Friday, January 20th was both a significant and terrifying day in history. Riding a wave of populist, xenophobic, isolationist rhetoric, a giant, pervy Cheeto was sworn in as the President of The United States of America. Since Trump’s victory in last November’s election, progressive granola-munchers the world over, myself included, have been trying to understand how America voted for a guy who, amongst other things, keeps saying really horrible shit. While it is unlikely that every Trump supporter is a Goose-stepping fascist, these voters decided that racism and misogyny weren’t deal breakers, the logic looking something like, “Well, sure, maybe he thinks all Mexicans are rapists, but he’s got a plan to get me a job!”
These thoughts were front of mind on that very Friday when I made my way to Montreal’s Club Soda to check out legendary Black Metal artists Mayhem, whose member’s history with racist and homophobic statements (oh, and, you know, the occasional murder) have made them one of the most polarizing acts in metal history.
I made my way into the packed venue just as opening act Black Anvil was taking the stage. I’ve been a fan of Black Anvil ever since purchasing their 2014 record Hail Death solely based on the gnarly-ness of the album art. On top of being visually badass, the album was a vicious aural assault that deftly combined black metal’s icy grimness with swaggering, old school heavy-metal riffs. The band’s latest record (the excellent As Was, which we reviewed recently) sees Black Anvil further pushing their creative limits, so I was eager to see the new stuff performed live.
As the lights went down, the band ripped into the thunderous “On Forgotten Ways,” the fist song from As Was. From his furious headbanging during blast beat sections to his dramatic orchestra conductor’s hand motions during more melodic parts, lead singer and bassist Paul Delaney’s exuberant stage presence was infectious. Despite concentrating on tracks from As Was, an album that is far more musically complex than any of Black Anvil’s previous work, the band sounded razor sharp. Songs like “May Her Wrath be Just” and “As Was” sounded confident and powerful, as if the band had been playing them for years. Another noticeable difference in the new material was the use of clean vocals during more melodic sections. While there were some pitch and harmony issues earlier in the set, Delaney, drummer Raeph Glicken, and guitarists Travis Bacon and Jeremy Sosville were fairly locked in by epic closing track “Ultra.”
To the dismay of many die-hard fans, two-piece Colombian black metal outfit Inquisition were once again denied entry into the country by customs officials. Apparently, this marks the third time the band has been unable to play Montreal due to border issues. Guys, a piece of advice: when the border agents ask about the two industrial jugs of goat’s blood and the golden, sixteen-inch sacrificial blade, don’t say, “It’s for Satan.”
As it was nearing time for the evening’s main event, the energy and feeling of anticipation from the near-capacity crowd was almost palatable. Fans had extra reason to be excited, as Mayhem would be performing their legendary debut album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety. As the stagehands and techs readied the gear, an altar was erected in the center of the stage featuring candles, incense burners, and a pitch-black human skull. Smoke flooded the stage as the lights dimmed, and just as it appeared that some seriously ominous shit was about to go down, a polite recording chirped over the house speakers announcing that the band would appreciate it if the audience would put their cell phones away so as not to ruin the atmosphere. Someone call Alanis Morissette. You mean I can’t surf Stormfront while I watch the show? How gauche.
After that brief, bizarre interlude, the billowing smoke continued while the giant backdrop illuminated to reveal the iconic image of Nidaros Cathedral used on the cover of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The cloaked members of Mayhem took the stage and launched into “Funeral Fog”, engulfing the audience in a hypnotic wall of blast beats and tremolo guitar riffs. Lead singer Attila Csihar held court behind the makeshift altar, writhing and contorting as if completing some arcane ritual as he croaked out classic tune after classic tune. The band was in great form, and the music sounded incredibly vibrant for a band performing classic material. Songs like “Freezing Moon” and “From a Dark Past” sounded more powerful and polished than the original 1994 recording. Unfortunately, every time I’d come close to really enjoying what was undeniably a great performance, I’d remember that drummer Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg once said that black metal was for white people and that different races inherently have different levels of intelligence. Talk about a boner killer.
While I could go 100% Neill Jameson for another four paragraphs dissecting the problematic relationship between black metal and intolerance, this is, in the end, supposed to be a review of a concert. So I’ll say this: this was a musically excellent show featuring two talented bands. Unfortunately, a member of Mayhem appears to hold a set of views about the world that I find repugnant, and I can’t excuse that just because the dude helped create arguably one of the greatest black metal albums of all time, thus it fucks up my ability to enjoy their music. In short: shitty people can make good art, and that good art doesn’t make them less shitty. In shorter: go buy Black Anvil’s new record.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Kate Erickson