Immortal and Absu
The Bottom Lounge, Chicago, February 22

Last month, I had mentioned that I was going to make the trek from Dayton to Chicago to witness the limited six-date tour featuring Norwegian black metal deities Immortal and the mythological occult metal stylings of Absu from Texas. Indeed, I made it out to the Windy City on a starkly cold night last week—perfect for a night of grim and righteous black metal!

The show took place at the Bottom Lounge, a venue that, in my opinion, was too small for this bill. Moreover, the sound was far from perfect, and depending on where you were in the room, you could hardly see the stage area. Nonetheless, I got myself an overpriced whiskey on the rocks and made my way up front to get a closer look at Absu. I’m quite a fan of the band, finding much of their considerable back catalog hard to pin down musically, and their unique sound, imagery and esoteric mythology-based lyrics are all part of their appeal. Absu is often generically tagged as a black metal band, but they also incorporate elements of death and thrash, which keeps it interesting to these ears. Their super tight, speedy set included a decent variety of material featuring crowd pleasers from their most recent full length, 2008’s Absu, and their highly regarded classic from 2001, Tara. The band is due to release a new album for Candelight Records later this year, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing it.

And then the main event. The mighty Immortal have returned to the U.S. for their second tour in two years! Last year, I drove from San Francisco to LA to see them at the Avalaon, and it was well worth the drive then, so I figured it was a safe bet for a good time once again. Indeed, the old school Norwegian hordes of war did not disappoint! Immortal once again played an epic, lengthy set centered around the kick-ass tunes on their last album, All Shall Fall (2009), as well as black metal classics from my favorite Immortal slab, Sons of Northern Darkness (2002), and other frosty jewels from their back catalog. The Chicago crowd wasn’t nearly as mosh-happy as the audience at the LA show last year, but that certainly didn’t bother my old ass, and I did my fair share of headbangin’ up front to catch the full blast of one of the best black metal bands ever to grace the stage.

Album Reviews

Belphegor, Blood Magick Necromance (Nuclear Blast)
Blood Magick Necromance is the fourth full length from Austrian blackened death metal ensemble Belphegor for the Nuclear Blast label and their 12th release since the band’s inception in the mid-90s. Over the course of their most recent releases, Belphegor has shed the non-stop speed approach of their past and now isn’t afraid to slow things down a bit so as to let the heaviness of their tremolo-picked melodies invoke a sense of doom and dread not usually associated with the blackened death sub-genre. Unlike many bands who’ve been branded as part of the blackened death metal scene, Belphegor seemingly gives equal time to the hallmarks of both styles. Blood Magick Necromance is not just a crushing listen, but is often musically memorable at that. Lyrically, Belphegor continues to be a bit on the corny side (I mean, look at the title of the album!), but as with many things in extreme metal, I expect the artwork and subject matter to be a bit over the top, so par for the course I suppose. The album was produced by Peter Tagtgren, who has worked with Immortal, Dimmu Borgir and Children of Bodom, and it bears the creepy artwork courtesy of Joachim Luetke. Overall, this might be the best full-length in the modern Belphegor catalog and is worth checking out.

Motörhead, The World Is Yours (UDR)
This column might be dedicated to newer forms of extreme metal, but ignoring a new Motörhead release is akin to sacrilege. Motörhead’s newest, The World Is Yours, continues in the vein of recent releases Inferno and Motorizer, with similar production and similar song approaches. The World Is Yours is, as expected, fast, loud and fist-pumping catchy, with Lemmy sounding good on the mic even in the year 2011. No new ground broken here, but the basic Motörhead sound and song formula remains intact to the delight of fanatics the world over (myself included). A little more heavy metal here, a little more rock & roll there, it’s still Motörhead and they still rock.

Sodom, In War and Pieces (SPV)
Sodom are often regarded as one of the pioneers of classic ’80s German thrash metal, and 2011’s In War and Pieces finds the Teutonic trio up to classic form. The album is a polished, well executed headbanging affair that old school thrashers should love, complete with actually sung (!) vocals courtesy of founding member Tom Angelripper and touching upon typical thrash metal subject matter such as warfare, violence and death. Nothing groundbreaking here, but most modern thrash isn’t supposed to be; the main point is to be angry, play fast and write songs that will get the circle pit going in a matter of seconds. In War and Pieces accomplishes said mission in spades. My only complaint with this record is that at 47 minutes in length, I find it a bit tedious of a listen in one sitting, but this is only a minor gripe and shouldn’t keep any old school thrash metal fan—young or old—from giving this a spin or two.

Nidingr, Wolf Father (Vendlus)
For those of you unfamiliar, Nidingr is a Norwegian black metal project featuring musicians that have played in more famous bands such as Mayhem, 1349, Gorgoroth, Thorns and Immortal, just to name a few. Wolf Father is the second release from Nidingr and is a cold, grim and crushing album that old school black metal geeks should instantly lap up and savor. Lots of tremolo picking and frosty production add to the atmosphere. With audible (and sometimes discernible) vocals, Wolf Father is an instantly accessible listen for the seasoned black metal fan and should make any fan of mid-period Darkthrone a happy kvlt metal dork. A short listen clocking in at only 22 minutes in length, Wolf Father is a brief, but sweet, pick-up of old-school black metal.

