I was relating a story recently – about this tattoo I have on my wrist that says “metal.” A little on the nose, right? Seems kinda silly, I know, but in truth it’s one of the really important ones – it actually means a lot to me. I got it a few years back, upon returning home from a trip to BC. The thing is, I pretty much *only* travel when and if I can go see a show – they’re not always metal shows, but by and large that’s generally what it is, and if I can fit in more than one…. well! So the story – about the tattoo and the trip to BC – I had a lot of extended family out there, a full metal band’s worth of friends who had moved up there a few years previous, and hadn’t been out there since I was a kid, so I was kind of looking for an excuse, and along came a High on Fire tour that included Converge, Mastodon, and Dethklok (yes, yes – fucking made up joke band…. Sigh) and a Motorhead show with Nashville Pussy opening just a few days before, and another bill with Children of Bodom, Skeletonwitch… and a few others that again escape my memory right now. Sounded good, and off I went.
So I get there, and the evening of my arrival, a member of the other side of my extended family’s family passes away. Brutal. So they head out to deal with that, of course. And there I am with no transportation, in the unfamiliar suburbs, and no key to their home. So I really ain’t going anywhere. So, they of course spend most of my time there grieving and making funeral arrangements, while I just fucking feel awful for intruding on these private moments. The second day there, I go to the Motorhead show (which is fucking fantastic actually. Everyone ought to see Lemmy at some point; trust me) and though the details now somehow elude me, I end up halfways stranded with a friend of a friend and no real idea of how I’m getting the fuck back to the suburbs. Ultimately this involves many hours, some go-trains, a Tim Hortons wait, and a ride home from some random girl this dude possibly had something on the go with. I think. Then as my visit carries on, I kind of get a cold. Bummer, but not exactly dire, right? Then, I end up with strep throat, or some other awful thing that results in me *totally* losing my voice and just generally feeling like a bag of shit. Super convenient for visiting and catching up of course. And finally to top off all of the wonderfulness, I go to the High on Fire show (keeping in mind that HOF are basically my favorite thing ever) and apparently this was the first show to ever happen ever in Vancouver, and when the doors opened promptly at 7pm, and the solitary security person started going through the most thorough entry searches I have ever experienced, HOF also began. And so, they played to a room that went from empty to…. partways full, and I got to enjoy perhaps 2 songs by my favoritest band ever. One for the memory book, no question.
So, to bring this back to my original (and relevant, I swear) point, I get home from that trip and I’m basically thinking ‘what the fuck am I doing? I travel and spend all this money to see bands and stuff, and that fucking *sucked* in so many ways…. Should I just fucking fuck off and not bother any more?’ And then I thought about the Motorhead show, and how fucking *amazing* it was, and that feeling you have in the middle of a killer show, and I realized that was why I did it, and why it was worth it. For all the times I got that. And that I would actually go through all that again, for that. And so I tattooed “metal” on my wrist where I could see it all the time, because that was the thing that drove me.
Now I was telling this story because it was once again, sadly, relevant. I’ve had a few unfortunate mishaps, in amongst countless amazing, wonderful, unforgettable experiences (my ill-fated attempt to see Monster Magnet last December is always the first to come to mind…..) and with another trip planned to see a couple of shows featuring Electric Wizard, Satan’s Satyrs, Blood Ceremony, At the Gates, and Pallbearer (and again Converge, whom I come to like less every time I see them) disaster struck again. My health had been a little wonky of late – I’d been under the weather, gotten an infection, completed a course of antibiotics, dealt with all the lovely side effects like *another* infection (I take medications so infrequently that I usually get alllllll of the side effects when I do, cause my poor body just isn’t prepared for it), was feeling pretty good and less than 48 hours before my flights, woke up vomiting, which lasted for about a day. I felt so, *so* awful, that for the first time in my life, I considered calling it, and just cancelling the whole thing, setting fire to all the money spent. Even the day of, packing my bag, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. But I’d eaten some toast and all seemed….. painful, weak, worn out….. but, okay. Ish. And so I went. Because a few of these were bucket list bands. One of which was a sold out show that myself and my friend had begrudgingly purchased highly-inflated scheming scalper tickets for. And I would probably always regret missing them if I didn’t. I felt terrible for pretty much the entire trip – much more so than I even let on, or probably admitted to myself at the time. My body hurt, I was tired and achy, no drinking, no coffee or tea for the first few days, super-mild (read: boring) food, and then on top of things I got a brutal head cold, and was concerned that the original infection had returned. It wasn’t until I was back home a week later that I really started feeling alright and kind of like myself again. That having been said, the shows….. THE SHOWS. Were they worth it? Oh fuck yeah. And so you see, thus the ‘metal’ tattoo…..
