Thursday, March 27, 2008

Old friends & new wounds

Last Friday we were flown in to Calgary, Alberta, to play an exclusive engagement with Watain and Cephalic Carnage. Despite the dubious nature of this combination we were pleased to be reunited with Watain. I myself had seen them on various occasions over the last couple of years but we had not performed with them since our now infamous Stellar Descension Infernal tour of 2003. The flight was uneventful though it dragged a bit but we were literally waved through customs (ruefully so, as we would have brought more merchandise had we known) and soon acquired by Terese from Scarab Productions. She took us to a four-star hotel in the center of the city and I confess we were taken aback by the accommodations. We are not exactly strangers to nice hotels, but to have a promoter provide us with such luxury was definitely a first. Watain had arrived earlier that day, which we discovered since every airport security agent we met had commented on them. They tend to attract attention wherever they go. After a savory meal in Chinatown, we discovered that the band had the room adjacent to ours so before long we were in their suite and catching up. Soon after there was a knock at the door and guitarist Set answered to find the lead singer of Cephalic Carnage and a roadie. They invited themselves in and began making overtures to us about partying and smoking pot with them. Mere minutes before they arrived we had all been discussing the incongruous choice of this act as the other headliner, and we also wondered why they were set to go on last. We also resolved that since we and Watain played back to back, we would deliver a unified front on stage and leave Cephalic with no way to compete. With that in mind, Watain politely declined the offer of drugs and invited the duo to leave but they did not seem to take a hint and seemed puzzled at the idea that people might actually be tired and want to go to bed. Guitarist P. of Watain, ever the diplomat, stood up and stated that he'd smoke with them even though he did not like their band. Instantly the mood changed and our festive new friends were suddenly not interested in a good time. "Well fuck you then," snapped the singer, "I don't like your band either!" They left the room and P. followed them in an attempt to explain that there was not a problem but that he was just being honest, etc. The Cephalic people weren't having it as most Americans are deeply threatened by directness, particularly the European variety. Set became agitated and also walked into the hall and for a moment I expected beatings to commence. More fuck-you-mans mingled with Set's sharp and snakelike tone but no violence occured. Set and P. returned to the room with many choice comments about "life metal" bands.

The Carcass had his own room and had gone straight to bed upon arrival and soon a very drunk P. insisted to see him. It was 3am but Sanguine and I felt that an ambush was in order so we led the sotted Swede down to his room and let him announce himself first with tentative knocking, and then with punches and kicks that we feared would raise alarm. Finally the door was opened a crack and P. burst into the room and grappled wildly with a startled and bleary Carcass. This is how he says hello. They are both large men, and as they pitched about the room we laughed but also wondered if all the expensive furniture would survive. Ultimately order was restored and more proper greetings were proffered. Generally everything P. says is offensive and hilarious, and his deadpan delivery only furthers this so we were sufficiently amused by the time we led him back to his room and then promptly passed out in ours.

Saturday - we slept in late and took our time getting ready. After a hearty meal at the downstairs Irish pub, Terese arrived and drove us to the venue which was a ballroom on the University of Calgary campus. The night before there had been some predictions on whether or not Cephalic Carnage would attempt to sabotage Watain or simply start a fight. Based on what I knew of that band's reputation, I advised that nothing like that would likely happen. Sound check was a bit rocky as the ballroom (as usual) was a mess of booming sound, and despite our best efforts to communicate our needs with the monitor levels nothing sounded right when we left the stage. From there we mostly stayed in the backstage area with Watain and talked while E. Watain and roadie Johan assembled a bone mic stand from the bones of local roadkill. Watain's bassist had been detained in Germany so once again E. would be handling bass and vocal duties.

Everyone in the Swedish outfit was jetlagged, so drummer H. slept on a couch and P. ended up repeatedly vomiting in the adjacent restroom with accompanying heaves that sounded like they were coming from the very depths of his soul. The show had been on for a couple of hours at this point and I stuck my head out to get a new Watain shirt among other things. I was surprised to find that all of the shirts they printed were already sold out, save for the display shirt which I promptly grabbed. It turns out we did almost as well with our shirts and CDs, with only a couple of size XLs left over at the end (only Americans seem to need that size). I also managed to locate our old ally Sabazios Diabolus of Lust and the guys from Weapon, with whom I was until then unacquainted. The promoter had ordained that no animal matter would be allowed in the venue due to insurance reasons, so Watain would have their most sanitary show in some time (relatively speaking, anyway- all of their gear and guitars were encased in dried and scabrous blood from many previous performances). Cephalic Carnage also arrived and were not confrontational with anyone, so the unpleasantness of the previous evening was left behind.

