I need to start doing these immediately following the shows, but for now, here's the most remarkable show I've seen this year:
Enslaved/Pallbearer/Royal Thunder--Underground Arts, January 30, 2013
I was excited for this show because (as I've said a couple of times now) Enslaved is without question one of the best bands going in metal today. I picked them up around Isa, which I believe is generally considered to be the start of their recent direction into more progressive metal (after an initial black metal period and middle section of experimental stuff). I only have Maudram and Beneath the Lights from the mid section and none of the early records (I know, I know), and I'll get them at some point. But I'm not as concerned with filling in all the Enslaved gaps as I typically am when I pick up a new band because I know that the older stuff does not sound like the prog stuff, and the prog stuff is fucking incredible. I'd pick Vertebrae as the highlight of these records, but take your pick from Isa--Ruun--Vertebrae--Axioma and last year's RIITIIR--they are all amazing. Truly transcendant stuff, with the ability to completely command your attention and make you wonder why all other bands can't sound like this. I'd seen them once before, but they were opening for fucking Dimmu Borgir, who are shit and have been shit for years now, but somehow still headline. Them and Cradle of Filth, somebody explain it to me. Anyways, that night Enslaved only played 8 songs, and I did what I do every time Dimmu is headlining and bailed after the openers.
Another reason I was pysched for this one was that Royal Thunder and Pallbearer had both been getting great pub for their 2012 efforts (CVI and Sorrow & Extinction respectively), but I had yet to hear anything form either band. I knew Royal Thunder had a female vocalist (something else I've touched on here), so that might have also played into the trepidation on checking them out. But in any event, I'd get to see both of them live and make a real, informed opinion, so, you know, awesome.
The show started mad early because there were 6 fucking bands on the bill (I guess Philly's A Life Once Lost forced their way onto the show or something). I had to get there around 8 to be sure I caught Royal Thunder. Lucky I did too, because they were setting up just as I walked in. Underground Arts is pretty cool--you literally go Underground (kind of like the Church) after you walk in the door, and it just feels like a giant basement with surprisingly good acoustics and good, rotating beers on draft. There was a second stage that night to accomodate ALOL and the other openers. The area had a very small pit because the stands were weirdly close to the "stage" that had been set-up. But the amount of space the venue has in general was stunning to me, and I think in the future this should be taken advantage of--something like the Summer Slaughter tour should go here instead of TLA, and other festival-type all day events could be had there. Get it done!
I had heard that Royal Thunder (though formed with 3 members) had recorded this most recent record with a second guitar player, so I was surprised to see them setting up in traditional power trio formation. It didn't matter the minute Mlny Parsonz opened her mouth--any hesitancy I had in embracing the band vanished immediately. Maybe not vanished--how about "was fucking vaporized?" What I thought to be hyperbole in what I had read about her turned out to be understatement. Holy shit. They only played 4 songs, but it was plenty for me to know I had to pick that shit up immediately. The highlights were songs that I would later learn are called "Parsonz' Curse" and "Shake and Shift." Parsonz catches your attention immediately, but it doesn't take long to realize that the guitar player is great at both riff-writing and solos, and the band has tremendous, unpredictable chemistry. The songs weave into unexpected areas but always feel like the same composition, and there is never anything but 100% honesty, urgency and power coming from Ms. Parsonz. If you haven't heard them yet, do it now. At some point during "Curse," she went down to her knees and raised her bass up as if overcome by the force of the song. I think the feeling was mutual with much of the crowd. I'll say it again. Holy shit.
Pallbearer had a tough act to follow, in particular because their brand of doom is not one that is going to immediately grab you. It takes awhile for a song to build and find its initial groove (if it ever does, as Pallbearer has a Yob-like tendency to meander at times that some fans of doom love, but isn't my favorite). So after the smack in the face of Royal Thunder, it took me a little while to warm to Pallbearer. But it wasn't too long, maybe halfway through the set, when they won me over. One of my favorite things about metal is that the way I experience more amibitious records is something like a mental journey. The best bands can lift you out of whatever silly, bullshit, advertising-tv-advertising-internet-led thoughts you might be having minute to minute, and take you to a place in your mind where actual thinking and experiencing can happen. Often I won't even know that it's happened until the album/song ends. All of a sudden I return to my bullshit thoughts, and realize "hey, wait a minute, this is bullshit, what happened to the fucking tunes?" Pallbearer was a band that on the night lifted me out and put me into the right headspace, and have done so subsequently on record as well. So to the 0 people who can identify with what I just wrote, I recommend the band to you. Oh, and they are heavy as shit, in case that makes more sense.
Finally, fucking Enslaved. And, somehow of course, it was the set I lenjoyed least. Not because they didn't play well (though the first song was mired with technical glitches), or even because they only played one song a piece basically from every album (To the Coast would have killed you? Fuck), but because of that thing that happens at some shows where you can never find a good spot to enjoy the show and you are left fucking dealing with fucking people when you are fucking trying to have a fucking transcendental fucking experience because this is FUCKING ENSLAVED. Is that enough fucks to get my point across? Let's go into specifics:
1. First song--I am way outside the pit, and some asshole decides the half-viewing-area-long pit isn't big enough, so he slams himself into the back of it, knocking three rows of people backwards, the third of which features a person who knocks my beer all over me. Sweet.
2. Second song is The Watcher. I was privy to the one-song-per-album thing going in, and this is my least favorite song on Vertebrae, and of course its the one they play. Shitballs.
3. Seventh song--I get to a decent spot, pretty close, pit ain't fucking me up, and I settle in for awhile. This is what I was looking for. Until, during A SONG BREAK, some rando taps me on the shoulder and says, "Can you please move over? I'm trying to see this." Now I will admit that I act retardedly at shows, but that's kind of the point, no? And this wasn't during a song. And I wasn't bothering this girl at all. I didn't whip my hair in her face or spill a beer on her or anything. No, it's during the FUCKING SONG BREAK, where I am just standing there, that now I am annoying her because she can't see the band tune their instruments and drink water. I am incensed at this point, so I bail to the bar. I need a drink anyways. Then...
4. Eighth song--I order a beer and lean back out of the bar area to watch the band start the next song. I see the bartender place my beer down, but I don't reach for it immediately because, well, fucking Enslaved is playing, and this is a metal show where people are actually cool, so no one is just gonna swipe this, right? Wrong. But even worse. I see a dude fucking swoop in and SWITCH HIS HALF-DRUNK BEER WITH MINE, and then fucking slide out the other side of the bar, never to be seen again. Clearly, he had practiced this particular move, and was just waiting for a time to strike. I was too stunned to fucking grab the dude and yell at him. I mean, what the fuck?
These are all bullshit reasons not to enjoy a show, I know, but I was drunk and probably had too high expectations, so these minor issues had a heightend likelihood to piss me off. Thankfully, I got back to a decent vantage point and Enslaved closed the show by playing a killer cover of Immigrant Song (with the famous solo from Comfortably Numb as the outro) and the title track from Isa.
I didn't achieve transcendance, as Enslaved encourage so convincingly on their recent output, and I had to learn that two more assholes exist in the world. But I did discover Royal Thunder, and got to see Enslaved play a full headlining show, so all in all not a bad night. And I learned to always keep your beer in hand and never partially block someone's view during a song break--invaluable lessons both.