Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sold Out For Satan

Behemoth / Watain / The Devil's Blood
Slim's, San Francisco
April 23, 2012

This show was sold out in advance. Out in front there was a kid who had driven all the way from Salinas (over 100 miles one way) who thought he would be able to buy a ticket at the door. Scalpers out front were asking up to $100 a pop. Not very cool. However, since this was the most outspoken, in your face, anti-Christian music tour of the year, it's to be expected that people would have to sell something like their soul to attend the show.

For the 3rd time I missed In Solitude because I couldn’t make it to the gig early enough. My guess is that I was inside for around half of The Devil's Blood set. The band is from Holland and they were alright with their melodies and such… but I spent their set catching up with Rafa Black Cobra, who had just gotten home from their European Tour and who was leaving in 24 hours for Black Cobra’s Australia / New Zealand Tour with Fu Manchu (is that a cool bill or what?!).

The main reason I left Casa de Umlaut tonight was Watain. It's true that the Swedes had underwhelmed me the last time they visited San Francisco just over 17 months ago, but that didn’t stop them from being in regular rotation on Umlaut’s playlist. Going into this show I was looking forward to seeing Watain again… and thankfully they did not disappoint me a second time. Watain are visually stunning onstage and this time the rest of their presentation matched that as well.

As they had on their last visit to San Francisco, the Swedes opened with 'Malfeitor' and it was go-time for Satan. Watain are edged and jagged, like a knife you find under a pile of bones that you stumbled upon in a basement and then have to plunge into the skull of a zombie that leaps out of the shadows for your throat. Watain look and present themselves like a real deal band should; I can't imagine Erik Danielsson having a day job. Watain have a confident blood smeared swagger that is too legit to quit. No, they didn't have the infamous animal carcasses onstage, but halfway through Watain’s set a kid with blood streaming from his nose was led out of the venue by security. Metal. The Swedes put San Francisco through a 45 minute abattoir of volume that culminated in a triumphant, smoldering, and majestic version of ‘The Serpent’s Chalice’. HAIL.

This show really should have been at a bigger venue. By my count this was the 3rd time Behemoth have played at Slim’s since 2007 and they could play a venue twice its 600 capacity size in this city now. For the newbies: The band’s front man Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia in late 2010 and the band’s future was in doubt. Miraculously, less than 2 years after his illness was announced, he is in full recovery and Behemoth arrived onstage to the sold out crowd chanting the band’s name. It was a hero’s welcome for a band that deserves it; Nergal has joined Chuck Billy of Testament as the mightiest men in Metal because they have both fought and defeated Death. HAIL.

Whereas Watain are like a notched blade made for butchery, Behemoth is an artful, expensive piece of aural cutlery from Poland. Where Watain hacks at an audience (literally and figuratively), Behemoth cleanly slice and serve their offerings. The Poles are riveting to watch onstage, with Nergal being one of the most charismatic front men you will ever see. Even on a small stage like Slim’s the band was constantly in motion, making sure the audience was engaged. The set opening 'Ov Fire And The Void' was an appropriate opening salvo given the band's recent hiatus and the reason behind it.

That being said, as good of a performing band as they are, the clean sharpness of the Behemoth live sound is also why it deflects off of me. Their live sound was just too clean to me when up against Watain's more organic sound. Not that it was a contest, but I have to say Watain’s savage aural butchery was more impressive than Behemoth’s clinical carving tonight. Also, unlike Watain, I can imagine Nergal holding down a real job somewhere; upper management of course. However, Behemoth are one of those Metal bands who can sell girl's tees all day long, because girls sure dig Nergal (cue girly screams). You gotta admit he's a good looking dude… AND he hates God too. Bad boys always get the chicks.

Doing a merch audit at Slim’s is always a pain in the ass because of where the merch is set up, so I didn’t do one. Although Behemoth had more merch, I felt compelled to buy some Watain merch after their set... but... alas... the tour tee I had my eye on was sold out. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. As I was trying to figure out something to close this rant with I imagined Watain waiting in line at IKEA... snacking on Swedish meatballs... dressed in their tattered leathers and smeared with animal blood... having their debit card declined. HAIL.