Mortuary Drape / Volahn in Toronto, 21 July 2018

Mortuary Drape / Volahn live in Toronto @ Coalition  T.O on 21st July 2018

Witches rejoice! Italy’s ancient black metal occultists Mortuary Drape have descended over Toronto. This Coalition show marks the final date of their North American Necromantic Doom Returns: Northern Continental Tour. For this tour, the headliners have announced that they would perform an old school set, guaranteeing an impressive attendance far in advance. Such a rare occasion is deemed even more exceptional with the one-man Los Angeles black metal extraordinaire Volahn participating.

Formed in 2003, Volahn is part of his state’s esteemed Black Twilight Circle movement. His ritualistic metal takes the likes of early Darkthrone’s sound and infuses it with complex modern arrangements that almost veer into the progressive. A good portion of lyrics interestingly take a look at pre-Columbian America, specifically the Mayans and Aztecs, which forms part of Volahn’s own ethnic heritage. His use of melody is unusual; the nearest descriptor would be something like a synthesis between suicidal and psychedelic black metal but even this phrase is lacking.

Unfortunately for Volahn on this final tour date, he and his live band’s complexity are almost dissolved for their entire set by the Coalition’s poor sound. Nonetheless, a sizeable crowd occupies the front of the stage enthusiastically. The songs tonight, including “Crepúsculo Negro” and “Halhi K’ohba” are jam packed with otherworldly guitar atmospheres, dynamic drumming and sorrowful or trilling tremolos. The music is foreboding, strange and intricate all at once yet maintains no pretensions nor hipster black metal trend-hopping. The result is something immersive and unique, and even that still pulls through by the conclusion of the set. Those who enjoy black metal that reeks of individualism rather than conformity should investigate Volahn immediately if they have not done so already.

Dressed in hooded ceremonial robes, Mortuary Drape enrapture the Coalition with “Necromaniac” from the 1997 Secret Sudaria album. Although black metal in 1997 was firmly in its second wave, Mortuary Drape remained steadfast to the gritty first wave style, peppering it with death metal claustrophobia and heavy metal-inspired guitar solos rather than Norwegian orthodoxy. The opener is followed by another blast from the past, “Primordial”, even having the die-hards raise their voice in unison with the band. These older songs are the centrepiece of the performance tonight. The musicianship is simplistic but extremely well crafted, with shades of primeval thrash, death and heavy metal ancestry. The memorable music has a significant portion of the crowd headbanging and fist-pumping along to the vigorous onslaught.

Selections from the 1992 Into the Drape EP, the debut full-length All The Witches Dance and follow up Secret Sudaria inform the lion’s share of the setlist, delivering the old school promise. The rhythmic “Crespuscular Despair” flattens the venue with its thrash schematics, the nasty bass line of “Madness” hit hard, while the aggressively haunting “AbbÒt” smokes out the naysayers. Favourites “Necromancer”, “Mortuary Drape” and “Obsessed By Necromancy” satiate most of the congregation. “Dreadful Discovery” is a fantastic addition to the set, even though it is not what is commonly considered classic era Drape. The cloaked figures proffer a modest stage presence behind a small Mortuary Drape sign on the stage but a more energetic performance to mirror the music would have been preferred. No matter, the music is most important and that speaks for itself, the sound actually being great for the headliner.

Their set finishes late in the night but the audience broadly remains the same size until the final note, something many other underground have not been so lucky to win in Toronto. Even those less familiar with Mortuary Drape knew they were experiencing something exceptional. Any self-described black metal fan who missed it really missed out and need to rethink their priorities.