Despite some traffic -- evening rush hour and holiday weekends are the only times when people actually drive into New Hampshire in significant numbers -- I got in with time to spare, stood around for a bit, and saw the second stage set up again. Gott im Himmel. Gottes Pimmel. Despite the ridiculousness of having a second stage in a bar, the second stage at Mark's is probably the best implementation of this thoroughly bad idea yet. The sound is good, it keeps the inter-band latency to a minimum, and thus allows for longer sets for everyone, once you get over the ridiculousness of having 8 bands on the show.
The first band, though, was going on up at the main stage. New beer in hand, I went back up and hit the rail in front of the minimal crowd.
This band has the dubious honor of getting the second- or third-flattest crowd response I have ever seen in my life. Nobody was actually leaving the building like people did almost every time Halo of Thorns went on at Sputnix back when they were active, but there were seriously only a handful of people applauding after every song. Here, part of the same equation applied; these guys certainly weren't anywhere near as shitty and incompetent as Halo, but they were just as poorly matched to the overall bill. Their bassless technical death attack was well-executed, but the people here were waiting to hear black metal; they'd do much better lined up with one of the scads of local brutal/technical death bands from around the area, but their music wasn't quite distinctive or appealing enough to break through to a crowd that was primarily here for something else. Towards the end of their set, they showed some promise in some stuff that inherited heavily from Nile, but this band is still under development, and part of that development is finding appropriate shows just as much as it is solidifying their musical style.
In the realm of cheesy things that can be done with the drums, playing with no shirt and fingerless gloves at the same time is definitely number one on the list. However, somewhere between stick-twirling and gongs has to be placed an entry for "ceaseless gravity blasts". Though it sounds pretty intense, if you do it too often, someone's going to be looking in behind the snare and realizing "what the hell, that's all it is?" As a flavoring, it's cool, but you've got to question someone whose first response, when challenged to do some technical drumming, is to do a gravity blast.
Cold Northern Vengeance should have played in this slot on the second stage, but there was some drama that resulted in most of the band not showing up. Nearly enough of Martyrvore was there that they could have played instead, but I didn't spot the drummer; regardless, this was a letdown, but Paul did hook me up with a free ticket for 1349 by way of compensation. Of course, I can't blame CNV without knowing what went on, and internal band business needs to stay internal; it's probably most succinct and also acceptable to just blame the club and their pay-to-play policies. If bands know they're going to be losing money on a show from the get-go, there's no incentive for them to show up and play. I was looking forward to CNV, but there was still Enslaved and some cool local support, and hopefully they'll get everything squared away for the 1349 show.
Abigail Williams [5/7]
I have very little idea how this band got onto this tour. As far as I can remember, neither Enslaved nor Dark Funeral is on Metal Blade, and stylistically, there's virtually no points of connection. Yeah, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity took inspiration from black metal back when they were starting up the NWOSDM, but that was more than a decade ago, and it's been established as an independent style for a while now. The band put up a decent performance, but it was total NWOSDM; if keyboards make a band black metal, then Still Remains are also black metal, and if shirt choices make you a part of the same continuum as the bands they're from, then Trivium is an underground metal band with integrity. It was a decent set, but unfortunately they weren't even the best NWOAHM band on this bill.
This band actually had to dig themselves out of a fairly deep hole with me: when they were setting up, because CNV wasn't playing, the sound guys offered them to start five minutes earlier; the singer declined, stating that the band didn't have another five minutes. If you can't play even one more song when you get the opportunity, what the HELL are you doing on tour? This is frankly ridiculous. I really can't believe that Abigail Williams has no old demos to pull from, no cover songs from when they were local-opening bills like this, and can't even bring out some of the fill from some of their label releases to tune up with, but the alternative is that they're fucking lazy and don't like playing. What the hell, man.
Some people were talking about the drummer setting the action on his pedals really low, producing a triggered sound and reducing the power in his playing, but the most significant bit from the drums in this set was the gay porn found on his snare. This was the first strike from Enslaved in the process of pranking the other bands in this last date of their American tour, but it would not be the last.
