By Natalie Zed
As Canadian Music Week reached a fever-pitch on Saturday night, the atmosphere at Soybomb was much more serene, providing a very welcome respite from the chaos at other venues across the city. While I saw friends and colleagues tweeting about fighting through absurd lines to see an indie band at the Horseshoe, it felt lovely to sip a cheap beer, stretch out my legs on the unofficial venue’s skate ramp and let some unconventional black metal wash over me. I have been to shows at Soybomb that were oversold to the point of ridiculousness and beyond, people backed in way over capacity, making shows completely unenjoyable. For this show, however, the small but passionate crowd suited the venue perfectly, filling the space with positive energy.
First up were Toronto project The Sustained Low ‘C’ of Richard Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra,’ whose unwieldy name cannot conceal the novel project they have going on. Features members of Toronto bands Infernal Arms, Titan, Braxton Clover and Gates, the band play music that is unquestionably black metal in composition but surprisingly upbeat in mood. Classic, swarming black metal riffs and blast beats abound, but the music that they play is primarily written in major keys, leading to a surprisingly warm and uplifting sound. This is the sonic equivalent of Soviet-era cartoons: brooding, ominous and certainly weird, but also curiously endearing. With only a pair of rehearsal tracks up on their bandcamp, I sincerely hope they record more.
Next up were Sound Asleep from Buffalo, NY and St Catharines, ON, who emerged from a period of dormancy to play this show. Their set came across as a wall of sound, rippling and unrelenting, breaking over the audience like waves. They characterize themselves as sludge and doom, but their love show is not all monolithic heaviness, but rather a progression of weights and textures, never settling anywhere, always shifting and unpredictable. It’s a challenging listening experience, one that requires the audience pay a great deal of attention, which I sincerely appreciated.
Æsahættr then took the stage and performed what felt light a slightly short set – at least, I was left aching for more by the end of it. The band is named after an item in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. Also called ‘The Subtle Knife,” it is a blade so sharp it is capable of cutting apart the fabric between worlds in the multiverse. Æsahættr are certainly sharp, both in terms of their music edge and their wits, and make no bones about the fact that they are hoping to wound with sound. Based in Montreal, QC, the band began as the solo project of Mike Kirkenbrannsår, who played every instrument but the violin on the band’s 2010 demo. To make Æsahættr a live-ready band, Kirkenbrannsår brought along an Ensorcelor bandmate as well as the full line-up of Toronto’s experimental black metal three-piece Thantifaxath. The result is excellent, a muscular, writhing sound that gives added life and depth to Æsahættr cerebral compositions. This line-up will shortly be touring Europe, and I have no doubt that long, drawn, unspooling compositions will be well-received in their current form.
New York’s Castevet took the stage around midnight, and performed what was definitely the most overtly angry set of the evening. 2011’s devastating Mounds of Ash left many listeners in delighted ruins, and it was clear that the band were hoping to translate some of that smoulder into their love show. Along with a show in Montreal the night before, this performance marked the first dates that Nicholas McMaster of Krallice was playing with the band as a live member, giving them, and the audience, even more to be hopped up about. Vocalist and guitarist Andrew Hock seemed to tremble with negative energy, at one point snarling at the crowd, “This is black metal, not some happy, social party. Go fuck yourselves, seriously.”
Hoping to inspire venom, Castevet found themselves facing a crowd that was listening intently, but far more interested in passive osmosis that an active confrontation. With no other weapon, Castevet responded by wielding their music like fists and broken bottles, bloodying the crowd as much as they could.