Monday, August 31, 2009

Six Organs of Forbidden Woods

Wherein I round up reviews of recent shows. It’s been a busy summer for gigs, almost as relentless as the heat that pounded our pale Pacific Northwest hides for a couple weeks in July and August.

Six Organs of Admittance, with The Intelligence and Master Musicians of Bukkake, August 20 at The Biltmore
This was quite a different Six Organs of Admittance show to the one a few years ago at the Media Club, where Ben Chasny and band promoted The Sun Awakens with a demanding, aggressive set. He took a folkier approach for this show, playing acoustic guitar throughout, supported by another guitarist, an occasional synth player, and, for a few songs, a larger cast drawn from openers Master Musicians of Bukkake. Chasny’s modest demeanour contrasts with his monstrously dexterous guitar playing, taking the finger picking and open tunings from early '60s British folkies like Bert Jansch and launching them into the psychedelic fringes (just as his other band, Comets on Fire, does with garage rock). He must have played mostly new material because I didn’t recognise a lot of it. An atmosphere of quiet devastation prevailed, highlighted by a stirring version of “Strangled Road” from Shelter in the Ash. Not that the show was a downer by any means. Music appears to effortlessly emanate from Chasny's fingers, and it's a thrill just to be present while it happens.

Prior to Six Organs of Admittance, the two boys and two girls who make up The Intelligence delivered a nice surprise in the form of a peppy set of post-punk inspired pop. Think Joy Division, Buzzcocks, Gang of Four. Their punchy songs helped ground the gig to this earthly realm, positioned as they were before Six Organs and after a fascinating ritual performed by The Master Musicians of Bukkake. As my friend remarked after the Master Musicians' set, “I wouldn’t even know how to describe what that was.” To take my own stab at a description, MMoB resembled beekeeping monks playing Asian-tinged drone in dry-ice fog. Recommended if you like: Secret Chiefs 3, SUNN O))) and Popul Vuh.

Woods of Ypres, with Trollband and Torrential Pain, August 24 at the Cobalt
Ontario’s Woods of Ypres have put in some serious mileage this summer, with a Western Canadian tour that took them from Sault St. Marie out to Victoria and back. I had high hopes for their Vancouver debut, but harboured some nagging dread about what might happen to them in this cesspool surrounded by mountains. Please, Vancouver, I thought, don’t be too sketchy—just let them play a good show. After a fun if over-excited performance by local folk metallers Trollband, Woods of Ypres took the stage in front of a decent-sized crowd and started raging immediately—so intensely that bassist Shane Madden broke a string and had to battle through the bulk of the song. The rest of the band sounded great, and were set to dominate once they’d procured a replacement bass. “Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground” was next, surprisingly early in the set for such a stadium-sized, encore-ready song.

Although most of the crowd was loving it, one or two dudes were clearly not, glaring at the band and throwing the occasional middle finger. Perhaps they’d come expecting to see some other band called Woods of Ypres. Maybe the Woods guys—unpretentious, regular guys—weren’t putting across a grim enough image for a black/doom metal band.

While I was taking in this scene, my wife took an odd turn and I followed her out of the club to get some fresh air and make sure she was OK. I hailed a cab for her, which stopped a little past the throng out on the sidewalk. As I got her bundled into the back seat, I heard a “smash! smash! smash!” behind me. My wife shut the door and the cab took off but quick. I turned around to see the Woods of Ypres van with its front windshield smashed in and two dudes—the same guys having a lousy time inside—rushing across Main Street towards the Skytrain. One of them turned back towards us and said, “That isn’t black metal!”

I reentered the club and watched the rest of Woods’ set in a completely bewildered, increasingly sad state of mind. Woods were incredible, but I couldn’t enjoy the show. I was just embarrassed for this city and sorry for the band, who wouldn’t even be able to drive to their next stop all because of some elitist asshats and their infantile, cretinous attitudes and actions.

Forbidden, with Gross Misconduct and Magnus Rising, August 26 at The Bourbon
I was never a Forbidden fan, but my friend Smash, whose taste in thrash I trust implicitly, gave me the opportunity to go. After the miserable vibe of the previous show, some good old thrash would be the perfect tonic.

Magnus Rising had plenty of groove and grunge, but their material is rather ill-defined at the moment. It sounds like they’re taking cues from Soundgarden and Kyuss without capturing either of those bands’ flair for variety and quirkiness.

Seasoned deathsters Gross Misconduct were solid as ever with their Death and Morbid Angel-tinged attack. They're comfortable enough on stage to banter aimably between songs while being deadly serious when in full flight. Wicked stuff.

Forbidden carried on in a similar vein, laying down some ferocious thrash and engaging the mid-size crowd with amusing remarks, including a tale of getting grilled as potential "undesirables" at the Canadian border only to find themselves driving through the most "undesirable" part of Vancouver on their way to the club. As vocalist Russ Anderson put it, "And they didn't want to let US into their country?"

New drummer Mark Hernandez was undoubtedly the star of the show—his crisp, hard-hitting attack was a marvel of precision and stamina—but the rest of the band acquitted themselves well, and if the new song "Adapt or Die" is indicative of the rest of their new material, Forbidden should pick up enough momentum to be playing to crowds of thrash-metal zealots for a long time to come.

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