I had wanted to see the two headlining bands on this tour for a long time. You can blame Behemoth for turning me on to extreme metal in the first place, as the killer riffs, monstrous production, and surprisingly intelligent historic/occultist-tinged lyrics of Demigod really set the standard for how ambitious a death metal album can be. It was a rapturous moment for someone like me whose previous experience with death metal was excessively brutal gore-obsessed noise that was impossible for me to get into, back when the heaviest music I listened to was Blind Guardian. Nergal defeating Death itself was also a major factor, as I needed to bear witness to the unholy celebrations that were sure to take place when he returned to our shores after such a dark and uncertain time for Behemoth fans. And Watain’s live performances are all but legendary at this point – I had heard the tales of friends soaked in blood and rotten meat, choking on thick black smoke from an array of torches, watching the band play behind a display of impaled animal heads, and trying for days and days after the show to wash the stench of death out of their skin. Although New York City’s anal-retentive health and building codes forbid these elements of their performance, glimpsing Watain in the (corpse-painted) flesh would still be an experience to remember, as honestly the music’s good enough on its own without all the extra doodads. This wasn’t a show I wanted to go to; it was a show I needed to go to.
First to mount the stage were veteran funeral-doomers Evoken, a total change of mood from the rest of the night. While the next two acts would invoke some major fist-pumping and the two headliners would rip open the heavens and let fire and brimstone fall upon our heads, Evoken’s slow crawl dragged us all to the very depths of the ocean. With a lumbering gait, monstrous riffs, and synthesizer embellishments, Evoken’s set was greatly reminiscent of the mighty Winter, Thergothon, or a pre-emasculation Anathema. While there were undoubtedly a few folks bored out of their skulls, the majority of the audience was entranced in a molasses-slow head-nodding that only the best languid crawl of funeral-doom can induce.
Masked by a cloud of machine-made fog and patchouli incense, In Solitude was the next act to ascend to the stage. I had been a fan of theirs ever since a year before, when I caught their outdoor set at Maryland Deathfest IX. Not only was their oldschool Mercyful Fate worship absolutely infectious, but I have great respects for any lead singer who’s able to wear both a fox pelt around his neck and a leather jacket while still being able to enthusiastically perform and gyrate in the oppressive and sweltering Baltimore spring. The air-conditioned locale of Irving Plaza was a much more comfortable environment for their all-leather getup (including pants!), and you could certainly tell – their performance was one of the most charismatic I’ve seen from any heavy metal act in any genre. The crowd was enraptured, fist-pumping and foot-stomping along to their catchy oldschool grooves. It really amazes me that a band so young, with members barely in their twenties, can pull off the old and dusty style of the classics so well.
I’m going to come clean with a secret shame of mine – on record, The Devil’s Blood don’t do that much for me. While their occultist ’70s-style jams are certainly enjoyable, they don’t have enough of an edge that I’m looking for when it comes to that style. But live? Oh man, they’re a completely different story on stage. The five members looked out upon the crowd, wreathed in fog and drenched in blood, and used their songs less as blueprints to follow to the letter and more as launching-off points for solo wizardry and slow-jam builds. While the studio version of “Christ or Cocaine,” for example, clocks in at around five or six minutes, The Devil’s Blood stretch it out to a hypnotizing twelve-minute psychedelic jam on stage, and it’s an absolute marvel to behold. I’m usually not a fan of jazz-inspired musicianship if it’s not well-done and enjoyable to listen to, but this most certainly was on both points. Whether you’re a fan of the band or not, catching them live is an absolute necessity. Their music absolutely demands an in-person experience for maximum enjoyment, and the crowd was certainly in agreement as well – there wasn’t one person I could see who wasn’t moving in some way to the ceremonial rock, and I think I even caught sight of a mosh pit at one point. But that pit was nothing compared to the chaos that was to follow.
Since New York City was at the very end of the tour, Watain was thankfully able to play their set for us, their problems with America’s notorious visa service finally having been left in the dust. I feel so bad for everyone at the beginning of the tour who had to miss them, because a Watain performance is a veritable force of nature – with or without torches, blood, heads on pikes, et cetera. All New York allowed them to display were a pair of steer skulls on pikes, and I’ll argue that they didn’t even need that for the full effect – honestly, the music’s good enough on its own! The Satanic anthems of “Devil’s Blood” and “Reaping Death” whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy, and it was almost impossible to find somewhere that wasn’t being overtaken by the ever-growing circle pit. And as I raised the horns, pledging to “set the night on fire” and “sodomize the God that failed” along with my fellow revelers, I noticed that one of Watain’s guitarists had an eerily familiar and un-spiky guitar headstock – upon a closer look, it was revealed to be none other than Selim Lelouch of The Devil’s Blood, freshly corpse-painted as a member of the Watain cult! Anyone who can play two touring sets in a row per night easily earns my undying respect, as such a commitment requires superhuman levels of stamina. His presence helped the rest of the band to invoke the Dark Lord’s favor more than adequately, as all that my friend and I could do after Watain’s set to express our enthusiasm was to collide our foreheads together, hold each other by the nape of the neck, and scream in each other’s faces. Fuckin’ primal, man.
And now, it was the moment that everyone had been waiting for. The tension built to nearly unsustainable levels as the techs tuned up the instruments, and when the lights went down, the roaring of the crowd was rapturous. And then Behemoth launched into “Ov Fire And The Void,” and the only thing keeping them from taking their rightful places as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was the unfortunate fact that they weren’t riding horses. Orion and Seth were like pillars upholding the rest of the music, Inferno was a goddamn monster behind the kit, and you could never have known that Nergal was on Death’s door two years before from seeing his performance that night. When he screamed out “It is good to be alive!” between songs, the cheering that followed was some of the most celebratory I’ve ever heard. With a wide and varied set drawing from all the highlights of their career (yes, even the pagan black metal rites of …And The Forests Dream Eternally), Behemoth’s return to American shores was everything that fans like me thought it would be, and the chaos that erupted for hits like “Conquer All” and “Slaves Shall Serve” was enough to satisfy any true fan of heavy music. They’re back in force, and it’s as if they never even left.
Woe to thee, mortal, if you were unlucky enough to miss this tour. Evoken submerged us all to the depths of the Marianas Trench, In Solitude and The Devil’s Blood raised our spirits back up with oldschool occultist revelry, and the return of Behemoth and Watain to our shores was almost akin to an ascension to divinity. It’s impossible to typify the sounds, the sights, and the sweat of this performance with words, but I dearly hope that those of you unfortunate enough to have not attended the Decibel Magazine Tour have at least caught a glimpse of its glory through my attempt. But make no mistake, you should still be ashamed of yourself for missing it.