Personally, it has been a slow start to 2017. The first month and a half of the year brought exactly zero concerts and subsequently zero contributions to this particular media. Fortunately, momentum has picked up over the last two weeks and I’m hoping to ride that out the rest of the year. Or until I die. Preferably the latter. Despite the delay in getting out of the gates, I don’t think I could have picked a better show to initiate my 2017 concert (mis)adventure. I was fortunate to not only attend, but also photograph the black metal forefathers/legends/pioneers known as Mayhem as they performed their quintessential debut full-length album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas at the Royale in Boston. So let’s talk about it and look at it.
There are a couple pieces of background info that I’m going to highlight before I jump into things. This may be old news, but you can deal with a few extra sentences of reading material. First and foremost, concert reviews are mostly excuses for me to share pictures of my favorite bands performing live. The fact that many are mine is irrelevant (amateurism!). This is no different. Secondly, for one reason or another, I managed to dodge Mayhem’s set at MDF last year. And all their North America tours before that. So yes, I do look at this as a bit of personal redemption. And as mystifying as Mayhem’s set was this particular night, I must also begin this piece by acknowledging how good both opening acts — Black Anvil and Inquisition — were. Ok, now we can talk about it and look at it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a show at the Royale. It is one of my favorite venues in terms of size, layout, and acoustics. The presence of a photo pit (a rarity at most shows I find myself at) doesn’t suck, either. Tonight didn’t disappoint in any of the above categories, so I do commend the reliability of this place. The show started early, with the club hoping to kick the degenerate metalhead population out before getting the real night started around 10:00. While I appreciate the early nights, this severely hinders my beer-related activities before the show. Regardless, there was still enough time for a quick meetup with 9C friend and Migration Fest veteran Ricky at Jacob Wirth’s for a couple liter-beers. But before long I found myself edging past the crowd at the entrance, allotting myself just enough time to grab my ticket, pass, and make my way to the photo pit before Black Anvil took the stage.
I had heard a lot about the black metallers from New York City recently, but to this point have failed to actually listen to any of it. The opinions I’ve been exposed to were mixed, so I figured I would just ignore it all until this point. And based on their performance, I ended up fairly appreciative of the fact that I went in blind. They offered a different twist on black metal featuring melodic clean singing and unique harmonies; it was a sound I would liken more to modern Tribulation than any of the following acts tonight. And by the end I was absolutely loving it. The set flew by in no time, but I must make mention of how well they used the time they had on stage. Black Anvil offered a bit of everything within their stylistic catalog, making efficient and memorable work of their set. The setting was fitting as well with moments of dim lighting and fog transitioning to those of brighter lights and clarity… mimicking their sound well. There is not doubt they increased their fan base this particular night. Myself among those new fans. They wrapped up their set and I wasted no time picking up a copy of As Was from the merch table. If you haven’t heard it yet… it’s awesome. A quick refuel at the bar, and it was time to prepare for Inquisition.
You may recall that Inquisition went through a bit of drama in recent years that we have discussed in length at 9C before. In case anyone is wondering where I stand on that now, I’m going to abstain from that subject matter altogether and strictly focus on tonight’s set. Unlike other two-piece black metal bands (looking at you, Mgła), Inquisition actually came out with no additional live members. Which… fine, whatever. The set included a healthy dose of the most recent album, Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, which I appreciated. I will note that this album is solid, if not a bit lengthy. This set allowed for an isolation of some of the highlight tracks on this album, definitely improving my overall opinion of it and the band. Their sound was decent enough, but out of the three bands this was the performance that left the least amount of impact. Overcoming some slight feedback issues aside, Inquisition just happened to fall right after a band I just fell in love with, and Mayhem. Ultimately, as a result, this set got lost in the shuffle a bit. Undoubtedly impressive, regardless.
And then we had Mayhem, the band I have paid the least attention to out of that particular wave of Norwegian black metal from the early 1990s. No matter, I was still highly anticipating this performance. Regardless of current material, which I understand people have mixed feelings about, De Mysteriis is an album that all fans of metal must recognize and appreciate, if not outright worship. Besides, as I mentioned, I have missed multiple opportunities to see them near and far, so to attend the touring of this album was about as good as it gets for me. From the second the Inquisition set ended, you could feel the anticipation level of the Royale collective grow minute by minute.
The entrance itself paralleled the anticipation well. Steady, dense waves of fog cascaded over the audience, setting an appropriate scene prior to Mayhem’s entrance. As an audience member, it was a surreal experience — eerily intriguing to say the least. As for the photographers, well, we couldn’t help but look around at each other and semi-laugh in frustration… low light and fog? Not ideal shooting conditions. Once the band took the stage and the performance began, it was immediately understood that despite how aged this album may be, it is still very much relevant. The delivery of these tracks was larger and more engaging than anything I had experienced on record. From “Funeral Fog” to “Freezing Moon” and everything else down the line, it was certainly a memorable performance that gave the record a new personality thanks to the impressive delivery. I do question some of the crowd surfing and moshing, but I guess those things will always exist, even in the most… inappropriate? show settings. The one thing I need to critique for the sake of my own amusement would be the stage props. Obviously the cloaks and Attila’s impressive personal garb were a necessary add to the dark, foggy, over-the-top scene. However, the candles you see above on either side of the skull? Not real. And way too obviously not real. There were a handful of snickers from the younger audience behind me and, yeah, I agree. They looked a bit goofy. Nothing like getting all kvlt to a couple light bulbs. Everything else however, from the stage setup to actual sound, was quite the experience.
Three black metal bands, broken down to include a legendary album performed by a legendary band and a newfound gem out of New York City… I won’t hesitate for a second to call the first show of 2017 a success. The images above should offer a sampling of what I mean. Despite my casual avoidance of Mayhem over the years for one reason or another, I couldn’t help but own up to the fact that this was a set I should have seen performed last year. And it is definitely worth seeing at least once, if possible. Besides, you never know how long some of these legends will be at it, not even considering prolonged tours here on our side of the pond. As for the rest, Inquisition maintains their impressive reputation and Black Anvil has become a regular listen in my library. A little late to the action, but I still managed to start 2017 off with a bang.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”