(Our Denver-based contributor Gonzo had the good fortune of seeing live performances by Dark Tranquillity, Kataklysm, and Nailed To Obscurity about 10 days ago, and he sent us the following report along with some of his photos.)
I’m sure this is the case with pretty much everyone who’s going to read this, but I’m pretty fucking sick of talking about the pandemic, what “normal” looks like, how long it’s been since we saw X band at X venue, and everything in between.
But in the case of the tour that rolled through The O Theater in Denver last Thursday night, I’d be remiss not to frame it against the backdrop of the aforementioned frustrations. Three incredible metal bands – Dark Tranquility, Kataklysm, and Nailed to Obscurity – are touring the US right now and none of them are native to this country. I don’t know when the last time that happened, so that alone is worth celebrating.
It certainly didn’t hurt that all three bands put on shows that made it seem like they – as well as tours featuring international acts in general – were never gone.
The venue was already packed by the time we entered. We were immediately greeted by the rumbling bass lines of Nailed to Obscurity’s “Black Frost” as we made our way down to the front. In other cities I’ve lived in, the opening band would be playing to a ghost town, but the strong showing for the German post-doom crew had everyone gloriously fired up.
The band tore through a superb set that featured a few songs from their 2017 album King Delusion and their haunting new single “Liquid Mourning,” among others. Having never seen these guys play before, I was immediately impressed. Their music has a distinctly early Paradise Lost feel to it, with vocalist Raimund Ennenga channeling Nick Holmes atop some seriously infectious lead guitar work. If you have the good fortune of catching this tour, don’t be late.
When it comes to North American death metal, Kataklysm have few peers. There’s no telling what kind of black magic they had to conjure to cross the border and join this tour from their native Montreal, but whatever it was, the effort wasn’t lost on this crowd. The band took the stage and immediately started a monstrous set, ripping through “Outsider” and straight into “Underneath the Scars,” which opened up a raucous pit. “The Black Sheep” and “Taking the World by Storm” felt like watching a wrecking ball slam into a crumbling building, with lead throat-scraper Maurizio Iacono egging on the frenetic moshing the whole time.
The closing rite of destruction was, of course, “As I Slither,” and I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying it was to hear a hundred voices roar the chorus at the top of their lungs. Kataklysm have been at it since 1991, and even after a covid-forced absence from the stage for way too long, this set was a solid reminder of how much ass they’re capable of kicking.
By the time Dark Tranquility were about to take the stage, the venue was practically overflowing with anticipation and energy. The Swedes suddenly appeared on stage and before we knew it, “Phantom Days” was already kicking things off.
My experience with Dark Tranquility live has always been great, but up until this point, it had come with a bit of a conundrum. The only venue I’d ever seen them play in was one particularly dingy venue in Seattle; one that was never equipped to handle the nuance in the band’s live performance. I suppose that’s a charitable way to say “the acoustics in the place are absolute shit.”
Fortunately, The O Theater proved it was a perfect spot for the band to play. I could hear every layer of Martin Brandstrom’s brilliant keyboard work alongside the raspy howl of Mikael Stanne for every second of the thrilling set. The subtleties of “Transient,” “Icipher,” “Inside the Particle Storm,” and “The New Build” were all perfectly audible and impeccably executed.
Stanne has always had a very positive stage presence. Just watching the guy perform is always enough for me to crack a grin. This evening, though, he became more solemn when mentioning their late friend and former guitarist Fredrik Johansson, who lost his long battle with cancer last month. In dedication to him, the band dusted off “Punish My Heaven” as part of the set, which Johansson was instrumental in writing. I hadn’t heard them play it since the first time I saw them, and this emotionally charged rendition of it was an unforgettable moment.
The band brought the mosh pit to its limits with “Encircled,” causing an exasperated voice behind me to shout “FUCK, I don’t know how long I can keep this up!” to a wave of relatable laughter. Even Stanne heard it and he couldn’t wipe the grin from his face. Much to the horror (or delight?) of the exhausted dude behind me, DT wasn’t done. “Focus Shift,” “Lost to Apathy,” and closing standard “Misery’s Crown” capped off a glorious set from one of the best Gothenburg bands in the business.
In a venue with superior acoustics and sound quality compared to each time I’d previously seen them, this felt like the Dark Tranquility show I’d been waiting 20 years to see. Turns out it was worth the wait.