Photo by Adrien Begrand

Blood and Thunder: Turning Blasphemy Into Fun

A recent gig by Black Breath and Goatwhore highlighted one of metal's most endearing qualities: how profane blasphemy can generate a feeling of positivity.

“This song is about licking the blood of Christ’s cock while he’s up there dying!” Neil McAdams, bearded vocalist for Black Breath snarls, as the rest of the band launches into one of their many crusty, Entombed-derived “death ‘n’ roll” tunes. The small but exuberant crowd of people near the stage cheer in approval, heads banging, fists pumping, energy building, to the point where you know a pit will erupt sooner than later, which doesn’t always happen for an opening band.

This night’s all about the cathartic release of blasphemy, as Black Breath and headliners Goatwhore have cornered that market brilliantly, profanely and humorously co-opting anti-Christian sentiment in a way that’s not only marketable to metal fans, but a hell of a lot of fun, too. What’s so remarkable about a concert like this is that as menacing as these bands want to look, as aggressive as their music is, as vulgar as their between-song banter is, the overall feeling among audience members is one of positivity. The music might sound ugly, but the sentiment doesn’t generate ugliness. If there was ever an example of the camaraderie of the metal scene, this show is it.

With the momentum building, McAdams looks down between songs. “I hate these fucking barriers,” he says, staring at the steel fence separating the band from the crowd. “They’re annoying as shit.” The band tears into another d-beat-driven song, everyone’s motoring along, when a huge crash is heard. The gigantic barrier, which was not weighed down enough – a fault of the venue’s security staff – has been toppled backwards by some industrious and bold concertgoers, and everyone rushes to the stage over the now-useless obstacle, closer to the band. Black Breath loves it, the fans love it, but venue staff are panicking. It’s their own fault for having lax security, but their worry is justified. What if some kid gets up on stage, risking the safety of him or herself, the band, or other audience members? The staff would be liable, of course, and if this boils over there’ll be huge trouble for everyone involved.

But as venue owners and security are running around, the bands’ road crew remain calm. They can see the situation for what it is, and let everyone have their fun for the time being. The alcohol is flowing — it is a metal show, after all — but even more so respect is being shown by band and fans. Nobody’s provoking anyone, nobody’s inciting violence, it’s just a mass of people engaging with a band intimately, and there are smiles on everyone’s faces.

After Black Breath finishes their 45-minute set, McAdams, fresh off an extended bout of screaming like a madman, politely says, “Can you please step back? We want to get the barrier back up.” Everyone does so; there’s not a jerk among them.

Few bands in metal work as hard as Goatwhore, and the New Orleans road dogs are starting to reap some rewards. A perennial opening act, they now have built a solid enough fanbase to be able to headline a North American tour of their own. Their formula: tour, tour, tour, and repeat. If you live in a good-sized city, even a B or C-list place, chances are Goatwhore will play a show near your way a couple times a year. This is a band that knows the value of repeat visits. Some scenesters might groan, “Aw these guys again?”, but Goatwhore works it so well, engaging with fans new and old, marketing themselves smartly with an array of eye-catching merch (“STAY SICK STAY FUCK HAIL SATAN”), and best of all, putting on one hell of a show.

This night is no exception. By now the barrier has been removed, all parties involved agreeing that there’s enough respect shown by the crowd that there won’t be any irresponsible hijinks. Besides, Goatwhore are complete professionals. Vocalist Ben Falgoust is as engaging a frontman as anyone in heavy metal today, and the way he is able to whip a crowd into a frenzy yet keep everyone loose and smiling with charming and funny chatter is so enjoyable to witness. It is a masterful display of crowd control.

Goatwhore has been and always be a no-frills band. Simple, catchy, early Celtic Frost-derived black metal, a lean stage set-up, and black leather and spikes is all they need to put on a great show, and the foursome churn out an hour’s worth of music to a crowd that’s now moshing happily, crashing into each other with reckless abandon, yet always mindful of their peers’ well-being. One kid falls and is stuck under two guys in the pit, and everyone stops to help him up. Girls venture into the pit and dish it out with as much intensity as their male counterparts, comfortable in knowing that they’re safe from harassment. At one point a kid near the front, wearing a shirt with “FUCKED BY SATAN” on the back, steps aside and actually tosses his beer can into the trash. When a metal audience is shown respect by band, crew, and venue staff, respect is shown back, and it’s amazing and wonderful to see.

Meanwhile Goatwhore’s set is motoring along, and is building to the climax everyone expects. “Schadenfreude”, from last year’s very good album Constricting Rage of the Merciless, combines black metal speed, menacing groove, and ominous melody extraordinarily well. The track immediately segues into the instant classic from the same record, “Baring Teeth For Revolt”, guitarist Sammy Duet leading the charge with an incredible swinging riff, Falgoust screaming, “We are coming to rape their minds / We are coming to steal their souls!” The song explodes into a thrash frenzy, and the mosh pit responds in kind. Which, of course, leads into the band’s greatest moment, the rampaging “Apocalyptic Havoc”, Goatwhore’s own d-beat classic, the Motorhead-meets-Celtic Frost pace building up to the moment where everyone joins in, including yours truly, who’s usually the reticent observer but is now a full participant for once:

“Who needs a god when you’ve got Satan!” we all shout along, smiling all the while.


