Friday, December 10, 2010

Watain, Goatwhore 12.02.10

On a cold Thursday night, evil descended on New York City: Watain, a rising star in the black metal cosmos, were finishing up their Lawless Darkness US tour, and despite signs of fever, it was mandatory that I braved the winter night.

New York's own Hamsoken opened up this celebration of all things black and necro. A three piece consisting of a drummer, singer/guitarist, and keyboardist, Hamsoken evoked the spectres of early Burzum and Darkthrone with a stripped down, minimalist sound. The keyboards occupied a large portion of the sonic space; and while they added a unique atmosphere and vintage Hammer Horror authenticity to the band, I couldn't help but think that their songs would be better served if those same keyboard lines were played instead by a second guitar. All the same, in a genre already disposed to misfits, outcasts, and the socially maladjusted, Hamsoken still came across as the ultimate outsider band; their authenticity in that regard couldn't be faked.

In 1998 I saw NYHC heroes Kill Your Idols play a bill at my school that was put together by a fellow student. Their singer had this to say: "I'm glad that we're playing on a bill that has old school [hardcore] bands, punk rock bands...and NO CRAPPY METAL BANDS!" I was the lone dissenter in the crowd with long hair and a Sepultura shirt. Most of my hardcore friends were happy enough to put on mullet wigs and mockingly headbang in support of KYI's statement.

So how is it that "more true than you" Black Anvil, their sleeveless denim jackets covered in tribute to bands like Venom and Possessed, are all ex-members of Kill Your Idols?

Waitress, no whipped cream, this irony is delicious all by itself.

In truth, I don't care much for Black Anvil, but I was alone in this opinion that night. They had the crowd moving throughout their set with their mix of Celtic Frost-esque proto-death and classic hardcore (metal + core without the icky myspace connotations). As much as I question their credibility, I can't deny the conviction with which they embody their current musical identity.

One band whose metal cred is never in question are Goatwhore. And for good reason; the members have been plugging away in various death, black, grind, and doom metal bands for the last 20 years, most notably Acid Bath and Soilent Green. Though Goatwhore have been around and hitting the road hard for more than a decade, I've never seen them live or heard much of their music. But there was little to be surprised about; Goatwhore are all about the glory days of the early 80's thrash explosion, when bullet belts, studded leather, and snarled German accents were the norm. Though there's no shortage of kids playing "dress up like the back of a Destruction album" (Bedford Ave, why are you working so hard to make me hate the music I love?), Goatwhore have been doing it longer than most, and it shows in their performance: there are no gaps in their live assault, just ferocity.

And Ben Falgoust, who I've seen multiple times with Soilent Green, is one of the great, under-rated metal frontmen: commanding the stage, he constantly engaged the crowd, with a rasp that could sandpaper the hull of a battleship. In the way they approach their songwriting and live performances, Goatwhore are the epitome of metal lifers: not flashy, but solid with a work ethic that's beyond reproach. I have no doubt that they'll still be in metal bands 10 years from now.

And over to Watain and their impressive dinner theater Satanism stage trappings. In the same vein as Mayhem, Watain go out of their way to embody "kvlt" and "necro" with actual artifacts of death, with their unfortunate roadie hanging rotting sheepskulls onstage before the band plays, much to the chagrin of concertgoers and venue owners. There's no doubt that this sets a certain mood, as Santos was permeated with (cough) the reek of putrefaction. It works well enough, except that Watain aren't really all that necro; their music is characteristic of every Swedish black metal band from Dissection on through Lord Belial; catchy, epic, and with a flair for the sweeping melodicisms. It isn't hard to imagine songs like "Stellarvore" or "Legions of the Black Light" coming from the likes of Borknagar.

And despite their utterly antisocial stage trappings, Watain perform as traditionally as any other metal band, with guitar solos extending into infinity, and their singer careening crazily like a deadite Jack Sparrow.

It's hard to gauge how deep into their schtick Watain actually are; they certainly take their image farther than most. It would be a shame to lose them to the same insanity that robbed us of Dissection. Sometimes self awareness is its own reward.

Still, it was fun in a Rocky Horror Picture show kind of way; I was nailed at the beginning of their set when the band spit mouthfulls of blood all over people standing in the front rows. No doubt that anyone in the same vicinity as me experienced the same thing, and had the dubious pleasure of taking this aspect of Watain home with them: bloodstreaked and smelling like an abattoir. It earned me some entertaining looks on the train ride home.