The night after I arrived was Electric Wizard at Lee’s Palace – a prolific and much loved small venue in Toronto. It’s little but has a great layout, and somehow the sound always seems to be really, really good (which, if you take in many live shows, you know sadly tends to be the exception rather than the norm, so this is high praise indeed). What can I even say about getting to see Electric Wizard? Finally. This is *huge* of course. They were one of the pioneers and pillars of, lets say, the second generation of Doom, in the 90s when things get all tied up with Stoner and Desert Rock. And, though they have changed and evolved *massively* since then they, unquestionably, they still are. When I started discovering all that fuzzed out, Sabbath-worshipping stuff that is so dear to my heart, Electric Wizard were pretty much in on the ground floor, along with Kyuss, Acrimony, Fu Manchu, Orange Goblin (before they were even called that). So they were important and formative for me, but honestly? Not actually one of my favorites. Now, I kept buying their albums cause they were good and stuff and I did like them. Dopethrone came out and people couldn’t get enough, and I didn’t really get it and still think they have better albums, but there you go. It’s the new Liz Buckingham era of Electric Wizard that changed it all for me. With these last few albums, I think they really have become what they were meant to be – this sludgy, lumbering, very, very high, beast of a band performing the soundtracks of classic shlockly horror and exploitation movies that may exist, or may just exist in their collective vision. Prior to that I always found them to be a bit all over the place and unfocused. But now they truly are the pioneers I would have called them – because the recent crop of ‘occult metal’ bands that we have seen emerge and flourish owe everything from their riffs to style to artwork, to Electric Wizard. They have more or less created a genre. And this was their first tour in North America in 13 years, and since Liz had joined the band. How fucking cool is that? Obviously I was going to be there.
We showed up early, to try and scope out decent places – which I of course did (I’m a fucking wizard for this shit). I’m usually a right up front kind of person, but considering my physical state at the time, I wanted a calmer spot – right in front on the second level directly in front of the stage with no one blocking my view. Though there was the weird guy, standing a little to my right on the stairs, in everyone’s way for the entire night, pointed half away from the band, not so casually, casually leaning, trying exceptionally way too hard to look tough, and the woman sitting down to my left with drinks, purse, poster, shirt, and other odds and ends she couldn’t possibly need, spread out on the railing in front of her, who got incredibly but very quietly miffed with me, when I decided to take my coat off and lay in on the ledge in front of *me* about halfway through the show when the possibility of heat stroke and bad trips was becoming a concern or reality for most of those in attendance. All of this, of course, occurred after we walked in and I immediately zoned in on the merch table…. which was hilariously but depressingly ravaged and pitiful and had literally nothing but scraps of tape left on the wall. And some stray satanic tumbleweeds blowing by, y’know. No big deal. This, combined with the fact that this show sold out blindingly fast when it went on sale a few months back, have me suspecting that Electric Wizard and their camp truly may not have realized what an enormous pilgrimage they were making across the pond, and the legion of disciples they would find still here.
By and large the crowd was exactly what you would expect. Metal. Very, very metal. Very doom metal. My vest was just one more fish in the sea – in fact, there may have been a bit of a dress code. But, of course, there were a few others, the dabblers, the narcs, the hipsters, the hardcore guys that I have come to learn love doom like they love hip hop. All of which is somewhat beyond my experience and understanding, and so I just listen to my doom metal with my people, and I am at peace.
At any rate, when they took the stage, all that was forgotten and it was….. electric? Too much? But truly, it was. It was a moment of chills, and trances, and something that the whole room was perfectly in tune with. The vibe and energy in the air (yes, energy damnit, it wasn’t just the over-the-top, almost joke-level, but oh-so-fitting, amount of pot smoke floating in air in a very visible haze) was all- encompassing, and hypnotic. Between the riffs, and the set-long kaleidoscopic video projection of bits and pieces of cinematic sacrifices and séances and satan, and boobs and bikes and blood, we all lived inside of their world for a time immeasurable, it seemed. The projection was really interesting in that it took some of the limelight away from the band itself and the people you want to watch, but it was a little like watching a movie with subtitles – after a while you kind of stop noticing that you’re even reading and you’re just in it and taking it all in.
