Saturday, January 22, 2011

Crush, kill, destroy

It is not always possible to pinpoint the finest moment of a band, but this performance remains a strong candidate.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Set Tighten

As I slept, a voice cried out, "Inverted Christ in a black Heaven!" It was going to be that kind of day.

November 23 - I was up far too early this morning, and it never agrees with me. Averse Sefira was invited as a special guest on Watain's Austin date, and with Goatwhore also on the bill it felt like a full circle in many ways. I showed up early at the venue to receive our Swedish cohorts and grabbed an item or two to haul inside. As Watain's production has grown, so has the size of the odor that follows them. They brought in an oozing backdrop bag that attracted flies like magnets and a rubber tub that was full of props but looked and smelled like it contained a dismembered corpse instead. It was unseasonably hot, which may be needless to say since Texas is always fucking unseasonably hot, so it didn't help the accelerated rot amongst the band's implements.

After Watain's soundcheck there was time to spare, so we decided to investigate the neighboring hot sauce outlet. While many of these establishments are for tourists, there are actually a lot of tasty and serious hot sauces to be had. Once inside, the Cajun proprietor gave Watain the full treatment regarding recommended sauces and their relative degrees of severity. With the panache of a carnival showman, he pointed us to a small black vial seated in a Halloween-prop skull goblet. The vial contained capsaicin oil, a concentrated extract from the hottest part of the chili pepper, and the owner enthusiastically told us about its potency. He used a toothpick to draw out a pinhead-sized bead of the greasy black liquid and said that while this was a normal dose, a visiting skeptic tasted a whole toothpick's worth and left the store on his hands and knees. We all chuckled with some incredulity but as the toothpick was offered around, all eyes drifted my direction. As a local I felt like I needed to stand up to the challenge, so I took the pick and rubbed it over the center of my tongue as instructed.

While I certainly expected to feel something, I didn't anticipate just how intense the effects would be. After about 20 seconds, I broke into sweats and my eyes and nose started to gush uncontrollably. Erik began choking with laughter at my appearance; I've been pepper sprayed before (wrong place, wrong time - different story) but it was like a bouquet of roses by comparison. This was a genuine chemical burn taking place, and I tried to avoid screaming as I cast about for an antidote. The store had a cooler of soft drinks, and I grabbed a Dr. Pepper even though it wouldn't really help. I started to gulp it down and then HÃ¥kan came up to me sputtering, "Can I have... some of that... Pepper?!" He had taken the plunge too, and now we were both in spice hell. I started to worry as the burn spread down my throat with equal vigor; airway issues would be a handicap tonight, so I marched out of the store and stiff-legged it down to a corner gas station. They had bottles of whole milk, and I drank half of it on my way back to the shop. Once there, the still suffering Mr. H gratefully sucked down the other half. The discomfort slowly abated, and ultimately the whole thing was some good slapstick for the weary headliners. Still, the strength of that stuff was shocking and my mouth waters uncontrollably just thinking about it. A vial of black evil lives at the Tears of Joy Hot Sauce Shop on 6th Street.

A little later, Pelle and I continued our tradition of sitting down for a meal together (sushi tastes odd with an excoriated tongue). He reminded me that Watain has toured a huge amount in the last two years, more than I even realized. It's still incredible to me how big they've become since our first tour together along with Secrets of the Moon in 2003. It's also weird to consider that they're all just now the age I was when we made that outing. Even then, it was clear that the band was bound for glory. They were relatively green, but their performances were ferocious; at the time, it was just a couple of inverted crosses, some goat's blood, and soon a few acquired bird carcasses, but they made it cyclopean and deadly by force of will.

from the vault - Averse Sefira & Watain, Budapest, 2003
At showtime, we were plenty prepared but I was nervous. It's rare, but sometimes it happens for no reason,  and other times it seems to be my intuition sending up a red flag. Tonight, unfortunately, was the latter as we made it through our opener, "Vomitorium Angelis", and then Sanguine's amplifier suddenly burned out. We were using the tour backline which included Sammy Goatwhore's speakers, and apparently they had variable wattage settings. It was dark at the back of the stage, and we clearly chose the wrong input. We tried to make a show of being unbothered, but it started to evaporate when it was clear the amp was inoperable.

