Contributed by Jake Holmes
It seems as if weekday metal shows are quickly becoming the norm in Austin, Texas. In the last month or so alone, I’ve seen Deicide, Neldoreth, Teratism, Dying Fetus, Old and Ill, and Watain (the subject of this review) amongst a ton of other amazing bands, resulting in killer times and the need to load up on caffeine the next day at work in order to be coherent on three hours of sleep. TheWednesday Watain show at Red 7 wound up being one of the best I have ever seen, which is not a statement to be taken lightly. I’d witnessed live Watain rituals three times before the Devil’s Night 2013, but none of the three performances even came close how insane their most recent show was (which is to say nothing against the previous three shows, which all ruled). My group and I got there early to watch every band, getting caught in the rain as a result (which was quite a harbinger of things to come, as you’ll see). After milling about and buying some merch (Hails and thanks to Zolrak of Nodens for selling me Conqueror, Slaughter, and Vomitor patches), it was time for the show to start at approximately 8:30pm.
The sole Texan support came in the form of San Antonio’s Hod, who appropriately started the night with a black/death barrage that no Texan metal showgoer should be a stranger to. Hod wasted no time thrashing through a set of material drawing from their “The Uncreated Demo” and their “Limb Splitter II” split released on Ossuary Industries, and even included a brand-new song that was dedicated to a Texan band of black metal comrades who were in attendance (HAILS!). As per usual, songs like “And The Smoke Will Rise” and “I Am Destroyer” were played, with vocalist Beer Reebs’ croak ringing in loud and clear over the chainsaw guitar riffing of guitarists Danny “Blackwolf” Luebben and Carl “Lord Necron” Snyder. Additionally, the raspy shout of bassist Trans Am accented several anthemic sections of songs and his four-string attack was very prominent in the mix. Locking everything in was drummer Del, bringing an element of speed to the band that allows the other stringed instrumentalists to pick away with maximum power. It was a savage way to kick off the evening, and Tribulation continued the evening’s intensity with some death metal mayhem of their own.
Sweden’s Tribulation came out in a full attack, bringing an extreme metal melting pot to the stage that drew influences from old-school Swedish death metal and hyperspeed thrash metal to kick the audience’s teeth in with their furious set. Bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson gruffly delivered obscure lyrics while picking away at his strings, holding down the rhythm in unison with wide-eyed drummer Jakob Ljungberg. The guitar gymnastics between Jonathan Hulten and Adam Zaars were the highlight of the set, with everything from flashy solos to buzzsaw riffing being showcased — displaying that Tribulation are the opposite of a “one-trick pony”. The beyond-energetic Hulten had a presence akin to Mezzadurus (of Blood Storm and session for Absu during the ’90’s) with manic eyes and fingers that flew across the fretboard like darting spiders. The band also made use of several cleaner-toned instrumental sections to transition from one song to the next, not unlike what one would hear in an old-school horror movie. These transitions enhanced the aura of the performance greatly, creating a chilling vibe that fit these metallers like a spiked glove. Although their performance wasn’t to everyone in my group’s liking, I enjoyed it a great deal, and look forward to the next Tribulation appearance on American soil.
In Solitude are a rising name in heavy metal, although they are much stylistically different than the other three bands on the bill. They’ve been compared to Mercyful Fate (which, to these ears can mainly be heard in the guitar riffing of their first album) and with the new album, “Sister”, they have been incorporating influences from classic goth rock bands into their old-school heavy metal sound. They had a great crowd and are very popular here in the States (their latest LP seems to be sold out just about everywhere I looked when I went to buy it for a friend — apologies, Mr. E.) and thus their performance seemed to be very much anticipated leading up to this show. However, after the high-speed attack of Hod and Tribulation, and compared to the chaos of Watain that would follow them, In Solitude’s performance did not quite measure up to the notably high bar of energy that was set by the other bands on the tour. You should chalk this one up to personal preference on my end since I am not a huge fan of In Solitude on record (not that I want to disrespect them — they’re all great musicians and clearly live and breathe for metal), and the crowd was clearly enjoying involved in the music to a great degree. In any case, if you were already an In Solitude fan, it is likely that you greatly enjoyed the show. With that having been said, there was little that could prepare us for the madness that was to come.
The stench of blood, fire, and death heralded the arrival of Uppsala’s Watain, the controversial bringers of black metal tradition. Describing the performance’s atmosphere of the pouring rain and chanting voices is challenging — it was such a perfect environment that reproducing it would be next to impossible. The fact that this show took place on the famed Devil’s Night (the night before what we Americans refer to as “Halloween”) only added to the intensity of the performance, which was unlike any other show I have ever witnessed. The Mayhem-like riffing of “Devil’s Blood” blasted the crowd with a black metal baptism, which was further emphasized with lead vocalist E. anointing audience members with a chalice of animal’s blood. The setlist contained material that spanned the band’s career, with the material from “Sworn to the Dark” seeming to have the strongest response from the crowd. In particular, “Storm of the Antichrist” and the title track drew a maelstrom of shouting from the manic devotees watching, who were thrashing around whilst soaked in blood and water. The songs from Watain’s latest opus, “The Wild Hunt” were also cloaked in the same blackened presence that one has come to expect from Watain — keeping the violence in the air strong and the momentum flowing. All of the guitar parts were played accurately and faithfully, blasting out every tremolo-picked riff and furious guitar solo such as the one in “Reaping Death”. Vocalist E. roamed the stage in the manner of a wolf craving blood, delivering endless blasphemies of black metal with admirable conviction. The band was on fire (more on that thought later) and were clearly feeling the spirit of the Devil’s Night throughout the entire performance, which made the whole show unforgettable.
Unfortunately, all good (or evil) things must come to an end, and there was some sort of issue with the PA in the middle of “Outlaw”, forcing the show to end early. However, given as how I had just seen Watain play for over an hour in one of the most maniacal settings I could imagine, I was still completely satisfied with the show itself. This was also the case for everyone I spoke to at the show, many of whom were either excitedly talking away about the show or in slackjawed awe at what they had just witnessed. One thing was certain about that show — no one in attendance will ever forget it. This, my friends, was one for the ages.
I’ve used the phrase “Blood Fire Death” several times throughout this review, and there is no more fitting phrase I could think to describe that night. Of course it happens to be the title of one of the best Swedish metal albums of all time (I won’t even mention by whom since you should know this already), which Watain obviously hold in reverence, but those three words have a much deeper meaning in terms of their approach to black metal. While Watain are notable for being caked in blood and cloaked in the aura of death, they also have a flame burning inside them at all times on-and-off-stage, in addition to the fires that are lit during live rituals. Their conviction through their worship is most respectable, and if you happened to miss the performance, you absolutely have to see them the next chance you get. It won’t be the same without the pouring rain on the Devil’s Night, but it should be pretty damn close.
See you next time, Austin.
Jake Holmes is a Central Texas heavy metal writer who lives by the pen and will (likely) die by the sword. Originally from a suburban town outside of North Austin, Holmes moved to San Antonio during his college years. After several years and thousands of miles driven to see shows in San Antonio and Austin, he returned to the Austin area due to his graduation and continued to see as many shows as humanly possible. His interests include going to shows, blasting Carnivore as loudly as possible on the way to shows, and sleeping upon his return to his home from shows. His “dislikes” include hearing loss, traffic, and unnecessary bonus tracks on album reissues.