After the local support acts had finished I and my bandmates headed to the stage only to find that the stage crew was moving and all but disassembling the drum kit to center it on the large rear riser. The Carcass had to intervene before his trigger module was damaged, and the whole ordeal set us back on on schedule by almost twenty minutes. We finally took the stage as the first of the headliners and were met with much headbanging and pit acrobatics upon commencement. The audience was great throughout, though our sound was still strange and uncomfortable and we simply could not hear each other. There were a couple of near-miss moments that we soldiered through, and while it was not anything discernible to the audience it hampered our ability to go full-throttle at points. Nevertheless, the set was a success despite the extra work it demanded.

Watain hit the stage with full regalia including banners with attached chains and their famous inverted crosses. Their sound was as odd as ours, and it seemed that they had to approach the lack of audible drums with a similar degree of caution. There were a few places early on where it seemed like the performance was about to slip off the rails, but they quickly got things back under control. Their response was predictably great and they played well overall. E. actually tossed the bass aside on the closing song and his subsequent attack of the microphone injected a more venomous energy into the performance. I see now why he prefers to perform this way. Earlier we had all been discussing how sometimes when the circumstances leading up to a performance are too comfortable it leads to a degree of malaise. We are all used to having to drag gear around and sit in a van or an alley waiting to play, and the quality of our current surroundings may have disarmed us. I also cannot discount the inherent exhaustion of international travel and P.'s green-faced discomfort leading up to their set. The fact that they still presented with their usual degree of conviction was admirable indeed. The other strange aspect of both sets was that we all felt like we were playing on an unmoored boat. I cannot better describe this except that Sanguine and Set both complained of dizziness as they moved about the stage, and H. and The Carcass were both made nauseous from the wobbly instability of the drum riser. In any event, the final outcome was still a positive one for both bands.

The end of the evening was not the outrageous finale I expected; Watain was very tired and E. stated that while he was fine to spend more time with us he wanted to otherwise be out of reach. There was a small party for the bands and crew down the hall from our respective rooms and while Sanguine and I visited briefly with the guys from Warmarch, The Carcass and the Scandis stayed out of sight. We joined them presently and ended up staying up almost until dawn despite our blistering fatigue. It had been five years since my bandmates had seen anyone in Watain, so we were anxious to log a few hours together before leaving the next morning. We did exactly that at 10am and unfortunately missed Sabazios Diabolus' offer of meeting for breakfast as well. Once again we feel the sting of a one-off show in that we have to leave too quickly and there is so little time to spend with friends.

The past couple of months have felt like another period of growth for me in terms of my passion for metal in general. It is barely April and already it has been a fantastic year for Averse Sefira. To commemorate this, I decided to once again make my flesh a panegyric to our work and enlisted the help of the masterful Jonzig to this end.

The Body says, 'It is only through Me that you are realized. I am that which makes you known...' -Sanguine Mapsama

Block not my path! You futile walls of flesh and blood. For I have seen your structure clear and I know where to stab. - E. Watain

