Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vreid with Kampfar, Necronomicon and Scythia, Sept. 5 at the Rickshaw Theatre

This show felt a little “off” from the start. The advertised door time was 7:00, so I showed up at 7:20. I could hear Scythia soundchecking inside, and the doors were closed. I joined the half dozen fans behind the velvet rope gating the entrance to wait out the delay. It’s never dull outside the Rickshaw—there was a steady parade of lost souls on the Downtown Eastside that night, and one panhandler accused me of being “full of the devil”—but on the whole I’d rather have been getting my kicks inside the venue.

One thing’s for sure—Scythia aren’t shy. The second they took the stage, they were hell bent on putting on a proper show. Couple their motley medieval garb with some bold, galloping folk metal and you’ve got the complete Scythia package. Even their merch people looked like they came off the floor of an SF/fantasy convention. Musically they had a lot going on besides the requisite metal trappings, including prominent keyboard lines and Morgan Zentner’s "Oboe of Death." Soundman be praised, all the elements fared well in the unforgiving live environment. They were a good deal more loose than on their pristine new album ...of Exile, but in the go-for-the-gusto excitement of the live setting, it’s understandable that they might push the tempos a little. When the song called for it, they could back off the pace and execute mellow, mellifluous sections with grace.

After Scythia, it was time to stick on some frowns and get serious. Quebec trio Necronomicon were quite a spectacle as well, with their post-apocalyptic grey leather, corpsepaint and windmilling hair. I remember they released an Egyptian-themed album years ago, just as Nile was getting big, which was unfortunate. I hadn’t heard anything from them since. This time they reminded me of Behemoth, providing a satisfying mix of DM and BM. They were quite tight, powered by jackhammering snare blasts. Although they presented a fierce, professional image, they weren’t really my thing overall.

I’ll admit that Kampfar came out and killed it from the get-go. Presentation-wise the Norwegians were free of embellishments—no costumes, face paint, and not much hair either, save for the vocalist, who directed all his energy at the meagre, increasingly frenetic, crowd. Foot up on the monitors, he pounded his thigh with his fist while the other hand held the mic between his blond curtains of hair. They reminded me of a more straightlaced Impaled Nazarene. I prefer songs with “parts” and solos and stuff, but I couldn’t deny the impact that their set made.

Kyle Harcott pronounced that Kampfar would be a hard act to follow. I held out hope for Vreid, but he was right. The crowd tapered off and the Norwegian quartet couldn’t win them back, which was too bad because I felt they had some interesting things going on musically. The white noise that passed as tone coming out of their amps did them no favours. If you're going to play black 'n' roll, just plug straight into a Marshall and have done with it. It also didn’t help that they played their most immediately appealing song, the one that could have gotten everyone on board, last. It just wasn’t their night, but Vreid slogged it out, frustrated at trying to generate a frenzy amongst the 50 or fans that were left. The empty space stretching in front of them must have been a demoralizing sight.

I’ve noted before that the Vancouver scene has been surprisingly supportive of touring metal shows lately, but this show was a definite exception. Maybe these bands didn’t have the profile or the audience to warrant such a large venue, or perhaps the Rickshaw’s new (and hard-won) liquor license hurt the attendance, now that the under-19s are shut out. I never had any problem with shows being all-ages, and if it gets people into the building and buying merch to help the bands, all the better. Let’s hope more people come out when Enslaved and Napalm Death hit town next month.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Abriosis—Tattered and Bound

I try to keep my ear to the ground and my finger on the pulse, but things still slip through. Case in point, local tech-death band Abriosis, whom I first read about in Cosmo Lee’s Decibel demo column. I made a mental note to check them out, then didn’t follow up. I am a fool. I finally had a chance to catch Abriosis earlier this summer at the Riffs Not Riots show, where they knocked me on my ass. I could not believe that these guys weren’t from Quebec, Canada’s home for Advanced Metal Studies. Afterwards, I looked them up online and found that they were offering this new album as a free download. It’s ridiculous to me that this world-class work of art is being given away, so I promise to buy a t-shirt or some physical product next time I see them, all right?

Abriosis fuse the avant-garde discord of Voivod with the breakneck, off-time thrash of Atheist, along with more modern death metal influences. They’re vicious but cerebral. They wield their technical abilities with wisdom and taste. Dissonant as they are, they’re not deliberately perverse with it. The song structures make sense and every song offers a few accessible riffs for the listener to cling to amidst the mayhem. “Repudiate the Lies” is especially catchy, and has the added attractions of a brief bass solo followed by a guitar workout that unleashes some serious Holdsworth shit.

What stands out for me is the care with which each member of Abriosis crafts interlocking parts. They don’t simply duplicate each other; each musician contributes something audibly distinct in creating this huge wall of metal. It’s especially gratifying to hear their screaming, growling vocalist (now ex-vocalist) synching his lyrics to the flow of the music instead of ranting distractingly overtop of everything. (I hope his replacement follows suit.) As my neighbour Luke said to me after seeing their set, the band clearly listens to each other. Nobody’s caught up in their own trip; they all rule as one.

This near-flawless debut full-length will definitely help them build an audience—their summer tour to Halifax and back couldn't have hurt either—and I hope they can link up and tour with some more established bands to take their lockstep brutality worldwide.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Opium Cartel—Night Blooms (Termo)

After listening to the new White Willow track yesterday and seeing bandleader Jacob Holm-Lupo mentioning this "solo album of sorts" from 2009 in the accompanying interview, I decided that Night Blooms needed a proper review here. The timing is ideal in a seasonal sense, because it’s a perfect end-of-summer listen. Every clear, shining tone is tinged with melancholy. The Opium Cartel takes the timbres and instruments you’d hear on a White Willow album—especially the deftly plucked guitars and Lars Fredrick Froislie’s analog keyboard arsenal—and directs them towards an orchestral/indie rock style. The songs are more straightforward, avoiding the detours through dark instrumental passages that White Willow often takes. It’s breezy and mellow overall, and as detailed as the cover art.

Some of the more stern prog fans out there might blanch at the piano-driven duet of “Skinnydipping,” which captures the innocent, sensual pleasures of its title. If that doesn't appeal, then the languid strains of “By This River” (a Brian Eno cover from Before and After Science, a fantastic record I’ve just gotten into) certainly will, or perhaps “Three Sleepers,” a kind of lullaby/nursery rhyme given an elaborate arrangement, will impress. There's some bombast to be heard on "Beach House," which, after a quiet, Mellotron-swirled intro, enters heavier territory. Drummer Mattias Olsson (ex-Änglagård) hits particularly hard here.

Night Blooms highlights Holm-Lupo’s knack for crafting strong vocal lines and lyrics. He’s given his guest vocalists—including Rhys Marsh, Rachel Haden, Tim Bowness, and Sylvia Skjellestad—good material with which to work. "Honeybee" flirts with mainstream rock, describing an inappropriate, doomed romance that reminds me of some of Peter Hammill’s work, especially in the way it transitions from verses filled with specific names and details to choruses that make universal statements: “the things we do to ease our pain are the things that bring us down.” “Better Days Ahead” is like U2 forced through a Genesis and JG Ballard filter: spacey modern rock that strains to pierce a carbon-filled sky and see the stars, and sung with marvellous restraint by Rhys Marsh. Night Blooms is a wonderful album that deserves to step out of White Willow’s shadow and spend some time basking in the sunlight.

Better Days Ahead

The Opium Cartel | Myspace Music Videos