Satan

Black To The Future Tour: Ghost w/ Purson

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 23, 2015
Ticket cost: $27.60 ($40.30 with Ticketmaster’s asshole-ish convenience fees)
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

I think it’s about time for a pre-review rant about concert ticket prices. Shows that are at Alrosa Villa or Ace of Cups and/or promoted by Columbus Events Group are very reasonable in terms of cost with minimal advance fees. But then there’s Promowest Live and Ticketmaster. How do they think that adding a 50% markup on ticket fees is acceptable? Why even bother working with the evil empire that is Ticket[ass]master in the first place? There are plenty of good shows both at the Newport and the LC Pavillion, but these fees price me (and probably others) out of their shows.

That didn’t stop the Newport from nearly selling out last night, easily eclipsing the Decibel Magazine 2014 tour stop for the largest crowd I have seen at this venue, approaching upwards of 1,700 strong. With more than a handful of audience members dressing up in their Papa Emeritus garb, Ghost put on a stellar show that engaged the entire crowd. But was their performance worthy of an all-time favorite designation? What about Purson? Read on, together as one.

Purson: 3.0*
Set length: 40 minutes

This might be one of the few occasions where I can say with a straight face that the opening band sounded better than the headliner. …why are you chasing me with pitchforks? At least give me a chance to explain.

Perhaps it was because they had one less member to work with; they had pretty much the same makeup as Ghost, running two guitars (with founder Rosalie Cunningham handling the lead vocals), one bass, the drums, and a set of keys. Having even one less person to mix can make all the difference in terms of sound quality; I took my usual perch on the balcony towards the center of the venue*, and their take on 70’s style psychedelic progressive rock sounded pristine. It was like I was watching them play in their practice space. The only issue I had with their sound was with the somewhat soft backing vocals, and half the time, it just looked like the person who would be singing backing vocals just had their mouth up towards the mic while playing his instrument, which brings me to my next point:

While that kind of intimate feeling in a large venue can be a good thing, the drawback here is that Purson lacked any semblance of stage presence, spending less than a minute talking to the audience over the length of their set. The band didn’t move around on stage and, with a few exceptions, showed little visible energy. The lighting was consistently dark and brooding, and their song selection was also puzzling; their last song, even with a brief uptempo section, was easily their slowest of the night. All of that adds to listener fatigue, at least from my perspective.

Two audience members who were more familiar with Purson than I was told me that they heard the band’s full studio releases and felt indifferently about them, but said they sounded significantly better live than on tape. After taking another whack at their music, I can’t help but agree. Their latest EP, In The Meantime, is solid, but the sound on stage is vastly superior. Even so, I’ll be looking forward to their next release, Desire’s Magic Theatre, when it drops in the near future.

They could also stand to lower t-shirt prices. I have a hard time paying $35 for a t-shirt for any reason, but that goes double for a band that I’m not especially blown away by. They’re good, but not “$35 for a t-shirt” good.

All that said, Ghost picked an ideal touring mate for their jaunt around North America, as Purson is a great complementary counterpart to Ghost.

Ghost: 4.0*
Set length: 110 minutes

Ghost has the art of stage presence down to a science. With Papa Emeritus leading the five Nameless Ghouls, the band’s performance took on a life of its own. Even before the set started, anyone who was, for whatever reason, unfamiliar with Ghost quickly got their answer as to what they got themselves into; with a large satanic alternate cover art banner in full display and church choir music blasting on the speakers, everyone knew they were in for a night of occult counter-culture shenanigans. And for those still confused, the crowd was chanting “Satan! Satan! Satan” shortly before they started.

Once the band took the stage and roared into the spooky “Spirit,” it was all smiles from the audience, and rightfully so. And while I greatly enjoyed their set, I had a few nitpicks with it. The obvious first complaint is that the band was a little bit too loud across the board. One of my favorite features of Ghost’s studio albums is the subtle mix of the drums, but that is nixed here in favor of a straightforward drum blasting. This was especially noticeable on “Con Clavi Con Dio,” arguably my favorite Ghost song.

Papa Emeritus III, meanwhile, was somewhat flat on his lower notes on occasion. And while all of the new tracks they played (the only one that wasn’t played was “Deus In Absentia”) sounded great, I was shocked at the largely ignored Kansas-esque keyboard riff in “Absolution,” and further puzzled by the use of a keytar on “Mummy Dust” instead of the former.