The Accursed [5.5/7]
I keep squawking about split scores and how much I hate doing them, but I also keep passing them out. This, band, though, earned theirs; the sound wasn't quite as good as the last time I saw them, but they definitely put out a solid set. The Accursed definitely need to record some new stuff, because their CD definitely undersells them; they have a lot more power live, and the lyrics and patterns that come off as trite or re-treaded on record sound a lot more vital in live performance. They were quite easily the most hardcore-influenced band of the night, and got probably the most turbulent crowd response of the second stage, possibly overall as well. They also didn't really match the bill, but unlike Deconformity, they put on a strong enough performance that this didn't really matter to anyone.
For those without a clue, The Accursed were the best NWOAHM band on this bill, not the one that was hitching, remora-like, along on a black metal tour. We just grow them better here in New England.
Like many people, I have no idea how they weren't the headliners, and the band delivered an absolutely awesome set that left no doubt that they should have been. Enslaved is one of those rare bands that anyone into heavy music can (and ought to) get into, despite their deep genre origins, and it's because the new stuff is so incredible, varied, complex, subtle, and deep. In this set, almost all of the material was from the last three albums, but they also tossed in a bunch of really, really, old stuff as well, and it worked perfectly, sliding along in perfect consonance with the rest of the set. This is really hard to do properly with a band that's changed this much; I'm not sure how Satyricon manages to go from "K.I.N.G." to "The Dark Castle In The Deep Forest" in the same set, or if they even can, but it's because they didn't feel the need to continue the band's identity in the changing sound the way that Enslaved did. Because the new Enslaved is still fundamentally coming from the same place as the old Enslaved, the band can play stuff off Hordanes Land in a set of Ruun and Isa material, and the transition is perfect as well as seamless. They didn't do "793", probably because it runs 16 minutes, but they definitely could have. If the set wasn't so absolutely awesome, I would have been disappointed at the absence of any Mardraum material, but you can't fault Enslaved for kicking ass on what they played. Maybe at Wacken I'll get to see "Storre Enn Tid", though likely not.
Zircon is allegedly playing a show every night this week, which was getting some people riled up, though it really shouldn't. They're mostly playing tour manager for this band from New Jersey, but when you listen to Zircon and approach them realistically, it's difficult to begrudge them shows, as they kick ass. There's also this more prevalent and persistent strand of people who claim they're not black metal, but these people are idiots, and have never heard of Naglfar or Zyklon. With ultimate accuracy, Zircon might be described as black/death metal, in much the same way that Zyklon is, but the black metal influences are primary and paramount, with Naglfar being the strongest that I could pick out. This was a really strong set, meriting the top billing on this stage, and I can now see why Zircon is so aggressive about marketing their shows: they have something really good going on here, and ought to be on a label that will get their discs pressed, not just put out on CD-R like their current split with Nephilim.
Hopefully, they will sign to Nuclear Blast, and then NB will add thongs to their merchandise, so that "Soul Absorbing Underwear" can be a comical slogan for the band rather than the exclusive property of people goofing on them. (I dare anyone to listen to "Soul Absorbing Underworld" and not immediately think of this.)
Dark Funeral [6/7]
I had never been really into this band, but over the course of their set they put on a very good performance. Initially, the sound was really thin, like one of the guitars wasn't plugged in or something, but it steadily improved through the course of their set. Unfortunately, the same can't be precisely said about their music, which remained basically the same front to back, and is the main reason that I haven't really been into this band. There are other words that you can use in your black metal lyrics besides "Satan", though this may not be evident if all you've seen from black metal is Dark Funeral. It was still a good set, but you really have to wonder how the hell they ended up booked over Enslaved on this tour.
The highlight of their set, then, from the perspective of much of the audience, was Enslaved's appearance, wearing only Dark Funeral's corpsepaint designs and their underwear, bouncing onto the stage on those handled balls they make for kids to hop around on. In terms of absolute lunacy, it was one of the best tour-end pranks that I've ever seen, and we get a fair number of them at this end of the country. Hopefully, someone got pics to spread around; there are other metalheads who'd be cracked up by stuff like this, but never get to see it, because nobody winds up a tour in Cleveland or wherever. Good stuff, and a cool conclusion to a good show.
Only one day to go; work tomorrow, then Evil Army in Allston tomorrow night, and the last day off on Thursday. All good things must come to an end, and there's a bit of a show shortfall after this, but to a certain degree this is ok, because it's been expensive; it's not a real problem, but I've got festivals to save for.