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

One Thousand Three Hundred and Forty-nine

So I did something I never thought I would ever do, which is to attend the South by Southwest music conference (SXSW for those “in the know”). This is a huge event for Austin, and we in AVRS have categorically avoided it as it is crowded, expensive, and mostly designed for industry folks and hipster parasites. However, 1349 was slated to fly in from Norway to play two shows over the weekend so we were not about to miss out on their performances or company. Things started off a bit rocky as only Chris, the band's sound engineer, arrived on the expected day. Through a flurry of text messages we discovered that the band had been delayed in Holland. Sanguine and The Carcass were also out of pocket at this interval so Chris and I decided to venture over to the free afternoon showcase with Enslaved and Motorhead. We arrived at 11:30am to a line of people that stretched around the block. Put a sign up that says “Motorhead” and “free” on it, and hordes of punkers, rockers, bikers, burnouts, and skeezy already drunk chicks will beat a path to your door. Chris and I marched past everyone and got our VIP passes at the front gates. Membership has its privileges. The temperature was a convenient record high of 90 degrees so we sat at a picnic table in the rear of the open-air venue and talked for a while. Then the first band came on with a terrible and booming stage mix and played unintelligibly for twenty minutes. Enslaved was supposed to be next so I walked up to the front only to see the band striking their gear. It turns out they had just performed, though the sound rendered them unrecognizable. No matter, they would play two more shows tomorrow.

Napalm Death was up next and I have decided that this band is like finding something long rotten in the back of your refrigerator- once it was good, but it then becomes forgotten and then an unpleasant surprise when you next encounter it. The band's sound was even more horrid than Enslaved's (I guess this is what a free show sounds like) and their performance was stale and tired. Barney Greenway gimped around the stage like a doofus and Mitch and Shane look like they stood too close to an open flame. I was wondering how old the band was when Barney answered my question in his slurry Birmingham accent- 27 years old. That's awful. They don't have a single founding member left in the band so does that even count? And the last time I liked anything they did was 17 years ago. They went on to illustrate my point by crash-landing their tiresome cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” as their closer and left the stage to a smattering of applause. By the time Motorhead came on Chris and I were melting and the sound had not improved at all. We ended up with Jessica from Nuclear Blast and decided to walk over to the Metal Maniacs party in a club on Sixth Street. It was dark and cool and there were plenty of refreshing beverages, though not much else in the way of anything interesting. Some people came up and said hello, though generally I go undetected when I am in street clothes. I picked up multiple free copies of the new Metal Maniacs which features an Averse Sefira interview. I get sick of buying magazines that feature us so it was a nice change to get a handful of them for nothing.

Chris and I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and then we were joined by Erika for dinner. Finally we got confirmation of 1349's arrival. They missed their connecting flight in Houston as well so they had to be rerouted up to Dallas and then to Austin. Sanguine and their SXSW host Renee went to get them at the airport and brought them to the festival registration office five minutes before it closed. The guys looked obliterated from their thirty hours of travel, so we managed to find a club that served food and got them some dinner. A few people recognized them and said hello but we were mostly incognito. More amusing was how many times I was mistaken for a member of the band as well. Afterwards we went over to the Relapse showcase and Erika and I sat on the curb because we did not want to pay to see High on Fire (painfully boring) or Municipal Waste (a party band cash-in for kids too young to remember DRI). We ultimately got the band over to Renee's house and then went home for a few hours of sleep.

1349 was set to play both an afternoon and evening showcase with Enslaved so I caught up with the guys at the dubious looking Vice Magazine venue, which was a vacant lot in an east side ghetto. We stood around talking and watching the stage be built while trying to grab as much shade as possible. I talked a bit with Ivar from Enslaved and told him about how early on his band helped convince my band that longer songs were the way to go. So you can blame them for that. Sound checks did not seem to be on the menu so I took the band over to the Averse Sefira practice space so they could have a proper rehearsal with their relatively new session drummer Madz. It was low-key but a good time. I joked about how we could now brag that we had a Norwegian black metal act in our room, and Archaeon commented on how he felt that the fixation on their nationality with US fans was really strange and awkward to him. I found this interesting and wondered if this perception was widely held among the Scandi bands. We closed out the session with an impromptu version of Celtic Frost's “The Usurper” with Ravn on drums and myself doing vocals; it was fun and I wish we had recorded it but such is the double-edged sword of spontaneity.

Afterwards, we went back to the walk-in kiln that was the Vice venue along with Sanguine and The Carcass. When we arrived it was still about 4pm (1349 was slated to play at 7) and a repulsive and noisy ensemble band was on stage. There were at least fifteen idiots up there with random instruments, all of whom were wearing hippie face paint, ridiculous outfits, and porno mustaches (except for the girls who were just sallow and asexually ugly). It looked like “Up With People” except with hepatitus C. It did not bode well that the crowd was eating it up. The audience was mostly comprised of random losers who look like they stole their clothes out of Goodwill dumpsters, so my expectations for Enslaved and 1349's sets were low. I hoped a regiment of black-shirted hessians would roll in like a thunderhead but the chances seemed remote as the second show of the night was downtown at a dedicated metal venue. There was not much impetus for a self-respecting metalhead to come to the shit side of town and bake his brain while standing amongst pop culture run-off. 

