I’m afforded a huge privilege living in Montreal when to comes to live music. Beyond being a large, geographically well-positioned city, and thus a prime stop for most North American tours, Montreal boasts a robust local scene, a relatively healthy network of venues, and a truly stacked summer festival schedule. If you can’t find a good gig on a Friday night in this town, either you need to learn to internet better, or your tastes are so goddamn obscure that the two bands who play your particular brand of blackened neo-djent crust blues both happen to be performing at a festival in Reykjavik at the moment. While this plethora of choice is great for us music fans, it presents a daunting challenge to performers; there are only so many music fans to go around on any given night. Sometimes, even with a killer line up and excellent promotion, the crowd-gods aren’t in your favor and you end up playing to a half-empty room. With three or four other major shows happening that evening, including Osheaga, and falling exactly one week after Heavy Montreal, such was the fate ascribed to Arizona doom-mongers Spirit Adrift and locals Venomenon this past Saturday at Bar Le Ritz PDB. A pity, because those of us in attendance were treated to a right fucking rager.
The way Montreal power trio Venomenon took to the stage, you’d swear they were headlining at Wacken. They were high energy, confident, and everyone appeared to be having a blast, no one more so than drummer Petey, who attacked his kit with both precision and ferocity all while smiling like a child whose just been informed they have at their disposal lifetime supply of chocolate. The band’s sound draws on a number of influences, from traditional heavy metal, thrash, and punk, but the core of Venomenon’s attack is built upon catchy, swaggering riffs that immediately bring to mind bands like Red Fang and Doomriders. Petey and bassist Nick inject moments of rhythmic complexity at just the right moments, adding depth and character to tunes like “Odd.” While singer-guitarist Jordan’s vocals felt a tad buried in the mix, his guitar chops were spot on, especially his adroit lead work. The band thanked those in attendance before quickly ceding the stage to the evening’s main act.
I had been hoping for a chance to catch Spirit Adrift perform live ever since discovering Curse of Conception, their most recent full-length record, in the pages of Decibel magazine. And not on just any page; the band’s second LP had scored the #2 spot in Decibel’s top 40 albums of 2017, beating out new efforts from metal legends such as Immolation, Obituary, and Converge. After a single spin of Curse, I was hooked; the passion project of lead singer and guitarist Nate Garrett (he of Gatecreeper fame), Spirit Adrift takes doom metal melancholy and bends it around sweeping, dynamic grandeur that recalls the very best of Black Album-era Metallica.
The band kicked off these set with the album’s title track, a song whose musically sparse sections allow Garrett’s impressive vocals to shine through. Curse is one of those albums where the singing is so excellent and full of range that one questions if the band can pull it off outside of the studio. Garrett instantly erased any doubt. The band ramped up the intensity level with “Graveside Invocation,” a galloping fist pumper that highlighted the superb duel lead work from Garrett and second guitarist Jeff Owns. Drummer Marcus Bryant can certainly pummel with the best of them, but what made his performance stand out was his restraint, knowing exactly when to pull back and let other elements of the music come to the fore. Beyond skillful playing, what made the set truly enjoyable was the band’s level of engagement and passion; look, it would have been easy for these guys to just phone it in playing to a smaller crowd, but there was absolutely none of that shit on display. Garret and Owens gleefully leaned into each other while blasting through their frequent leads and Garrett graciously thanked the audience between songs for coming to check them out. The band ended their set with epic album opener “Earthbound” and instrumental piece “Wakien.”
I’d said earlier that it was “a pity” that the show wasn’t better attended. I want to clarify my meaning; I do not pity Venomenon or Spirit Adrift, because they do not need it. They are both excellent bands who have played and will play for big sold out rooms. This shit happens. My pity, dear readers, is reserved for all of you who missed this show.
Written by Jesse Gainer
*edited by Kate Erickson