There was also the small issue of Papa Emeritus taking off his anti-papal cloak during “Cirice” midway through the show and leaving it off for the rest of the show. I’m not sure if that’s normal, as this was my first time seeing Ghost live, but it was baffling to see him perform without that garb. But that doesn’t take away from how great of a live song “Cirice” is.

Minor shortcomings and/or question marks aside, this was a pretty special show; most notable was the debut acoustic performance of “Jigolo Har Migiddo,” adeptly showing off the skills of the Nameless Ghouls. Papa Emeritus III also gave several small percussion instruments to fans for them to play during this song.

Watching “Year Zero” was a spectacle in and of itself, and I was thoroughly pleased with “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a song that I was already highly fond of and is currently stuck in my head. “Ritual,” “He Is,” “Stand By Him,” “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and “Mummy Dust” also stood out among their best songs as tracks that translate extremely well into a live setting.

Closing out the show with “Monstrance Clock” was simply masterful; it seems like an odd choice until you realize that there are few things better in a concert setting than having a huge crowd singing along with a backing track choir as the band exits the stage: “Come together; together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.” Fucking genius.

Above all else, Ghost is right up there with Devin Townsend in terms of personally engaging with fans during the set. I counted at least ten instances where Papa Emeritus singled out a specific fan who said something to him, and there were nothing but smiles coming from those fans. It was a high-energy set that should be considered a must-see for any metal fan.

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*If you go to the Newport and are looking for the best possible sound quality, stand as close to the sound booth as possible, located behind the main concert floor and next to the bar. 

ATF Review: Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy

Location: Athens, Greece
Genre: Atmospheric Black/Extreme Metal
Released: March 1, 2013
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

I am anticipating some controversy by including this album onto my series of all-time favorites. And I seriously hope it’s not because of the name; somebody could name their band “Big Jawja Ben” and still make music that blows me away. NWOBHM outfit Satan has an album that may also make this list. I’m not Dave Mustaine, who basically had Rotting Christ kicked off of a festival in their own country because the name wasn’t pleasing to his big fucking ego. A name is just a name, and apparently Rotting Christ’s name is not literally rooted in the decaying body of Jesus, but rather the wishful demise of organized religion. And hey, I can get behind that 250%. At the same time, if Dave Mustaine wants to stand up for his beliefs, that’s perfectly fine, too. Not that it’s totally misplaced or anything; in 2012 he played MetalFest Loreley with Fleshgod Apocalypse also on the lineup. But hey, whatever works for him, I guess.

No, I believe the controversy here should be about how I have the audacity to rank Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (Greek for “Do What Thou Wilt” or “True To Your Own Spirit,” depending on whom you ask) ahead of timeless Rotting Christ classics like TheogoniaA Dead Poem, or Khronos. Some people will probably make a case for just about every album to leapfrog this one, except for maybe Aealo, which might have the worst album closer ever. The bottom line is that for an album to be considered an all-time favorite, it must be captivating from top to bottom. And out of Rotting Christ’s eleven albums dating back to 1987, this is the only one to really grab me all the way through over multiple (read: many) listens.

Part of the reason why I love this album is the lyrical themes. It dives into occult territory, yes, but it touches on so many different religions and cultural identities that it simply feels like a loose collection of beautifully told stories. Here’s what founding member Sakis Tolis had to say about the lyrical themes of the record to AU:

It’s multicultural. I am a traveller. Since I think of myself I am a traveller, I say let us create a mix of everything I have seen in my life, not a political album or an album that is based on every-day life, but an album that has elements from many cultures from everywhere I have travelled. You can find elements from Maya to Inca to Ancient Greece, from Romania from Transylvania from Slavs from everywhere around the world so I decided to make this kind of album to express a more multicultural option about the band.

I’m going to revisit this interview later, but the point to take from this chunk here is that it’s not about your typical death metal bullshit. In fact, most Rotting Christ albums aren’t that way. Anywho, enough with the formalities; let’s break this thing down.

It all starts with “In Yumen-Xibalba.” If I were to create a list of my top ten choices for best album openers of all time, this would safely be in the top five. It does exactly what an album opener is supposed to do: It sets the tone for the rest of the album and doesn’t waste any time with mindless and/or generic nonsense. In this case, the first two minutes are extremely slow, brooding, and dark, with some interesting occultist vocal chanting going on. But then it builds into a ball of energy and absolutely explodes on the listener. There’s a four-measure stretch right before this happens where it’s almost impossible not to turn it up because you know there’s going to be something extremely loud and heavy on the other side. And the payoff is huge; blast beats, a variety of different vocal types, and a stellar riff that is revisited later in the album are just some of the treats that can be found here. This is the kind of song you decide to blast as loudly as reasonably possible after spending your day with the worst types of people, and it’s an instant stress reliever.

