Words By Laura Wiebe; Photos by Adam Wills
I’m not a lyrics person. Most of the time I hear the words sliding, soaring or spewing from vocalists’ mouths as tone and texture. And even when recognizable words and phrases seep into my consciousness it’s a very rare occasion when some overarching meaning develops in my mind. I approach poetry in the same manner – taking in the shapes and sounds of words and lines without thinking much about what they mean (unless I’m actively working at the task of interpretation).
In either case – lyrics or verse – the words are of little interest to me on the page. I prefer to hear language resonating in my ears, in the space around me. So there’s an inherent relationship in my mind between poetry and the music I listen to – metal – even if I usually don’t give it much thought. But I don’t often (almost never?) get the chance hear metal and poetry intertwine. In fact, for me it’s only happened twice. After attending The Wrecking Ball, I hope it happens more.
My first metal poetry experience was a rare treat, hearing poet Colin Vincent perform two excellent heavy metal pieces for a university creative writing class. (I wish I could direct you to those poems! But the chapbook they were published in is long out of print.) My second encounter with poetry and metal combined was equally inspired, as well as an organizational feat: a full night of alternating poets and metal performers hosted by Hellbound’s own Natalie Zed.
I’m sad to have missed the opening performances: a reading of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” by Dani Couture and a musical set by Ein Traum (a project featuring members of Toronto black metallish band Gates). But the room I walked into mid-event had a lively vibe – people milling inside and out, neat curiosities and band merch for sale, cans of Steigl available from the bar, and a warm welcome from the host of the night.
Chris Doda (in Motörhead shirt) took to the stage soon after we arrived, combining (mostly) contemporary inspirations with an antique Spanish form. Doda’s glosa poems each took four lines of metal and rock lyrics as a starting point, expanding outward from there to breathe dark new life into figures like a character from Dante or politician John Ashcroft while bands like Possessed and Judas Priest (“Electric Eye”) provided the skeletal seeds, all building toward a Motörhead conclusion.
Vilipend were next up to entertain, luring the unwary closer to the front (back?) of the room. The band delivered their usual intense sonic assault, low on melody and loud on attitude. Using his entire body as an instrument as he moved around and on/off the stage, Vilipend’s frontman Chris Gramlich self-deprecatingly compared lyric writing to the poet’s craft with a suggestion that metal and hardcore lyrics are the high school scribblings of the poetry world.
The follow-up performance was a double shot of poetry, reining in the chaos temporarily before weaving back up toward an inevitable climax. After Vilipend, Damian Rogers (in a Metallica shirt) eased the milling bodies into a more composed kind of attention as she stood up to read her selection of poems, the most narrative words of the night. Rogers’ reading was vividly detailed and descriptive – or at least had that effect, scenes taking shape in my mind as she spoke. Angela Rawlings, in contrast, was more sound than visual imagery: repetition, pitch, volume, enunciation… eventually abandoning recognizable words altogether. Rawlings performed a short set that crossed lines between poetry and performance art, culminating in a tarot reading of past, present and future that required the joined voices of Rawlings, Natalie Zina Walschots, and Christian Bök to express future prediction.
The last set of the night belonged to Sylvus, whose black metal had attracted a special contingent of loyal followers. The band was even better than the last time I saw them, dark in atmosphere, not particularly folkish and never very grim (especially in between tracks). Their song choices highlighted recent independent release The Beating of Black Wings – piercing and eerily melodic. They even played a final encore track, giving into fans’ demands after trying to persuade us there was no more.
Do metal and poetry go together? Absolutely.
Should Natalie do this again? Without a doubt.
(Have I started paying attention to what the words mean? Not really, but that doesn’t lessen my love of the sound.)