(Austin Weber witnessed the live performances of Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, and Gigan in Covington, Kentucky, on September 24, 2014, and provides this report and a big collection of photos.)
With this tour, three of the brightest and best modern American death metal bands have united to present one of the best tour lineups of the year — one with no crappy/boring support bands, and with each bringing a defined and unique identity to the table. All three share a similar convention-denying approach and an out-of-the-box nature.
So I made the hour-and-a-half, each way, trek to Covington, KY, near Cincinnati, to take in this most marvelous show. While I have often had Nik Vechery accompany me and take photos, I was unable to line that up, so I took the pictures as well. A few are scattered throughout the review, and the rest are collected at the end.
Unfortunately, the camera I borrowed from my roommate I had never used before, and due to putting Gigan up for the night on the evening preceding the show, I had no time to mess with various photo settings, exposure settings, and the like. So, while shooting the show I had fun going nuts switching up the ISO settings and varying the exposure speed to trippy effect, although I didn’t get as many pictures of Artificial Brain as I would have liked.
Still, I think I got some wild shots that express the energy and insanity of the bands who played. I missed most of the opening band, whose name I did not catch, so I focused on shooting and covering the bands who were touring. I was pleasantly surprised that the sound for the small venue in question, Backstage Cafe, was excellent and perfectly captured the spirit and vitality of all the bands present.
I was lucky to get to give this band a place to stay at my home the night before the show, as I did in May, the last time I saw them. They are very nice and cool dudes, and if anyone reading this catches a later date of this tour, give theses guys, and any of the other bands, a place to stay!
The last time I saw Gigan their live bass player was performing vocals on short notice since their fill-in vocalist had to drop off the tour due to sudden illness. I was still blown away by that performance, but naturally seeing them with a dedicated frontman this time made it an even better experience, and added to the hostile Lovecraftian frenzy that Gigan embody.
As usual, sole guitarist and composer Eric Hersemann wielded his exquisite left-handed guitar like some sort of alien weapon, his psychedelic explosions acting as an LSD substitute live, and his mind-numbing skills frenetically displayed between otherworldly riffs and mind melting tapping. Drummer Nathan Cotton once again put on a fucking clinic, putting most all death metal drummers to shame. As per usual with his work on the last Gigan record, and live, he uses no triggers, and the organic sound he achieves is sheer bliss, and mighty loud by itself. Which sort of makes me question the argument I hear from some bands about needing triggers to cut through the mix live.
It’s nigh impossible to accurately describe in words the experience of seeing Gigan perform live. There is just no good way to express how unreal and jaw-dropping they are — you really have to witness it in person.
Artificial Brain released one of my favorite and most-played albums of the year, Labyrinth Constellation, a record I still cannot get enough of. I get a strangely calming feeling when I hear a lot of Labyrinth Constellation. When it’s not rampaging, it has a strange celestial peace to it, and that feeling came across perfectly live. At times, when Artificial Brain created those almost tranquil and certainly powerful meditative moments, you could see that feeling all across the band members’ faces, falling into their roles in a trance-like state.
They played a lot of killer songs from Labyrinth Constellation and their setlist was as follows: “Frozen Planet”, “Bastard Planet”, “Absorbing Black Ignition”, the title track “Labyrinth Constellation”, and my personal favorite, the rocking old school death metal grimed up “Worm Harvester”. They also gave us a special treat by playing a new song, one that was then without a title, and it certainly blew me away.
As usual, vocalist Will Smith, who coincidentally has written some guest pieces for NCS in the past and is a super-cool guy, played with his signature mad scientist black goggles on — a killer addition. Will is a very well-read guy and was nice enough to give me a shout-out before one of their songs, which was flattering since I am a turd of a fanboy for them! Getting to discuss his work in his former group Biolich was another highlight, and one that he was happy I knew about.
While none of the bands on this bill is conventional, Gigan and Artificial Brain have enough straightforward aggressives parts to draw in a wider swath of the blastbeat-loving public. Pyrrhon, on the other hand, create death metal of a highly incalculable nature; it thrives on disorienting you and then slashing at you when you least expect it. Many bands draw from all over, but the merger between styles is usually easy to spot — that is not the case with Pyrrhon.
Their latest album, The Mother Of Virtues, has really seen them evolve into something stranger and greater as a band, stretching beyond a mere death metal framework for the majority of the record. The Mother Of Virtues is truly a stew of death metal heft, murky black metal influences, noise-rock inclinations, thunderous grooves, and snippets of grind core — calculated chaos abounds. With such a highly compressed and tightly sewn-together sound, I had a feeling that they would be the kind of band whose music would translate even better live than on record.