Albums Out This Week

Abyssal, Antikatastaseis (Profound Lore)

It’s tempting to immediately compare Abyssal to fellow UK counterparts Grave Miasma, but although it seems both bands are cut from the same cloth, delivering ultra-dense, suffocating death metal, what sets Abyssal apart is the stronger reliance on melody. Neophytes might feel like a chore to actually listen for melody on an album like this — often, death metal can be frustrating in how it makes the listener put in great effort to connect with the music — but the way density and clarity counterbalance each other on this third album is quite an achievement. (And is that piano I hear on the majestic “Veil of Transcendence?”) Although its hour-long running time might seem draining, the use of interludes throughout the record is smartly done; like any other unrelenting work of art you need to let your audience up for air once in a while. As it stands this is without question one of the better death metal albums of the year so far, another first-rate discovery by Profound Lore. (Spotify)

Årabrot, You Bunch Of Idiots (Eolian Empire)

Things are never dull with Årabrot around. The Norwegian noise weirdos are incapable of putting out an inferior product, and this latest EP, the third of a planned trilogy, is yet another example of why their highly unique brand of metal tradition and noise experimentalism is so exciting. It grinds and churns away relentlessly, its dark sense of humor masked by a vocal performance by Kjetil Nernes that would seem cartoonish if it wasn’t so imposing, sounding like the Hulk to Jaz Coleman’s Bruce Banner. Short and to the point, this six-track EP is in and out like a shot, leaving you dazed, wondering what in the hell just happened. (Spotify)

Lindemann, Skills In Pills (Warner Brothers)

It’ll be a while until the dearly-missed Rammstein will get around to putting out a new album, so fans will have to make do with the debut of Till Lindemann’s eponymous project. Collaborating with metal heavyweight Peter Tägtgren (he of Hypocrisy notoriety), Lindemann pulls out all the stops in an effort to get a rise out of people, trying to touch on every transgressive act he can think of, to the point of shouting “cunt” repeatedly in “Golden Shower”. At times he has a devilish sense of humor, but whenever Lindemann sings in English, that Teutonic menace he exudes so authoritatively in Rammstein vanishes, and you’re left with the realization, This guy’s actually a bit of a hack. Musically he and Tägtgren stick to Rammstein’s industrial metal formula, but sadly this album is far from that band’s high standards, feeling too soft around the edges, too middle-of-the-road. A wise man once said there’s a fine line between stupid and clever, and while Rammstein remains provocative, Lindemann strays too far into “joke band” territory. (iTunes)

Nevoa, The Absence Of Void (Altare)

The most interesting thing about this album by the Portuguese band isn’t so much the black metal as its overtly non-black metal passages, which are sublime. The acoustic interludes and mellower, contemplative numbers the band come up with on this record, highlighted by the beautiful, acoustic “Alma” and the mournful “Below a Celestial Abyss”, counter the rather rote extreme metal with genuine nuance and feeling. It gets to the point where it feels a little disappointing when the blastbeats and tremolo picking kicks into gear again. (Bandcamp)

Tempel, The Moon Lit Our Path (Prosthetic)

Instrumental metal might be a growing trend, but while more and more new bands are going that route, few are showing much mastery of the form. This is metal; not only does the music require power and force, but you’ve got to keep the listener riveted. This is not dinner music. Bands like Earthless and Shooting Guns understand that idea, and a couple more in 2015 are exhibiting similar tendencies, too. Brooklyn’s Sannhet showed one and all just how adept they are on their new album earlier this year, and now Phoenix band Tempel has done the same thing, funnily enough, by doing much of what Sanhet does. In other words, they juxtapose doom and psychedelic tendencies with a very strong black metal foundation, which gives the compositions so much dynamic range. The songs might be long, but the compositions are riveting, best exemplified by “Carvings in the Door”, making for an album that turns out, like Sannhet again, to be a very pleasant surprise. (Spotify)

Vanum, Realm Of Sacrifice (Profound Lore)

Seeing how much Ash Borer and Fell Voices toured together, it comes as no big surprise that two band members have collaborated on a new project. Led by Ash Borer guitarist Kyle Morgan and Fell Voices drummer Mike Rekevics, Vanum, again not surprisingly, is a confident blast of west coast black metal that bears many similarities to both bands. While not on par with Ash Borer’s Cold of Ages, one of the finest black metal albums this decade so far, it is a worthwhile listen, in which not a single misstep is made. If there’s anything working against this record it’s that the structure of the four songs are awfully predictable, but so confident is the execution, so well-timed the dynamics (“In Immaterial Flame” and “Realm of Sacrifice”, for example), that it’s only fault is that it doesn’t live up to either band’s work. Which is a little unfair, but when your previous work is that towering, that’s inevitable. Although devout black metal fans, especially those of either band, will certainly gravitate towards this, those casual listeners looking for something truly special might want to stick to Ash Borer and Fell Voices. (Spotify)

