(DGR prepared this review of a show in Sacramento, California on May 11, 2015.)
I’ve often joked about my living in Sacramento as being an unfortunate situation and something of a curse. Sacramento, which could easily be described as a pretend big city and the world’s largest cow town, often within the same breath, is a city that up until the past three years or so would rarely get many touring acts rolling through town. Most of the time, those tours would hit the big cities (you know, the ones they actually care enough to include on a map of California because stuff happens there, unlike us, who get preferential treatment because we are the capitol) and then quickly jet away from the desolate wastelands of this state.
The local scene has always been vibrant but even now, with a whole bunch of venues in town and multiple concerts that likely would have NEVER rolled through before those venues came to Sacramento, I still find myself surprised. Sometimes, the stars align and we even manage to pull off something incredibly insane — like Anaal Nathrakh coming to podunk-ass Sacramento and playing in a venue the size of a large kitchen.
Anaal Nathrakh have been playing live for some time now, but the group rarely came to the States and more often than not leave a burning trail across Europe and then retreat back in to the shadows. Of course, it never helped that I was one of those idiots that got into them in between the eras of Passion and Vanitas, so I had a huge discography to work through. But they just never played out here — and I knew full well that they weren’t ever going to come to Sacramento, of all the fucking places….
EXCEPT THEY CAME TO SACRAMENTO of all the goddamned places, and on a personal high for me, as I am a shameless fan of Desideratum — it was my top album last year and it is still a constant go-to.
This brief two-week stint, leading into the group’s appearance at Maryland Deathfest (at which many of our fellow metal writers will be in attendance), saw the band touring with Oakland, California’s own Secrets Of The Sky and Phoenix, Arizona’s Incite. The locally sourced act would actually be one pretty familiar to the Starlite lounge and one that we’ve been covering for a bit, Plague Widow.
I have been trying to see Plague Widow for a long time now. I’ve slowly passed the word around about them to my fellow NCS compatriots, mostly after crossing paths with guitarist Hal a few years back and finding out what projects he had going on.
Plague Widow were the sort of heavy, cavernous death metal with a serious taste for grind that I felt had some appeal to my fellow cohorts at the site, so I’ve been following them ever since. They’ve also found themselves practically taking up residency within the Starlite lounge. They play there pretty consistently, usually with every other underground death metal and black metal band that can be lured to Sacramento. Unfortunately, since I got my current night job my concert-going ability pretty much found itself Old Yeller’d and I’ve missed just about every chance to see them live, until now.
In some aspects, I knew that Plague Widow were going to be frighteningly fast and armed with the guitar tone of nightmares, a battering of drum work, relentless bass that is almost completely fuzzed out to the point where it shakes the Earth, and an intense vocalist — and yes, Plague Widow have a hell of a live performance.
Given the amount of space they had in the venue, their vocalist immediately took to the floor and basically spent the whole set yelling in everyone’s faces — the whole band putting on a frighteningly fast show with few breaks. They covered a pretty thick swath of their written material so far, including work from their EP that we reviewed here at NCS a few years back.
Plague Widow are the sort of band I felt were a logical inclusion on an Anaal Nathrakh bill, as they’re one of the heaviest death metal bands Sacramento has kicked out in some time. Combined with their old-earth inspired artwork and relentless pace musically, they were probably the group closest to the headliners that night — though in a different sphere musically. Plague Widow have the murk and breathless dirge to their music that makes a set by them feel crushing.
One of the first things I noticed is that Secrets Of The Sky’s setup is very elaborate — one you would expect from a combo of guys who have clearly been on the road for a while and know exactly what gear they need and where, including a small lighting rig and smoke machine.
The group’s performance is hard to describe, mostly because they crowded themselves off the stage a bit, but it opened up the floor to be more wrapped up within the atmosphere that the group were trying to create. A Secrets Of The Sky performance is one that tries to be atmospheric and ritualistic, clouding the group’s vocalist — as well as myself, because I was right in the path of the machine. It’s a style of show that is perfectly suited for the band’s shrill highs and melodic vocal lines tied into slow-moving doom and post-metal.
Basically, Secrets Of The Sky are the sort of band who are metal because their music is intensely heavy when it wants to be, crushing with an overall melancholy, and perfectly made for people who love to pack themselves into small clubs to see bands where the music is merely part of an overall experience.
When their whole set came together, though, with all of the elements that the band had packed into their live show — the music, the smoke machine aimed directly in my face, the strobe and red lights, the whole nine yards — becoming a unified experience, that’s where Secrets Of The Sky really shine. As their vocalist raises his hand toward the sky and screams and sings as if on his own vision quest, you begin to see why these guys are as effective as they are.
