It’s been a busy, expensive month for metalheads. Aside from all the many bar shows which have been popping up like some wonderful Whac-a-Mole game where everyone wins, mid-April brought Decibel Magazine’s Behemoth-headlined tour to Mr. Small's, and Mastodon, Opeth, and Ghost to Stage AE.
I’ve gotta hand it to Decibel: they know how to curate a tour — joining stylistic variety with a common thread of Satanism — though Pittsburgh’s April 12th show was not without disappointment. Thanks to visa issues, Watain missed the beginning of the tour, thus denying us, and three other cities, what was sure to be a truly frightening pageant of animal blood and evil.
Sweden’s In Solitude set the tone for the night with their 6+ minute epic “Demons,” their dark, catchy rock n’ roll — and singer Hornper’s facepaint — bringing to mind King Diamond, by way of the zombie Strokes (fashionably speaking), and a theatrical flair which sets them somewhere between Refused and My Chemical Romance. Hornper, wrapped in his trademark filthy fox stole, isn’t afraid to risk self harm for the sake of a good show, whether by banging himself in the forehead with the microphone or tumbling into the drum kit. His performance outran their music in terms of entertainment, which is really no easy task.
The Devil’s Blood, from Holland, weave their heavy, spooky, retro-psych together with three guitarists, including band spiritual leader Selin Lemouchi. Lemouchi considers himself “saved “ by Satanism, and they’ve been protested by the Pentecostal church in their country, but they don't exactly ham it up in their music. The gentlemen of the band did their sound check t-shirts and jeans. When they returned to the foggy stage, they were bare-chested and soaked in blood. I don’t remember ever actually being scared at a show, but when I looked into Lemouchi’s eyes, my heart actually leapt into my throat. Singer F(The Mouth of Satan) emerged looking like a priestess from R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis, her hair wild, her blood-soaked bodice hanging on for dear life. She sang like a possessed Ann Wilson. The band threw up horns, as serous and worshipful as any Christian band, and — in a total Young Goodman Brown moment— the crowd responded in kind, entranced.
After The Devil's Blood made me fear for my soul, Behemoth made me fear for my life, as they broke Lemouchi’s spell, and people began to lose their shit. Behemoth’s brutal death metal is practically testosterone and muscle in musical form — though the girl who occasionally darted into the harrowing pit for some interpretive dance might disagree with me. It’s their first tour since singer/guitarist Adam “Nergal” Darski beat leukemia and, though it clearly took a toll on his voice and his body, his proclamation that “It’s feels good to be alive!” inspired goosebumps.
The Stage AE show on April 15th began with a slightly less bitter disappointment: Ghost started at 7 on the dot, played a short set, and was missed by anyone who showed up late — myself, sadly, included.
Opeth, a one-time death-ish metal band, who now seem to only make prog rock, played next and for a very long time. Mikale Akerfeldt’s voice sounded great, in a forest balladeer sort of way, but he also displayed a Spinal Tap level lack of self awareness and awkward rock star showmanship. They did get to some older material towards the end — e.g., “Demon of the Fall” — but by then, all but the diehard fans (of which there are many, actually) seemed to be milling about, not playing much attention.
I kind of expected Mastodon — the only American band of the lot — to be the pièce de résistance of the entire week and, while were more entertaining than Opeth, they were less entertaining than In Solitude. It quickly became clear that they were only playing songs from their new record, The Hunter — a move I both respect and hate. They sounded satisfyingly huge, if just a little too perfect. Singer /bassist Troy Saunders, as crazed and handsome as you could ask a mainstream metal vocalist to be, howled through wild grins and grimaces. The band kept its distance, never speaking between songs. They broke their Hunter streak only once to play “Blood and Thunder,” from Leviathan, and closed with The Hunter’s woozy but forgettable last track, “The Sparrow.” Then drummer Brann Dailor thanked us as though we had just watched a school talent show, and promised the ‘Don would be returning soon. And then the lights came up and stagehands started tearing down equipment and with a collective “Damn” the audience realized he didn’t mean in a couple of minutes. No “The Czar,” no “Where Strides the Behemoth,” no “Colony of the Birchmen.” Not even “Iron Tusk.” Ah well. You know what they say about the Devil and good music. The same is apparently true of great shows.