In some albums, the opener is great and the rest of the album is a bit of a letdown, not living up to the tone the opener set. “P’unchaw Kachun-Tuta Cachun” is every bit as bombastic as the opener, especially in its chorus. The first slight letdown is “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos,” which is much slower and has the titular lyrics repeated a relatively large number of times. Even so, it’s still a fairly decent track on its own, although I consider it to be the weakest on the album. The highlight here is a vocal choir chant bridge section towards the end that turns into a mini guitar lead.

The title track is a return to the uptempo feel of the first two tracks, and it’s fantastic. It’s rather difficult to describe the atmosphere on tracks like these; the simple description is picking guitars and blasting drums, but the music is so much more dynamic than that. Case in point, there are bagpipes that are prominent in this track, and there’s a brief reprise of the warrior theme set by Aealo. Turns out that, according to Tolis, bagpipes were in Ancient Greece and went by the name “Tsabouna.”

Then, there’s “Cine Lubeste Si Lasa,” a traditional Romanian tune. Take it away, Sakis:

I saw the song performed at a local show by the Vougioukli sisters. I was really fascinated and after the show, I asked them if they would be interested in making a cover. In the beginning they were very surprised but in the end we came up with a beautiful song that transcends, and I adapted into metal, it was classical. It was a very good result, worldwide.

I love it when artists do this. Basically, Sakis Tolis watched a group play this traditional folk song and thought, “you know what would be awesome? If we took this tune and made it our own.” They did this on Aealo when they covered Diamanda Galas’ “Orders From The Dead,” and it didn’t work at all, probably because it was too close to the original style. Here, they adapted this tune as their own and rocked it. Tolis got one of the sisters to sing vocals on this track while the other played a powerful piano part, and both of them sang on a later track. In general, this is a slower track that is different from the rest of the album, but it absolutely deserves its place on here, and the second half of this track shows exactly why; it gets increasingly heavy, shuts down for a brief shot of evil laughter, and builds up again before the laughter resumes.

Following this gem is the significantly simpler “Iwa Voodoo,” which I enjoy even though some may see it as a filler track with a traditional metal structure. I mostly love the vocal work transposed over what might be the most subtle drumming display on this album. There’s also another brief but effective lead, and it builds up almost to the point of becoming distorted towards the end, a relative rarity on recent Rotting Christ albums.

“Gilgames” is a complete crusher from start to finish and is simply enjoyable. Even though it’s relatively simple, there’s still more than enough going on to occupy the listener. The next track, translated as “Rusalka,” which is a Slavic water nymph, is a continuation of “Gilgames” on an instrumental level, but it creates a contrasting set of vocals; on one side, there’s what amounts to whispering; on the other there’s sheer loudness.

The following track, “Ahura Mazda-Anra Mainiuu,” is about the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. The music on this track is much more dynamic than its predecessors and is enjoyable as a reprieve from the blasting of the previous two tracks. There is a lot going on here, and the dynamics are all over the spectrum here, often with some aspects being much louder than others at the same time. It creates an interesting effect that might not work on other albums, but works really well here; of particular interest is a bridge section that begins at roughly 2:50.

And then we have the closer of the album proper, the Greek translation of “666.” Among the album’s longest tracks at just under six minutes, it is much slower than the other tracks and is also the least “loud,” especially with regards to its chanting vocals. It morphs into a bit of a march towards the end and is a solid, if unremarkable closer. The bonus track, “Welcome To Hel,” (of Norse fame) is fun to listen to; it has the Rotting Christ formula of being bombastic and dynamic down to a tee, especially when looking at the bridge section a little after the halfway mark. I consider this to be a better closer than the actual closer, but it’s a matter of personal preference.

The instrumentation on this album is surprisingly diverse, especially for a black metal album. Indeed, this album transcends many expectations for this genre. I first got into Rotting Christ because I heard “Enuma Elish” off of Theogonia while at an unrelated concert and I asked someone who this song was by. And unfortunately, it took me a while to get into them because of their name. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Listen to this band.

Overall: I don’t always listen to black metal, but when I do, it’s usually about mythology and has air-tight production. This tour needs to happen again. 

Also, this may be the best album of 2013. 

Rating: 4.5*