The conditions prevailing the last time out had subsided back to normal, but despite the lane closings getting down to the Pike and the work on 290, I managed to get in just about doors, and had the chance to rest up a little before the bands went on. The heat was starting to go down a little, but Ralph's' upstairs is kind of steamy even under the best of conditions, so people, even this early, were staying more downstairs and in the parking lot when they came in. As the bands started up, though, the room did fill in.
Barren Oak [5/7]
This was a slightly larger sample of Barren Oak than I got the last time, but continued to be nothing but thought-provoking. Some of the stuff that Alex (and now Steve (ex-Cythraul)) was doing here, in particular a lot of the clean vocals and some of the more-jazz driven lines, didn't work that well, but more of their material did, including a lot of a unique take on Amon Amarth's "Victorious March" into Dissection's "Thorns of Crimson Death" that, via the diminished instrumentation, really recalled the MIDI/MOD reprogrammings of metal songs briefly popular at the end of the last century, before bandwidth caught up to processor speeds. It may be that nothing comes out of this project, but with each show that becomes less and less likely: if nothing else, Barren Oak makes you think about what's possible at the very margins of black metal -- what this music can be, and maybe about what it should and shouldn't be. Barren Oak still works as a band as well as an intellectual experiment, but the deliberate intent to push the line between experiment and trolling, to test boundaries and affirm or discard them, is likely going to continue to be the driving force behind this project in the future.
Alex in hakama and leather trenchcoat, looking like the black metal Hiko Seijuro.
Obsidian Tongue [6.5/7]
Midway through the set, Brendan asked the crowd "so are you sick of us yet? We've been here like ten times"; I obviously can't answer for everyone, but as long as OT keeps rolling out performances like this one, it's going to be a long time before anyone has enough. This set wasn't quite as good as the one at their release show, but it nearly got to that level despite having a pretty minimal overlap in terms of material selection. Obsidian Tongue continue to develop, but even where they are, they've got a lot of really good material that, as they are now, is consistently performed despite the variety in terms of riffs and composition at a consistently high level. They're starting to get a little more visibility on the heels of Volume 1..., and every bit of it is deserved.
Faces of Bayon [6/7]
In a way paralleling Napalm Death's flirtation with the absurd as they tested the boundaries in the other direction two decades ago, Faces of Bayon appears to be on a mission to write the longest practical doom song -- and while they've got a ways to go to catch, say, Green Carnation, they're definitely closing in on the limitations of DIY set times. The new tune that they opened with was deep, extensive, varied, epic, intense, captivating -- and so long that at its conclusion, Matt had to ask the sound guy if they had time for another. As good as the Heart of the Fire material is, the new stuff is a step forward from there, justifying the anticipation that's sure to build as we get it in drips and drabs thanks to being unable to play more than a handfull of tunes on any one set. Two songs, on paper, may not look like much of a set, but two Faces songs (or at least the two we got here) represent on the order of half an hour of classic, high-grade, no-limits doom-death in the best old English style. Great stuff.
Between sets I did merch of some sorts and others; one of the Darkwor guys told me to hang around for more discs to take over, and I picked up both Dark Passenger's record and a shirt from Faces in the process of asking Matt for some stickers for export. I was kind of torn on Obsidian Tongue - I'm not sure if I already have one of their shirts or not (I think so), but if not, there's another gig next week that I should be able to nab something at.
Unrelated fun fact: Dan from Dark Passenger's other band, Shroud of Bereavement, has at times had a lineup on stage fully as large as all of the first three bands on this gig combined.
Dark Passenger [5.5/7]
I hadn't actually heard this band going in, mostly drawn out by good recs, the solid undercard, and the history of Shroud as proof that Dan doesn't get himself involved in no-account bands. Dark Passenger's fairly new, and the material that they have so far is a little raw and undifferentiated, but the band's performance was strong, and there are seeds of something really cool in the music that they have right now that will surely get brought out further as they write and gig more. Their sound, at least as far as I can track it, comes from a midpoint between the classic doom of early My Dying Bride and the first Cathedral record and the inward-focused black metal of turn-of-the-century Enslaved; they're still in the process of sorting a distinct Dark Passenger sound out of those influences, but any way you cut it, this is a good and intriguing jumping-off point. They might have gone on a little longer, just on the available time to curfew, but they ran out of material -- not so great for the audience at the present moment, but a positive sign going forward, as it makes clear that as good, solid, and professional as Dark Passenger is right now, they're still really just starting their journey as a band, and will definitely produce even better stuff and better sets down the line.
Dark Passenger set out across the brine.
After waiting around a bit to pick up those Darkwor materials, and again explaining the legend of Anton Maiden (rapidly becoming the Metal Thursday preferred clear-out music), I hit the road, and despite the fucking DOT closing the onramp to the Pike AGAIN for another 15-minute detour, I got back in good order before work kicked my ass forwards and backwards on Friday, making timely publication impossible. Next week is the last sprint to the finish line: Agalloch and Mausoleum and Obsidian Tongue again with barely a breather, and after that, it's off across the open seas.