(Goatwhore photo by Nathaniel Shannon, stolen from the Goatwhore myspace page)
By Adrien Begrand
It was already very cool to have one of the more interesting, eclectic metal tours of the summer run through my city, but to have the five-band Conquer & Curse Tour play a tiny place not much bigger than someone’s rumpus room made it all the more enjoyable. Located deep in the basement of one of the rattier blocks in Saskatoon’s south downtown, Walker’s is a peculiar, quirky little venue that’s become the local dive for the city’s small contingent of metal fans, but while the sound is often gawd-awful and multiple, obtrusive TV sets are always left on during band’s sets (say, in case you get tired of moshing and feel like watching some Tila Tequila), the intimacy of the dingy place can make up for all its shortcomings, as it did on this pleasant July evening, the mighty impressive lineup of Goatwhore, Abigail Williams, DÅÅTH, Abysmal Dawn, and SWWAATS delivering four solid hours of increasingly deafening fun.
Yours truly had just made his way down the steep stairs of the venue when Tampa, Florida’s SWWAATS got the festivities going. Swiping their name from a William S. Burroughs quote, the band otherwise known as Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky has turned a lot of heads this year with their debut full-length The Grand Partition and the Abrogation of Idolatry, a clever amalgamation of forward-thinking technical death metal and blistering grindcore, and their quick set was more of the same. The bearded, full-voiced John Collett commandeered the stage, or at least tried to, as the male early arrivals were somewhat distracted by the presence of comely guitarist Sally Gates at stage left, but it wasn’t long before the songs won out, the mid-paced “Despot” ranking as the set’s highlight.
Compared to the modern edge of SWWAATS, the approach of Los Angeles’s Abysmal Dawn is considerably more traditional, but while the foursome never hides the fact that it draws heavily from the likes of Morbid Angel and Immolation, it’s an immensely appealing package, especially live. In fact, it’s best to experience this band in a live setting, as guitarist/vocalist Charles Elliott and the rest of his mates deftly serve up an enticing balance of old-fashioned brutality with genuine song dynamics. It’s crushing, but also has the patience to let melodies develop, something not enough young bands know how to do properly.
Interestingly, it was DÅÅTH that generated the most ravenous reception from the small crowd on this night. Being the third band on a five band bill on a weeknight is actually a prime spot, and when you factor in that the Atlanta quintet is a terrific live act, it’s no wonder the circle pits were going full-throttle. Their new album The Concealers is a good one, leaving the genre-hopping of 2007’s The Hinderers behind in favour of a more groove-oriented, melodic death metal approach, wisely showcasing the talents of guitarists Eyal Levi and Emil Werstler, who are quickly emerging as one of the finest metal guitar shred tandems since Mustaine/Friedman and Arch Enemy’s Amott brothers. And although the mix was less than spectacular, the band was taut throughout, vocalist Sean Z. charismatic, the guitars (when we could hear them clearly) fluid, best exemplified by the incessant Liquid Metal staple “The Worthless”, which ignited the punters on the floor.
To say Abigail Williams is a difficult band to follow is an understatement. Band members leave, are replaced, the replacements are replaced by the ones who left initially, then Emperor’s Trym inexplicably plays drums on their album. First they’re based in Phoenix, then they’re moving to New York, one second they’re deathcore, the next they’re melodic black metal. And this tour is no different, as keyboardist/co-songwriter Ashley “Ellyllon” Jurgemeyer is now with Cradle of Filth, and bassist Plaguehammer was denied entry into Canada. But with yet another female keyboard player in the fold and a different guest bassist chipping in for each song, not only was this night’s revolving-door lineup fitting for this incredibly unstable band, but it ended up working very well. Once they started cranking out a collection of tunes from last year’s decent In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns, the music superseded everything else, vocalist Ken Sorceron screeching and growling away a la Trevor Strnad of the Black Dahlia Murder. While the more death-oriented fare teetered towards repetition, the more blackened tracks like “Acolyte” brought out the band’s strength, the atmospheric keyboards underscoring the tremolo-picked guitars quite well instead of simply drowning them out, proof of just how key a role the departed Ellyllon played in this band.
For a five-band show on a Monday night, the change-overs were quick enough to have headliners Goatwhore hit the stage a little past 11:30, and the New Orleans band wasted no time, unleashing a ferocious, very tight performance of their stubbornly retro, blue-collar Metal with a capital M. Their new fourth album Carving Out the Eyes of God easily ranks as one of the year’s finest, and it’s clear the band is awfully proud of it, the set focusing heavily on the new material. So good is the new record that you could spot the difference in the quality of Sammy Duet’s riffs without having even heard it before, each new song relentlessly catchy, enthusiastically mining that mid-’80s Celtic Frost/Bathory sound Goatwhore loves so much: “Provoking the Ritual of Death”, “The All-Destroying”, “Apocalyptic Havoc”, “Shadow of a Rising Knife”, “Carving Out the Eyes of God”, and “In Legions, I Am Wrath” each sounding fantastic. All the while, towering vocalist Ben Falgoust was his usual extroverted self, the band’s decision to play with no stage lighting enabling the frontman to cut an even more imposing figure than usual. Of the older tracks they did play, The Eclipse Of Ages Into Black‘s “Invert the Virgin” and A Haunting Curse standout “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult” stood out the most, the two songs bookending as punishing and fun a metal set that’s come to this city as of late, leaving us cellar-dwellers deafened and completely spent as we made our way upstairs, outside, and home, our ears buzzing away.