Review of Altar Of Plagues gig at the Black Cat

When I heard there was going to be a black metal show at the Black Cat I have to admit I was intrigued. This is a venue known for getting punk and indie rock bands mostly, though they do get metal shows from time to time. I’ve never heard of a real black metal band playing there before, so Friday the 30th of July 2010 I had to be in attendance. The line up was set to be Altar Of Plagues, Castevet, Velnias and local doom trio Salome, but they canceled just days prior. Apparently their guitarist, Rob Moore, was mugged Wednesday night in Springfield and was unable to play. I hope he recovers quickly and they can play again soon. As a side note, you can read my take on Salome when I saw them play with Jucifer in January here. The turn out wasn’t very large for this concert, unfortunately, and I wonder how much of that was due to Salome canceling. It was held on the upstairs main stage of the Black Cat but really it probably should have been on the smaller backstage. Regardless, one band off the bill wasn’t going to keep me from showing up and I’m glad I was there.

I got there at about 9:30pm, the time the first band was supposed to be playing, though they were still setting up when I walked in. They didn’t start playing until about 9:45 which was fine by me, gave me time to grab a beer. This band, Velnias, is from Colorado. They were definitely the most doomy of the three bands. Their barefoot red haired bass player started the set by crouching on all fours and screaming something over and over while rocking back and forth. They didn’t face the crowd much, most of the time everyone (except the drummer) was facing toward the amps, which I found kind of odd. The first few minutes of their set was so slow it was almost drone, though eventually their music built up in intensity. The microphone on the left, being used by one of the guitarists, was pretty impossible to hear in the mix (and I was pretty centered). This wasn’t a huge deal as he split the vocal duties with the bass player. Regardless of minor technical issues, they were pretty entertaining and their sound combined a sort of atmospheric black metal with the slow build up and sudden crashing of doom metal. They only played for half an hour but I could have watched them play for a full hour. They ended their set by doing the old Motorhead trick of putting the guitars in front of the amps to rain feedback onto the audience, while the bass player again rocked on his knees screaming a chant of some sort. Rather powerful way to end a set I have to say.

The next band up was New York City’s Castevet. I enjoyed their latest album, Mounds Of Ash, so I was curious about their live show. They are a three piece band who does the wall of sound rather well, though the vocals this night were turned way up in the mix. This wouldn’t be that big of a problem if I didn’t find them rather monotonous to the point of being annoying by the end of the set. On their studio work the music was much more front and center, but here the vocals were up rather high in the mix. This might have simply been the fault of the venue, I wouldn’t be surprised if whoever was doing the sound at the Black Cat had no idea how to mix black metal. It could have been overcompensation for the low mic level the previous band had too. A few times I found myself getting into the music a bit, but then the vocals would come in and jar me back out. I wouldn’t say they sucked live, but this set up wasn’t ideal for these guys, unfortunately. Since they’re from New York I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up coming by this way again at some point and I’d like to see them again, though in a more ideal setting.

Next up was the headliner, Altar Of Plagues, coming all the way from Cork, Ireland. I felt kind of bad that there was such a poor turn out for these guys after coming from so far away. They were certainly my favorite band of the night to watch. Their sound isn’t far removed from Wolves In The Throne Room. Very atmospheric black metal with lots of build ups of momentum in songs that had some rather catchy riffs too. I wouldn’t say they were exploring any new territory with their sound, but they were very good at what they did. I noticed their drummer was using a hihat which is not something you see a lot in black metal. He was a very proficient drummer though, really punching it when he had to but also keeping interesting beats when the tempos slowed down. The band didn’t have much lighting just three red lights on stage and it was kind of hard to see them since the light from the bar was keeping the room lit more than anything. They didn’t move around a lot on stage, but they didn’t really have to, their music was easy to get caught up in. Their set was very distortion heavy and it was very loud, one of the loudest sets I’ve seen at the Black Cat, though part of that might have been due to the lack of people filling the room. They started going a bit crazy during their last song when they ended up also putting their guitars in front of the amps to do the feedback loop thing Velnias had done earlier. While Altar Of Plagues didn’t have a lot of surprises in their set, they were playing some great atmospheric black metal, and I’m glad I made it out to this show, it was a nice black metal warm up for the Enthroned show coming to Jaxx next week. I didn’t shoot any video at this concert because the lighting was so poor I didn’t think it was even worth it. Hopefully I’ll get some better footage soon, as I’ve got a few concerts lined up here in the coming week.

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