At approximately 2:00am last Saturday morning, my body jarred me from sleep and announced, quite forcefully, that it had been stricken with an especially violent case of food poisoning. I’ll spare you the details, but the subsequent five hours resembled the Director’s Cut of everyone’s favorite scene from The Exorcist. Of course, you’d be right to ask what my little bout of the pukey-pukeys has to do with the concert you actually came here to read about, but hear me out; my evening of torturous abasement in front of that cruel, uncaring porcelain altar gave me acute understanding of the bleak, existential dread infused into the music of many of the bands who blew the doors off Montreal’s Atomic Café on Friday night.
This was my first time visiting Atomic, a small cafe/bar/venue in the middle of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montreal. The venue’s cheery, 1950s soda-shoppe vibe was in stark contrast to the sea of pitch-black patch jackets congregating around the bar and stage area.
After taking advantage of Atomic’s supremely reasonable beer specials, I made my way to the stage to check out Rope, the opening act who’d made the trip down from Quebec City. Like many contemporary extreme music acts, Rope aren’t content to stick to a single sub-genre, instead electing to blend elements of crust, hardcore, black metal, and grind. While that particular ingredient list isn’t necessarily ground breaking, guitarists Charles and Doy added texture through extensive use of melody, providing good counterpoint to all of the rage and gloom. As well, the band shake things up rhythmically by occasionally eschewing blasts and d-beat for fist-pumping traditional metal choruses. Vocalist Couteau radiated furious energy throughout the set, inspiring the first bit of movement from the already sizable crowd.
I had a feeling we were in for a very different performance from next act Jesus Horse when guitarist Luc Sylvestre began his warm up with the riff from Sum 41’s “Fat Lip.” Sure enough, the band’s music was a complete stylistic and emotional one-eighty from the previous act; a mirthful, skronky, angular take on metallic hardcore mixing the party-riff exuberance of Every Time I Die with the nerdy, frenetic mathy-ness of Blood Brothers and “Shape of Punk to Come”-era Refused. Frontman and local hotdog entrepreneur Alex Levi was the personification of an ever-exploding firework, jumping and flailing on and off the stage while snarling along to songs like “35 With Braces” and “All Your Heroes Get Sex Changes.” Levi kept the breaks between songs entertaining, jokingly apologizing for being “a bunch of Montreal Anglos from Connecticut, Saskatchewan” while Greber’s bassist/vocalist Marc Bourgon repeatedly yelled for the band to cover Electric Wizard.
Whatever whimsy Jesus Horse had cultivated was quickly jettisoned out the airlock when two-piece grind-sludge misery merchants Greber began their assault. Starting the set with music from their recently released full length Cemetery Preston, Greber’s new material was just as starkly primal and propulsive as past efforts, but simply a whole metric fuck-tonne darker. Frenzied blast beat sections would give way to austere droning whole notes led by the haunting mix of Bourgon’s baritone growl and drummer-vocalist Steve Vargas’ tortured yell. Bourgon gave the hand signal for “circle pit” before the band launched into galvanic crusher “Fredericton” and the audience demonstrated their proficiency in recognizing International Metal Concert Sign Language by going going full tumble-dry. While both of these fellows are immensely talented, Vargas’ drumming in both Greber and his other projects has always blown me away. I contemplate lighting my kit on fire and taking up clarinet every time I watch this guy do his thing.
Rounding out the evening was a surprisingly quick set from Montreal’s Dark Circles. The band began with a complete run through of an upcoming EP, and while the new material wasn’t a massive departure from Dark Circles’ signature blackened crust underscored by drummer Marc Thomas’ thunderous D-beat, there were moments when the band would dial back the dynamics to create pockets of pensive introspection, all before ramming back to life. These brief juxtapositions added a bunch of tension and made the new material all the more lethal. Dark Circles continue to be one of my favorite local bands, and having followed them for the last few years, it’s been really cool to see their continued progression.
I usually try to wrap these reviews up with some sort of clever metaphor or turn of phrase, but this time I think it’s best to keep it simple. I’m really glad I got to see a bunch of great sets from a bunch of great bands before my stomach decided to go fuck itself.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Stacy Basque
*edited by Kate Erickson