(In this post BadWolf reviews the live performances by Mayhem, Watain, and Revenge at El Corazon in Seattle on January 27, 2015, with photos by Madison Lieren.)
For a minute there I was so inundated with European black metal, its tropes, and its lyrical hullabaloo, that I forgot about the genre’s troubled, violent, church-burning past, and in a sense that’s where I wanted to be from the get-go, since unlike some people I actually found the genre’s flirtations with homicide and terrorism to be a turn-off before I actually listened to the music.
Leave it to Norway’s Mayhem, original purveyors of quote-unquote dangerous black metal to drag me back into my discomfort zone by headlining the Black Metal Warfare tour, a nationwide trek wherein the second generation provocateurs, alongside Watain and Revenge, inspired mosh pits, threw blood on the crowd, and peddled tee shirts lionizing “Panic, Terror, Arson, Metal, Chaos.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” I thought to myself, looking at the merch rack hobbled in the corner of Seattle’s El Corazon, “I fucking love blowing stuff up. Silly me, where *did* my balls go?” A prescient thought, as the night wound up being a testament to testicular fortitude.
I arrived at El Corazon midway through the opening set by Canadian war metal favorites Revenge, who rarely tour but still maintain a somewhat serious fanbase. Personally, I don’t like Revenge or war metal in general, as the genre typically strikes me as crust punk with grittier distortion and shittier politics, neither of which is an improvement.
That said, Revenge earned my begrudging respect that night if only for the stellar performance by drummer J. Read, who pummels his kit with the kind of aggravation that suggests a willingness to really break his equipment if the occasion called for it. His playing carries Revenge’s songs, and his forays into brief drum solo territory remind me of a crustier Neal Peart. My mind was doubly blown when, courtesy of a video by Theories drummer Joe Axler, I realized the man blasts with one bass pedal.
Still, something about Revenge seemed out of place. Setting aside my personal distaste for the music they make, I can see the group’s appeal. Performing in bright house lights, wearing cut-off band tees as a three-piece, wherein every member pulls the maximum amount of wieght, Revenge is not a performance band in the same way as Watain and Mayhem. They ought to be performing in an abandoned concrete bunker, but even that would seem too on-the-nose. Revenge are not liars, or the kind of band to mis-over-or-under represent themselves in any way.
By contrast, their European tourmates are raconteurs. Case in point: Watain, who are known probably as much for their bloody live show as they are for their (often excellent, though less so recently) music. Revenge set up and tore down by themselves in a few minutes, while a coterie of tour workers assembled Watain’s stage props and altar, complete with rib cage shrine at stage center.
While some people question the authenticity of Watain’s satanic beliefs — and understandably so, since that belief system permeates every single Watain song, and informs singer Eric Danielsson’s cryptic and verbose stage banter — I do not. Watain want to be big, you can tell. Their hunger for acceptance and wider listenership on their own terms snarls under the surface of every interview, every show, every increasingly-poppy album release.
They’re the most ambitious black metal band in that respect since Dimmu Borgir, but the difference to me (and why I continue to support the band) is that they buy into their own schtick. If they’re con-men selling us all a line, then they’re conning themselves as well, or at least method acting. The important thing in the live arena, however, is that they do not allow their spirituality or lack thereof to get in the way of putting on a good show. And so it was, Watain stole the evening.
Perhaps tapping into the Seattle crowd’s Super Bowl-inflected bloodlust, Watain came out in (number of the) beast mode, before blitzing through a set composed of mainly thrashier cuts from their newest two records. No “Stellarvore,” sadly. The last time I saw Watain at Detroit’s (sadly closing) Magic Stick, their performance seemed deflated somewhat, with fewer theatrics and no mosh pit. On the Black Metal Warfare tour, however, I was treated to a full dose of both: The pit managed to slingshot me to front-and-center, where I planted myself, as it happens, directly in the path of Watain’s spraying pig blood during the beginning of “Outlaw.”
Eschewing any chance of bladder relief or further libations, I held my ground for the chance to see Mayhem at point-blank range, a choice which proved a double-edged sword, offering both a great view and, unfortunately, a front-row seat to some crappy pit behavior.
On the one hand, I found myself face-to-face with Necrobutcher, the sole original member of the band, who came across as enthusiastic despite looking like he’s been rode hard and put away wet nightly for the last perhaps four centuries or so. Equally unique was Hellhammer’s massive swiss army knife of a drum kit, seemingly pieced together from single units of every manner of tom and cymbal — he uses them all, and strikes like a martial artist, even though he’s not doing anything to eliminate the oversized rock drum kit cliche.
Newest member and lead guitarist Teloch (also the leader of spectacular black metal outfit Nidingr) stood to my right with one boot planted firmly on a monitor, looking like a comparatively normal human being apart from his too-precise goatee and hulking biceps.
Most impressive was vocalist Attila Csihar, who took the stage dressed as a supernatural dictator. His performance struck me as the best and most dynamic of the evening, with his vocals ringing true in the dead center of his band’s psychedelic, sludgy mass of sound. Mayhem’s music is chaotic and hard-to-follow by nature, and their live mix swirls every instrument and their respective distortion into a thick fog of sound. Seeing them life is less about the individual riffs and songs than it is about the sheer crushing experience of their wall of sound coupled with Attila’s theatrics.
Unfortunately their performance was difficult to appreciate, in part because of a cadre of overly-drunk fans who continued to attempt to elbow and pry their ways past the front row of people. The behavior persisted even after multiple interventions by El Corazon’s security. team. Ultimately I stuck it out through the first half of “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” before deciding that I’d rather relieve my bladder and grab a drink.
Ultimately I’m glad that I’ve seen Mayhem, but have no real desire to see them a second time. Watain, on the other hand, retain me as a loyal fan.
Additional photos by Garrett Padilla can be seen here: