Behemoth, Goatwhore, 1349, Inquisition, Black Crown Initiate, and Drawn and Quartered performed at Studio Seven in Seattle on Saturday night (May 3, 2014). It was one of my most eagerly anticipated shows of the year. But I had a sinking feeling about it before the concert began.
I paid extra to get advance VIP tickets for myself and some friends (for what turned out to be a sold-out show) because they promised a meet-and-greet and early admission. An e-mail from the ticket-seller notified us that we needed to be at the venue no later than 3:45 for the meet-and-greet, and even earlier than that to pick up the tickets at will-call. This provoked groans, given that the show wasn’t scheduled to begin until 6:00. Of course, this was a metal show, and the odds were high that nothing would actually happen at 3:45, but we didn’t want to risk missing what we’d paid extra for. So we were there at 3:30. And of course nothing happened until 4:15.
In the meantime, we got soaked when the drizzling rain outside the venue became a downpour. And while shaking ourselves like wet dogs in a doorway we speculated that since this was the last stop of the tour, the promoters might have been having trouble waking up any of the musicians for the meet-and-greet. This suspicion was strengthened when we were finally ushered inside, to find obviously fatigued representatives from all the touring bands sitting along a long row of shadow-shrouded tables in the dark venue, waiting one-by-one to sign tour posters we were given at the door.
It was kind of like an assembly-line process — walk down the line, get your autograph, and move on. So, not much opportunity for conversation — but one look at those faces and you would have been hesitant to say anything anyway. With a couple of exceptions, everyone looked beat to shit — and like they had indeed just waked up.
One exception was Andy Thomas, guitarist extraordinaire and clean vocalist for Black Crown Initiate. He was the first dude in the line and wore a welcoming, enthusiastic smile (as if he were still thinking, “I can’t fucking believe I’m on this fucking tour!”). The other exceptions came at the end of the line, where Behemoth’s Orion was equally friendly and gracious, and Goatwhore’s Ben Falgoust seemed fired-up and ready to rock.
Probably stupidly, there at the end of the line where some of the Behemoth and Goatwhore guys were located, I said to them with a sympathetic smile, “There are a lot of weary faces at this table”. Falgoust, standing behind a grim-looking Sammy Duet, broke out a big grin and exclaimed, “it’s just the lighting dude!”
Somewhat worried about what we were in for, I found that the other reason for buying the VIP ticket was validated: Not long after the meet-and-greet ended, I was able to snag a stool at the front of Studio Seven’s balcony bar directly overlooking the stage. And there I remained for the next 7 hours (with two bathroom breaks while a friend protected my stool), because the place became so jammed with people that if I’d surrendered that seat, getting another good sight line to the stage would have been near impossible. (Part of the reason for wanting a good view was because I brought my camera.)
I was also a bit concerned when I saw the stage. As you can see in the photo above, Behemoth had a big covered drum riser and other gear at the back of the stage, which didn’t leave a whole lot of room in front for the other bands to do their thing. Studio Seven is not a huge place (which was one reason I was so eager to see bands of this caliber there), and the stage isn’t exactly spacious to begin with.
Well, I dragged you through this tale of misgivings, not to criticize the venue or the band members who rolled out for the meet-and-greet, but because the bands’ obvious tour-ending fatigue and the cramped stage setting made the subsequent performances all the more remarkable. When show time arrived, all the bands were on fire — tremendously energized, feeding off the electric enthusiasm of the packed crowd, and creating a truly fantastic night of metal. Here are just a few stray thoughts about each set, with pics that I wish were better:
Seattle’s Drawn and Quartered have been around for roughly 20 years, with six full-length albums to their credit, but they’ve only recently started performing live again after a four-year hiatus. This was my first exposure to their live show — and it was non-stop decimation. Not much stage banter and not much movement — other than all the flying pick hands and drummer Simon Dorfman’s inhumanly fast (and almost non-stop) blast-beats — but the sonic assault was overwhelming. I’m talking primal, ancient, blackened death metal that’s evil through and through.
Vocalist/bassist Herb Burke (who still sports an impressive thigh-length mane of hair despite being in his 40s) has a deep cavernous growl that rarely elevates into a howl, and guitarists Beau Galloway and Kelly Shane Kuciemba can really fly. I think the set might have been improved by adding more off-pace moments so the dismal melodies could better shine through, but I still really enjoyed this vicious, high-voltage start to the night.
Next came some surprising upstarts from Reading, Pennsylvania…
This relatively new band was the odd man out on this tour. In addition to the fact that they’ve produced a grand total of one four-song EP, the music isn’t close to being as vicious and venomous as everything else on the night. Hell, Metal Archives won’t even give them a listing, on the theory that they’re “not metal” (an opinion with which I strongly disagree). And did I mention that every stringed instrument has got 6 or 7 strings, which actually get used?
But I loved that four-song EP — Song of the Crippled Bull (glowingly reviewed here by TheMadIsraeli) — and their set was extremely impressive. They didn’t try to disguise the fact that their music isn’t as poisonous as that of their tour mates — the first part of the first song was soft, bouncy, and melodic, with clean vocal harmonies. All of which just enhanced the force of the impact when James Dorton broke out some truly ravenous growls and the music suddenly got as heavy as an avalanche of lead.
