SubRosa

support Sinistro + Bellhound Choir
author AP date 07/10/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

With so many metal gigs taking place around Copenhagen this cold October evening, it was a given that at least one would suffer a limited turnout. And with opponents like Halshug & Slægt at BumZen and Weekend Nachos at Ungdomshuset, naturally it was the least recognised band drew the shortest straw: Salt Lake City, UT’s avantgarde doom outfit SubRosa, who had (too ambitiously) been booked for Pumpehuset’s 400-capacity downstairs room. Quite telling that when I arrive some 10 minutes prior to the opening act, the amount of non-staff can almost be tallied up with a single hand.

All photos courtesy of Philip B. Hansen

Bellhound Choir

Christian Hede Madsen aka. Bellhound Choir seems unfazed by the circumstances though, encouraging us to stay at the bar, sit on the benches and just carry on with our casual mien while he soundtracks it with acoustic solo renditions of his material. But paradoxically, the nonexistence of a real crowd makes the performance even more intimate; you dare not breathe, let alone utter a word of conversation. You can hear absolutely everything — every scratch and screech of a guitar string, every contact of Madsen’s boots with the stage, the shutter of our photographers camera, the soothing hiss of the air-conditioning — during the whispery passages in songs such as the brand new “Full Moon Tide”, or the heart wrenching “Slow Pain” taken from Bellhound Choir’s latest outing “Imagine the Crackle”. It is mesmerising.

We are jokingly told that the former track is actually supposed to be a duet between Madsen and Sebastian Wolff (of Kellermensch fame), but that Wolff turned down the opportunity to sing it live tonight as he would have needed to buy his own ticket. It and the likewise freshly baked “God’s Home” (a song recorded for the official soundtrack to Ulrich Thomsen’s film “In Embryo”) slot in nicely amongst the choice cuts from the ‘Choir’s two existing records in acoustic format, and it will be interesting to hear how they work with the addition of electric guitar, upright bass and drums when the new album eventually releases in 2017. Certainly the sombre tone and prairie-spanning reach of Madsen’s music remains intact in them, so it is hard to imagine that a couple of blues wails added would do any damage.

On the other hand, Madsen’s gruff, powerful voice and masterful application of the guitar renders the need for a backing band kind of moot. The seven pieces he airs tonight sound quite different than on record — and not just because of the solo arrangement, but also because they have been spiced up with a wealth of improvisational solo parts that serve as jammy introductions leading into the songs proper. As such there is a whole other dimension of feeling attached to the music in this format, Madsen emoting through the lyricism as well as twangy slide guitar and such. What little audience there is, thus sends the man off into the night with resounding, well-deserved applause.

Sinistro

Having been left with mixed feelings regarding this Portuguese post-doom metal group’s concert at this year’s Roadburn Festival, it now strikes me that those either had more to do with my unideal vantage point, or Sinistro has addressed the issues that kept their performance brushing against greatness instead of getting there. Certainly tonight, the experience is made mesmerising as soon as “Partida” descends upon us, its gorging, drop-tuned chords stiffening like cement around our feet and vocalist Patrícia Andrade’s ethereal singing drawing us into her spell. She dramatises the music with a mix of sensual, pantomime and abrupt, marionette-like movements in situ, contrasted by her sometimes standing ghostly still so as to spread the spotlight onto the four musicians around her (known only by their single-letter aliases R, F, Y & P). And unlike at Roadburn’, the gentlemen no longer resemble pot plants, but form an equally crucial aspect of Sinistro’s overall performance. The visual effect of Andrade frozen in a moment while her compatriots swing their hair and instruments in a semicircle around her is somehow so compelling; antithetical to the traditional rock/metal system that so often centers on the vocalist’s antics.

Mind you, when she is singing or delivering one of her intense spoken word passages, using her body language to describe the maelstrom of emotions now most of us are unable to understand Portuguese, her lack of motion should not be construed as a removal of focus — it actually has the opposite effect. But it does mean that the eye is drawn to the guitarists, bassist and drummer, too, creating a balance of dynamics that so many of today’s acts seem to overlook. When all five members then indulge themselves the liberty physically to exert themselves during those psyche-bending, reverb-drenched instrumental parts that emerge from the heavy trudge of songs such as “Estrada” and “Cidade Parte I & II”, the resulting showmanship borders on the theatrical.

With a better sound than at Roadburn’ as well, the outstanding composition of Sinistro’s should be apparent even to the uninitiated listener. The interplay between periods of crushing doom, airy post-metal and flamboyant synth & organ soliloquies is executed without seams (if you ignore the breakdown of the rightmost guitarist’s cable and the ensuing uncomfortable silence in the wake of “Partida”), and with such a strong presence in the mix, you really start to appreciate the control that Andrade has over her tone and diction — not to mention how superb a fit the Portuguese language is for doom metal. Indeed, all of the hype surrounding Sinistro feels justified when the finale to “Fragmento” ripples out, and suddenly the band seems like the perfect candidate to make its Danish breakthrough at a certain metal festival next summer.

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SubRosa

Armed with two violinists in Sarah Pendleton & Kim Pack, this avantgarde doom five-piece out of Mormon central (i.e. Utah’s capital Salt Lake City) has the most original band setup of the evening’s entertainment, yet the doubts that have been bothering me with regard to how well some of the material taken from the group’s fourth studio album, “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages”, would adapt to the live setting are proven at least partially true. For while SubRosa certainly has a penchant for unloading slabs of heavy doom upon its audience, so, too, does the band enjoy exploring calmer, distant soundscapes that some might call ‘shoegaze’ — and the musicians like to linger in those periods for a long time. That works well on record because it induces a dreamlike state in the listener, one from which he or she is then abruptly awoken once frontlady Rebecca Vernon, bassist Levi Hanna and drummer Andy Patterson lay down the doom. But in the live setting, those passages seem sometimes to drag on endlessly — most notably in “Despair is a Siren” — leaving me counting the seconds until the next eruption of crashing chords and frenzied violin.

Unfortunately, the violins have been mixed far too low in the mix, dramatically reducing their effect — especially when the proceedings pick up in terms of intensity. That however, is the only negative word one is able to utter about the two ladies, whose rocking out is as unrelenting as it is badass; for the duration of the concert, the two are headbanging so deep you fear injury might befall them, rocking back and forth in these demonic bent-over postures and freeing an endless torrent of melodies in every imaginable shape and form. The tuner and wah-wah pedal that Vernon uses looks pretty spartan next to Pendleton & Pack’s arrays… Precisely for this reason it is such a shame that those instruments are so hard to distinguish within the (admittedly quite hypnotic) wall of sound. It is a decent first introduction to SubRosa’s live competences then, but it does leave a somewhat bittersweet taste — you know this band is capable of majesty, which, I am told, was exactly what they achieved at the 2015 edition of Roadburn Festival.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Fat of the Ram
  • 02. Despair is a Siren
  • 03. Wound of the Warden
  • 04. The Usher

— Encore —

  • 05. Beneath the Crown

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