Saturday, June 20, 2009
A bit delayed on this (and everything), but the Long Malaise hangs heavily at the moment, compounded by the fact that NYC seems to have swapped springs with Seattle.
Friday night brought a killer underground black-metal show to the unlikely Fontana's, a site chosen by the promoter for its lack of associations. Success there -- the upstairs, a nice and roomy but nondescript, kinda rocker-yuppie-vibed space, was generally empty except for the metal kids between sets downstairs, where the misanthropic chaos unfurled in dungeony comfort.
I was too late to catch Volahn's set but hey, three bands of any sort is a full meal at my age. When I arrived, he and his bandmates in Ashdautas were in the demonic throes of…lots of tuning and tweaking. The youngish crowd was antsy. Finally, vocalist Naeth ringwraiths his way onto the stage and—harwhoosh!—they commence with a brutal blackened attack. As in the photo above (not from Friday), Naeth's's hood hung several inches over his face; his throaty shrieks came beamed up from some satanic sub-basement, and with the moonbursts of spikes on each wrist, the total effect was thorough and intense and without any extraneous theatrics. The drummer had a weathered face of corpse-paint that looked like it had been applied three days ago, and it was all the more convincing for it. These fuckers walk through the valley of the shadow of death like they own the place. I was so taken that I bought both the CD they had, 2007's Where the Sun Is Silent…, and a shirt—the deciding factor there being that they'd ingeniously used bleach, rather than ink, for the design, which grimly replicates that record's cover, which is rather awesome.
Bone Awl I had heard on record (one awesomely titled offering: Meaningless Leaning Mess) before—the sort of metallic fury that any old punk or hardcore fan would appreciate, but too monochromatic to hold interest over the length of an album. I expected to like them better live and was right: They spat out a super-raw, primal thrash onslaught with black-metal vocals and zero frills whatsoever, musically or look-wise—these three guys could've been gone-nowhere skater burn-outs (they are from Cali, like the placeless Ashdautas) rather than angrily ambitious cult-favorites with a long discography, much of it released on their own label. A handful of their songs were overly plain, like on record, but they're all hardcore-short and Bone Awl just kept barging forward with mercilessly single-minded purpose. (Opinions, photo and links to more on Hank Shteamer's blog.)
Headliners Akitsa I had heard on a couple of Hospital releases, so I thought I had an idea what was coming. Not exactly. Instead of the tortured bleakness I recalled from the records, the Quebecois quartet (as with many black-metal bands, their touring lineup likely augmented the core group on record) came hard and businesslike, a classic black-metal blitz with another top-shelf throat-ripper, O.T., whose static, sneering stance between vocals brazenly projected both "I am here to inflict pain" and "I am here to receive my punishment." The two really surprising things were the almost standard rock & roll backbeat—Akitsa will never outspeed anybody and it hardly matters—and the band's uniform appearance: tightly clipped haircuts plus short-sleeved black shirts with collars. It was enough to give you pause, but that's probably the intent. That or—who doesn't like to look snappy as the end of the world approaches? (Besides most of the audience.)
Other things stood out: Very good sound in the room. Rougly nine-to-one male-to-female ratio, which honestly was less tilted than I thought it would be. Even during the whirlpit that formed during Bone Awl's set, all the young misanthropes treated the club and each other with respect (try getting a roomful of drunken fratboys to behave so well), and it was returned: a couple of kids were semidiscreetly smoking a joint during Ashdautas when security approached and…simply told them to put it out. Also, the three bands looked and sounded completely different, yet all existed within the prescripts of black metal, a super-arcane underground niche that cares a lot about authenticity but which is clearly more open-minded than it might seem from the outside. All three vocalists were world-class. And none of them uttered a single word before, between or after songs.