All of the instrumentalists are really skilled (the soloing of the aforementioned Andy Thomas was especially amazing), and the highly variable songs were as fascinating live as they are on the recording. I suspect that a lot of people in the audience didn’t know what to expect when the band started, but they got a loud, enthusiastic reception, and I heard a lot of very favorable (and surprised) exclamations around me when they finished. This tour is bound to elevate their profile dramatically — they deserve the attention.
Following Black Crown Initiate came a Seattle-based band who’ve been weathering a bit of controversy (at least from some quarters) over the past week…
Being impressed with a record made by just two people is one thing — given the availability of studio magic and multi-tracking, even one person can sound like a damned good full band. But seeing those same two people electrify a live audience is another thing, and that’s what Inquisition did.
Even without a pedal board to change the sound of his guitar, Dagon made it sound like an army. And Incubus was a human whirlwind behind the kit. I’m not going to try to describe the music. You’ve either heard Inquisition’s albums or you haven’t (and in that case you need to). All I’ll say is that to my ears the music sounded as good live as it does on record — which is very good indeed. I keep using the word “electrifying” in this review, but that’s what their set was. I hated for it to end.
A petite, pretty girl who looked barely old enough to be in the balcony bar area had wormed her way up next to me at the railing somewhere during the second set of the night and never left. I eventually deduced that Behemoth was her main reason for being there, but after Inquisition finished, she turned to me, with eyes as big as saucers, and exclaimed her first words (and her only other words were when she told me good-night after the show): “That was AMAZING! I’ve never seen just two people do anything like that before!” I could only agree.
For some reason I had a hard time getting even mediocre photos of this band — almost everything turned out to be a blur. Here are the best of the bunch:
Inquisition were followed by a big dose of Norwegian aural hellfire.
The first part of 1349’s set was a non-stop storm of blasting drums and blazing, tremolo-picked fury. There may have been melodies lurking within, but the overall effect was one of chaos and carnage — and the feeling of being viciously assaulted was enhanced by the lack of much pause between the end of one song and the beginning of the next conflagration. Frontman Ravn had his teeth bared at all times, even when not snarling the lyrics, and when Archaon wasn’t bent double over his guitar unleashing pandemonium, he was also grimacing like he’d have your jugular in his teeth if he could.
I thought the best songs of the set came in the back half, when the band slowed their relentless pace and malignant, doom-shrouded melodies finally surfaced, along with some punishing grooves.
After 1349 finished, it was time for some NOLA black magic…
This was the fourth time I’ve seen Goatwhore live, and man, they just do not ever disappoint.
Ben Falgoust is one of the best ringleaders in metal. You put an audience in front of him, and he’s going to have them eating out of his hand (and moshing the crap out of each other) in no time at all. He’s a commanding but approachable presence, even though his jagged howl can make the hair on your neck stand up. Sammy Duet’s stage banter was snarky and snarly, but like Falgouth, he seemed genuinely amazed and appreciative because of the audience response at the end of an exhausting tour — and of course the dude can light a fire under a crowd with his fantastic guitar work.
Goatwhore can sound almost like two or three different bands, depending on whether they’re at top speed or dropping into mid-pace. I loved every song of this set, but the blistering numbers were my favorite — a kind of poisonous thrash that delivers a mainline jolt of adrenaline. Falgouth announced that they’ve got a new album (Constricting Rage of the Merciless) coming on my birthday (July 8) via Metal Blade, and they performed one of the new songs (“Baring Teeth For Revolt”). It was pure, Grade-A speed metal, like a rocket up your ass. I loved it. (There’s a clip of it here from the Orlando tour stop.)
As Goatwhore moved their gear off stage, the wrappings finally came off Behemoth’s apparatus, revealing not only the drum kit but also platforms to either side lit from below, as well as other ornamentation. The riser was moved forward, making it apparent that anyone not on those illuminated platforms wasn’t going to have much more room to maneuver than the preceding bands.
Eventually, everything went dark, incense began to burn, ominous music began to play, three bands members took their positions in the darkness, and Nergal entered from the left holding flames aloft in the blackness. Of course, the crowd went berserk.
What followed was as much a visual spectacle as it was an immensely powerful gift to the ears. The light show was fantastic, and the presences of the performers were dramatic, menacing, imperious, and supremely grim. Eventually, there was vomiting of blood, a second drummer on the riser for a thundering tribal finish to one song, and… well, you’ll see.
The set list was filled with both classics and potent new material from The Satanist, including “As Above So Below”, “Slaves Shall Serve”, “Christians To the Lions”, “Ov Fire and the Void”, “Alas Lord Is Upon Me”, “Chant For Eschaton 2000” — and “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel”, “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”, and “The Satanist”. Though Nergal looked almost frail and emaciated to me (though I suppose almost anyone might, if standing next to the hulking, muscle-bound figure of Orion), his voice was a true force, his guitar playing was riveting, and when he moved about the stage, he was swift and agile.
I had seen Behemoth once before in an even smaller venue than this one, and I remember being pretty much awe-struck. But the combination of sights and sounds in this set totally carried me away — and I wasn’t the only one. The crowd response was a full-throated, full-bodied outpouring of adoration.
There were two encores. For the first, the band returned to stage with hoods… and the sounds of “O Father O Satan O Sun!” from The Satanist.
And in the second, they wore masks and the devil’s horns for an instrumental finish… and you can guess the kind of response that drew.
It was a fine way to end a very fine night.