Review by Natalie Zed; Photography by Albert Mansour
Something about this event felt like an unfolding; I arrived at the beginning of the night, when Lee’s was still grimly empty, just as the bands were setting up their merch tables. I also left at the very end, when the staff started sweeping up cups, stumbling out to grab a burrito, in line with all the other drunks, before catching 24-hour transit back home. (I dimly recall a very enthusiastic and no longer sober conversation with a black metal drummer while shoving yam and guacamole into my mouth, standing on the night bus.) This show was one of those rare occasions where every single element of the night — the venue, energy in the room and especially the bands — added to each other and enhanced the overall experience. I do wish the venue would have filled up a bit earlier and that the crowd would have gotten rowdy sooner. Still, the night began on a solid note and only got better, and that’s always a good thing.
First up were the Atlas Moth, who surprised me in a very particular way. Imagine you’re blindfolded and someone presses a spoon to your lips. You’re expecting one flavour or texture and get something completely different — honey instead of cough syrup. I was expecting to be served up a slab of stoner-sludge. While there’s definitely a psychedelic element to their sound, mixed with a whole lot of heavy, they also blend in some beefy, bluesy riffs that make the listening experience more complex. As well, they have an excellent sense of pacing and ebb and flow to their songs. They know when to apply pressure, when to go hard and when to let up — let the clouds break and the waters grow still — before assaulting the audience again. They also burned sage on stage, which gave their performance a positively meditative quality. It was a strange beginning to the night, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense.
Next were Dark Castle, a two-person doom metal juggernaut featuring guitarist/vocalist Stevie Floyd and drummer/vocalist Rob Shaffer. The sound that Floyd manages to wring from her guitar is staggering — so dark and mean that I kept squinting, expecting to see a bass in her hands. There is a tortured element about the sounds this duo produce, as though they’re forcing their instruments to cry out in pain, plucking, twisting and smashing the sound into submission. There’s absolutely nothing minimal about their sound; it’s bleak, certainly, but also thick and intricate, like how a post-apocalyptic city may be “empty,” but is still brimming with shrapnel and collapsing buildings. Dark Castle were an ugly, snarling grindery of a band on stage, but retained just enough plaintiveness in their sound, enough of a scrap of gentleness, to never grow boring. They’re skilled torturers, never allowing their audience to grow numb. I’d love to see them again.
I’d had no prior experience with Zoroaster before they took the stage at Lee’s Palace, but they’re most definitely a band I’m going to follow in the future. Their sound is crunchy and muscular, and in performance they alternate between manhandling and gently coaxing the audience towards epiphany. Their songs tend to be structured around a single, towering riff that’s then repeated, torqued, revised and resettled. It’s as though each song plays out the literary concept of the hero’s journey in miniature, where the listener ends in the same place they began, but forever changed. I certainly felt rearranged after watching Zoroaster perform, and privileged to be so obliterated. I also need to point out that their art — on their CDs, vinyl and T-shirts — is gorgeous. Brian Mercer designed the cover of their most recent release, Matador, and it is positively stellar.
Despite such a spectacular trio of supporting bands, Nachtmystium unquestionably stole the show. I first saw these experimental “Black Meddlers” when they opened for Kreator and Voivod back in March. Their tight, minimalist set was positively sedate in comparison to their performance at Lee’s Palace. As an opening band, they were polished to a gunmetal grey shine, a well-oiled machine that performed exceptionally well and then graciously shared the stage. During this performance, they behaved as though the stage was land they wanted to annex; they walked on as though their performance was an outright invasion. The crowd responded accordingly. While the vibe in the room had gradually ratcheted up from “polite and well-behaved” to “cheerfully aggressive” during the previous three sets, when Nachtmystium played, the crowd finally smelled blood. They drew their set list heavily from latest release Addicts:Black Meddle Pt. II, which meant the sound was particularly dark, thick and clotted with bursts of gunfire aggression. Their sound is gritty and grizzled, world-weary around the edges, but still unyielding as steel. I find it profoundly, viscerally attractive.