflict. It is both poignant and literal, like black metal a collision of alienated punk gumption and epic dreams. Like black metal, this film is a study of moods, overlapping in translucent layers, which as they are pulled away show us a simple shape of truth. Although some have bemoaned the inclusion of too much Varg or Fenriz, it became clear from other interviews that musicians are not an articulate bunch and the two who get the most screen time do so in part because they can explain themselves coherently. In the case of Varg, he’s easy to watch: he’s funny, sharp, friendly and his logic is lucid. Fenriz is moodier but his dark sense of absurdist humor commands the film. At the core of this genre, Ewell and Aites find a revolution against consumerism, equality, uniformity, utilitarianism and all other modern concepts by 35-year-old teenagers who never gave up on the idea that life should have adventure, constant discovery and a sense of meaning that unites the entire experience. Unlike most people, these individuals are fully aware of what death means, and when contrasted with the robotic plastic surroundings of the modern world, a parallax shift occurs: we go from seeing them as out of place to seeing their surroundings as out of place or perhaps, irrelevant. This film is a cipher, in that it gives us many entry points to a questioning of modern society and exploration of the ideas of black metal. Among other things, it is obsessed with the erasure of memory and culture, an inspection of the culture of convenience and the isolation it brings, and a hint that we should explore what Joseph Campbell calls “mythic imagination” and Varg calls “fantasy.” Without being socially critical, it is an exploration through the eyes of those who made black metal, and then saw it erased as it became a product with the passage of time.

Metal has been crying out for a movie like this for decades. “Until the Light Takes Us” does what even metalheads cannot do most of the time: it takes the genre seriously as an art form, and peers behind the outlandish behavior and image to try to understand what motivates people to cast aside society for evil metal. For this alone this film should be praised, but it very quietly exposes metal like a blueprint, all while showing us the emotions of the people involved. It is compelling. Clearly these filmmakers knew how to ask the right questions and patiently wait for their subjects to articulate their points of view, then snatch the moments of greatest clarity and present them with impact. Scenes of industrial desolation follow the impact of strident words, and fires of ancient churches melt into shots of the memorabilia and essential moments of a developing genre. Each fan will probably have a wishlist for changing this film, but that only shows how much it seizes the imagination. I would enjoy seeing a comparison between black metal and the European Romantic literature, theatre and music of two centuries ago. Others have commented that less Frost (of Satyricon) might accelerate the latter half, but this reviewer was not troubled by either detail. While much of the material in the movie is well-known in the form that leaked out through the media, rediscovering it through this artfully told history is a dream come true. The documentarians hide themselves and let the characters tell their own side of it. What makes it a dream to which we’d like to return is that it explores the why of this music, and in doing so shows us the fans why we found so much hope and possibility in black metal.

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Samhain – Live in 1984 at Stardust Ballroom, Hollywood

(Music Video Distributors, 2004, 48 min, $20)

This hand-filmed, single-camera narrative documents a time when underground music was still struggling to find its path, and while the quality may not be that of a slick professional recording, the delivery of the band is captured in as much detail as is needed. The sound, when it is not cutting out, is good and separation between instruments and vocals can be heard clearly. Glenn Danzig is an energetic vocalist without either the jaded reserve or overindulgent showmanship of later years, and the crowd looks shellshocked and unsure of what they’re seeing, which has the advantage of them doing fewer stupid things to mar enjoyment of the performance. The band are economical with their onstage motions, and tight in their playing, which gives these songs the same power they have coming off of a CD. An enclosed sticker provokes some nostalgia for the time, an age of xeroxed posters and grimly absurd art, of people gathering in long-forgotten clubs to bash out violent performances. For those who like what Samhain were about, this DVD is everything that could be desired from this foundational band.

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The Michael Schenker Group – Live in Tokyo 1997

(Metal Mind Productions, 2004, 236 Min, $14)

Despite the cheesy low-budget titles which preceded the actual performance, this video is quite competent. Video quality is high, color balance is good, and sound is as near to pristine as one can get through this medium. The problem is that it is filmed like a Bon Jovi live set, with too much focus on the vocalist and a total shortage of the crucial closeups of guitar playing that should accompany performances by people renowned for their instrumental ability. Is that rocket science, or what? We get plenty of wide-stage views and frontal closeup of “emotional” moments during the singing, but a fault of tight shots and creative angles. Tastefully the filmmakers avoid too much crowd interaction, which is smart since if one’s best qualification is having bought a ticket, it is probably not a sign that one has much to say/gesture of note. For this reviewer, the music on this DVD was too much of the hard rock variety, but it is clear that the performers are highly talented and it is hoped that with their next video release, there will be more focus on things of interest to musicians or people who simply admire classic guitar playing.

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Black Sabbath: An Oral History — Mike Start and Dave Marsh

Black Sabbath: An Oral History
by Mike Start and Dave Marsh
128 pages. Harper Perennial. $

A reasonable account of the early days of metal and its slow descent out of the hippie and biker positive hedonism of the day into a new and darker persona. Extensive material on Sabbath personalities and attitudes regarding the creation and presentation of their music.

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Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors — John Densmore

Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors
by John Densmore
336 pages. Delta. $13

A useful prescience about politics in dark themed bands can be derived from the lessons learned in this recounting of the rise and fall of the Doors and their enigmatic vocalist Jim Morrison. Densmore is under the grip of Catholic morality and while recognizing it is unable to vanquish it, but it colors the book less than his stunning first-person viewpoint on the action.

 

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Are You Morbid? — Tom G. Warrior

Are You Morbid?
by Tom G. Warrior
360 pages. Sanctuary Publishing. $

Although somewhat scattered in focus due to its intense immersion in the personality of the writer and the human emotions of its band, this book establishes the intent of Celtic Frost and its predecessor, Hellhammer, and explains the philosophies of unified concept and music as a presentation of the ideology and desires of an artist (stranded in a mortal body). While conversational in text and often tedious, this retelling answers many fundamental Hessian questions.

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Dark Planet: Visions of America

(Illuminati, 2005, 120 Mins, $10)

The four genres discussed in Dark Planet – straightedge, skinhead, black metal and zealot – present themselves as alternatives to the mainstream ways we envision our future. Unlike the normal Simpsons-style happy oblivion in which most consumers live, these youth culture groups believe our current path leads to ruin, and are forming breakaway societies. Luckily, the film takes a documentarian’s delicate outsider approach to outsiderness: observe, ask the logical questions, and then boogie. Here is the great strength of their approach: they are able to approach these cultures as an athropologist would, without judging or fearing for their own political futures, because they treat them all so evenhandedly. If you ask this reviewer, the zealots — separatist Christian ideologues — really run away with the show by having a clear plan unlike the other three groups. Their culture, based in distorted loud music as well as the other three, emphasizes a rising above instead of a fighting back or burning the world. Like the other groups, however, their methods do not seem particularly effective. Seeing these movements compared helps us see the point of this film: that many people agree things are going wrong, but have no idea what to do about it because the insider mainstream is never going to budge from its position of convenience-first, so people are creating alternate societies within societies. This film like all good documentaries provides a visual feast of information with an aftertaste of introspection.

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