Various Artists, A Light In The Black (A Tribute To Ronnie James Dio) (Massacre)

20 bands of varying styles and skill have joined together to put out this loving tribute to the great Ronnie James Dio. The sentiment is admirable, and some acts do a splendid job covering classic songs and deep cuts, but there’s nothing here that’ll compel anyone who’s not a huge fan of such bands as Iron Fate and Crystal Ball to listen to these tracks more than once. Dio’s body of work, especially his best from 1975 to 1985, is untouchable, and why someone would want to listen to anything but the original is beyond comprehension. Like the star-studded Dio tribute from last year (you know, the one Tenacious D won the metal Grammy for), thumbs up for the good intent, but thumbs down for any expectations for longevity. (Spotify)

Virgin Steele, Noctures of Hellfire & Damnation (SPV)

Whether it’s coming from a PR rep or a metal writer — and let’s face it, that line is sadly blurred in today’s metal scene — it’s a disturbing habit to call any band that’s hung around for more than 30 years a “legend”. Sorry Virgin Steele, you sucked in 1984, and you suck now. In fact, the band has gone so beyond awful on this disaster of a concept album that it eclipses our perception of awfulness and shoots off into another stratosphere of mediocrity. The band was always a poor man’s Manowar, but what in god’s name are they doing on this record? The songs are muddled and hookless, going through motions but going nowhere, like a metal version of Michael Kamen’s score for Mr. Holland’s Opus. Even worse is singer David DeFeis, who desperately tries to inject life into these boring tracks by growling, crooning, whining, squealing — yes, squealing — to the point where it becomes unbearable. And then funny. Gut-bustingly funny. Once you get to DeFeis’s humpback whale vocals on “Persephone”, it’s impossible to keep your composure. It is a comedy classic, topping anything Spinal Tap ever did because this is so very real, and so spectacular a failure. In that respect, it’s hard to hate this album because it makes the listener laugh so much. With laughter comes smiles, and a brightened mood, so thank you, Virgin Steele, your ineptitude has brightened our lives in a way no one could ever have expected. (Spotify)


Head Above Ground

Hey kids, Disturbed are back! No ’90s band, with the exception of Godsmack, has gotten more out of being a one-trick pony than Disturbed, and true to form, new single “The Vengeful One” sounds exactly like everything else this most boring of metal bands has done in the past. Same plodding pace, same simple riffs, same vocal phrasing from David Draiman. Granted, the hook in the chorus is above average for this band — Draiman can be a terrific singer when he makes the effort to elevate his game — but the rest of the band is coasting, sounding far to complacent for four guys who are making a much-ballyhooed “comeback”. Immortalized, their first album in five years, will be released 21 August, and will probably sell by the bucketload.


Shameless Nostalgia

If you were a 14 year-old metalhead in the summer of 1985 — like yours truly — the album you and your buds were all waiting for the third album by Mötley Crüe. Shout at the Devil was a massive, massive album among the early teen set, and Crüe were on the cusp of something huge, riding a wave of hype and stories about their depravity and debauchery. What greeted fans on 21 June 1985, however, was something far less dangerous, tame even, the band ditching black leather and studs for pink spandex and scarves, eschewing heavy riffs for glam rock-inspired tunes. Even worse, half of Theater of Pain sounded as if the band just didn’t give a damn. All parties, including producer Tom Werman, just mailed it in, cashing a big paycheck. When Sixx, Mars, Lee, and Neil all put in a genuine effort, they could come up with great music, and on “Home Sweet Home” everything comes together perfectly, from Lee’s piano intro to Mars’s towering solo section and outro, which elevates an AOR ballad to heavy metal glory. There are some other good tunes on this scattershot record, such as the swaggering “City Boy Blues” and the menacing “Tonight (We Need a Lover)”, but when a 35-minute album needs filler, you know there’s a problem. But when a record like this goes quadruple platinum, a band won’t listen. Now over 30 years later, Theater of Pain remains a conflicting record: on one hand, there’s music here to fell plenty sentimental about, but on the other, the cynicism of it all is nauseating to this day.


Track of the Week

Slayer’s been an easy target as of late, with Kerry King receiving criticism for carrying on the band name and brand with only he and Tom Araya remaining. The Slayer car, the whiskey shilling, the lame title of the new album, the middling artwork, it’s enough to make people forget that this band can still be great when they want to be. “Repentless’, which premiered six days ago, is a terrific return to form, featuring some of King’s best riffing in years, as well as a terrific vocal performance by Araya. If you’re going to replace Hanneman and Lombardo, Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph are as qualified musicians as you will ever find. They fit like a glove in concert, and on record, at least this track, they’ve more than proven their worth. The success of Repentless depends hugely on King’s songwriting, but this searing track is an encouraging sign.

Blabbermouth Headline of the Week

Horns Up: Iron Maiden (new album!), Vivian Campbell, Brent Hinds.

Horns Down: Metal blogs that post a musician’s mentally disabled cry for help as entertainment. You’re all disgusting.

Follow me on Twitter at @basementgalaxy.

Follow Blood & Thunder’s rolling 2015 metal tracks playlist on Spotify.