Doomed Souls Evening – concert review

Last Sunday, November 7th, the folks from DonisArt brought doom upon us all.

First – literally, ‘cause their Doomed Souls Evening was taking place at Bucharest’s niche entertainment hotspot The Silver Church Club with a killer line-up of assorted doom metal acts consisting of Forgotten Tomb, October Tide and Saturnus.

Second – figuratively, for they announced that December’s Dark Bombastic Evening II would be the last event under the “Special Evenings” banner. I can only hope they are moving towards a different concept and not abandoning the business altogether, ‘cause that would be a terrible loss for the Romanian underground music scene, malnourished as it already is.

But let’s abandon for now that negative train of thought and focus on the really good stuff that last Sunday brought us.

In a field almost dominated by Northern bands, Italian Forgotten Tomb are somewhat of an exotic and much welcome presence. Emphasizing the doom-ish bits of depressive black metal, their music brings out the best of both worlds. This is why I was quite surprised seeing them play live, for in my mind I was picturing them as more of a black metal act than anything else. You know, with the grim looks and all. Turns out I was quite wrong.

Forgotten Tomb is a complex beast. I was first surprised by their looks and their attitude – I mean, they could have just as well played Mötörhead covers and not look inappropriate. Then, of course, was the music, which came as yet another surprise. See, I made the mistake of only having listened to the band’s earlier offerings, which indeed bear a strong black metal flavor. But the juiciest stuff is in their latest records, especially Negative Megalomania. This is where the Italians exhibit their most diverse influences so far, ranging from classic heavy metal to epic progressive with clean vocals. And Sunday evening their choice of songs was near perfect, with a great balance of all of these different nuances. We even got to hear their most recent “Spectres over Venice”, off their anniversary compilation.

The band’s show closed with a surprise, adding to the melting pot of their influences: “Depression”, a cover of 1980’s American punkers Black Flag. And there we were, silly people in the audience, hoping for yet another 10 minutes song. No such luck. The guys quickly exited the stage, leaving much of the crowd wanting more. If I were to make one negative comment about the entire evening, this would be it: it’s senseless and almost cruel to limit Forgotten Tomb’s stage time to what, 45 minutes? I would have gladly watched them for two straight hours, and hopefully I’ll have that opportunity soon enough.

After a commendably short break, the stage was taken by the first band of the evening to have a really strong following in the audience: Sweden’s October Tide.

Of the evening’s line-up, these guys were the closest of what I’d call a “cult band”. Started in 1995 as a Katatonia side-project featuring Jonas Renkse and Fredrik Norrman, the band entered an indefinite hiatus in 1999 after only two releases. Fast-forward ten years into the future and we have Fredrik Norrman leaving Katatonia on to reforming October Tide by himself. And this year’s album A Thin Shell is evidence of what a good job he did. So in a sense, October Tide is both old and new, and it’s quite refreshing to listen to their music and hear how the genre developed in the past decade.

They began their set how else but with the first song off their latest record, the thrilling “The Custodian of Science”. The Swedes had a fairly balanced playlist all in all, featuring key songs from all of their three records – like a good “best of” show. We listened to “Grey Dawn” and “Heart of the Dead” off Grey Dawn and “Blue Gallery” off Rain without End. The latest album was however in the spotlight, with songs such as “Fragile”, “Deplorable Request” and the audience-dedicated “The Dividing Line”. Mr. Norrman did a fine job gathering his newest crew, with In Mourning’s Tobias Netzell in particular being a very competent growler. I also couldn’t help but notice the fine musical taste of guitarist Emil Alstermark’s, whose t-shirt was branded with the A Perfect Circle logo. I approve of that.

October Tide chose to end their show with a glimpse of the past, taking us back to the days of their debut album. This is how we came to hear “Infinite Submission” and, as the last piece in a memorable show, the now classic “12 Days of Rain”. And then the guys were gone, with most of the audience cheering them for the better part of the next minutes. The encore wasn’t going to happen, though, as very soon the preparations began for the last and most awaited band.

I don’t think I’m mistaken when I say that Saturnus were the most eagerly awaited band of the evening. I mean, the guys already had two failed attempts at visiting Romania, and I suppose many of their fans had given up the hope of seeing them anytime soon. Luckily for us, we have great people such as Doru and Andreea of Kogaionon and DonisArt on our side, and in the last couple of years they proved they’re pretty good at making miracles happen. So after all, three was indeed a charm for all the doom fans in the house. How nice.

The Danes paved their way through the night with long, slow, mournful songs, highlighted by vocalist Thomas’ cavernous growls. Sunday night we witnessed a rather impromptu line-up at work, with Thomas, bassist Brian and newly-acquired guitarist Rune being the only core members of a band still looking for a drummer and another guitarist. Filling in those roles for the night were guitarist Martin Steene of power metal band Iron Fire and ex-Saturnus drummer Nikolaj Borg, who kindly offered his former mates a hand.

Saturnus’ setlist featured a varied mix of old and new, with songs such as “Starres”, “Empty Handed”, “To the Dreams” or “Pretend” being welcomed with lots of cheering from the crowd. The show also had its share of newer songs off their next album, whose release date Thomas anticipated to be sometime next year. Aside from the now famous “Wind Torn” (available on Youtube as a live performance), the guys also played the fittingly named “Litany of Rain” and a shorter “dance” whose complete name I can’t remember. Commenting about its length, Thomas joked that they could very well submit the song to the Eurovision Song Contest. I say what the hell, give it a try, they might succeed where Keep of Kalessin failed last year.

What I liked most about Saturnus was that they were having such a good time on stage you could see it. Somewhat in contrast to the music, Thomas was mostly all smiles, exchanging jokes with Brian, putting his lyrics sheets in order and even gifting us with a special moment – his first time picking up the guitar in a live show, during the ending sequence of “Inflame Thy Heart”.

Toward the end of the show, a small but vocal group in the audience began shouting for “Christ Goodbye” – a not-so-polite habit that I, for one, don’t quite understand. This didn’t keep the band from playing some more old songs, among which “Lost My Way” and “All Alone”. When the time finally came for “Christ Goodbye”, Thomas warned us that it will be the last song of the evening, no encores, no nothing, ‘cause they felt better that way. Well, let’s just say that, in the end, all those minutes of applause and cheering didn’t change the guys’ minds. But they were well-deserved.

As I went to the bar for one last beer to close the night, the club started playing some excellent Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble tunes. In fine keeping with all the doomed souls at the premises, I thought.

Cosmin Ionescu (Kozminovici)

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