EINDHOVEN METAL MEETING
Effenaar, Eindhoven (NL), 12/13/14 December 2013
This year, I thought, I shall take it easy: I will enjoy my time in a city I am crazy in love with and will have fun at the fest without running from one stage to the other like a lunatic to try and catch all the action on camera, when in fact one can only grab bits and scraps. I took plenty of time out to roam freely in town, eat tons of lavender chocolate, ransack the local Italian delicatessen (a home baked dark chocolate & amaretti cake is indeed on my festive menu!) and, last but not least, visit a cool exhibition at the Temporary Art Center featuring the installation work by Jerome Siegelaer and Max Rovers, inspired by the beautiful debut album by Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies.
As far as EMM was concerned, out of the packed line-up covering the three days, I selected my favorite acts and stuck to those alone, finally able to enjoy their entire sets, if so desired. That left me plenty of time to enjoy a beer with my good friends, in the anxious wait of a sensational Saturday night...
THURSDAY I selected Italian veterans EXTREMA, old school thrashers retaining their punk spirit. The last time I had seen them, a looong time ago, guitarist Tommy was famously entangled in a triangularly-shaped love story... And who wasn’t back then? Nowadays Tommy looks remarkably like Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis, while musically his band is still able to convey a lot of positive energy thanks to the empathy of frontman Gianluca, whose hardcore roots are proudly manifest in his friendly attitude and political outlook.
The second exhibition I chose to attend was DEATH ANGEL’s, mainly for sentimental reasons, being one of the old school bands I grew up with. They too represent the early thrash borne out of a punk mutation, and the genuine brotherhood that existed between the Bay Area and hardcore fans was simply unforgettable. We all felt as if we were part of one big family we could deeply trust. In these days of extreme individualism (personal and national), that era represents the proverbial “Paradise Lost”. So, naturally, I wanted to pay my respects, but I was not too surprised when I started to feel bored with their music quite early on.
While Morgoth and Belphegor performed on the main stage, Swedish brutal deathsters DERANGED brought a hefty dose of underground heaviness, also thanks to the powerful and articulated bassplaying by young Andreas Johansson (also known amongst the elitists for being part of the superlative black metal jewel that is Stilla). All in all, I thought they did not kill but they were good fun, and hopefully they enjoyed themselves too (behind the utterly grim expressions on their faces, in line with their supremely distasteful lyrics), since it was the last date of a rather adventurous small European tour.
My evening ended with the whole show by CARPATHIAN FOREST. Their early black metal has nowadays turned into an irreverent and mostly harmless black ' n' roll show that is, unlike some other cheesier and/or excessively theatrical big name acts, fun to photograph and enjoyable in a “tapping one’s foot on the floor” kind of way. Nattefrost showed off his legs and ass (chastely covered by black boxer shorts) from underneath his naughty monk robes, whilst waving a finely decorated inverted cross and a looped rope, hailing several times at suicide. His invocations fell upon deaf ears even though underneath the tall stage some fans were rampaging as if they were still teenagers over the bounciest tunes (which at times reminded me of Billy Idol). The exhibition approached its end without a bang and, dreading more farcical “black metal”, I returned to my cozy hotel room to stuff my face with pizza and marzipan (not together), happily leaving Watain to conclude this second evening without me.
And finally came the long-awaited SATURDAY! In the afternoon I popped in quickly to see veterans DESTRÖYER 666 who, like any respectable Aussie with good taste, showed off their old-school metalhead tattoos, the hairy chest and an abundance of leather and studs. Their blackened thrash matched their look to perfection and so I decided to order my first beer at the bar downstairs: maybe – just maybe - I would have enjoyed them more in the cozier underground room.
My big appointment with the closing evening started at 20:30 with the mega-fantastic ARCTURUS! I was looking forward to experience this bunch of superstars in a live dimension, after having run to the ground my Shipwrecked in Oslo DVD. As it goes, ICS Vortex needed his time to warm up his vocal chords, while a blissfully smiling Knut staggered around in his ragged medieval jester outfit, as drunk as a rat. But we were all on board of the incredible space ark that is Arcturus from the very first note, more than ready for an amazing adventure! Captivating in their home-made castaway look, the Norwegians’ show took off and launched itself into the cosmos, propelled by pure talent and enjoyment, leaving annoying, artificially bombastic displays to other less humble acts. This band, now as mature as a fine cognac, just has to turn on the music and the magic simply happens, enhanced by the musicians’ spontaneity and good humor. The sound was enthralling and exciting: simply heavenly, despite being unpolished (the tipsy Knut inevitably encountered technical problems).
From the word go, on the delighted faces of the fans crammed into the large main room appeared a broad smile of pure happiness that was not to leave us until the very end: eyes lit up during the most jaw-dropping parts of their amazing repertoire, and every single piece of lyric was sung in unison to the grateful appreciation of ICS Vortex and his eclectic crew. At one point he asked us with a warm giggle: “Are you happy?... Black metal happy?”, and that did not feel corny or contrived at all, as we truly, truly were... As well as some colorful visuals I frankly took little notice of, there was some beautiful action on stage courtesy of an exotic belly dancer but, honestly, this is a band that, with its captivating melodic complexity, would be able to excite and amaze even by performing behind a black curtain, because it is up to each of us individually to make our own unforgettable voyage into the cosmos to the sound of Arcturus: tonight it was one of the rare nights when we physically traveled all together. Magnificent.