Obviously, it’s a bit of a special moment when the whole show is packed into a small room. I’m not sure how their live show expands to a larger stage, but I can imagine that if you scale up what the band currently have for a larger stage, Secrets Of The Sky may be on to something. The music itself is slow-moving and methodical, so much so that when the band actually do pick up a sharp groove or two and actually go lightly up-tempo it’s a little strange. The transition from the crawling ritual that the band were performing before-hand to a sharp, voracious, and somewhat black metal assault is such a sudden switch, such a jarring experience, that it shakes your head loose.
Secrets Of The Sky are an intense experience, and I imagine I saw them the way it was meant to be, packed into a small room and highly personal, like we too were intimately involved in the performance.
Is it weird to say that Incite were probably the oddball group on this show? I know it probably sounds weird, but when you consider the other three bands and their functions on this show, Incite by virtue of being a groove-metal band that plays it pretty straight become the oddballs of the tour.
When you consider it, Plague Widow are a relentlessly oppressive death metal band with huge, doom-filled riffs laid over grind drumming and vocals. Secrets Of The Sky are the art-metal collision, an atmospheric powerhouse of black metal, doom, and slow-moving post-metal that is sure to appeal to the more high-minded amongst us, and Anaal Nathrakh are basically metal with every knob turned to 10 and a foot to the floor on the accelerator. Incite, on the other hand, are easily understood and digestible; we weren’t thirty seconds into a song before I could figure out where it was going to go — no curveballs, no bullshit, and goddamn do they have a fluid-as-hell drummer sitting behind that kit.
In comparison to the band before them, Incite are a slim group — playing this show as a four-piece and rumbling through a pretty solid chunk of their material. They delivered their music with nary a break as vocalist Ritchie Cavalera plowed through every song, getting as far into the crowd as the stage would allow and headbanging as much as possible alongside his guitarist to the left.
I was positioned with a pretty good sight on the band’s drummer, which is why I highlighted him in the opening paragraph, because even though he wasn’t blasting away at every song, or rolling into the various death metal drumming styles as many of the other drummers would do that night, he was impressively quick — moving between fills as if there was no resistance in the air at all. Probably a hidden highlight in this band for sure, and I actually spent a huge chunk of the set watching that happen, as this was my first chance watching Incite and I felt it okay to let their more dedicated fans move up front to scream along with every song.
When your music is designed for basically one objective — total destruction — it’s easy as a reviewer to say that Nathrakh levelled the venue that night. Given that these guys had my top release last year, I was pretty much fanboying out like certain teen girls do whenever they see their favorite pop star take the stage — though I have attempted to keep my druthers in check for you fine folks to get a show review out.
Packing the energy of a band like Anaal Nathrakh together with fans who were excited as hell to see them — especially the bevy of us who were stunned they even came out to Sacramento — basically was a recipe that meant if you were within the first ten rows of people, there was no place safe for you. Not necessarily getting punched in the head level, but it was “game on” the moment the band started joking about having us stage-dive from where they were playing.
Given that the roof was basically right above your head if you were anything taller than six foot, we had a more difficult time than you could imagine — although we were able to get a couple of people from one end of the venue to the back, which basically meant all they had to do was fall forward.
Anaal Nathrakh’s setlist was obviously going to be dominated by Desideratum tracks, and they took up a solid fourth of the overall stage show — which was perfectly okay with me because that album is my quick hit to the veins to keep me going some nights at work. The group broke out “Acheronta Movemibus” before tearing into “Unleash”, as those two songs are pretty much inseparable and are built to open shows.
Then they also broke out “Monstrum In Animo”, “Idol”, and “The Joystream” — not one after the other, as they also peppered in songs from Eschaton, Passion, and Vanitas throughout, but to this day I’m still kind of jazzing off of the fact that I saw “The Joystream” live. I love the scream-ranting of that song.
When we had our internal debates about the “most infectious” metal songs from last year, I argued that “Desideratum” was the best track on that disc, but “The Joystream” was the most infectious — I find myself constantly doing the ‘Never! Never! Never!’ from the second verse of that song constantly. It gets stuck in my head for weeks. Seeing it live and up close has pretty much burned it into my brain. (Editor’s Note: despite the hard sell, I picked “Desideratum”.]
By the time this gets out there, the Nathrakh guys will probably have taken the stage at MDF and flattened the venue out there — as they’ve probably left smoking holes where venues used to be across the whole US. I hope that there will be a ton more chances to see these guys live coming up because theirs is the sort of show where I absolutely refuse to miss them if they roll through town. The energy level in that venue was so high, and the show was a combination of fun and absolutely fucking nuts.
If you’re interested, the fine folks at Capital Chaos have captured really good live video from that night of the song “Unleash”, the second song in the band’s set, and you can view that on their site here.