Source: The bands in question / yours truly
So, I've been going to shows for nearly twenty-five years. I've been a metal fan even longer than that. I've listened to everything from the death / speed / thrash of the early 80's to hardcore punk, to stoner / doom / sludge, to post-rock / post-metal and everything between. I love grindcore, which is some of the most intense metal there is. I do like some pretty light-hearted stuff, and I also like some of the heaviest shit in the fucking universe. I have listened to a fair amount of black metal, although I can't claim to be a super-avid fan (yet). I do like the sub-genre, though - and I'm starting to like it even more lately. I've seen and heard a lot of crazy shit over the years. Prior to this show, I had even checked out some videos of Watain and read many online reviews of their shows and whatnot before last week's show before I went (which was primarily to see Black Anvil, by the way).
...and still I was not fully prepared for what I witnessed last Wednesday night.
I knew that Watain are devout worshipers of Satan. I knew that Erik in particular takes their onstage ritual, as they put it, VERY seriously. I knew that Watain make some very tight, very fast, and VERY heavy black metal. I knew about the blood, and the candles, and the incense, and the dead animals. I even knew about the smell.
...but still, I was not REALLY
prepared for what was about to go down.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here - let me rewind the tape backwards a bit.
I got to the venue too late to check out the first opening act, but they were local and I'd never heard of them (still don't know exactly who it was), so whatever. The second band in the lineup was another Cleveland local outfit called Cannibal Red. They were OK. The vocalist was kinda funny. He spoke in a really raspy whisper-trick voice between songs, like he was trying to be cool and evil-sounding, but somehow it sounded like a joke. Later on, I found out that that may have been what he had in mind the whole time. Case in point: he announced one of their songs by saying that, "we wrote this song one hundred years ago." Sure you did. Wry smile. Then before the next song, he said, "we wrote this song five hundred years ago." OK, I get it. Very funny. Then before the next song, he said, "this song is old as fuck - but we wrote it fifteen minutes ago." Laughing out loud.
Fair enough. Pretty funny. Musically, they were somewhat deathcore-y, but not so much that it was a turn-off. Overall, not a bad outfit - and the vocalist worked the crowd fairly well.
During the break before Black Anvil, they started playing Gojira's "Oroborus" over the PA - which got my blood moving almost as much as Cannibal Red had.
Then came the band I thought
I had come there to see that night - Black Anvil. Their set was really heavy and awesome, and their stage presence was fairly strong for a power trio. Here is what they played:
(confirmed by guitarist / vocalist Gary Bennett...really nice guy)
Evil of All Roots
Ten Talons Deep
With Transparent Blood
I got a chance to meet and talk to Black Anvil's guitarist / vocalist Gary Bennett after their set. He was a really nice guy. He confirmed the set list for me, and he seemed to really appreciate that I had come there specifically to see Black Anvil that night. We talked about the fact that they are from Brooklyn, and I asked him if he had ever heard of Made Out of Babies or Julie Christmas. He said he had, but that he wasn't familiar with their stuff. I mentioned that it was a totally different sound from theirs, but that I really dug it and that maybe he should check them out for something different. He seemed to appreciate that a metal fan with really broad tastes would focus on their black metal / hardcore little power trio outfit, and I told him I really dug their sound, so of course it's all good. It was a really chill conversation (and again, that's why I like smaller shows so much).
Next up was Goatwhore. I've always considered them to have a pretty heavy sound, to be fairly good at what they do, and to be pretty talented musicians. They ripped out a very decent set of blackened death metal that got my blood pumping even more. Here is what they played (most songs were announced - the rest are confirmed via lyrics I picked out and notes I made):
This Passing Into the Power of Demons
Provoking The Ritual Of Death
All the Sins
Razor Flesh Devoured
Alchemy Of The Black Sun Cult
Carving Out the Eyes of God
In The Narrow Confines Of Defilement
The Black Art of Deception
In Legions, I Am Wars Of Wrath
During Goatwhore's set, I was really starting to notice the odd mixture of smells pervading the venue. The aroma was really complex. Part of it seemed to be the smell of some really strong industrial-strength odor control solution - like Lysol on steroids - which I have smelled before in my working stiff life as a chemical engineer. I figured that part of the reason for it was that it was necessary to counteract the stench that inevitably accompanied their on-stage props. Of course, the stench was starting to overpower the counter-stench measures, though - and so the sinister atmosphere continued to build as Watain's set got closer.
After Goatwhore's set was over, the stage was torn down rather quickly and then a whole bunch of stuff started happening. A small altar was brought out and paced in front of the risers on which the drum kit rested. A drapery was hung over the altar and candles, incense and various other props were set upon it. Tall stands were set in place across the stage, which held a multitude of candles. Chains were draped from one candle stand to the next.
...and then, eventually, out came the box.
It was a regular-looking cardboard box - such as one would expect to receive a food processor in for Christmas, for example - but it was worn-looking, and had a plastic liner taped inside of it with duct tape, presumably because there was something wet inside.
Out of the box came no less than a dozen small animals which had been skinned and gutted (presumably). The animals were already placed on long skewers, which were then inserted into specially-designed receptacles on the aforementioned candle stands. I could see the preservative fluid in which the carcasses had been stored dripping from the pieces of flesh which were being carefully set in place. At this point, the stench overpowered everything else in the venue, and the presence of death hung in the air like thick fog.
This was one of those pure "no doubt about it" moments in life when you realize that the shit just got real.
The candles were lit, the smoke machines belched out fog, and the lights went from dim to "the fuck off". Then, the sound of organs and electronic feedback and evil started to ring through the air and get steadily louder. Then, four bedraggled figures came out onto the stage - three with nasty-looking axes and the fourth who took his seat behind the drum kit. The axe-men started blazing out the first track of the night, and then Erik came out onto the stage. As the music raged, he faced the altar, lit some sticks of incense from the candles which adorned the altar, waved them in the air slowly in a pattern which obviously meant something symbolic and sinster, and then waved out the flames with a quick snap of his wrists. He bowed before the altar, knelt and then rose and took the mic.
His voice sounded like a demon unleashed from hell. His eyes rolled back into his head as he screamed, and I could tell that the spectacle which was taking place before me had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was a witness to something which - at least in Erik's mind - seemed to be taking place between himself and some other dark forces that I simply didn't comprehend. He was obviously doing this for himself, and very seldom did he even acknowledge the audience - except to announce a few of the songs along with brief references to their significance to the proceedings.
...and so it continued for over an hour. The strobe lights flashed ominously. The smoke poured forth. The intense stew of smells and sights and sounds enveloped us all in what was absolutely, positively, more than just a bunch of folks standing around watching some dudes play guitar and drums and scream into a microphone. It was an experience in which we were all fully immersed, and for at least an hour, we were all transported from our daily lives to a place which is just a little closer to hell than some of us would ever dare to go on our own.
Watain took us there. And whether we believed that Satan is real, or whether he believe that he heard us that night or not, or whether the ethics of some of the things that happened that night were right or wrong, or whatever...we were taken on a significant journey nonetheless - one which I won't soon forget.
Thank you, Watain.
Sworn to the Dark
Underneath the Cenotaph