Outside of Bossanova Ballroom on May 19, metalheads of all shapes and sizes set the mood for the evening of ravishing grimness and malignant black metal that lay ahead.
The opening band was Nightmarer, a blackened metal outfit whose members hail from various cities, including New York and Berlin. Their performance was high energy and exceeded expectations for an opening band on such a stacked bill. They were technically adept at performing the music they were playing but stylistically weren’t very captivating. While having tinges of experimentation and a firm footing in French black metal, an almost metalcore or post-hardcore sound peaked its ugly head out at times—along with the occasional characteristic breakdown, which seemed incompatible with the rest of their music.
After the opener was rushed off the stage, Denver’s Vale of Pnath briskly began their set. Their music was technical and blistering, mixing old school death and black metal—an unholy mixture of influences that any true extreme metalhead could bang their head to. Their set went by quickly, either because it actually was short, or because it was entrancing enough to lose sense of time. Following their last song, their singer—a long-haired and beard-sporting man—blew kisses out to the audience.
Hate (a simple but fitting band title) from Poland took the stage next. Everyone in the band except the lanky center guitar player was a colossal individual, each wearing military garb something resembling war paint on their face and military garb. They delivered an aural assault that matched their onstage personas—massive, unrelenting and warlike. After hammering us with their last song, like martial cavemen they celebrated their victory with thrown up horns and cheers from the audience.
The crowd was growing restless as Incantation took the stage, and the energy in the room became palpable. The music may be negative, but those of us who love it feel the pangs of positive excitement which spread like unseen black tendrils throughout the audience. They’re something of an institution, anyone with a death metal denim vest is required by peer review to have an Incantation patch, lest they be judged harshly.
After delivering their first song, vocalist, guitar player and only original member John McEntee informed us that they were here to “punish us with death metal,” which of course elicited howls of support from the audience. They delivered a virtuoso set of old and new material, and when it was time for their final song, McEntee triumphantly raised his guitar in the air and proceeded to shred his way through what remained of the performance.
By now, the tendrils of energy in the room were multiplying from the abyss as the room began to reach full capacity. The filler music changed to an ominous rumbling mixed with dissonant-sounding choir hymnals. Two large wooden upside down crosses appeared on stage and a stagehand nonchalantly plopped down a mic stand covered in bones, which sent the room cheering for a moment. A second bone-encrusted mic stand was delivered to the stage, followed by an ornate metal stand with two snake heads and another upside down cross, bringing the upside down cross count (to whomever is keeping track) to three.
Belphegor took to the stage with much pomp and circumstance. Each member wore grave paint—for those unfamiliar, it’s similar to corpse paint, but it’s supposed to make the wearer appear as if they had just crawled out of a buried coffin. Everything about their stage performance dripped with drama, from the blasphemous props to the gestures of their frontman, Helmuth Lehner. While brutalizing the audience with their brand of blackened death metal, Lehner repeatedly rolled his eyes back in his head and opened his mouth, mimic-mocking a visage of death. He also frequently gave the audience unholy prayers from behind his metal snake stand. Their performance was riveting and barbarous, leaving one to question how anything more brutal could follow.
Dark Funeral, the “Ineffable Kings of Black Metal,” gravely entered the stage, each member wearing black medieval armor and traditional corpse paint. Their frontman, Heljarmadr, emerged with considerable fanfare while the drummer launched into their first song, which required him to perform an absurd blast beat for several minutes. The crowd descended into chaos as a circle pit formed and fog cannons shot into the air. While the pit was in full battle mode, an elderly man in a tracksuit was incongruously moshing amongst black-vested longhairs easily half his age. Without warning, someone crashed into him, sending him to the floor.
After being devastated by six merciless black and death metal bands, perhaps some of the best of their respective genres, Dark Funeral left the stage with the crowd vying for an encore. They re-emerged with Heljarmadr waving a Dark Funeral flag, eliciting more blasts of fog cannons, and with stage lights on full. Launching into “Unchain My Soul,” with a building guitar introduction that gives way to furious blast beats and melancholic guitar riffs, they closed the show as the Satanic conquerors of Portland, and we all pledged rapt allegiance.