In truth, it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be. Actually that isn’t quite true – I very specifically went in with no particular expectations, but in hindsight they were not quite what I think I might have expected. For a band that have so extravagantly crafted occult soundscapes this past decade or so, I might have expected far more theatricality, but it was incredibly stripped down, and with the exception of the screen behind the band, pretty mundane. Now, don’t get me wrong – not at all in a bad way; I was actually quite pleased. I’ve always wondered if they might take themselves just a little too seriously, but they seemed much the same as all the other longhairs with their vests and patches in attendance. And that was refreshing and reassuring. Jus Oborn has a surprising charisma…. He was *in* it and felt what he was playing in a way you don’t often see these days. Silly, as it might sound, there was something visceral and almost sexual about the way he moved and the grimaces on his face and the sweat pouring off of him – just the way in which he was utterly engaged in his music. There was no way he had *anything* left at the end of the night. I will admit that I was surprised to see him doing pretty much all the lead guitar work. They’re both always credited with simply ‘guitars’ but for some reason, I had always assumed Liz Buckingham was the lead. Perhaps because of the palpable turn in the band’s music after she had joined, but regardless…. she’s a killer player; I fucking loved her, and she just seemed like an insanely cool lady, cut from the same cloth as myself I thought (if I might be so bold as to put myself in that company) but with way fucking more rad bell-bottomed jeans.
Ultimately it was all over far too soon – I understand they played for about 90 minutes, but it didn’t feel like half that time had passed – and we were dismissed and released back to our own mundane worlds where drugs and murder will never be legalized.
A few days, some limited lp shopping successes (more shops visited than albums bought, but that probably tells one something about the extent of their habit….) and some terrible weather later, soaked to the skin and freezing fucking cold, we were off to a very different show, but of the same emotional magnitude. At the Gates, the founding fathers of Swedish/Melodic Death metal. They’ve been back on the road a few years now, and put out a fucking fantastic album a few months back, but this was the first time I had managed to catch them. Considering they broke up right around the time they put out their genre-defining masterpiece and I was discovering them, this was a pretty big deal. Most of the time I’d known who At the Gates were, I also knew I would never see them. Having that change is quite the feeling. Its unreal. Its laws of physics changing on you. I had it with Iron Maiden, I had it with Kyuss, now At the Gates…. It’s a feeling that never gets old though.
This show was a bit of a surprise as well, and in this case, I *had* seen lots of live ATG footage beforehand. I thought I did know what I was in for. But I hadn’t expected the good happy vibes I got at this show. Part of it began and ended with myself and my friend Ryan, who had also never seen them before. We were like little fucking kids; there was no metal attitude or toughness – we were so fucking stoked, we were hugging and our faces were hurting from smiling. What was a surprise was how much of the same vibe I got from the band themselves. They just seemed like they were having the most fun and just enjoying the hell out of themselves, and that was really, really nice to see. Tomas Lindberg was smiling and talkative and jovial, and I loved how casual the guys were – he was wearing a baseball hat and Anders Bjorler was wearing a Blue Oyster Cult shirt. I loved how casual they were for a death metal band. But at the same time, I loved how well crafted a show they put off for a death metal band – the band came to the stage in darkness to the opening of the new album; there were a number of instrumentals throughout the set; intros like the classic lead up to Blinded by Fear were all present; the show ended with the Night Eternal, with each band member fading out and leaving the stage til only one guitarist remained in a spotlight, and then that too went out leaving the stage in darkness. So fucking well done. And of course I heard about 80% of Slaughter of the Soul, and got that amazing moment when 1000 people or so shouted “GO!” in unison… You realize standing in the room that these guys are not so very different from the rest of us – baseball hats, band shirts, metalheads – but on that stage they show you what it is in them that virtually created a genre once upon a time; you can feel it, and there is an emotional core in that….
Oh, and also, just for the record, I got the fucking *coolest* At the Gates shirt. Buying girls metal shirts is fucking brutal – if they even fucking have them, they’re probably going to be ugly, or a stupid colour or fit weird. So please envision my happiness when Ryan runs up to me and tells me that not only do they have girl’s shirts, but that they’re also the coolest shirts there! Boo Yah! And he was not wrong. Simple black shirt with a red print in the shape of the old-school ATG logo. Doesn’t even *say* At the Gates – so you gotta know what it is to know what it is…. Well, what metalhead doesn’t love that kind of exclusivity at least just a little bit deep down, am I right? This alllllmost even made up for the totally lack of Electric Wizard merchandise…. *almost.*