Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
March 2, 2008
Houston, Texas 77003
Long ago, before heavy metal was even a glimmer in the eyes of King Crimson and Black Sabbath, when the land of south central Texas had nothing on its pan-flat surface but swamp and hogs, a developer’s eye gleamed and soon a city was being sold to northern suburbanites as a green, natural, sunny and pleasant place. To this day developers continue to create it, sprawling across the humid plane like pancake batter, and so the city pulses through a serpentine mesh of freeways which converge at various points, some forgotten and some celebrated.
At one of these convergences, to the northeast of downtown, an innumerable series of obstacles prevented our reviewer from hearing the Gates of Enoch set and the first four bars of Averse Sefira. Having just released their fourth album (you probably have the MP3s already) Averse Sefira from Austin showed fine form on the end of this tour of established acts. In all fairness, every band on the tour showed massively professional performance ability, so what distinguished one from the next was showmanship and songwriting. In these crucial areas a separation occurred but proved itself to be so messy that few want to untangle its inextricable threads.
Averse Sefira took to the stage with the power of those who carve a place for themselves by both fighting the status quo and not fighting the reality of what will be eternally rewarded; they mix traditionalist black metal with the aggressive machine motion of death metal in its peak years, relegating the latter to rhythm with the former insurgent within it as leadership of each song. This enables them to preserve the mystique of underground metal which is the fusion of seemingly random bits into a whole order, an occult process in itself during a time of linear causal logic. Their rhythmic composition comes straight from the halcyon days of early Deicide and Incantation, but their melodies, fusing Graveland and Enslaved and something as uniquely American as Thomas Wolfe recalled a graveyard angel, surge straight from the heart of black metal.
Advent Parallax, the newest from Averse Sefira, steps forward in technique and adjusts the previous sense of concept albums into a new lexicon, where the concept is revealed in serialized views of a prismatic, untouchable reality. They did not back down; they made it more technical, shaped the songs from less obvious shadow forms of structure; gave themselves license to play with elements that dour conventionalists might find threatening, yet kept them in the spirit of the most traditional of all underground black and death metal. Not surprisingly, the album sounds better live, because its synthesis is new and still supple, and putting it to a click track (or even the knowledge that it would be recorded) could dim some of that resonant light.
Mixing two songs each from their last three albums, Averse Sefira delivered a set with more technical verve than previous adventures. Where some shows had been chaotic and organic, and others sniper-precise, the fusion of the two is a grand adventure in pushing things out of control and then with the paranoia of a sentry snapping it back under control. This delightful duality shadowed not only the playful but militant spirit of their music, but also the fusion of ludic black metal and mechanistic mimetic death metal. The triumph came in not only holding together these raging daemonic tendencies but pouring them into form, using the crucible of the classics and an exploratory fire of the now.
A Shower of Idols (Advent Parallax)
Descension (Advent Parallax)
Nascent Ones (Battle’s Clarion)
Helix in Audience (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
Battle’s Clarion (Battle’s Clarion)
Plagabraha (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
After Averse Sefira, Belphegor played a super-competent set of ultra-generic black/death metal. There is no way to criticize it, like most modern travesties. No notes were missed. Rhythms were exact. The crowd loved it and bought tshirts. Yet it did not recommend itself, either. It is as one critic has said of life itself: “The problem is not in being mediocre. The problem lies in not being great, because that is all that stays the memory once the last royalty check is cashed.” Indeed — we move away from this artefact of history and the juncture of styles at this point in metal’s career, a conjunction that has mastered the aesthetics of these intrusions without knowing in any way their derivation, significance, or even that they could form a language and not a procession of forms cut from whole shadow shapes.
