Outside it was snowing, the flakes covering the sidewalks more than enough of a visual indicator it was cold enough Saturday night to freeze liquid; there was no need for me to be cool. Which was good: I don’t go to live shows too often, and when I do it’s not to pose in my hippest, as-casual-as-possible-yet-in-the-making outfit (I did wear a Vattnet shirt, but its coolness was negated by an Eddie Bauer vest) standing dispassionate and aloof to the side pretending to casually assess the crowd, the sound, the ambience of the gathering. Nope. I’m there to close my eyes, swing my head and boogie/shuffle/dance like a dork as I geek out to the power of live music. There’s no room for posturing once the tsunami of sound hits the crowd, and I was, as ever, determined to lose my fool mind and enter Dork Mode™ as Khemmis, along with Crypt Sermon and Sanhedrin hit the venerable St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn for a night of occult doom rock majesty.
The excursion out in the snow served a dual purpose: it was also a reunion/meeting of old and new Nine Circles staff, as my companions that night were Dan, Frank and Zyklonius. In the spirit of ambassadorship and new friendship, we had Tom from Invisible Oranges and Brutalitopia in tow as we kicked things off early with beers at Tørst, then food (and more beers) at the Greenpoint Beer and Ale House, then podcast recording (and more beer/wine/margaritas) at Milk and Roses before hitting the nondescript black building face, only a dimly illuminated upside down cross to signal this was the entrance to a hidden metal mecca.
I knew the show was sold out, but I was still surprised how packed it was walking in and hearing the doom gallop of local band Sanhedrin I could immediately see why. Featuring Jeremy Sosville from Black Anvil on guitar and a powerhouse bassist/vocalist in Erica Stoltz the trio (rounded out by Nathan Honor on drums) pummels a fuzzed out heavy rock stomp that is at once old-school and modern. Think Christian Mistress (thanks, Tom) meets classic UFO and you’re close, but simple band comparisons don’t do justice to the energy the band was putting out. Every track was on point, despite not being familiar with them beforehand. Later that evening I bought their cassette at the merch table even though I do not, in fact, own a cassette player. I was remarking on this when Stoltz walked by, saying, “Pick it up on Bandcamp!” I did, and hearing they’re in the process of recording their debut LP is great news, indeed.
I thought I had some idea of what to expect when Crypt Sermon hit the stage, being familiar with both their 2013 demo and their stellar 2015 debut Out of the Garden. But again I was surprised by the amount of fun the band brought to their style of classic doom metal. Joined by Matt Knox from Horrendous on bass, the crew ripped through favorites like the tolling dirge of “Byzantium” and also presented a new song (title sadly lost to the ether of alcohol and ear bleeding from being in the front row) that signaled a faster, more aggressive take on what they do so well. Frontman Brooks Wilson raged through each song and did with a mile-wide grin the whole time, knowing the band had the crowd eating every flourish. Fists were raised, chants were invoked, and when it was over the entire bar knew Khemmis were going to have to put on a hell of a show if they were going to top their support.
“Dude, cool shirt!” the guy holding a bass said as we passed each other, me on my way to the merch table, he on his way to stage. “Likewise!” I shot the finger gun at his Depeche Mode Violater shirt. A few minutes later I was in line for the men’s room and he came back, noticing the line. “I’m real sorry, guys. I wouldn’t normally ask this, but do you mind if I cut in line? I have to be on stage in a few minutes.”
I bring this up because a) this is what happens in St. Vitus, and St. Vitus is awesome, and b) you might expect a little arrogance from a band recently anointed with the Decibel Magazine Album of the Year honor, but Khemmis is anything but. Bursting out of the gate with “Candlelight” from aforementioned AOTY Hunted, the band wasted no time showing they’ve earned every accolade. Any fears that the room couldn’t handle Khemmis’s trademark languorous guitar harmonies or that Phil’s incredible vocal delivery wouldn’t carry were laid to rest within seconds. Moving on to the driving propulsion of “Three Gates” I was firmly in eyes closed, body shaking mode and remained there for the rest of the night. Khemmis delivered on every promise made, and earned every right to cut in line for the men’s room, at least until the third album, where I reserve the right to re-assess my position on bathroom priorities.
Mind and eardrums blown, alcohol now sweated from my body due to the tics and tremors of my own St. Vitus Dance, I bade farewell to my friends and fellow Nine Circles/Metal brethren and with merch in hand departed into the cold and snow. I had little expectation for my first show of 2017 except to hang with friends and listen to good music, and instead I was rewarded with a killer show that will be a high watermark to surpass in the coming months.