Labyrinthic Metal Evening

Saturday evening Bucharest was about as gloomy and depressing as it gets, with a thickly overcast sky and a light but monotonous and cold autumn rain. So there couldn’t really be a better time for a metal show in which the headliners were described as “suicidal black doom”. Add other descriptions to the mix, such as “depressive black” and “gothic horror”, and you get a pretty clear picture of what Labyrinthic Metal Evening, organized by DonisArt, had to offer.
So hell yeah, I say, bring it on!

I got to the Silver Church Club around 8 PM while Romanian depressive black-metallers Kistvaen were already playing. Luckily for me, I was just in time for the second song in their set, which turned out to be a featuring with none other than Shining frontman Niklas Kvarforth. The song, called “Canitude”, is also to be found on the Romanians’ debut album Unbekannte which was freshly released with the occasion. While rooted in the depressive black metal aesthetics of bands such as say Forgotten Tomb or even Shining themselves, Kistvaen’s music also reminded me of the funeral doom sound of bands such as Forest of Shadows. Aside from the band’s own name (kistvaens were a sort of ancient Celtic burial chambers) there is a distinct funereal flavor woven throughout their music, much to the praise of vocalist Fane whose tormented growls, shrieks and whispers did a great job at conveying it. Bonus points for ending their show with a song off their next record, while barely having released their first one.

Next on stage were Indian Fall, another Romanian outfit, who managed to gather a rather consistent group of fans in front of the stage. No wonder – the band’s 2001 debut, Pathfinder, is one of the “classics” of Romanian metal. Labeled as “melodic black”, the band gave a fine performance, although the melodic bits (enjoyable on their own) weren’t quite cohesive with the whole. Their set included both new songs off their 2009 release Seasons In Equilibrium (of which I vastly enjoyed “Serpents Whores of Salvation”) and older ones off Pathfinder, “Black Suite” in particular being welcomed with vivid cheers from the crowd. I have to give them props for using a live keyboard sound – all of the following bands used pre-recorded keyboard tracks instead. Indian Fall were also the only band to make use of the club’s lateral screens, accompanying their show with a collection of assorted visuals.

The Norwegians from Vulture Industries were undoubtedly the most cheered act of the night. A pleasant surprise to many, as I assume most of the audience wasn’t familiar with them, they stormed the stage with their personal brand of avant-garde metal, complete with stage theatrics and an engaging performance. To be honest, you knew they weren’t going to be your regular metal band from the moment bass player Kyrre, during the soundcheck, tested the microphones by singing the chorus to Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”.

Now don’t ask me how I recognized the song, each one of us is entitled to our own dark secrets so let this one be mine, ok?

Vulture Industries’ music sounded like a twisted, mad, somewhat carnivalesque take on the modern epic doom metal played by bands such as Isole. Comparisons with Norwegian fellows Arcturus are not off, but in this respect Vulture Industries emerge as much more “metal” and a bit less “avant-garde”. Their set included some excellent songs from their debut, such as “Pills of Conformity”, “Grim Apparitions” and my personal favorite “Blood Don’t Flow Streamlined”. I also discovered some instant favorites from their recently released The Malefactor’s Bloody Register, which I hadn’t yet listened to at the time, such as “The Bolted Door” or the romantically tragic pseudo-ballad “I Hung My Heart on Harrow Square”, (jokingly) dedicated to all the ladies in the audience. The peak of their performance was “Hangman’s Hatch”, when vocalist Bjørnar tied a noose around his neck (not a working one, mind you), throwing the other end towards the audience and spending most of the song doing this bizarre dance, resisting the crowd’s pull. Quite evocative of the concept of their latest record, if you think of it.

All in all, these guys were the revelation of the event. And I am now in possession of an autographed copy of their Register, so yes, I’m pretty much a happy fanboy now.

The Germans from The Vision Bleak veered the night back towards blacker grounds. I didn’t see much of the “horror” that was advertised in their description, but the “gothic” bit felt right. Now don’t think cheap, cheesy, melodically oversaturated gothic metal, the kind that big labels started signing by the dozen after the commercial success of Nightwish. No way. The Vision Bleak’s music has a strong taste of early to mid Moonspell, and now that I think of it, a stylistic comparison with Rotting Christ doesn’t seem that far off – just to give you a glimpse of what league these guys are playing in. Lyrically, the Germans play the epic card and it works quite well; how could you not love a song with honest, catchy riffage and Cthulhu mythos references? Aside from the aforementioned “Kutulu!” the guys also played my other favorite “Carpathia”, the seriously badass “A Romance With the Grave” (or another song with similar, headbanging-worthy riffs) and, of course, a song featuring Shining’s Niklas – “I Dined With the Swans”. Boy, that dude really was the star of the event.

