Monday, December 07, 2009

Black Sunday

Marduk / Nachtmystium / Mantic Ritual
DNA Lounge, San Francisco
December 6, 2009

A friend recently asked me how Umlaut can attend so many shows; according to the Umlaut Archives this was my 83rd show of the year. The secret is I try to make each show as surgically precise as possible... and this show was a perfect example. It was one of those 5 band Metal shows that started at 7:30pm... With apologies to the other bands (Mantic Ritual, Black Anvil, and Merrimack), the only bands I wanted to see were Nachtmystium and Marduk. Nothing wears me down faster than having to sit through opening bands who I don't want to see. Yeah, there is the chance I'll miss a band who I might actually like, but I'm okay with the odds that I'll be happier chilling on my couch until the last minute versus being in a club wishing I was on my couch.

Prior to the show Timo and I made our monthly pilgrimage to The Irish Bank for pre-show fish 'n chips and pints. With apologies to the opening bands, I can't imagine they were more METAL than our meal. Sorry, just being honest... Oh, and 'Ace Of Spades' was played on the pub's jukebox while we were there too... Motörhead is always a good dinner companion.

It was nice to see a big crowd out for a Metal show on a rainy and cold Sunday night. We arrived during Mantic Ritual's set and the first thought in my head was "What year is this??" It's not that they were bad... but the whole retro NWOTM (New Wave Of Traditional Metal) that's getting so much hype kind of freaks me out because it's based on the production sound and style of Metal that was underground when I was a Teenage Metalhead... and bands back then had that production sound because they couldn't afford anything better... and now that sound is what the NWOTM bands strive for... WEIRD. Anyway, Mantic Ritual... not necesarily bad.. but I would have liked them more in 1983. After their set Timo reminded me that we had seen them with Destruction earlier this year... but I have no memory of them from that show.

Nachtmystium sound like they're European, the boots they wear suggest they're European, but there's something else going on with them that's different from Euro bands... So you ask "Where are they from??"... and when you find out "Chicago.." your first thought is probably "Really? Dah Bears..". Unfortunately, Umlaut was out of town when Nachtmystium visited San Francisco earlier this year with Pentagram. Since missing that show, I've been listening to their latest CD Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 ALOT... and the band's Prog / Psychedelic elements appeal to me in the same way that I'm drawn to the non-Metal elements in the music of Saros, Mastodon, and Kylesa.

It warmed my heart when guitarist Jeff Wilson played the opening riff to Slayer's 'Black Magic' during the monitor check as they set up. Since this was going to be Umlaut's final club show of 2009, I wanted to be right up front during Nachtmystium's set, so I planted myself next to Photo Ray against the stage for their entire set.

It's nice to know that I can still hold my own down front... I can still take a shot to the kidney and roll with it... and I can still throw an elbow into overzealous fans invading my space. Umlaut's old school pit advice: If you're against the stage, avoid turning around to look at the pit action, because most likely that's when you'll get hit in the face. The band slashed into 'Assassins' > 'Ghosts Of Grace', the opening tracks from their latest album, late in the set and I could tell alot of punters knew the album because of all of the slams and punches I received in the back and the back of my head during the songs; it was fun being 19 years old again for 45 minutes. Nachtmystium completely owned San Franfuckingcisco on this cold, rainy night.

"We feel nothing... and are nothing!"

I think it's been 8 years since Marduk last toured America and earlier this year they couldn't get into the country for a tour with Mayhem.. As with most of the pioneering Nordic Black Metal bands, Marduk's lineup is a shadow version of the original band. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think 3/4 of the band were different from the last time they visited S.F. in 2001 except for Morgan on guitar.

In what is common in package Metal tours like this here in the 21st Century all of the bands basically used the same backline and drum kit... which seems odd to me but I'm sure that's the reality of tour economics now. However, I can't imagine Venom and Slayer sharing their gear on tour back in The Day.... Just saying. At any rate, Nachtmystium and Marduk both had sound problems of various degrees, but I was interested by how each band handled the situation. Both bands did their soundchecks just prior to their sets during the changeover, which was a red flag.

Nachtmystium set up their own gear and realized there were monitor problems immediately and spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to sort it out before they returned to the stage. When they were onstage you could tell they were a seasoned touring band and if any sound problems came up they powered through them like professionals so their set didn't lose any momentum. A solid live Metal band onstage is like a shark... It MUST keep moving to survive.

On the flip side, Marduk had a lone roadie set up all their equipment who also noticed problems with the monitors, but these didn't get resolved before the band came onstage. For the first 3 songs Marduk sounded like absolute shit... The water bottles that were onstage were higher up in the mix than Morgan's camo Jeff Hanneman signature ESP guitar; the guitar was literally nowhere.

The sound did improve by the 4th song, but monitor and mic problems plagued Marduk their entire set to the point where I think Mortuus might have taken his frustrations out on a shirtless fan who jumped onstage. The poor kid ended up being thrown out of the club and was seen afterwards standing in the rain outside... pissed off... cold... and still sans shirt. Bummer, dude... However, Mortuus' little tantrums onstage were an interesting contrast to Nachtmystium onstage.

Despite the sound issues, it was still a METAL show. A chick standing not far in front of me had her iPhone knocked out of her hand by the pit action. The iPhone slid across the beer slicked floor towards me and I stopped it with my foot; when she picked it up she gave me the thumbs up in thanks. 21st Century pit etiquette... I guess.

Okay, I got bored during Marduk's set... maybe the sound problems had something to do with it.. or maybe not. I like Marduk's new CD Wormwood quite a bit, but the acid test for any Metal band is how the songs come across live... and their live presentation just didn't have a *bite* and the magic wasn't there for me. Sorry, just being honest.

Late in the set I moved down front, stage right, and I did enjoy them a bit more from that perspective... but I also knew that having watched 45 minutes of their scheduled 60 minute set I wasn't going to see anything that would blow my mind at that point... So we cut our losses, ventured back out into the San Francisco rain, and got our asses back home.

The next morning, the show's promoter (All hail Whore For Satan!) made a comment about the show's sound problems:

There was a bad connection on the guitar pedal board for the first few Marduk songs. The rest of the problems seemed to be related to Mortuus' monitor mix with which there was something terribly wrong. I thought the sound for all the other bands was great. My fear is that after 4 bands a lot of ear fatigue sets in and everything gets muddy. I thought Nachtmystium sounded great! Sorry the sound wasn't as good as it could have been for Marduk. Some people liked it.

I didn't do a merch audit, but from a sick in the head merchandiser's viewpoint I couldn't help but appreciate Marduk's "Fuck Me Jesus" shirt that features a woman sodomizing herself with a crucifix on the front. WWJD? On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Man, as I'm typing this I'm listening to Marduk's Wormwood CD and I'm bummed the band wasn't as good live as the new CD is... This cold, rainy night in S.F. belonged to Nachtmystium... Dah Bears!