Long awaited, it was finally here; the return of Watain to North America (well, techncially they started in Canada 3 days earlier, but still), along with a top-class bill of support, good enough to make up for being as long as your damn arm. Even though this was on a Tuesday, anticipation was still high as they'd been tremendous on the last pass -- their gig upstairs was the short-listed show of the year of 2007. As is getting to be usual for these early-start Boston shows, I left directly from work and got in too early. This gave me time to drink an IPA out of a bizarre triangle-bottom glass, then stand around outside for a while, waiting for real doors. The Middle East was, as usual, a little slow with their Einlass, and as a result, I didn't get in until after Ipsissimus had already started.
Fortunately, their last song and a half turned out to be about half their set. Well, fortunate for someone who came in late; they, like the other locals, were a little constrained by the fact that there were seven bands on this bill, but they did a good job with the time provided. They've come up significantly since I first saw them, and this was a class performance of melodically complex but still true black metal, which impressed those who were down early and probably led to a bunch of CD sales, even though their EP's been free online for a while. The sound wasn't perfect, but the parts where they were cutting and cool greatly oughtweighed the down bits.
After Ipsissimus, I did most of my merch-getting; some cool shirts, a few CDs that I didn't have, some patches, pretty much the usual. The most notable thing in this was the realization, via Withered's tourshirt, that New York City is actually in Cali. I blame the Pail and Shovel Party, personally.
Blessed Offal [6/7]
To this point, I'd had difficulty getting a firm handle on this band; now, though, they've established themselves a lot more cleanly. There's a lot of good black metal bands in New England, but with this raw, dirty, pummeling black/death performance, Blessed Offal should be out of the pack and readily recognizable. They've still got some issues establishing their lineup (Bobby from Hirudinea on bass for this one rather than Cody from Witch Tomb), but if they can keep this one together, they may well get up into that first rank. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything recorded, but this, too, will probably come with time.
Prima facie, Revocation did not belong on this bill, as every other band on it is at least partly black metal, and Revocation are composed almost completely of death-thrash. So, naturally, they remedied this situation by writing a long neo-black metal instrumental intro, then ripping through it and playing everyone else off the damn stage. Fortunately, technical execution isn't absolutely necessary for black metal, so this didn't matter a whole lot to the overall enjoyment of the rest of the show, or, I suspect, make the touring bands think they were being upstaged (which, really, they weren't), but god damnit are Dave, Phil, and Anthony good at what they do. Everyone and their brother is thrash-revivaling 1986 in the Bay Area, and these guys are doing Wisconsin, Florida, NYC, and Germany circa 1990 -- plus all this modern tech-death stuff in the bargain.
Revocation were the only band that had merch that I did not buy at least something off of. I felt bad, but I'm full up on their buttons and stickers -- if they made, um, a PATCH or something, I'd definitely put down for such.
Cold Northern Vengeance [6/7]
In their first appearance since putting out Domination & Servitude, CNV came out with a new lineup and a new sound, sticking closer to the old Norwegian sound than their previous resemblances to the east. This is not entirely out of character with their previous stuff, but just darker, more direct, and more droning, and the result is one of the more truly original sounds in USBM. They did only 3 songs (due to length), and all new stuff -- "The Abraxas Trance" was simply massive, and on their closer, they cut out one of the 3 guitars and the bass for a truly cultic sound on the order of Agalloch from the regrowth forests instead of the old-growth. They had a better set the last time they opened for Watain -- which due to recording issues and misconceptions people have about the band, was I think their last show before this -- but there was nothing wrong with what they delivered here.
Book of Black Earth [5/7]
Throughout their set, this band exhorted the crowd to move forward and move around more. If less of the audience had been around for Ipsissimus, and CNV immediately before them, they might have had more success with these appeals; on a musical basis, Book of Black Earth steps away from the 'hipster black metal' tag that may be applied based on the appearance of some of their members, but in this performance they didn't really set themselves a part as being better than the (very good) local support in inaugurating the touring part of the bill. This was a good performance, but Ipsissimus handled their melodics in a more interesting way without resorting to keyboards, and CNV out-grimmed the living fuck out of them. Decent, and worth the CD that I picked up, but they definitely went on in the right place relative to the rest of the touring bill.
I was standing further back for Withered, and subsequently; I'd seen the rest of the bands remaining and didn't feel like wedging forward just to say that I was at the front, at the expense of someone who may not have seen either. The result was that the sound felt a little messed-up during Withered's set, and at least less powerful for Watain; others have also commented on the intermittent quality of the board at this gig, but much of it I didn't notice because I was up front getting the sound from the cabs rather than the PA. Regardless, this set wasn't quite as inspiring as the last time I saw them -- here, opening for Grave and Dismember, incidentally, and surprisingly two years ago -- but still provided a nice slice of quality crunching death/doom/black metal. Next to Revocation, this was the least black metal outing of the night, but it was well-delivered, and those who would have objected to them took the opportunity to have a last smoke break or whatever before Watain.
There were a lot of high expectations for this performance, and most of them were met. However, while this was a really great set, it wasn't perfect, and the expectations made for a high wall to climb. Last year, Watain played upstairs and produced debatably the best gig of the year, and on this run, they were playing in a larger space, and had loudly advertised their intent to go whole hog, with more blood and Satanism and dead animal parts than they'd been allowed to do on the last run. Unfortunately, the plug got pulled on new blood -- the red-brown dust all over their gear, and the accompanying reek, testified that they are serious about this stuff -- or dead flesh, and what was left was a solid musical performance that fell a little short of the peak, perhaps also hampered by the sound being less than optimal. This was still a Watain gig, and a damn good Watain gig, but between the PR and the word-of-mouth from last year, people were expecting Live In Leipzig part II, and it didn't happen. It may be unrealistic for anyone to be disappointed with this set, but it's certainly understandable: even in the raw and bloody-minded world of underground black metal, people can build castles in the air, and get run down when they crumble on contact with reality.
There was allegedly some aggro between NS skins and SHARPs afterwards, but I didn't see it, having bugged out ASAP; I had to work in the morning, and the demands of work have gotten this review impossibly delayed down to the current point. Next gig's tonight in this same hall...though Kamelot and Edguy will draw a LITTLE different crowd. Iced Earth tomorrow, then I get my extreme-metal bonafides back with Amon Amarth and Master on the weekend.