I felt a bit sorry for The Vision Bleak as they exited the stage – they didn’t really “click” with the crowd from the beginning, and they had to leave just when they were getting things started. The audience could have been more involved, despite Konstanz’s best efforts. A fine show from an interesting band, though, and I wouldn’t say no to seeing them again sometime.

The apparition of Swede prog-metallers Nightingale caused stir in the crowd, with many fans who had consciously waited for them in the back coming toward the front of the stage. Among them I spotted aspiring politician Remus Cernea – guy has tastes, I’ll give him that.

I’ll start by saying that Nightingale were the most out-of-place band of the night, their classy, old-school progressive metal coming in stark contrast with, well, every one of their other stage partners. I’ll continue by saying that I totally loved it. Excess grimness can cause damage, and these guys treated us with an excellent mix of old and new songs, all of which bearing a strong classic heavy flavor. Now I won’t bore you with details about Dan Swanö, most of you already know very well who the guy is. For the rest of you, he also goes by the name of “God”, see if that rings a bell. Dan and his brother Dag did a really good job at bringing a tired and somewhat lethargic audience back to life. From the first notes of their classic opening song “Nightfall Overture” to newer songs such as “Hideaway” the band rocked out non-stop. Well, at least they would have if not for the sound problems that plagued much of their performance. Somewhat fortunately for us listeners, the problems were mainly in the monitors. But it’s not cool for a band to do a continuous soundcheck for almost two thirds of their show just ‘cause they can’t hear each other properly.

Problems aside, Nightingale really knew what buttons to push in order to make us feel spoiled. Aside from the rarely played live “Eternal” and other classics such as “Shadowland Serenade”, “The Glory Days” or “Steal the Moon”, they also played a couple of medleys; the first one comprised of a selection of older songs, while the second one featured a few Edge of Sanity songs, some of them rarely if ever played live, “’cause I heard you like it darker here in Romania”. Another notable Edge of Sanity cover was “Black Tears”, vividly cheered by the public. Nightingale’s show saw the first and last attempts at crowd-surfing, so you can guess the atmosphere. Too bad much of the public was already exhausted after more than six hours of music. I’d really like to see them again, maybe this time on a larger, outdoor stage.

Headiners Shining took the stage a few minutes after 3 AM and had a really hard time engaging the audience. Well, judging from their music and their usual lyrical themes I’d say that was a good thing, hm? But jokes aside, Shining gave a unique show, in their own weird, troubled and I dare presume honest way.

There are two kinds of people. First, there are the regular people, like you and me. People with more or less mundane jobs, people who go to metal shows, people who go out for a beer or two.

And then, there are the characters. Characters have the great merit of having crafted themselves; they are artists, in a sense, observing and polishing their own images as they would with a sculpture. Niklas Kvarforth is such a character. You could see that in the way he was sitting at the official table, puffing his cigar, looking like some sort of metal thug. You could feel that in the way he soundchecked his microphone with Rihanna’s “Umbrella” (yet another dark secret, I know). You could smell that in the red wine he spat towards you at the beginning of the show. You could hear that in the way he interpreted his songs, as if he was barely creating them on the spot. Not to mention the auto-flagellation (rather mild, considering his history, I heard) and the short homoerotic moments shared with some of his bandmates.

It’s the characters that fascinate us, not the regular people. And Shining’s show was rather mesmerizing, in a sick, ironic, human way. I was struck by perceiving a good dose of humor coming from Niklas, if a bit odd and twisted. Whether it was or wasn’t really there, I know I enjoyed it.

The night closed with a special screening of Agalloch’s Bucharest concert from March. I would’ve loved to watch and relive it, but my feet were calling me home. It was roughly 4,30 AM and the Labyrinthic Metal Evening was slowly turning into morning.

Cosmin Ionescu (Kozminovici)

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3 Responses to “Labyrinthic Metal Evening”

  1. krossfire says:

    Goddamnit ! I missed Vulture Industries and The Vision Bleak :(

  2. deidra says:

    Good review, I think you’ve described the atmosphere quite nicely, yet you might have mentioned that Schwadorf (Markus Stock) is the man who created Empyrium and some of the people were there only to see him (yeah, I’ve got his autograph!:p).

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