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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.