Saturday, February 19, 2011

Immortal and Absu 2.19.11

The night before the concert, howling winds shook my apartment and banished the warm weather that New York City had enjoyed for the previous 2 days. There couldn't have been a more perfect welcome for Immortal, Bergen's Kings of the Ravenrealm and purveyors of all things icy and metal.

$40 seems like an unconscionably high price to see 2 underground metal bands (especially for someone like me who saw Immortal open for Satyricon 11 years ago, and paid half the price to do so), but the line for ticket holders stretched down the block and around. It would appear that like organized crime, black metal is recession proof.

Joining Immortal on this limited jaunt through the States was Texas' Absu, a band who's early thrash-inflected black metal has always seemed highly suspect to me. Proscriptor's studded headband and snakeskin leather pants didn't do much to convince me otherwise, but credit to the man for carrying the vocals and the blast at the same time. I'm still not entirely sold on Absu (or their needlessly convoluted faux-mythological schtick), but they play with the conviction and expertise of veterans. Not to mention that they have more identity than any number of bands that jumped on the thrash revival bandwagon in the last decade.

After an interminable wait, Immortal took to the stage with "All Shall Fall", and proceeded to slay with a setlist drawn largely from their last 4 albums. Not that anyone minded - indeed, the unrelenting hyperblast of the earlier albums may have derailed their momentum (though the appearance of "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms" got a huge cheer, and the absence of "Blashyrk" was baffling).

Unlike most of black metal bands, who are content to largely stand in place and look evil, Immortal are performers and entertainers of the highest calibre - their onstage antics range from classic rock poses to physical comedy that would do the Kids in the Hall proud. I'd make the case that Immortal are the first black "meta" band - a group of self-aware Norwegians who enjoy satirizing black metal's conventions as much as they celebrate them. Or maybe Abbath is just a clown at heart. Either way, it's impossible not to be won over by his stage presence and antics.

But make no mistake, though they're not a band whose proficiency is often celebrated, Immortal are as impressive musically as they are comedically. Handling the guitar and vocals by himself, Abbath hardly missed a note and his rasp was in fine form. And what more can be said about Horgh, the most lovable drummer in all of black metal? Even under all the corpsepaint, he seemed genuinely moved by the audience's enthusiasm. Pity we didn't get to see him re-enact those infamous shirtless band photos from 1999.

I assumed that because of the ticket price, Abbath would treat us to his firebreathing trick. He didn't, but I can't say I missed them as these guys pulled out all the stops. With the holocaust winds in full effect during my walk back home and another snowstorm on the horizon, I couldn't have gotten a more complete Immortal experience.