Experimental, atmospheric post-black metal is truly something one has to experience live. Melbourne’s mainstay venue for alternative metal, The Bendigo Hotel, was consumed on Saturday night by five floor-rumbling, spine-rattling, soul-impaling bands brought together by Antithesis Bookings & Promotions and Untitled Touring. The line-up contained some familiar names for me and some bands that I was keen to see for the first time. The opening band were relative newcomers, Cascades, who imparted an intensive display of high-density sonically interesting textures and fluctuating dynamics to create profound and captivating soundscape that certainly cultivated the immersive mood for the night. This was a night not for the faint of heart.
The second band of the night was Melbourne-based atmospheric black metal band No Haven, with whom I was unfamiliar.This band opened with relentless power and just got better and better as their set progressed. By the third song Nervous Laughter I was sold, the intense guttural snarl of vocalist Mike Nolan intertwined hauntingly with the eerie melodies of guitarist Will Robinson towards a blistering fast finale. The following song Obsolescence confirmed the impressive power of drummer Alex Johnson with a catchy primal hook at the beginning of the song. Exile on Barkly Street closed an astounding set with anticipatory build-up and broodingly dark melodic retreat to finish as they began, with tangible raw energy.
As a weary figure with a blackened solar plexus took the stage, it was time to witness Melbourne experimental-atmospheric-post-black metal band Greytomb. For anyone unfamiliar with a Nick Magur performance, it’s hard to capture succinctly. Basically, it’s a slightly voyeuristic experience of watching the creature -O- endure the suffering of existential torment and until his inevitable descent into the infinite oblivion of nothingness. This was performed over four abysmally forlorn and descending songs beginning with The River of Nihil from Greytomb’s latest album A Perpetual Descent. Sternum-rattling fast drums combined with the ridiculously low-tuned bass of new bassist Nathan Robinson brought out deep anxiety of -O-‘s struggle, a form-to-concept synergy that I felt was much better realised than in my previous experiences of Greytomb. The sombre and edgily discordant opening sequence of new track Null indicates that the forthcoming chapter for -O- grows even more torturous and dark. Metaphysical Liberation showcased Magur’s frighteningly impressive vocal range from nightmarish shrieks to incantation-low and strange multi-tonal cries of despair. The final massive song Boundless Introspection exhibited Magur’s deep clean vocals in parts to serenade the chaotic ‘birth into death’ in a firing-fast explosion as -O- at last became free, collapsing into the infinite void. Whoa, that was intense.
The show further intensified with a brutal set by sludge-inspired hardcore band Lo! I hadn’t seen this band live yet and really it is something else to behold as the grinding low just kicks your chest in as the practically psychotic anticipation builds into sheer mania, interspersed with unsettling instrumental sections. The brooding basslines of Adrian Shapiro erupted into frenetic, explosive displays expounded by drummer Adrian Griffin and the terrifying vocal performance of lupine-possessed frontman Sam Dillon.
The headline act, Tasmania’s heavy atmospheric post-black metal Départe, was simply awe-inspiring. Currently touring new album Failure, Subside, Départe conjured up all kinds of images in my mind from desolate temples to bleeding stars through complex composition, elegant arrangement and masterful execution while shattering the skeleton with intensive heavy low frequency. The swelling emotive tempests brought on through the thundering drums of Michael Rankine and the resonant bass of Jarrod Sorbian opened the set, followed by a lyrically sparse but cavernous and transfixing song that profoundly invoked the bleak-scape of isolation with the blackened guitar of Mitch Golding. Vocalist Sam Dishington delivered the set from brooding and oppressive to hostile and transcendent through a dynamic, sermonistically rendered performance. This is one of the aspects of the Départe set that stood out: just as you thought it had peaked, it further intensified, immersing the crowd with atmospheric metal that inhabits its audience.
Excuse me while I pick up the pieces of my shattered sternum and return to my mortal shell.