Herein is the great danger that black metal faces circa 2008- hipsters have discovered us. They think what we do is novel and “crazy” and being able to tell people that they listen to “church-burning Norwegian Black Metal” is another way for them to show off just how different and radical they are from the mainstream. They do not care about our message or motives, but rather how evil we are and how many people we might have killed. These people are the worst thing to happen to the underground in years, even moreso than Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir. They want to co-opt black metal and make it just another brand of alternative music. They want to wear our scary looking t-shirts with their horn-rimmed glasses and skateboarding shoes. They want to use us as a conversation piece and a fashion statement. We cannot allow this. I want to encourage all who read this to take action against these useless sacks of shit. Do not let them in. If they try to talk to you about metal, ignore them, spit on them, or tell them to fuck themselves. If you see them at a show, especially in the pit, then hit them as hard as you can. Hurt them. Let them know they are hated and unwelcome. Make it clear that we are not here to be a punchline or a fucking cartoon. We need to get hard on the outside world again, and these fools are an easy target. They cannot fight back and they don't have money for lawsuits, so harm them with impunity. We are evil indeed, and we should show them what it truly means.

Diatribes aside, Ravn was anxious and disarmed because his stage bag had been lost in the midst of the band's multiple airline reroutes. His spikes, paint, and boots were all in his luggage so he only had the clothes he wore on the plane. We remedied this with my lending him all of my gear, and fortunately we are the same relative size so everything fit pretty well. I was planning on watching Enslaved's set, but Ravn bade me to come into the dressing room with the band to assist him so I proceeded inside. The backstage was a small alcove off an indoor stage and it was steamy and unventilated. There was another extremely obnoxious hipster band performing just on the other side of the curtain; it seems the current big thing in indie music is to have a band made up of a keyboardist, a very gay and nasal vocalist, and a remedial drummer. Seidemann made repeated chair-throwing gestures at the stage, and the band was collectively imbued with a contentious air for the coming set. The heat of the room required several reapplications of corpse paint as it was melting off like cake frosting in an oven, but finally the band was ready for battle. It was humorous because Ravn paints his arms and hands as well so by the time I had finished assisting him, everything I owned had smears of white and black on them. It was not unlike dealing with the tar baby of southern mythology. They took the stage at dusk to a handful of stalwarts and then a scattered yard of the aforementioned hated. 

I stayed behind the barricade as I was planning to assist Archaeon with his torch for firebreathing, but I watched as the moron contingent ran around the audience like monkeys and continually threw half empty cans of beer into the air and a couple at the stage. I wanted very much to run out and start hitting people but security for this show was supplied by the Austin police department, and assault charges do not appeal to me. Aside from the relatively dismal crowd the stage sound was once again a nightmare despite Chris' best efforts and the band was hard-pressed to wring anything good out of it. Ravn demonstrated command presence as always, though it was obvious that he was not pleased with the circumstances. A further insult came when they played through the 8pm neighborhood curfew and then suddenly the stage volume was cut in half by the police. Ultimately the whole thing was a fiasco and I was furious to think that our friends had half-killed themselves to come here for this lunacy. Archaeon also passed on the fire-breathing, and I was glad because it would have been to an undeserving audience.

