By Adrien Begrand
If you ever find yourself reading press releases about metal tour announcements on the West Coast and suddenly wondering, Now why the hell am I not living in Portland? don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Thanks to local booking agent Nanotear, whose clients are some of the coolest, most cutting-edge artists in heavy music, the Oregon city has turned into a very strong metal market, a fact hammered home annually with Fall Into Darkness. Scheduled for several nights around Halloween, the festival offers an eclectic combination of extreme metal, ambient, and pagan-influenced music more in celebration of the roots of Halloween rather than its more popular, tacky appeal. 2009’s three-day lineup was especially strong, featuring such bands as YOB, Ludicra, Agalloch, and Earth, and luckily for those of us who don’t call the Pacific Northwest home, the best moments of last year’s Fall Into Darkness have been culled together on a special limited edition DVD.
Instead of being an all-out metal bacchanal, the DVD is more like a tantalizing sample platter featuring excerpts from performances by ten wide-ranging artists. The best-known bands are the immediate draw, and for good reason. Esteemed doom trio YOB tear through the ten minute galloper “Quantum Mystic” from 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, drummer Travis Foster providing that unmistakable swing, guitarist/singer Mike Scheidt leading the charge with his trademark riffs. Sporting KISS facepaint (it being Halloween and all), Ludicra sounds terrific on the moody “Stagnant Pond”, one of the strongest tracks from their outstanding recent album The Tenant. Agalloch adds intensity and theatricality to Ashes Against the Grain‘s “Bloodbirds”, while Earth‘s Dylan Carlson leads his band through the kind of brooding, dusky instrumental that the veterans have been long known for.
As for the supporting bands, it gets even more wildly eclectic, and never for a second dull. Oakland’s fun Saviours ham it up dressed as Warholian soup cans during the rampaging “Slave to the Hex”, Portland mainstays Witch Mountain sound like a cross between Curved Air and Pentagram on “Wing of the Lord”, while violinist Kris Force’s wonderful neoclassical band Amber Asylum brings the mood down on the somber title track from their 2009 album Bitter River. The most surprising, and perhaps most polarizing clip on the entire DVD is the solo performance by Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Makoto Kawabata, in which he creates a trance-like improvised piece with bowed guitar, effects pedals, loops, drone, and feedback, even creating otherworldly tones by playing a singing bowl over his pickups at one point. As opposed to all the other performances on the DVD that run no longer than ten minutes, Kawabata goes on for a full 40 minutes, which some might find spellbinding, while others will have their patience tested.
Although the venue isn’t the best-lit setting for a concert DVD, the clips are nevertheless very well shot, four high definition cameras offering good close-ups of the performances, the two-channel audio cleanly mixed. It’s easy to wish more songs by certain bands had been made available, but as it stands this release, released in a limited pressing of only 300, is still an excellent glimpse at some outstanding musicians, not to mention an alluring look at what Fall Into Darkness is all about. If the city of Portland finds itself suddenly growing by a couple hundred in the coming months, they’ll have this fine DVD to thank.
Fall Into Darkness 2009 can be ordered here: http://knowwave.com/nanotear/fallintodarkness/dvd.html