By Cesar Villatoro
February 7th 2017, The Observatory, Santa Ana CA: This night was guaranteed to be historic and unforgettable before the venue even opened its doors, with the prior expectation that Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem were going to be playing De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety, arguably one of the greatest and most influential black metal albums of all time. Every person who loves music—regardless of background, ethnicity, faith, age, scene, etc.— has that band that started it all for them. They made them want to pick up a musical instrument so that they could play along to the songs and eventually compose original material. They served as a gateway band in which they opened their music palettes, exposing them to a much wider variety of music than before. They got them through a traumatic and/or difficult part of their life and without the solace gained from the band’s music, they don’t know if they would have pulled through. Whatever the reason may be, every person has (or at least should have) that band/artist, and Mayhem is one of those bands for many, including myself, and finally getting to see them live after hearing them for the first time ten years ago when I was 14 years old is a goal I can finally say I have accomplished.
As I entered the venue and took my spot in the pit area of the main concert room, there was already quite a few people in attendance but scattered. Most were in line for Mayhem’s merchandise booth or at the two bars getting their drink on, but as 8 o’clock drew near, the room began to swell with fans pouring to catch the first act. As the lights turned off, save for one row of blue lights, a thick cloud of fog flooded the stage as New York based black metal Black Anvil arrived on it. Clad in black and corpse paint, a theme that was to be present throughout the night, Black Anvil began their set with the dark anthemic song ‘On Forgotten Ways’, the first track off of their latest album ‘As Was’, which was released at the beginning of this year. One of the aspects of this band that stood out to me was that their music and performance was very emotional and honest; the triple vocals from guitarists Travis Bacon and Jeremy Sosville and bassist/vocalist Paul Delaney, the pounding drum beats of Raeph Glicken, and the band’s overall synergy with each other. Although there wasn’t much moshing to their set (even though their music is definitely mosh-worthy), the audience was head-banging throughout all their songs. The aspect about their music that I enjoyed the most was how well-written it came across as, never being boring or playing a riff over and over again for the sake of being black metal. It was black metal at its core but it also fused elements of melodic death metal, heavy metal, and the more atmospheric side of black metal, all the while still retaining that gritty, heavy black metal sound. Closing their set off with the epic-sounding ‘Ultra’, also the final song off of ‘As Was’, Black Anvil proved themselves to be the perfect opening band for tonight’s black metal showcase.
By this time, the venue was already at near full capacity, so when Inquisition took the stage, the pit area became a sea of bodies, violently thrashing back and forth like the waves of a storm. Now, I had heard of Inquisition before but only by name, so it surprised me to hear such a massive, aggressive, chaotic sound come from a two-piece band. Guitarist/vocalist Dagon and drummer Incubus were relentless the entire night, creating an atmosphere of darkness and chaos that reminded me of tech death/avant-garde metal band Ulcerate at times. The craziness of the crowd was evident during the set. Unlike Black Anvil, who is a somewhat recent band, Inquisition has been around technically since 1988, starting their days in Cali, Columbia before Dagon relocated to Seattle, Washington in 1996, where he found drummer Incubus and formed the classic line-up of Inquisition we have today. After playing with each other for 20 years now, they know each and every part of all their songs individually as well as each other’s playing, and that synergy translated so well live. One would think being a two-piece means less worries about having someone screw up, but it also means that both members have to be impeccable throughout their performance. They proved that in glorious fashion, with Incubus’ relentless drumming locking down the pace and feel of each song. Seeing Inquisition right after Black Anvil was awesome to witness because it felt like so many styles and sound of black metal, yet it was just from two bands. A true testament that Mayhem had chosen very wisely when selecting their support acts.
(The stage was too dark to collect any photographic evidence of Inquisition’s set)
The moment that I and all in attendance had been waiting for had finally arrived, as it was time for Mayhem to take to the stage and perform their legendary first full-length album in its entirety. With lights turned off, an alter with two candles lit on both ends lighting the stage, Mayhem entered and dove straight into ‘Funeral Fog’, inviting a wave of people to rush and squeeze into the pit area to join the rampant moshing. Founding member Necrobutcher and guitarists Teloch and Ghul wore hooded robes when they entered, hiding their identities, giving off this ominous, otherworldly presence as they played their signature black metal classics. The highlight of the night for me was finally getting to hear ‘Freezing Moon’, the quintessential black metal anthem, in person and in all its unholy glory.
Frontman Attila Csihar put on amazing performance as frontman, laying down some of most depraved and unique screams I’ve heard in awhile. It admittedly took me a while to accept Attila’s vocal style (wasn’t the greatest fan of the work he did on DMDS) but after hearing him on ‘Ordo ad Chao’ and the band’s latest album ‘Esoteric Warfare’, he completely won me over. Legendary extreme metal drummer Hellhammer breathed new life into each song, increasing the tempo and adding more chaos and complexity to the original drum parts that he recorded. One particular song where they pushed it to its limit was the already fast ‘Buried by Time and Dust’. Hellhammer must have been nearing the high 250-280 BPM in that song with his blast beats and he didn’t make a single mistake, blazing through the three-and-a-half minute song in what felt like half the time. Finally reaching their final song of the album, the title track ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, Mayhem put their all into it and as ominously as they appeared on stage, they exited off in similar fashion, regressing into the void of the pitch-black stage. Fans wanted more but sadly that was all they had to offer, though I’m not complaining in the slightest.
Witnessing this trio of amazing, standout black metal bands was truly a memorable experience. Black Anvil, Inquisition, and Mayhem each showcased their own style of black metal and blew everyone in attendance away, with continuous head-banging, relentless moshing, and unified chanting bringing this show to life. All in all, the fans got what they came to see and then some, and I for one will be walking away thankful I got to witness such an epic display of musicianship.
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Remaining Tour Dates:
02/10/2017 – San Antonio, TX @ Alamo Music Hall
02/11/2017 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
02/13/2017 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
02/14/2017 – Wilmington, NC @ Thorne Theater
02/15/2017 – Washington, DC @ The Howard Theater
02/16/2017 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of the Living Arts
02/17/2017 – Poughkeepsie, NY @ The Chance Theater
02/18/2017 – Boston, MA @ Royale
02/19/2017 – New York, NY @ Gramercy Theater