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.

High On Fire and Doomriders Reviews

Well, this evening was a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure style night. It was a Sunday night, the 11th of April 2010, and I had a small problem, 2 bands I wanted to see were playing the same night at different venues. High On Fire at the Black Cat and the Doomriders at the Rock & Roll Hotel. I called up a couple friends of mine to see if they wanted to try to squeeze in both shows. They were up for the double feature and we headed off to the Rock And Roll Hotel to catch the Doomriders first. The show was running late and when we got there the first band, Fang Island, was still setting up. I only watched them for a single song before heading upstairs. They weren’t too interesting to me, and not very metal anyways. For some reason they had 3 guitarists on stage, and their bass player switched off to play they keyboard. After a couple beers we went back down while the Doomriders were setting up. The crowd wasn’t too close together and we basically just walked right up to the front. One of the friends I was with had another friend at the Black Cat who was updating us on the status of the bands playing there. We decided that when Priestess was playing their last song we’d have to leave, regardless of if the Doomriders were done or not. Anyways, the Doomriders finally did come out and they were really energetic. I’m sure they won over some new fans who were really just there to see the headliner Red Sparowes, people were getting into them. I also saw a little kid (pic) up there in the front row, he was even throwing horns and headbanging to the music. Their show kicked ass so you can’t blame him! One thing though, their bass player, a really tall guy named Jebb Riley, was actually too tall for the stage! His head was hidden from most of the crowd during the show because the overhead speakers were blocking him. I’ve never seen that kind of problem before, haha. The mix was pretty good I’ve got to say, though the lighting was pretty crappy (the R&R Hotel doesn’t have good lights so that’s to be expected). They were playing their last song of the night, which was apparently also their slowest and longest, when we got the message that we needed to head over to the Black Cat. We didn’t wait for the long song to end and promptly headed straight for the door.

We piled into my car and headed over to the Black Cat. I found a good parking spot on the street right next to the venue, and we went right into the club. We could hear High On Fire had already started playing Frost Hammer, though the ticket guy said the band had just started. We rushed up the stairs and headed into the crowd. We got up there pretty close fairly easily, I guess people were scared of the mosh pit? As usual the lighting wasn’t great, but I still got some good pics I think. The sound mix was terrible though, I mean really bad. I’ve posted videos below and they’re actually a pretty good representative of the sound. It’s not my camera that makes it sound muffled, it’s the mix. I even heard a few random shouts from the crowd between songs demanding the guitars to be turned up. The vocals were really low in the mix too, at least from where I was standing. Matt Pike (of Sleep fame) really had a hold of the crowd though, people were going crazy and his stage presence was a big part of that, even if you could see his beer gut and ass crack (depending on which way he was facing) the whole time. Regardless, the show was really fun and they played a lot of the songs from their new album, Snakes For The Divine, which is cool because that album is pretty awesome. I was trying to shoot a video of the title track but some guy with a flash light told me I wasn’t allowed to take video. I don’t think that is the Black Cat’s usual policy, so maybe the band requested that. Strange. I still shot the 3 vids below before he told me to stop, though I thought Snakes For The Divine was the best song they played all night. Still, the show was a blast, the crowd was going crazy and the metal was loud!

In all the entire night was a lot of fun, I haven’t done the concert hopping thing in a while and it was a great night for metal in DC (even though I missed the first ever metal show at DC Star, but there was no way I could fit that in too). I haven’t been to a whole hell of a lot of concerts so far this year, but I should be seeing several awesome gigs here up through Maryland Deathfest, for which I’ve already got a 3 day pass. This is going to be a good spring for metal heads in the DC area.

Review of Jucifer gig at the Black Cat

On Monday night the 11th of January 2010 I headed over to the Black Cat in Washington DC to watch a couple metal bands play their backstage, Jucifer and Salome. I’ve been to the Black Cat many times over the years, but it’s pretty rare for them to get metal bands that are actually worth seeing, they primarily specialize in indie/modern rock and punk. I always try to make it to their metal shows with actually good bands, and tonight was no exception as I wanted to see both bands on the bill.

I got there around 9:40pm and although their website said Salome started at 9:00 and the Black Cat’s Twitter feed said 9:30, the woman taking money to get in said it was actually set to start at 9:45. Perfect timing! I was a little surprised to find their vocalist, Katherine Katz, standing in the middle of the crowd when the show started. She never did get on the stage and instead paced around back and forth throughout the set throwing her hair around and posing during her more lengthy outbursts. She’s a very petite girl but you wouldn’t know it when she’s screaming into that mic. They only played a few songs but they were long songs with a diverse range, going from faster paced Black Sabbath-esque riffs then grinding to a halt at certain points, the entire band actually going motionless for brief periods of time. Then they’d burst back to life amid pummeling drums and lurching downtuned guitar riffs. They are from Annandale and are probably Northern Virginia’s best doom metal band. You can also hear Kat on vocals on the latest Agoraphobic Nosebleed album, Agorapocalypse. Salome had opened for Jucifer’s three previous shows and this was the final gig they’d play together this winter. They played for a little over 30 minutes and were a great local opening act for Jucifer, who was up next.

After going to the red room to buy myself a cheap PBR draft, I was looking at the imposing speaker rig that Jucifer had on stage. They are known for how loud their concerts are, though I’ve seen several bands known for that before. The show was certainly very loud, the loudest I’ve ever heard at the Black Cat and that includes the upstairs main stage too. They weren’t the loudest small venue band I’ve ever heard (that’s probably Sunn O))) last Sept) but still, it was an impressive set up for the tiny space in the Black Cat’s back room. Jucifer is a husband and wife duo who travel around in their RV essentially constantly touring. The show started with Amber Valentine playing some notes on the guitar while the fog machine started to kick in. After about a minute Edgar Livengood slinked behind the drum kit and started whacking away. These two really put out a lot of energy, both playing their instruments very loosely. Edgar was smacking every part of the drum kit he could, not just the skins. Sometimes he’d use two drum sticks in one hand, sometimes he’d stand or jump up and shake the whole kit while he was banging so hard, and sometimes he’d use his bare hands to smack things. Sometimes Amber seemed to pick her notes very carefully, and sometimes she was sitting on the floor playing what can loosely be called a ‘chord progression’ on her guitar. They didn’t pause between any of their songs and music just sort of flowed forth like a volcano, sometimes more explosive and chaotic and sometimes slower and more focused. The two switched off on the vocals throughout the set until eventually Amber was singing in the dark for a good minute or two and the show ended. They gave each other a hug and kiss then started turning off all the amps as people filed out. $10 for 2 great bands was a great deal and if you get a chance to catch either of these bands live I certainly recommend checking them out.