True to my prediction, they were absolutely immersive. They utilized Artificial Brain drummer Keith Abrami (pulling 2 sets a night!) in lieu of band drummer Alex Cohen, who also plays in Imperial Triumphant (whom I have written about here at NCS before) as well as other bands. Although Alex could not make it, his fellow Imperial Triumphant bandmate who is also in Pyrrhon, bassist Erik Malave, was present. As Erik is a bigger force within Pyrrhon’s sound than the bassists in many death metal groups, it was a treat to get to see him perform live as well. Doug Moore’s raspy incantations and burly bellows were also in fine form. Much as I thought, upon asking him, he agreed there is a good deal of noise rock infused in their new record, which I love, and it translates into a sickly wealth of twisted soundscapes in a live setting.
Pyrrhon have developed a a wholly unique approach to making you feel uncomfortable, a psychologically headier invasion of your soul that offers a different burn than straightforward aggression. Seeing Pyrrhon live put a chill in my bones and a fear in my heart of a kind that hadn’t before stricken me until seeing them.
I was able to glean from Doug that while he loves the early 90’s death metal albums, he doesn’t want to hear that made again in a modern re-tread sense. You can hear that sentiment echoed strongly in the body of work Pyrrhon have established, especially in their newest record. Pyrrhon are a band for those who want to hear what they haven’t heard before. When I mentioned my enjoyment for the atypical way in which they have blended their influences, Doug Moore said that’s because they want Pyrrhon to be “done in a way where it’s not Mr. Bungle, with ‘here is this genre part’ and then a different one side by side”. A lofty aim, and they’ve certainly achieved that kind of inseparable integration, in the process earning the title of an utterly amorphous and atmospherically twisted group. More people need to listen to The Mother Of Virtues.
As I made my inebriated trek home, my mind began to think about the greater themes at play in this show — such as the importance of happiness through passion, the things we sacrifice for what we love, and the sense of community found within the subgenres of metal we individually adore. I am a broke and in-debt person, and yet while I did not have the money for this show, nor for the gas I spent, nor the t-shirts I bought, I am okay with that, because I really do care about supporting these bands. Music brings all of us such joy, and it’s only right to give back to those who give so much to enrich our lives.
Sure, I will be even more broke next week, but financial security isn’t everything, and the experience I had will mean far more to me than being temporarily that much poorer. Nights like this remind us that while we order our lives around priorities, sometimes it’s important to upend those at times as a way to find happiness, as life is nothing without it. Which leads me to the next logical thought about what people in the bands such as those I saw tonight sacrifice at an even greater scale for their art.
The sense of community and camaraderie I felt tonight was touching and proved to me yet again that great things are happening in the world of metal. It may be a small and tight-knit niche, but for people who play these kinds of specialized styles, it means the world to know that their records are important to listeners. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not always a money-making endeavour. The people who do this create music because of what it means to their lives, no matter how contrary it may be to how we are told to live or the priorities we should follow. It’s a reminder, yet again, to live life on our own terms and to latch onto happiness, whatever it may be that brings us to that place of joy. We are all going to die, but experiences such as this make us feel truly alive.
This tour still has a lot of dates ahead before it concludes. Here’s the schedule, followed by the rest of Austin’s photos:
Sep 25 Atlanta, GA Swayze’s
Sep 26 Pensacola, FL The Handle Bar
Sep 27 Austin, TX The Lost Well
Sep 28 Fort Worth, TX Tomcats West
Sep 30 Denver, CO 3 Kings
Oct 02 Las Vegas, NV Cheyenne Saloon
Oct 03 Glendale, CA The Complex
Oct 04 San Diego, CA Til Two Club
Oct 06 San Francisco, CA Elbo Room
Oct 08 Seattle, WA El Corazon Lounge
Oct 09 Vancouver, BC Red Room
Oct 10 Spokane, WA The Hop
Oct 11 Bozeman, MT The Complex
***Dates with Pyrrhon and Artificial Brain only***
Oct 12 Fargo, ND The New Direction
Oct 13 Minneapolis, MN Memory Lanes
Oct 14 Madison, WI The Wisco
Oct 15 Chicago, IL Cobra Lounge
Oct 16 Columbus, OH Donato’s Basement
Oct 17 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie