Sept. 9, 2010

Otto's, Dekalb, IL

by Dr. Abner Mality

I decided to unleash my inner noise freak  by travelling 50 miles up the highway to Dekalb, Illinois, home of Northern Illinois University and the hallowed Otto's nightclub, scene of many college hipster soirees and indie rock blowouts. Alas, if only more could have shared that longing for loud but eclectic music...the turnout was shockingly low, considering that Nachtmystium is virtually a local band and both they and Zoroaster are riding the crest of much critical acclaim.

I think Nachtmystium's Blake Judd had the right of it when he blamed Sleep for the disappointing crowd. Seems the stoner giants were blowing the speakers out to a sold-out crowd in nearby Chicago the same night. I also think the first night of the NFL season kept the less dedicated glued to their flatscreens. But enough of that. The show was still more than satisfying and as you would come to expect from anything associated with Nachtmystium, a very wide-ranging exhibition of heavy music.

Gloomy East Coast duo Dark Castle started the evening with a brooding, low-tuned burst of sludge and psych. Composed of Stevie Floyd on guitar and screeching vocals and Rob Sheffer on drums, this minimalist act conjured up images of Eagle Twin, Sunn 0))) and old Earth with their bassless booming and soundcraft. Ms. Floyd (yes, a woman) was a bewitching and dangerous presence, but the drawbacks of playing to what seemed like 12 people can dampen the enthusiasm of even the best. The crowd, such as it was, responded politely to Dark Castle.

The Atlas Moth are Chicago post-metal favorites and are a virtual wall of sound. Where Dark Castle was stripped down to 2 members with no bassist, Atlas Moth boasted three lead guitarists, two lead vocalists, sampling and a steamrolling bass/drum attack. The intricacies of the songs from debut album "A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky" were somewhat drowned in a noisy, over the top bombardment, but enough groove remained to grab hold of the listener's attention. These guys favor a slow to medium tempo, The clean cut and almost Boy Scoutish singer Stavros cut loose with some leather lunged screams and growls while ironically the more long-haired and scraggly Dave handled soaring clean vocals. So much for judging by the bookcover. The Atlas Moth is certainly one of the more promising bands of its ilk around, but they need crystal clear sound to deliver all their ideas and that wasn't gonna happen tonight.

Zoroaster is a band worshipped by our fuzz-obsessed associate Earthdog and yet I have somehow missed out on them all this time. One of the more idiotic musical mistakes I have ever made. I'll tell you right now, these guys blew my fuckin' mind and are absolutely at the top of the sludge/drone/doom/psych heap, at least live. Just an overwhelming HEAVY sonic experience full of brilliant repetitive bulldozer riffs, guitar effect overload, chanting vocals and jacked-up, supremely energetic drumming. When these guys lock into a groove, they pummel that sucker into the ground . Best example of that came with the colossal "Old World" from their new disc "Matador", which focused on a repetitive riff so compelling that I felt my soul leave my body and hover around the top of the room. Amazing stuff and not even High On Fire had that effect on me live.

Also have to mention that I've never seen anybody with the stage presence of bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson. I now call
him the Anti-Lemmy. His mike was set so low that a 10 year old might have trouble using it, meaning that Brent had to bend over double to deliver his scratchy vocals. A strange sight. He would also whip the bass HIGH in the air and play it, sometimes while spastically twitching a leg. In addition, drummer Dan Scanlan delivers a very physical show, lost in a pounding ecstatic trance. The trio is completed by bushy-bearded guitar wizard Will Fiore, who summons some wild sounds from his axe. The guys mostly pulled material from "Matador" for this show.  Zoroaster is an immersive experience live, best enjoyed LOUD.

Some bands might be put off by a smaller than expected crowd and dial in their show. And how did Nachtmystium react to this situation? They delivered the kind of raw yet professional performance that makes stars. Somehow these guys channel the spirit of rock n' roll elders such as The Stooges, MC5 and even The Doors and yet emerge as 100% black metal that can match speed and darkness with Gorgoroth, Emperor, Watain, you name it. In fact, the speed of some of the songs is staggering and yet the underlying melody is still there. That is not easy to do at all!

I think I can safely call frontman Blake Judd the Iggy Pop of black metal. He has that vibe to him and follows through visually. Total intensity, both on guitar and vocals, matched by the other members of Nachtmystium. They opened with "High On Hate" and hit more recent cuts like "Ghost of Grace" (with its melody intact despite being twice as furious as on record) and the almost industrial "No Funeral". The reached back to "Instinct:Decay" for "Seed of Suffering" and cut loose with a very strong track whose name I missed which came across like a black metal Judas Priest mixed with some almost stoner riffs. Outstanding track!!! I don't think the dudes missed a note all night long and the small crowd responded with tremendous fervor. They know a real metal band when they see one.

This package is going to make its way through the midwest, up the east coast and into Canada. I sure hope folks manage to catch the tour, it's eclectic heaviness at its very best.