(This is a belated concert review, but I’ve also included streams of each band’s recent recorded music for those who may be unfamiliar with them.)
On the night of September 24, 2013 (and the early morning of September 25), a group of friends and I turned out at Seattle’s Highline venue to catch Esoteric, Velnias, and Saturnalia Temple, who have just finished a U.S. tour, plus Seattle’s Anhedonist, who opened the show. The very cool tour poster up there on the right is by David D’Andrea and Ben Vierling.
Highline has become my favorite place to listen to metal in Seattle. They book cult bands, they draw an adult crowd who know their metal (it’s 21+), and they know how to make a cocktail. It’s a great place to watch a show because it’s small, and because it used to serve food (and may still again), it has tables and chairs where the more decrepit patrons can take a load off between sets. Not talking about myself of course.
The foursome on the bill this night — headlined by an influential band on their first US tour in a 20-year career — drew a big crowd. For me, it turned into an endurance contest: would I survive almost four straight hours of almost unremitting dooooooooom or would the building collapse first from the weight of the music?
I had been looking forward to hearing Anhedonist live for a long time, having missed way too many of their shows around town. Their most recent release, Netherwards, appeared on a bunch of the year-end lists we published in 2012 (including lists from many other ‘zines and sites), and it really is a triumph of multidimensional death/doom. After hearing their set at Highline, I was kicking myself for having let so much time go by.
Anhedonist started playing, and the air started getting sucked out of the room. The first song was an eviscerating assault of blackened death metal, pick hands flying in a tremolo-picked blast of distortion and malice. But it didn’t take long before they settled into what they do even better — churning out a throat-tightening, suffocating miasma of brutally heavy death/doom laced with bleak but entrancing melodies. Although there were still occasional eruptions of ramped-up viciousness, the music was mainly monolithic, corrosive, and mind-liquifying. Vocalist/guitarist V.B. sounded gargantuan, mixing abyssal roars and tortured howls, and the sludgy riffs and bridge-collapsing percussion made it feel as if someone had opened a black hole in the pit of my guts.
The great attraction of Anhedonist’s songwriting is their ability to blend together funereal doom, pummeling death metal, and bereaved melodies in such epic fashion. In a live setting, they translate the recorded music into something that’s physically palpable. An excellent start to the night.
Sweden’s Saturnalia Temple took the stage next. Their last full album was 2011’s Aion of Drakon, which guest writer Gaia (ex-TNOTB) reviewed for us here. Last month they released a two-song EP entitled Impossibilum through The Ajna Offensive, and Listenable Records will be releasing their next album in 2014.
I wasn’t familiar enough with the band’s music to know which songs were being played. They were all long, with massive, droning doom riffs so fuzzed out that mold started growing on the walls. The extended repetition of those simple riffs became the foundation for guitarist Tommie Eriksson to lash the audience with one extended solo after another. Lurching around the stage, Eriksson made liberal use of delay and wah-wah effects to churn out an acid haze of psychedelia and occult atmosphere. His wailing clean vocals (which occasionally turned gritty) added yet another Sabbathian-tinged ingredient to this throwback music.
In those extended jams, Eriksson is very good at turning his guitar into a tortured, living thing that fills your mind with its hallucinogenic howls. But you’ve also really got to be into drowning yourself in long, slow, droning repetitiveness to survive their set intact.
This Colorado cult’s 2012 album RuneEater was one I unfortunately missed when it came out, but have since dug into and really enjoyed. I also really enjoyed Velnias’ set this night. Lilting guitar notes led to glacial floes of cold heaviness, broken by flurries of fast, hard riffing and jagged, impassioned howls — the music rising and collapsing, the guitar melodies dynamic and involved. Their music was a mix of pavement-cracking doom and melodic black metal, with dark folk melodies woven through tremolo-picked barrages and a lot of thundering rhythms.
Velnias kicked their tempos and the energy level of the music into high gear more often than any of the other bands on the line-up, but they definitely weren’t out of place: they played their fair share of heavy, sinkhole dirges, and even in galloping mode the atmosphere of their music stayed dark, harsh, and raw. Really good.
Esoteric’s last album was 2011’s Paragon of Dissonance, their sixth in a string that goes back to 1994. Yet despite a career that now spans 20 years, this was Esoteric’s first-ever tour in North America. I reviewed Paragon of Dissonance two years ago (here) and really loved it, so I was excited to see the band live.
I re-read my review, and what I wrote about that record was on display in full force this night:
“Titanic distorted riffs are accompanied by screeching psychedelic noise to produce an overwhelmingly bleak panorama — the pounding of protesting life back into primordial ooze by a downpour of anvils from above. Nearly as slow-paced as funeral doom, the songs paint a picture of the inexorable eradication of light and life, and the truly harrowing vocals (a combination of gruesome abyssal roars and the kind of abraded, hair-raising shrieks more common to black metal) cement the feeling of impending extinction….
“Somehow, Esoteric have made the massive onslaughts of black cacophony into… songs, with melodies that resonate in the mind. But the melodies aren’t simply embroidery, like a clever working of gold thread on a very dark tapestry. Instead, the music resembles a single organism — two very different manifestations of life grown from a common root, like the blossoming of pale roses within a dense mass of black thorns.”
Wearing a headset microphone, vocalist/guitarist Greg Chandler sounded otherworldly, his subterranean growls reverberating as if they were emanating from the center of a cavern and his shrieks putting the hair on your neck straight up. As heavy as the music was, it was also dynamic, with experimental-sounding sections lifting the music out of the murk and sending it off into fascinating digressions. The experience was mentally engrossing as well as tremendously crushing, and the instrumental performances were tight and executed with a high level of skill. I’m so glad I got to see this band live. I hope they get back here again soon.
I did survive the night before the building collapsed. How it remained standing is still a mystery. What a fantastic show . . .