I’ve always felt that doom metal is an underrepresented genre in Quebec. We’re known for our fast and aggressive thrash and death metal scene. And while that certainly has its place, I’ve become more of a fan of doom. There’s something to be said about a band that can crush you at a glacial pace with minimalist stoner riffs and time signatures. So, when I heard that Frayle was going to be rolling into town with Astral Witch, playing alongside two Montreal doom bands, Ritual Master and Wykan at Piranha Bar, I knew this was going to be a doom metal show NOT to be missed.
The evening kicked off with Montreal’s own Ritual Master. I only knew them by name. And by that, I mean I just knew they were on the bill for the evening – nothing else. So, when four guys walked on stage in corpse paint, I immediately prepared myself for the usual cacophony that is fast, intense black metal. From the first note played, Ritual Master taught me never to judge a book by its cover, because while the band is certainly influenced by black metal aesthetics, their sound was so much more than that. Trading in the typical blast beats and riffs played at neck-breaking speed, Ritual Master’s approach slows things down to a level of blackened doom metal, layered with themes of darkness and depression. The combination of slow, crushing riffs and drums with Inquisition style vocals and some of the most downright evil sounding keyboard I’ve ever heard, Ritual Master sounded like a band shat out of the deepest depths of hell (and I mean that as a total compliment). They were a fantastic start to the evening, and I hope to see more of them in the future.
It was time to shift from the blackened doom corners of hell, to the billowing towers of weed smoke from Astral Witch. Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, Astral With is a three-piece stoner/doom metal trio consisting of Alyssa Axeworthy on guitar and vox, Jen Brewer on drums and Jon Tiberious on bass. Though, filling in for Jon on this particular evening was Mercedes Lander from The White Swan and Kittie, which I’ll admit was pretty cool for this guy who grew on the teenage angst-fueled music of Kittie. As you might expect from a good stoner metal band, the music was loud and the riffs were plentiful. Their set consisted of tracks from their self-titled record, including “Love.” Drawing inspiration from bands like Sleep and Windhand, Astral Witch played an incredibly tight set, but still managed to be soaked in a rough guitar and bass tone and bone-crushing drums. Stoner metal is always a great fucking time, and a great fucking time was certainly had by everyone in attendance for their short, but incredible set.
Up next was Frayle from Cleveland, Ohio and I was stoked. Frayle were the best “accidental” discovery I’ve ever made. When scrolling through Instagram a few months ago, I stumbled on a random post about a self-proclaimed “witch doom band” with a picture of a cover to something called The White Witch EP. The second I hit play, I was floored by the crushing, slow-placed occult-layered doom I was hearing and the celestial and beautifully vaporous vocals of Gwyn Strang. It’s not a blend you typically hear in the doom metal universe, but the way Frayle play it makes for some of the most bewitching and enthralling doom you’ve ever heard.
As the lights dimmed and the room filled with smoke, Frayle kicked things off with the title track from The White Witch EP and immediately put the entire room into a trance. As part of a two-date Canadian exclusive showcase which began in Toronto the night before, Frayle were effectively the headliner of the evening, even though they weren’t playing last. Playing through tracks like “Things That Makes Us Bleed” and “Wandering Star,” you simply couldn’t look away as this five-piece band crushed every song that they played. The set also included a few new songs such as “1692” from a hopefully-soon-to-be-released full-length album and, the final song of the evening, “Dead Inside” from a two-song seven-inch of the same name being released on April 19th. When Frayle stepped off stage, I couldn’t help but have a huge smile as I knew I had just witnessed one of the most special shows I’ve seen this year, from a band that will undoubtedly continue to grow and get better.
The night ended with another local Montreal act knows as Wykan. Playing a concoction of blackened doom and blues, Wykan reminded me of Black Sabbath one moment, then Primitive Man the next. Their music is definitely of the sludgy variety. Unfortunately, following an act like Frayle is tough. It was unfortunate that a portion of the room had cleared out right after Frayle, so Wykan wasn’t exactly playing to a crowded room. Their three song EP Solace is fantastic. When I discovered it a few weeks ago, I was listening to it on repeat for a while. So when they kicked off with the opening track to that EP, “Lahppon Olmmos,” I wasn’t expecting the reaction I had. Something felt off and disconnected for me. Strangely, their blend of “Sabbath sludge” works perfectly on record but didn’t translate live as well as I had hoped. In all fairness, I might have been so entranced by Frayle’s set that it made everything else pale in comparison. And maybe Wykan themselves knew this. They still played a solid, decent set that I enjoyed, but in the end, decent just can’t compete with a band like Frayle.
Written by Dominic Abate
Photography by Amanda Hiscock
*edited by Mike Milito