Black Heart, London, UK - 25/2
author AP date 06/03/13 venue Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN
It's a busy time for me in terms of gigs of late, and I am beginning to find myself less and less within the confines of my home, and more often at one of the capital city venues clutching a cold beer and jotting down my thoughts on a performing artist. This Wednesday night gig was one rooted in extreme metal, the cult status of which was confirmed by the half-empty Loppen. But, as we shall see, those who chose not to attend may have missed out on the concert of the year. Read on to find out why.
As ever, it takes me the breadth of the entire first song to succumb to the might of Denmark's premier atmospheric black metal band. Their music is of the sort that demands a specific frame of mind to fully appreciate, one which resembles a trance-like state of sullen tranquillity. Once attained, such a state allows Solbrud's music to enter, linger and resonate in one's mind, the long-winding tremolo melodies and solemn clean passages conjuring imagery of dark, deserted woods, stormy winter seas and abandoned cities surrendering to the might of nature. As such, it does not take much of a performance per se on the band's part to woo the audience; they do so through thick plumes of dry ice and atmospheric lighting, droning through their set with a nihilistic indifference. Their attitude is an apt companion to the dark despair embedded in their songs, and one which does not subtract whatsoever from the experience. These are magnificent USBM songs played with the utmost precision and finesse, and one cannot but bow in respect after the realization that Solbrud's music is certainly beginning to be on par with the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room.
Absu, however, are a very different proposition - almost the exact opposite of Solbrud, in fact. Prior to this show, I had not heard the music of this trio, though their reputation as an excellent live act had not bypassed me. But just how riveting they are on stage does take me aback. Pressing pedal to the metal and racing through an 85-minute set without an ounce of respite, Absu cement themselves as one of the most absolutely intense extreme metal bands in existence, unparalleled by almost any other band, with only 1349 and Origin perhaps coming to mind as anything resembling this kind of madness.
Indeed, drummer/vocalist Prospector McGovern plays the madman's part exceptionally well, frequently exploding into a flurry of frenzied acapella screaming, roaring gibberish and disturbing laughter whilst looking like he might strike into the audience at any second. With his blackened eye-sockets and crown of leather and spikes, he truly looks a demonic presence. His compatriots, bassist Ezezu and guitarist Vis Crom are equally as bristling with energy, proceeding in almost neverending headbanging and windmilling whilst we are guided through an excellent overview of the band's diverse repertoire. I absolutely love the way in which McGovern puts each song in context by preceding it with a short narrative in a voice not his own, and how this invites the audience into Absu's occult mythological universe.
While there is no let-up to the suffocating speed an intensity of the bands setlist, the prospective issue of a lack of variety never becomes a problem, as their discography is one marked by diversity that stems from the various periods in their 23-year career. There are the blackened trash picks of recent times; the celtic sounding songs of their mid-era; and the crazed chaos fueled black metal pieces of the band's early years, each adding its own element of intrigue to a show that, for those who were smart enough to attend, will surely go down as one of the year's best.
It is continuously impressive just how talented this man McGovern is, as he not only delivers a constant barrage of awe-inspiring (and surely breathtaking) drumwork, but also contributes more than half of the vocals in the band's music and manages to solidify himself as the centerpiece on stage with a performance characterized by energy, will and intimacy. No insult intended at the remaining two musicians; their tradecraft is just as virtuosic and their performance just as energetic and full of passion, though with the exception of Ezezu's deeper growls their role seems somewhat less crucial to what makes Absu such an enthralling live act. No, it is the drummer's show for once, and it really is something to behold. All hail Absu!