We went into the backstage and everyone sat quietly for some time. The next show at Red 7 was in two hours and only about five blocks away so there was no reason to hurry. Also, the band decided to not remove their paint since the other venue had no backstage at all. Ravn drank his usual bottle of Jagermeister which not only helps his voice but seems to add to the darkness in his eyes, but he was noticeably sagging from jet-lag and perhaps some frustration over the show. After a time we shuttled everyone down to the next gig, and Erika's car ended up with Ravn's paint all over the armrests, dashboard, and passenger door (she has since decided she is going to leave it there). I went in ahead of the band along with Sanguine and Chris and was relieved to see that the club was full and a majority of those in attendance were actual metal fans. I went back out to the car and rousted a now-sleeping Ravn and led the band through the back door and onto the stage. I am pleased to say that this performance obliterated any memory of the previous show, as 1349 reacted to the receptive crowd with fury and conviction. Ravn in particular delivered one of his most feral performances to date as he wheeled around the stage and all but attacked the audience. He also reached into the crowd to grab various hands and ended up thrashing one kid around like a piƱata. He did the same thing to me and nearly dislocated my arm with a devil's strength. 

It was a caustic combination of barbarism and Morrisonian (as in Jim) dramatism that set the room ablaze and scored many points for the case of black metal. I more or less missed Enslaved for a third time when I left to let 1349 into the car, but I caught the last of their set and it paled in comparison to the onslaught that preceded it. Once it was over and the troupe had all but entombed our car in makeup wipes (Ravn tried to wipe a smear of his paint from my forehead and ended up adding another couple of layers to it) we then stood in back of the club while they talked to fans and industry people. A few individuals also approached Sanguine and myself with praise for our new album, which was of course appreciated.

Four hours of sleep later we rendezvoused with the band again and took them out for breakfast at a good local Mexican place called Polvo's. We talked and joked, and I was glad to see that the guys were satisfied with how things turned out. It was a shame that they had to leave so quickly though, as they were only in country for a day and a half. Ravn graciously bought everyone's breakfast, and then we fruitlessly helped them shop for boots at a few local western outlets. They required the extremely pointy style of cowboy boot and it seems that those are not in demand these days. They had better luck at Guitar Center since European money is so painfully strong against the US dollar. We then took everyone to the airport and said our reluctant farewells with the consolation that we will inevitably meet again in the months to come since being labelmates helps insure such things.

Once again there was triumph in the face of adversity, and once again I find myself restless and excited about performing. It is a good thing that we have a show with Watain this weekend to scratch that itch. With every show and the surrounding experiences I feel that I come away with a better understanding of what it is I am doing in metal. This time I was reminded that this music is a force unto itself that cannot be stymied by bad luck or bad people. We all share this fire and it would take the world's end to extinguish it. Also I still like being a fan and a confidante of other bands as much as I enjoy having my own band, so I was grateful for the opportunity to assist 1349 in their quixotic journey to play one of the most ghastly festivals I have ever witnessed. I am glad it happened but I also hope they and other friends of ours come to Austin under other circumstances in the future, because I really do not want to do SXSW again.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Echoes of Death

More entries will be forthcoming with our Canada and Mexico dates. Here are a few items salvaged from the wreckage that did not make it to the original pages of the current journal.

Cool flyer for the Hartford show that did not happen:

File under "that's not quite right":

This as well:
Averse Sefira and Jos A. Smith - New York, 2/10/08

Sanguine makes headlines in Cleveland:

Monday, March 3, 2008

Into Everlasting Fire (what else could it have been?)

Houston was the ending every tour hopes for. The audience treated each band well and the energy was intense and poignant as we entered the home stretch. I enjoyed our performance and we once again crushed the room with "Helix in Audience". It was a proud way to signal the finale. The completion of our set was bittersweet since it meant our stint on this tour was officially done. Belphegor was hellish as always, and Immolation once again gave rise to a throbbing pulse of chaos that ensorcelled us completely. Ross honored us with a dedication of "Nailed to Gold" and it was an odd feeling to be a bit misty while I was headbanging my brains out. The highlight of their set was a surprise visit from South Park's Terrence and Phillip, who are Ross and Bob's favorite characters. I will have to let the photo do most of the talking, but watching them laugh hysterically while trying to complete "Bring them Down" was a classic moment for all involved.

Rotting Christ closed the night with conviction and an exciting atmosphere that could not have been more fitting for this, the end of Lucifer Over America. We and the other bands cheered them on from the side of the stage and helped keep the crowd at a fever pitch. Finally the band signed off with the ethereal choral strains of "Under the Sign of Legion", where they each leave the stage one by one. It is the perfect closing song that generates an implacable sense of magic and finality, and we all looked at each other with some regret in knowing the tour was officially done. The band did come back out to bash in everyone's heads with "Non Serviam" though, so we were able to hold onto the moment for just a little longer.

