Brick by Brick put on an interesting and diverse show on Sunday, March 11. The charge was led by the titans of US black metal, Wolves in the Throne Room, but the supports were of the doom variety. I have a real fondness for catching drone and doom bands live – there is a peculiarity to the experience in contrast to witnessing many other forms of metal. Entering the venue was like walking into a realm of cloud and smoke. Crowd members stood like statues, eyes and bodies fixed on the stage. Though the energy increased as the evening developed, this set the scene for the evening’s atmosphere as one of ritual and reverence.
Tijuana’s Abyssal were the openers for the evening. The three-piece act stand out even within the stripped-down genre of funeral doom for the minimalism of their approach. Their sound moves at a relentless, drudging pace, creeping forward like tar. Abyssal add variety into the mix by shifting between registers of intensity. Moving through introductory lulls, Abyssal’s potential for devastation was made apparent in those catharsis-inducing moments signaled by the sudden introduction of guitar at full distortion. Abyssal’s focus was evidently not on riffs. Instead, they created atmosphere by highlighting movements between dissonance and resolution. Admittedly, I did find myself feeling the presence of distinct riff-work would have added to the enchantment of Abyssal’s performance. Drone and doom acts like Nadja and Ahab prove that riffs can be a focus without detracting from heaviness. However, my impression is that Abyssal’s focus is on the creation of a dismal environment – the summoning of the abyss. In this, they succeeded.
Trekking down from Sacramento, the female-fronted doom quintet CHRCH took to the stage next. Honestly, I have no idea how CHRCH are not more famous, or how this concert was my first encounter with them. Their performance was positively hypnotic. CHRCH’s main vocalist, Eva Rose, dressed and moved like the orator of a death ritual – and the crowd stood entranced. CHRCH were at times reminiscent of Windhand, with haunting female vocals emerging chant-like. But CHRCH are their own beast. Eva’s piercing shrieks were complemented by deep, guttural growls from guitarist Chris Lemos, to powerful effect. But more than just setting the atmosphere, CHRCH also developed a sense of groove. They provided the audience with some truly stunning riffs, such that their 15+ minute track lengths felt, if anything, too brief. CHRCH’s setlist included tracks from their upcoming album, Light Will Consume Us All, set to be released April 27. CHRCH’s performance alone was enough to convince me that this album will be essential listening for 2018.
Closing off the show were Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room, who have emerged as heavyweights in the world of US black metal. Their performance at Brick by Brick proved how much they have earnt that status. Wolves in the Throne Room advanced onto a stage that had been adorned with Odinist imagery, burning sage and candles. Even more than the rest of the evening, the sense was of witnessing the enactment of a mystic, pagan ritual. It didn’t take long for Wolves in the Throne Room to begin the ritual in earnest. The wall of sound that hit the audience was brutal. Vocals and drums fought for their place amidst a backing of keys and three guitars, and when Nathan Weaver’s vocals truly punched through the effect was transcendental. Paradoxical as it may seem, my only gripe with Wolves in the Throne Room’s performance was that I wished it was slightly less flawless. Some part of the appeal of black metal is in its imprecision, chaos, rawness – there was a lack of this. This was a minor bump in an otherwise stellar performance. Ultimately, Wolves in the Throne Room harness and unleash an energy that is well worth witnessing live.