After such a joyous high, IMPALED NAZARENE woke me up with their furious, black scourge: the Finnish mighty legends unleashed a terrifyingly destructive storm in the small room. A perfect, quintessential moment in this otherworldly journey through extreme metal: having disembarked from Arcturus’ mothership out into the cold, big unknown, we were left to experience weird, primitive worlds full of darkness, violence, eeriness... Impaled Nazarene easily delivered the most punishing performance of the fest.
The highly anticipated show of NARGAROTH followed, for yet another treat. The stage was decorated with flags and banners bearing the mottos Semper Fidelis (from the 2007 album) and German Black Metal Commando, creating a clear mood for the performance of this loved/hated, charismatic, outspoken veteran. Ash walked in wearing a black balaclava, leather trousers, gun in holster resting on his thigh and a large dagger tucked into his boot. The intriguing pathos that this artist can muster on stage has an interesting aspect: while he is presenting himself with a classic black metal image, it’s up to the individual whether one wants to dig deeper or not. And believe me, to follow on the human journey of this complex, often contradictory man and artist is like peeling off the proverbial onion: a treat for the mind and a warm shot of energy for the soul.
Right from the beginning a tight maelstrom of martial, quintessentially Teutonic black metal propelled the show to the heights/depths that only the truest expression of this genre can reach: Nargaroth went for the jugular and for that its simplest, most direct repertoire was used. To me, watching this band meant to feel and connect to an artist who is willing to share his innermost troubles and passions, daring and therefore making mistakes, getting hurt along the way but never giving up, because music is an essential part of his spiritual enlightenment. Even amongst us veterans, few people can actually say they are still, and always will be, close to the original black metal spirit (it goes without saying that each one of us has his/her own interpretation of what that is), and in my eyes Ash is one of them. For me on stage he delivered a touching impersonation of human aspiration: three were the powerful archetypal facets I caught. One, belonging to the present, was the cold yet tortured modern warrior, representing his passionate involvement with the military. Then, when he abandoned his balaclava, unleashed his long hair and revealed the whitened face and blackened eyes, which he thrust intensely inside those of the fans in the front rows, one by one, he became the BM warrior of the past: by wielding his knife, raising it to the sky to celebrate and consolidate his personal covenant, he felt like an ancient knight from the mists of a time heartbreakingly lost.
Quite unusually, and rather beautifully, within Ash there coexisted the two-fold character of the noble contemporary fighter evolved from being a passive social outcast, and that of the medieval mystical warrior, which are very accurate aspects of black metal aesthetics although, strangely, very seldom seen together on stage. But there was another aspect that completed the picture, and a fundamental one to boot: the sexual one. If rock’n’roll in general represents rampant sexuality, black metal puts us in touch with the depths of our being, and that means inevitably getting to know sexuality in a profoundly mystical and primordial way. Ash strikes me as someone who does not shun the subject, in fact his mike often pointed out as an erect phallus towards the audience, slowly wanking at one point, establishing therefore a primitive, shamanic contact with the mind-blowing energy, the life-essence that bounded us all in the heated room. Did anyone notice this celebratory ritual? That was indeed stuff for true warriors, and it was with his most chivalrous of impersonations that the artist, over his trademark hypnotizing, slow, repetitive notes, bowed gracefully to the mesmerized audience at the end of a grippingly memorable, fascinating concert.
The conclusive show of the evening, and of the festival, was left into the hands of legendary Roman act ABORYM, one of the most singlemindedly individual and respected bands in the field of avant/industrial BM which, until the recent tour in support of the acclaimed new album Dirty, only too rarely appears on stage. Fabban (the only original member left) was accompanied by faithful friends Paolo Pieri and Giulio Moschini (guitarists with The Hour of Penance) and the brilliant Lorenzo Zarone on bass (Bard Eithun unfortunately could not join the tour because of the much publicized future engagements with Emperor). Busy with his preparations before the show, Fabban did not forget to greet personally the faithful fans gathered in front of the stage.
The set unfortunately covered only 50 minutes but, like an arrow, aimed straight at the heart. For those who might wonder, the use of a well-balanced drum-machine did not affect at all the levels of natural energy on stage, in fact , the show felt and was absolutely genuine , intense, jam-packed with "raw power" (a tribute to Fabban’s idol, Iggy) and mature. Tracks from the new album were alternated with a cover of “Terrible Lies” by Nine Inch Nails, while the two classics “Fire Walk with Us” and “Roma Divina Urbs” (enhanced by particularly beautiful visuals) were devastating and made me regret once again having missed their rare performances in the past. But it is the present that shines right now for Aborym: may they enjoy a well-deserved international success with Dirty, and may they return soon with their crazy raids into their uncomfortable, free and passionate rock/metal pastures. At the end of the night, Aborym bid farewell to the EMM fans and only Fabban remained on stage: kneeling on the wooden floor, he orchestrated a final dose of visuals to provide further key to read and interpret his skilled and passionate multimedia project. Proud!
So that was my somewhat unexpectedly rich 2013 EMM experience, yet again something to cherish while keeping faithfully passionate about the marvels that my personal path of growth and madness keeps showering on me. It was also particularly good to reiterate one important lesson from the few idiots and hypocrites one meets along the way: not to be like them!