After load out, all the cameras came out and hilarious photos were taken left and right. Hands were shaken and backs were clapped heartily. We all shared in the esteem of a truly excellent tour package and I reflected on what a privilege it was to tour with three venerable and proven acts. Saying goodbye to Immolation was not easy for many reasons. Their support and guidance has been crucial to us over the years and on this tour, and to have to part ways again was not without its regrets. Right as we were finishing all the photos an ice cream truck rolled up and everyone bolted to it to buy things. I'm not kidding. So we stood around eating bomb pops and ice cream sandwiches and feeling pretty satisfied with ourselves. It was like something out of a movie where everything happens on cue and the lasting memory is picture perfect.

My summation: this was a great tour. We had rough spots here and there, but think about the last 30 days of your life and you'll find that no matter what you do with your time some days are going to be challenging. It was a unique experience to go out with these bands, and looking back on this tour it is clear to me that we are at a point where our lives are exceeding our dreams. I do not take this lightly as I know few people can truly say that. This tour also reinforced the idea of the intrinsic kindredness that exists between all the "lifers" of metal. We do not get rich in this genre. We do not become the darlings of the media or the idols of the clueless masses. We do this because it calls us and because we answer. We do this because there are few greater validations than to stand together with our peers and allies against a world that does not and cannot understand us. We are gods unto ourselves, and through these journeys we render ourselves immortal. Thanks for coming. See you next time.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

After My Prayers

San Antonio landed somewhere in the middle as far as shows go. The PA was sub-par and so we experienced some of the weakest sound of the tour. The club was a punked-out hellhole and they were not prepared for a tour package of this magnitude. Even Belphegor sounded clanging and anemic. The crowd was all right, and our performance was fittingly all right as well. I still cannot help but shake my head when I think of all the amazing shows I saw here in the late 80s and early 90s. The fire has definitely been reduced to embers since those golden years. The most enjoyable part was to meet with many friends from Austin and do some catching up. It is getting to the point where I am getting bored talking about the run of the mill shows. We play, the crowd starts to figure us out on the last song, we leave and drive for a long time to the next show- wash, rinse, repeat. Still, what else would this journal be for if not for capturing some of the repetitive aspects of touring?

Later: Mission, Texas. Smoking Aces is a much nicer club against all expectations. The promoter Jay was cordial and gave us a lot of food and drinks on our arrival. There was a punching bag strength test game that we all got into, and it was almost terrifying to watch Tormentor of Belphegor set a high score on the thing. The Carcass then laid into the bag with a blow he reserves for punching through doors and his score buried everyone else. The lineup threatened to be a clusterfuck with four opening bands, none of whom showed up in a timely fashion. Finally it was whittled down to two, which was good since our friends in Disfigured still got to play. They are maniacal on stage, and we enjoyed watching them. We ended up having a great set with excellent sound and a willing audience. It was somewhat amusing since everyone was up front but still a few paces back from the stage when we began. Before we began the second song Sanguine admonished the crowd to step up to the stage and to my surprise they complied immediately. From there the show was high-octane and caustic. We always try to give a solid performance every time but when we connect with the audience it is so much easier to make it brilliant. It is amazing that a matter of a few feet can become a chasm between us and them, but fortunately that was not an issue tonight. I watched Belphegor turn in a blistering set and on the last song some kid fell in the pit and folded his leg under himself. When people tried to hoist him up he desperately waved them off. Security intervened and got him to his feet and I could not help but cringe when I saw the foot on his injured leg pointing in the wrong direction. He should see about getting Belphegor to sign his cast. Immolation killed as always though I left after two-thirds of their set to come write this. Rotting Christ is on soon and I will go back in to watch them. Once again we are all bemoaning the end of another great tour. This process is so much work and it is draining on countless levels, yet it is still some of the best time I've ever had. Bill from Immolation said that the worst day on tour is better than the best day at a job and I think of this every day when we are on the road. Houston will be a great time even if nobody shows up; it will still prove to be one hell of a wrap party.