All in all, a fascinating lineup of artists for this tour. All three are Swedish metal acts from three different subgenres, and all three have just recently released albums that have marked stark departures from what they’ve done in the past. Tribulation’s 2009 album The Horror was a great slab of traditional Swedish death metal enhanced by thrash influences, but their follow-up The Formulas of Death incorporated new compositional complexity and moody, psychedelic influences into the mix, creating a challenging and rewarding new take on death metal. And if you’re a regular reader, you’ve already seen my takes on the new albums from In Solitude and Watain. So it was going to be at the very least an interesting night.
Tribulation opened up the show, and delivered a too-short set composed of pummeling versions of tracks from their two full-lengths, opening with the punishing “When the Sky Is Black With Devils” which set the stage for the rest of their set. Technically adept and emotionally furious, the band charged up a previously sluggish crowd with the ripping electricity of tracks like “The Vampyre,” “Beyond the Horror” and “Wanderer in the Outer Darkness.” A tremendously promising start to the night.
But nothing could have prepared me for In Solitude. Vocalist Pelle Åhman and the band entered, he placed his fox stole on the drum kit, and knelt, speaking either to it or to the guiding forces behind his performance. Then he took the mic and became a lithe, seemingly possessed shaman of a frontman, pushing the controlled performances he’d delivered on the band’s first two LPs to places far beyond their origin, and translating the wild energy of his Sister vocals to the stage. Brother and bassist Gottfrid Åhman was almost as magnetic a presence, glowering into the audience, wildly sweeping his bass, and delivering backup vocals with an almost unbridled fury. Guitarists Niklas Lindström and Henrik Palm worked together with an uncanny synergy, trading lead lines and rhythmic riffage off each other expertly, while drummer Uno Bruniusson held things together; his tight playing grounding everything else, lest it all go flying off into the stratosphere. With a setlist showcasing the highlights of their three albums, concluding with a powerful one-two shot of Sister‘s title track and “Witches’ Sabbath,” this was simply one of the best performances I’ve seen from a band this young in years (while they’ve been putting out albums for five years now, Pelle was a slight 16 when the first album was recorded and is now just barely in his twenties). If these guys aren’t the Next Big Thing, then the world doesn’t deserve ’em.
Then came Watain. I honestly did not know what to expect from the band this time around, as their new album has proven polarizing in its departure from previous forms. (For evidence, look no further than its ranking at Metal-Archives.com, where it gets a mere 56% approval rating for the sin of failing to make another version of Casus Luciferi again.) The stage was set, pigs’ heads placed on either side of the stage — the scent of death mixing with the incense that had been burning on stage all night — and an altar placed in the center. The band took the stage and…
…And this is where I fail as a reviewer. I’ve got a serious case of ADD and a tendency to hyper-focus, sometimes on the wrong things. My first major distraction was this hipster doofus in a Hatebreed tee with a hot girlfriend who both tried to push me out of my spot. I held firm, but it started me down the path of negativity. Then there was the jackoff who insisted on holding her camera (not even a phone, but a fucking camera) over her head (and right in my sight line) for the entirety of the goddamned show. Then, four songs in, the pit started. Now, I’ve been to my share of metal shows, and I know how to avoid the pit if I don’t want to be involved in it. No problem there. But this drunk asshole next to me decides that since now is the time when the pit starts, that now is the time for him to slam himself into me repeatedly, even though we’re nowhere near the pit. Just slamming into me. Nobody pushing him, nobody forcing him into me, just “hey, you look like you can take a beating, and I’m obviously drunk out of my fucking mind, so let me run into you over and over again and get a tiny little two-man pit started right here!” Then the guy decides that he needs to have a fucking conversation with me. In the middle of Watain’s set. Just a handful of feet away from where I’m fucking standing. DO NOT FUCKING SPEAK TO ME WHEN I’M FEET AWAY FROM WATAIN AND TRYING TO ENJOY THE FUCKING SHOW. YOU ARE NOT THE FUCKING CENTER OF ATTENTION. So I leave my spot because I’m tired as hell of having to endure fucking assholes, and move to the back of the room, by the sound board. At least there I can enjoy the band.
And I do for quite a while. For what it’s worth, the band (augmented on second guitar by In Solitude’s Gottfrid Åhman) is in top form, staying largely away from the more controversial portions of the new album. They opened up with the furious insanity of The Wild Hunt’s “Night Vision” and “De Profundis,” and sticking largely to their past three albums; only dipping into the past before Sworn to the Dark with Casus Luciferi’s “Devil’s Blood” and Rabid Death’s Curse’s “On Horns Impaled.” While “They Rode On” (perhaps wisely) made no appearance, they did manage to play two tracks from the “weird” second half of The Wild Hunt: “Outlaw” and the album’s title track. The band ripped viciously through the tracks with a single-minded intensity. Throughout, vocalist Erik Danielsson presided over the ritual like a diabolical high priest, exalting at his altar, painting sigils from a chalice onto the backdrop’s walls, and commanding from center stage with brutal savagery.
But then, the drunk asshole from the front came to the back and continued to try and converse with me. I was just getting back into the set and here he comes, lumbering back to me and trying to make some semi-conscious point about the pig’s heads, and how he’s not as young as he used to be, and how his shoulder goes out when he fucking goes out shooting his rifle and I DON’T GIVE A SHIT. What is it about shows that makes people think that they are the focal point of all existence? Is it because there’s something loud going on in front of them, and they feel that their security is threatened by people’s attention being shifted elsewhere, so they have to partake in big LOOK AT ME!!! efforts? More to the point, why am I constantly the fucking magnet for every goddamned insane person within 10 miles of me at any given moment? Honestly, it doesn’t matter if I’m at a movie, if I’m at a show, if I’m shopping for groceries, if I’m at the auto parts store, there’s going to be some person with boundary issues that thinks “hey, this huge, bald, antisocial tattooed freak of nature looks like just the person I want to strike up a conversation with right this second!” So he finally leaves through the fucking fire exit and I finish seeing Watain. I’m pissed off, and not as able to focus on the band as I’d like, but they’re still killing it.
And then it’s over, and because I have my own issues (as I’ve said, ADD with hyper-focus = problems letting shit go) I’m still angry about it. Not because it was a bad show. All the bands were amazing. But angry at this guy and angry at myself for not being able to roll with it and let it all slide off of me. But whatever, it was worth it. The bands were all on, it’s inspired me to listen to Tribulation a hell of a lot more than I already did, it’s firmly established In Solitude as a force to be really reckoned with in my mind, and it just confirmed that Watain continue to be one of the most important black metal acts around today (if not the most important). Because I’m a big fan of their boundary pushing, I’d have liked to have seen a set with their more epic material (“They Rode On,” “Waters of Ain,” “Casus Luciferi”), or even more of the new album (they even stayed away from “All That May Bleed” and “The Child Must Die”), but I can’t argue with what works and the set as it stood works.