Maybe it was the exertion from the first two shows in the previous three days, or maybe it was the letdown in excitement level from the first show to the second. But for one reason or another, convincing myself I actually wanted to see Deafheaven and Tribulation on a weeknight down in Boston proved to be a challenge. Regardless, as always, I eventually overcame my fleeting moment of responsible thought and found myself en route to the Royale for my third show in four nights. And, despite my apathy going into it, the last show of this extended weekend very well may have been the best one.
Will it prove to be as memorable as Blind Guardian? Doubtful. But in terms of sheer quality, all three bands delivered incredible performances. Granted, I should be used to shows of this caliber from the Royale. While only my third trip to this particular venue, both the Wintersun/Eluveitie and Deafheaven/Between the Buried and Me shows of the past couple of years left lasting impressions. It’s a unique club in downtown Boston that is walkable from South Station, making it far more accessible than the Palladium or any of the spots along the green line. While the personality of the club does not scream metal in the same way the Paradise Rock Club or Sinclair might (really, it feels like a Vegas or Miami nightclub, and most of the time that’s what it aspires to be), the product is still top notch. The acoustics are always solid, the band always visible atop the elevated stage, and there are plenty of bars so there is never a delay in acquiring various libations. Plus, when the balcony is open — which is wasn’t this night — it hangs right over a large portion of the main floor, giving you a bird’s eye view of the stage. Overall, it’s a pretty sweet place to see a show and was certainly part of this show’s appeal. So, here we go again.
Doors at 7:30, and I make my arrival — solo effort this time — around 8:00. After getting through security, obtaining my merchandise (which includes an awesome new Tribulation patch) I posted up with a Harpoon Octoberfest and a Bud Heavy about 20 feet back from the pit and waited for the opening band to take the stage. Around 8:30 the lights fade, the fog machine kicks on, and out steps Tribulation.
This would mark my second time seeing the Swedish black n’ rollers this year. The first time was
opening for Behemoth, before Children of the Night dropped. Now, knowing what to expect and having them drop one of my favorite albums of 2015, I was fired up. And they put on a hell of a show start to finish. The set was heavy on the new album, as expected, including tracks like “Strange Gateways Beckon”, “Melancholia”, and “The Motherhood of God”, but they still managed to mix it up from time to time. They sounded and performed just as impressively as they had last winter, never failing to keep me entranced. In fact, given the smaller venue’s improved acoustics, they sounded even better.
Now, either I couldn’t get an adequate take on the venue’s reaction from where I was standing, or the audience just simply weren’t getting it, but there was a definitive lack of response from the crowd. Did I give a shit? No. I was loving every second of it. Fortunately, by the time they closed with “When the Sky is Black with Devils”, people seemed to get into it. They sounded great, the performance was full of dark energy, and they departed the stage on a high note. The only thing I can really say is that the vocals tended to overwhelm the guitars from time to time, drowning out some of the unique lead work that defines their songs. Not a huge deal, but it was noticeable. Anyway, band one in the books and we’re off to a good start.
And then Envy took the stage, and to be completely honest I still don’t really know what to make of them. Their style was similar to that of Deafheaven, but with more focus on the shoegaze element. Being from Japan, the lyrics — which ranged from growls to clean singing — were entirely in Japanese. Performing in very dim lighting, with longer tracks that meandered over a number of themes, it became a rather entrancing set. The sound was encompassing the room with ease, and the majority of the audience certainly stared in wonder as they absorbed it all. They were well-received and definitely put on a quality show. And then, just like that, after one song seamlessly transitioned to another for the better part of an hour, they vacated the stage and we were left waiting for Deafheaven.
I’ll start the discussion of Deafheaven’s set by saying that they have easily become one of those bands that I will make an effort to see whenever they are in the area (Tribulation too, for that matter). Their performances are that good and that consistent. As soon as George Clarke, Kerry McCoy, and everyone else took the stage, the Royale immediately turned their attention to the stage as a collective. If you’ve never seen Deafheaven live, it’s worth noting that their setlists tend to play out like their albums. For example, when they were touring Sunbather, the tracks slid along from one to another more or less the same way the album does (“Dreamhouse” to “Irresistible”, to “Sunbather”, so on and so forth). The same was true tonight, except with 2015’s New Bermuda. Which was exactly what I wanted. The albums play out as a continuous listen and it’s respectable that they translate as such to live performances. The first three tracks of the set matched the new album exactly, but to inadequately put it into perspective, the songs hold much more power and much more passion when performed live. The way Clarke perfectly delivers his words in both sound and image is an impressive spectacle. An audience can’t help but become one with the messages he is packing into the surrounding room. But following “Baby Blue”, the set took a brief turn. All of a sudden they broke out the single from 2014 called “From the Kettle to the Coil” and it was incredible. A bit more intense, it delivered a new kind of energy right when the set needed it. Being a shorter track, at under seven minutes, it was a brief but appreciated deviation. From there, the rest of New Bermuda played out before they closed with a couple of classics from the aforementioned Sunbather.
But the sound and the performance overall was immaculate. The crunches and melodies of the guitars were perfectly pronounced, the cadence of the drums was never lost, and Clarke’s voice impressed more than it ever has. As big as these tracks are on record, to hear them performed live is completely different. Quite frankly, these songs aren’t meant to just be ‘heard’, listening to them is meant to be a grander experience. It was over a year ago that I saw Deafheaven open for Between the Buried and Me at this same venue. They were the highlight then, and this time around they did brilliantly with the rightfully earned headline slot. But before long, after only a handful of songs — given their duration it couldn’t be any other way — the set ended and the long journey home began. Well worth the travels and exertion of the previous week.
As impressive as each and every one of the shows have been over the past week, in terms of sound and visual performance, this lineup may have topped them all. Both Tribulation and Deafheaven lived up to, and exceeded, expectations. The latter has easily become one of my favorite live performances in metal today and if you ever get the opportunity to experience one of their shows, do it. It may have been a struggle to will myself onto the highway one last time on Tuesday afternoon, but when all was said and done, it was all very much worth it.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”