SUMAC

support Baptists + Nordra
author AP date 09/03/19 venue Alice, Copenhagen, DEN

Nørrebro venue Alice is not a venue I have been to before, but one look at the handful of craft beers on the menu convinces me that it will be worth returning to — not to mention that with KB18 having shut down last year, Copenhagen has been in need of a midsize establishment with an underground vibe. As I’m parking my bike outside, it hits me that six weeks have passed since I last attended a concert. This might seem normal to most people, but given the once, twice or even thrice-a-week gig schedule I have been observing for many years now, it feels surreal. What better way to kick things off again then, than being shaken to submission by Vancouver, BC’s atmospheric sludge metal trio SUMAC?

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Nordra

SUMAC might be described as quite experimental in their approach to songwriting, but Nordra still takes the cake in that regard here. Nordra consists exclusively of Monika Khot, who sings, plays a tiny trumpet and electric guitar, twists knobs and pushes buttons in order to create a cacophony of mainly electronic noise that, at its heaviest, reminds me of Author & Punisher and at other times of Anna von Hausswolff minus the organ. Her multipart role sadly means that she spends most of the concert bent over her effect board creating the beats and samples at the core of her music, offering few opportunities for the audience to feel engaged. Most of us are thus content to shut our eyes and cross our arms, trying to comprehend the ideas underlying Nordra’s music — but if I’m honest, most of the music is too strange to sit very well with me. There is a track with a harsh industrial beat and dissonant guitar chords that piques my interest halfway through, just as Khot’s eclectic singing raises an eyebrow here and there. But alas, the overall impression her concert leaves on me is one of puzzlement. Not my genre, I suppose?

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Baptists

Baptists enter the stage unceremoniously, and after Andrew Drury has said his hellos, the set proceeds roughly as one would expect from a hardcore punk outfit. “See you in the pit!”, he declares, and he soon delivers on the promise as “Bushcraft” (the title track to the band’s 2013 offering) erupts from the speakers. The moshpit is small-scale and quite tame but looking around the room, it is obvious that this Vancouver, BC-born outfit has a much firmer grip on the audience than Nordra. People are headbanging, smiling and roaring in approval as the quartet work their way through a surprisingly varied selection of material ranging in style from raw and nasty crust in the vein of All Pigs Must Die to more dynamic and melodic cuts reminiscent of Converge. Indeed, the group’s music is much more diverse than I had remembered from their 2014 album, “Bloodmines”, and fortunately the four musicians also have the showmanship to back it up, which makes the performance captivating even for those of us who prefer to remain outside the pit. Drury is by far the wildest of the bunch, but guitarist Danny Marshall and bassist Shawn Hawryluk are not far behind him in terms of the energy they’re dispensing during the likes of “Festered” and “Gift Taker” (the latter of which is taken from Baptists’ latest album, 2018’s “Beacon of Faith”). One could have hoped for more intensity from the crowd — something that Drury repeatedly pleads for as well — but the band’s giving it their all nonetheless ensures that no one is left disappointed by this 40-minute discharge of hardcore punk.

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SUMAC

Energised by the previous concert, the audience is thus ready for the rhythm to be slowed and for heavy dissonance to descend upon us. SUMAC achieve this within seconds of “Attis’ Blade” (the opening track to their third studio album, “Love in Shadow”, which came out in 2018), bringing riffs so dense and an atmosphere so discomforting it instills a kind of claustrophobia in me. To my surprise, it is neither the ex-Isis frontman Aaron Turner nor the Russian Circles bassist Brian Cook who invite most attention to themselves, but drummer Nick Yacyshyn (who was also manning the kit for Baptists just before). His performance tonight is sublime; he is full of ideas even when the music otherwise takes on a droning character, and when Cook & Turner veer off onto one of their improvisational, jazzy tangents, he follows them effortlessly, never losing track of where the two axemen might be headed next. Both “Attis’ Blade” and later also “The Task” (off the same record) lift his drumming talent to the forefront, and while his two compatriots certainly also pull their weight in terms of technical execution, he plays a major role in translating SUMAC’s music into an enthralling format live.

None of the four tracks aired by the Canadian trio tonight subscribe to any conventional idea of what makes music memorable, but the sheer weight of the music and the band’s innate ability to transition between wildly contrasting passages so seamlessly nonetheless makes the experience of watching them live riveting. You really get sucked into a kind of hypnotised state thanks to the wealth of repetition in a song like “Arcing Silver”, but there are also moments of release in it that even send the reserved yet imposing Turner flailing toward the audience at times. Indeed, slow and atmospheric though SUMAC’s material may be, they are far from dull when stood on stage. And even if they were, the concluding piece, “Image of Control”, is there to redefine the concept of ‘heavy’ music, overwhelming you like a tsunami of pure lead as it unfolds in a final crescendo. If you are yet to experience this sonic devastation (which Turner ironically explains is actually about love after the set has ended), you would be wise to do so at the earliest opportunity. No other band will seem quite so monolithic afterward.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Attis’ Blade
  • 02. Arcing Silver
  • 03. The Task
  • 04. Image of Control

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