Last night, November 10, 2012, a couple of friends and I ventured out in a butt-freezing Seattle night to catch the live performances of Profound Lore stable-mates Mitochondrion, Loss, Worm Ouroboros, and Bell Witch at The Highline bar. This was the second stop on a West Coast tour by Loss and Worm Ouroboros that will have different bands sharing the stage with them as the tour progresses.
Before leaving home I spent an hour finally studying the user manual for my hot-shit digital camera in an attempt to improve the quality of my live-show photos. I even typed up a cheat sheet about various settings that seemed like they would be useful, because the shit was so complicated that I knew I’d never remember it. And then I left home without the cheat sheet — and I was 100% right: I couldn’t hardly remember any of it. But I took pics anyway, and the best of a sorry lot are in this post.
I met my friends at a Vietnamese restaurant before the show. I’ll call her S and him O. O is a metalhead and a vocalist who’s working on a new DIY album. He has eclectic tastes and a preference for physical formats; his latest purchases are CDs by Inquisition, Kreator, and Sargeist. S listens to some metal, but she’s not really into the head-wrecking stuff. I think Worm Ouroboros was the main draw for her last night.
I’d never had Vietnamese food before. I followed their lead, except ordering twice as much food as they did because I wanted to explore. It was damned good, and I ate most of it. With my fucked-up ankle and a bloated belly, I tried to convince O to carry me on his back for the two-block walk to The Highline, y’know, as a test of friendship. He passed the test, merely chuckling instead of telling me to go fuck myself.
This was my first show at The Highline, though it’s becoming an increasingly go-to place for quality metal (e.g., Nachtmystium are playing there tonight and Enslaved will be there in February). I liked it immediately. It’s one big room, with a bar at one end and a low stage at the other, which means it’s a 21-and-over place. They serve vegetarian food there, and the bar area is filled with tables. You can hear the music just fine sitting in that area.
There’s a floor in front of the stage, with more tables in a row on the left side, a few feet off the floor. The floor is compact, only big enough to hold maybe 75 people elbow-to-elbow. So The Highline is really more of a “bar with live music” than a “club”, an “intimate” setting where you’re never far away from the action on stage.
And for most of this night, that kind of intimacy suited the mostly hypnotic, melodic music to a tee. I was pretty fuckin’ happy to get up-close-and-personal when Mitochondrion exploded the spell at the end, too.
This proved to be a really late night of metal. Bell Witch didn’t start until roughly 9:45, and Mitochondrion was still playing when I left at 1:50 a.m. to catch the 2:15 a.m. ferry home. I haven’t been on that ferry in a while, and it still really sucks. But the late-night marathon was well worth it.
This was a homecoming of sorts for Seattle’s Bell Witch, their first hometown show after recently finishing a tour in support of their phenomenal Profound Lore debut, Longing (which I reviewed here). This is just a two-man band, but they can sure fill up a room with heavy sonic weight.
Just as he does on the album (which Bell Witch played straight through last night), bass player Dylan Desmond pulled an impressive array of tones and moods from his instrument, with both hands operating together up on the neck most of the time in a two-handed tapping style that was fun to watch. Desmond’s ankle-length dreadlocks are also the most impressive I’ve ever seen; he’s blessed (or cursed) with an open, youthful face and is probably older than he looks, but he looks like he must have stopped cutting his hair at age two.
Drummer Adrian Guerra was also a kick to watch. With arms raised high, he hit the kit with such force that it seemed he was trying to drive it through the Earth, while throwing his head far back to howl cavernously into the mic suspended above him.
In what became a pattern for all three of the first bands, there was no stage banter, and the funereally slow, doom-heavy songs flowed from one into the next with little break. Setting the mood, casting the spell, creating an atmosphere of bleak, crushing beauty — those were the objectives Bell Witch sought and achieved in their set.
Worm Ouroboros are a band whose music I haven’t explored in the past beyond catching a song here or there just to get a sense of the music. They’re a three-person group consisting of bassist/vocalist Lorraine Rath (The Gault), guitarist/vocalist Jessica Way, and Agalloch’s amazing Aesop Dekker on drums.
They continued the spell-casting that Bell Witch began, with a series of dark, dreamlike songs that fused together doom, neo-folk, and bleak ambient styles. Though there were some heavy, distorted bass lines here and there, the music was more beautiful, in a sombre, ethereal way, than it was heavy. Much of the music’s ethereal quality derives from the voices of Rath and Way, both of whom can sing in an emotionally affecting manner, without being too pretty about it.
And all three instruments were true co-equals — all quite audible in the slow, low-distortion unfolding of the songs — with Rath’s bass lines doing much more than keeping time and Dekker’s nuanced performance adding resonance to the powerful atmospherics of the melodies. By the end, I was vulnerable to post-hypnotic suggestion; fortunately, neither S nor O told me to strip down and crow like a rooster.
Because I’ve only recently started delving more deeply into the attractions of doom (and funeral doom in particular), Tennessee’s Loss is another of the bands on this night’s line-up whose music was a relatively new discovery for me. Their debut album Despond came out last year.
Stylistically, I’d put this band somewhere between Bell Witch and Worm Ouroboros, in this sense: They bring a shitload of mass to their low end, yet the music is also intensely melodic. The melodies are heavy, morose, and filled with an atmosphere of . . . loss, but they carry undeniable emotional power. Man-mountain Mike Meacham is a magnetic presence on stage, uttering some truly blood-curdling growls and howls, while lead guitarist Timothei Lewis plays with real, despairing soul.
I got a slow headbang going throughout this set, which nevertheless did not break the hypnotic effect that had been building throughout the night since Bell Witch’s first notes. S and O still did not take advantage of my mesmerized mental state.
If you hadn’t known what to expect when Mitochondrion finally took the stage, you’d still have some visual clues: Karl Godard stripped to the waist behind the drumkit, ready to get lathered up; scowling bass-player Nick Yanchuck clad in leather gauntlets; and guitarist Shawn Hache bathed in red light and radiating an aura of hateful menace. And then the music started and all hell broke loose.
Gone in a flash were the accumulated spells of the first three bands as Mitochondrion exploded in a blasting wave-front of furious tremolo chords, screaming solos, and skull-caving drum-and-bass assaults — not to mention the horrific vocal savagery inflicted in tandem by Yanchuck and Hache. Both of those front guys were also in constant motion, their lunging bodies reflecting and projecting the unbridled viciousness of the music. My camera had no chance of keeping up.
I’ve been a fan of this band’s blackened, apocalyptic brand of death metal for a long time, and I’ve also waited a long time to see them live. I had high expectations, all of which were fulfilled. I was fuckin’ pissed that I had to leave before the set ended in order to make that last, miserable ferry ride home, though I’m consoled today with the merch I brought home — a new band shirt and the new vinyl release of Parasignosis (which is very, very sweet to gaze upon and hold).
The dawn came way too early this morning, and I woke up naked and crowing like a rooster. I need to have a serious talk with S and O.