Immolation played the most varied set of the evening, comprising one simple song from their first album (“Those Left Behind”), several from their most recent entitled Shadows in the Light, one from the nu-metal influenced Harnessing Ruin, and a smattering from other albums, priming us for their epicenter with “Nailed to Gold” from Here in After, probably their most ambitious and engaged moments of the night. Relentlessly professional, they played both exactly and with a good deal of the microscopic re-evaluation of intention shared between individuals in a musical outfit that encloses “feeling,” giving the energies of the crowd and the band a chance for chiasmatic influence within the rhythms of what was played. Their material improves greatly with the new album. Retrospective analysis suggests this band, formed in 1986, never fully left behind the ambition to join Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer in the speed metal camp, and they have filtered through underground death metal their impulse to write surging rhythm riffs with an accelerated rock beat ever since.
The result, a trademark anticipative recursion and complementary unison offset by a shuttling opposite architectural closure, called by fans “that Immolation riff,” shows up too much in their work; some hypothesize that it began with the use of pinched harmonics to accentuate an expected rhythmic closure, which showed this band how much the dimly lit faces glow when presented with something so digestible. Since that time, Immolation have fought their impulse to write bouncy technical rock, and struggled for death metal. They come farthest on Shadows in the Light. They still could benefit from more diligent staging of their work, so that when they crash into a gratifying chorus or transition, it is rarer and so purer in context though less pure in immediate essence. Their set was as solid as any in metal, rock, jazz or blues, but with a good deal more energy. They could learn a great deal from the first Metallica album if they wish to continue this course.
Passion Kill (Shadows in the Light)
Swarm of Terror (Harnessing Ruin)
Burial Ground (Dawn of Possession)
Nailed to Gold (Here In After)
Son if Iniquity (Harnessing Ruin)
Hate’s Plague (Shadows in the Light)
Immolation (Dawn of Possession)
Lying with Demons (Shadows in the Light)
World Agony (Shadows in the Light)
Bring Them Down (Unholy Cult)
Rotting Christ showed this audience the greatest technical performance of the evening. They not only played difficult material. They played it as if it was no big deal. Their problem is that while they write beautiful choruses, and have many creative riff ideas, they like writing boring songs. A two-part stomp beat, a trudging power chord ride that shifts position upward like the “after” part of a weight-loss commercial, and in the ensuing mixture whatever beauty is created is crushed under the weight of the trudge. Beauty is what they aimed for, and what they created at rare times, mainly through an excellent knowledge of harmony and a willingness to write melodic lead rhythm picked riffs and harmonize them. One participant put it best when he said this band have become generic metal. There are black metal vocals, speed metal drums, death metal strumming, power metal choruses, and heavy metal rundown verses. It was both inspiring and the greatest disappointment one could have. Caught in the veil of humanism, which presupposes personhood to supplant nature’s judgement of skill in presenting the dynamism which drives the universe away from entropy, this band played to please an idealized, averaged, mythical crowd and as a result they had people standing in cadence during verses and becoming animated for choruses. Guys, take a risk — write something from your minds and not your hearts.
The show proved an adventure worthy of undertaking for the power of Averse Sefira and Immolation. All things considered, Averse Sefira impressed most, because their set was the least contrived with honest and goofy joy and worship of the power of their own music replacing a more serious mien. Immolation played as well and with more technicality, and also took great gleeful pleasure in their songs, but that performance proved more self-cognizant and less self-reflective, as if they were watching themselves from the audience. The musicians of Averse Sefira were less aware they were onstage and playing music, and seemed to be lost (60%) in the music they clearly enjoyed hearing and (40%) in the emotional and energetic tides of the crowd, although a scan of the audience revealed they appealed to a portion of the audience more likely to watch intently than drink, “mosh,” or chant only the choruses they knew the verses also. Even more importantly, their songs are written less from a template, and retain the chaotic inspiration that their wide-ranging lyrics bring. Yet neither Immolation nor Averse Sefira were justifiably missed, as both delivered top-notch performances upholding the distinctive DNA of underground death metal.
(Thanks to Cynical and M.S. for the setlists.)
The Meridian, Houston Texas