De Magia Veterum, The Divine Antithesis (Transcendental Creations)
De Magia Veterum is one of those one-man black metal projects that projects rawness, bleakness, darkness and chaos at every possible turn, comparable to, say, Leviathan or Xasthur. From the first song, De Magia Veterum’s second full-length album, The Divine Antithesis, comes roaring out of the gate in an unsettling haze of noise and chaos, but never really settles down for any particular length of time. Mories’ vocals sound kind of like a cross between Hat from Gorgoroth and Varg from early Burzum and are a perfect fit for the swirling mass of squealing tremolo-picked riffs, disjointed solos, creepy keyboards, and fast, but muted, blast beats which make up the majority of this album. The Divine Antithesis is a densely layered, atmospheric record comparable to something by Emperor or Xasthur, and an astute listener will continue to pick upon attributes of each song not immediately obvious upon first hearing. With those things said, I find The Divine Antithesis to be a very dark, complex and disorienting, but ultimately rewarding affair. It’s akin to other contemporary one-man projects, yet still has a feel and flavor that makes it stand out a bit from its contemporaries. As of now, this is my favorite release of 2011.

And in Other News...

Black Breath touring the U.S. this spring

A couple of months ago, I finally got around to checking out a relatively new band from Seattle called Black Breath. I picked up their debut full length, Heavy Breathing, which came out on Southern Lord last year. It knocked me on my ass from the minute go and it’s currently one of my favorites for a trip to the gym. Heavy Breathing is a violent, bashing blast of hardcore punk–influenced crossover thrash metal with unusually dark sounding (for the genre) guitars that occasionally add tinges of black metal and doom to the proceedings. I’d say early Slayer and Entombed are good reference points, although I’m sure you could argue others as well. And to top it off, the pitch-perfect barking snarled lead vocals go along with the musical concoction way better than your average punk/thrash front man. Anyhoo, it looks like Black Breath are going back on tour in the States during March and April. I hope to catch them at some point on this tour, and if you live near any of the dates and are a thrash head, you should probably hit up one of the shows and get your circle pit on.

March 5- The Glass House, Pomona, CA (Scion Rock Fest)
March 16- Albion House, Chicago, IL
March 17- The Revolution, Toledo, OH
March 18- Sugar City, Buffalo, NY
March 19- PA’s Lounge, Boston, MA
April 2- The Studio at Webster Hall, New York, NY
April 3- Warren American Legion Hall, Warren, NJ
April 4- Strange Matter, Richmond, VA
April 5- The Chestnut House, Louisville, KY
April 6- Fubar Lounge, St. Louis, MO
April 7- Scion Lab, Kansas City, MO
April 8- Blast-o-Mat, Denver, CO

Scion Rock Fest this coming Saturday

That’s right, time once again for the newest edition of the Scion Rock Fest, a free one-day metal festival that every year takes place in a different U.S. locale. This year’s Fest is taking place this Saturday, March 5, in Pomona, California. Ironically, I missed last year’s edition (featuring Cannibal Corpse, Liturgy and Absu, among other noteworthy guests) in Columbus as I was then living in San Francisco. And I’m going to miss this year’s show because it’s in killa Cali and I’m stuck back in Ohio again. Sigh. Anyway, it’s once again a pretty darn good line-up, headlined by death metal icons Morbid Angel. Other notables joining the party include Obituary, Immolation, Municipal Waste, Dark Castle, Christian Mistress, Woe, Agalloch and many more. If you haven’t already RSVP’d, you’re shit out of luck as the event is sold out. Better luck next year. For more details, check out the SRF 2011 webpage.

Rotting Christ, Abigail Williams and Melechesh to start 30-date tour

U.S. black metal fans will have plenty of opportunity to see what might be the best package tour of the genre hitting these shores during March and April of 2011. Veteran Greek outfit Rotting Christ will be headlining the shows, touring in support of their latest LP, Aealo, released in early 2010 on Century Media. Coming along for the ride is NYC symphonic black metallers Abigail Williams, also touring in support of a new record for the Candlelight imprint, In the Absence of Light. Abigail’s newest record finds Sorceron and company trading in much of the keyboards and classical and symphonic elements of their 2008 scorcher, In the Shadow of 1000 Suns, in exchange for a cleaner, but colder, sound. Also on the bill is a band that I’m very eager to check out live, Melechesh. Emanating from Jerusalem of all places, singer and guitarist Ashmedi and cohorts have been bringing their “Mesopotamian Metal” to headbangers since the mid-90s. Their newest slab, Epigenesis, is another crushing and wildly imaginative affair, chock full of speed, growly vocals, and untraditional tones and instrumentation foreign to most black metal. Rounding out the bill are Hate and Lecherous Nocturne. You have your marching orders, now go!

March 9- Jaxx, Springfield, VA
March 10- Championship Bar & Grill, Trenton, NJ
March 11- Montage Music Hall, Rochester, NY
March 12- Rocko’s Bar & Grill, Manchester, NH
March 13- The Palladium, Worcester, MA
March 14- The Crazy Donkey, Farmingdale, NY
March 15- Petit Campus, Montreal, QC
March 16- The Mod Club, Toronto, ON
March 17- Blondies, Detroit, MI
March 18- Peabody’s, Cleveland, OH
March 19- Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago, IL
March 20- Station 4, St. Paul, MN
March 22- The Republik, Calgary, AB
March 23- The Starlite Room, Edmonton, AB
March 25- El Corazon, Seattle, WA
March 26- The Hawthorne Theatre, Portland, OR
March 27- DNA Lounge, San Francisco, CA
March 28- Chain Reaction, Anaheim, CA
March 29- Key Club, West Hollywood, CA
March 30- Brick By Brick, San Diego, CA
March 31- UB’s Bar, Mesa, AZ
April 1- The War Legion Underground, Amarillo, TX
April 2- The Marquee, Tulsa, OK
April 3- The Rail Club, Ft. Worth, TX
April 4- Emo’s, Austin, TX
April 5- Walter’s on Washington, Houston, TX
April 7- Brass Mug, Tampa, FL
April 8- The Masquerade, Atlanta, GA
April 9- Volume 11 Tavern, Raleigh, NC
April 10- The Casbah, Charlotte, NC
Gary Spencer