During the lull, I made the mistake of dedicating the performance to the absent Set Teitan, and I ultimately regretted it. After a short huddle we plugged into one of Watain's amps and kept going. The crowd cheered when Sanguine's guitar came back to life, but the mics weren't yet placed correctly on Watain's cabs so the sound was weak and quiet. Carcass and I held it down and we all played well, but it was one of my least favorite sets in a long time. At least our audience was understanding and gave us a warm reception. We dropped two songs at the end and left the stage promptly. It was not the worst experience, but it was disappointing all the same. Fans wanted photos after, and I obliged even though it felt like I hadn't done anything to warrant it. The mostly incompetent house sound man came up after and asked if the monitors had sounded all right, and I said, "Actually, no," to which he snapped, "Well then you should have said something!". As a matter of fact I had, but to no avail. Jackass. I never understand why people ask questions if they don't want anything other than an affirmative. Die.

Goatwhore came on next and did their job without fail. They know how to whip up an audience, and they sound exactly the same whether they're playing an arena or a hole in the wall. Effective bastards, the lot of them. Watain came next after a relatively long intermission. Crewman Johan has more to do than ever these days with all the festooning of bloody chains, lighting of candles, and handling of instruments, so the protracted changeover made it easier to visit with everyone backstage. As Erik prepared, we talked about the evolution of black metal's presentation, including the ongoing shift in his own persona as a quest to find the truest version of it. It dovetailed with my recent impressions of Frost and reinforced much of what I had gleaned. I acknowledged that my persona has remained relatively fixed since inception, but Erik pointed out that a fixed and immutable form is every bit as genuine. If nothing else, one of the best parts of being in a black metal band is exchanging ideas with other like minds and gaining validation and fresh perspectives in the process. When Watain loaded in earlier, their gear had a green stench as opposed to the orange one I had come to know. As Erik finished donning his gear, the orange was on him in full force, and I was back on the road in 2003 and sleeping in the Stockholm bunker two years prior all at once. I've been accused of fawning over Watain in these pages, but the fact is that they have been great friends to us, and they are tied to many critical experiences for AVRS over the years. Fuck yourself if you don't like it.

As for the performance itself, Watain always goes for the throat, and tonight was no different. The band was energized and Erik, sans bass for a change, affected a witching posture as he moved around the stage that recalled the early days of Alice Cooper. At times, he looked like he was picking things out of the air, perhaps whiffs of brimstone that only he could detect. It was the full ritual as expected, though nobody was assaulted except for the club's stage manager when he put out the top tier candles on the stage. They were threatening to set the roof aflame, but a move like that is a violation of the rite as well. Erik responded accordingly by attacking the guy and chasing him off stage.

The odd thing was that the overall PA volume felt too low and the larger impact was somewhat undermined as a result. The venue was mostly full, but past the first couple of rows the crowd seemed a little more disconnected then they should have been. It was still a good response overall, but it was muted compared to Watain's frightening appearance at Red 7 almost two years before. Maybe Emo's is becoming paranoid about noise ordinances. In any event, the show was good and the band played almost an hour and a half. It's hard to imagine doing that- I would be tired out and sick of it by the one-hour mark. Erik baptized the faithful in blood during the closing hymnal, the 14-minute "Waters of Ain", which was particularly exciting to the novice fans in the audience.

At the end, we all shook hands and said farewell once more. It's a strange reality in metal how sometimes you see close friends for an evening or maybe a weekend about every six months. This makes the time all the more valuable, though one day I hope to find myself closer to the source. Sorry that the conclusion wasn't more explosive, but even a night out with Watain isn't always guaranteed chaos. Sometimes a show is just a show, and sometimes it's better that way.