It was a Wednesday, and record temperatures were rocking the Bay Area. What could be better then high-tailing it over to Oakland to sweat it out with a bunch of local Black Metal bands and the mighty Absu? Nowt, that’s what.
March and April have been a busy couple of months for shows, but this was the one that I was most looking forward to. Once again, I braved the trek over to Oakland, which entails a forty-five minute walk, a fifteen minute BART trip and another fifteen minute walk. Well it should have been a fifteen minute walk, but the Oakland Metro Operahouse has moved and they never told me! By the time that I reached the venue, I was sweating like a pig and ready for a cold one. Thinking that I had timed my arrival to perfection, I was crying in my beer when I found out the first band wasn’t going to start for another half an hour. Five bands. On a Wednesday. First band on just after eight o’clock. Sheeeeit!
Opening up tonight’s festivities were Oakland’s Void Omnia. I’ve seen these guys before when they supported Mgła, so I made an extra special effort to leave the house early to catch their set. They play an orthodox style of Black Metal that includes plenty of melody and extended blasting sections, over which the vocalist emits deathly growls and demonic shrieks. While he’s a pretty entertaining character, bending so far backwards to growl that I thought he was going to topple, I spent most of the time watching the drummer. You always knew when he was going to unleash a barrage, as he would just tilt his head to the side and give it some. The venue was pretty empty at this point, but those present seemed to be getting into it (which at Black Metal shows typically means standing around gaping at the stage, and then nodding approvingly at the end of each song).
Next up was Hayward’s Xenotaph. As I watched them set up on stage, a six-foot inverted cross was planted front and center. I hadn’t heard the band before, so this was a slight hint about what to expect. Ok, a considerable one! It wasn’t long before four corpsepaint-wearing gentlemen took the stage to deliver a more discordant version of some decent second wave Scandinavian Black Metal. It was rather chilling stuff, but nothing was as frightening as the guitarist. Looking like a cross between Hester and Arnie, the dude was immense. That kind of physique doesn’t come from playing video games and dining at In-N-Out. Towards the end of their set, the vocalist held up what I can only assume were three religious texts, proclaimed something incoherent (to my plugged ears) about them, and promptly tossed them into the growing crowd. The books were torn to shreds by various members of the audience leading to the first comedic episode of the evening. Some turkey decided that it would be a good idea to set fire to some pages and wander amongst the audience with the burning sheets held aloft. Luckily, I was standing a little further back watching the spectacle unfold. When the flames finally reached his digits he was forced to drop the combustibles, and some fine ladies near the front were left to put their knee-high boots to good use by quickly stomping them out. I wish they had stomped him out while they were at it.
The bar was calling my name so I snagged a huge comfy chair near the ATM to rest my backside and replenish lost fluids. Now, it’s important that I mention that the comfy chair that I speak of is located behind the stage (the venue has a strange layout). So there I was, sitting and minding my own business, when I heard the first song by the next band, Oakland’s Akatharsia. Behold the second comedic incident. I got up and moseyed around the side of the stage to the front, where I was greeted to a sight most peculiar. There on stage was… well… uh… you get the picture.
While most of the crowd seemed to be either bemused or squirming uncomfortably, I spent the next twenty minutes or so, transfixed. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening to the music as I watched the vocalist twisting and turning, and generally behaving like a crazed eel. I guess they play a kind of punky, crusty Black Metal, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. Check them out.
After consuming the appropriate levels of hydration it was obviously time to hit the bathroom, so with beer in hand, I followed my nose. Proper toilet etiquette dictates that under no circumstances do you place your beer cup on the top of the urinal. Nope. You place it by the sink and then take care of business. Welcome to the third and final giggle. As I entered the toilet, I was at a loss as to where to place my cup because surrounding the sinks were the entire ensemble of Pale Chalice (SF) slathering on their makeup war paint. After having a quick chat with the band and taking a few pictures, I was forced to break toilet rule #666. Dammit. Anyway, somebody obviously forgot to tell Pale Chalice that they weren’t the headliners as they delivered a storming set, ripping through five-sevenths of Negate the Infinite and Miraculous in short order. This is my second time seeing them (the other one being their record release party at the OLD Operahouse), and both times they were super tight with some of the best sound I’ve heard in a live setting.
Finally, it was time for headliners, and not a moment too soon I might hasten to add. You see, I’m old and I get all crotchety when it’s already past my bedtime, and every minute that passes is a minute less that I get to see of the mighty Absu. These black thrashing Texas titans need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with them, go and do your research (but start with this display of extreme agility). After a short intro track, what followed can only be described as an absolute annihilation. Opening with “Swords and Leather,” I had to wait three whole seconds for the mosh pit to engage and the first “stage jumper.” I use the term “jumper” as there was no way near a big enough crowd to support a full-on dive. Instead, after banging his head ferociously on stage for far too long, he meekly plopped back to the floor. He wasn’t put off though as throughout the night he was up and down more often than a whore’s drawers. Anyway, Absu crushed it all night long rampaging through a diverse selection of songs from pretty much all of their releases. When you’ve been in the business as long as these guys, delivering the goods just seems so natural. They displayed so much passion and presence that the crowd was just fawning all over them. While Ezuzu and Vis Crom are captivating to watch, strutting, banging and riffing like bananas, I found my eyes drawn to Proscriptor more often than not. I always knew that Proscriptor is unhuman but just seeing this beast live really rammed it home. How on earth he can play as fast and as technical as he does while singing at the same time is unbelievable. Mind = blown. I managed to catch about forty-five minutes of their set (damn late starts and five band rosters) as I had to catch the midnight train home, and when the interlude of “Prelusion to Cythraul” came on over the PA at about 11:45, I took it as a sign that I needed to duck out. I would have loved to stay longer but I left feeling satiated but wanting more. What a good evening!
Here’s the setlist for you Absu nerds:
Swords and Leather
The Sun of Tiphareth
An Equinox of Fathomless Disheartenment
The Cognate House of Courtly Witches Lies West of County Meath
In the Name of Auebothiabathabaithobeuee
Circles of the Oath
New Song (Solipsistic something or other)
Highland Tyrant Attack
Never Blow Out the Eastern Candle
Prelusion to Cythraul
Probably loads more….