And just like that, my second (metal) show since the start of The End Times is in the books! This time around, I had the privilege of the covering the Manchester, NH date of the absolutely stacked 2022 edition of Devastation on the Nation. Rotting Christ headlined a massive six band bill, featuring the likes of Borknagar, Abigail Williams, Ghost Bath, Vale of Pnath, and Stormruler. It was a long, hot, exhausting night, but one in which each performance was memorable and well-worth the investment in time. I’ll do my best to highlight the experience without taking up too much of anyone’s time. Here we go…
I usually lead these off with a brief summary of the venue, environment, vibe, whatever. Once again that’s as good of a place to start as any. Curiously, this happened to be the first show I’ve covered in my home state… ever? Obviously the scene is notably better in Boston and Portland (ME), but that’s still a weird fun fact I guess. The venue for this particular event was the Jewel (formerly Nightclub now Music Venue apparently). And it wasn’t my favorite. The staff was friendly, the layout was convenient enough, and the acoustics were sufficient for a modestly sized facility. But holy shit was it hot in that room. It didn’t bother me the first few sets, but once we hit hour three of what would be almost six in that room… it got a little suffocating. Aside from that, the stage seemed a little tight, and the awkward overhang above the front the stage made for some suboptimal angles… and the occasional musician hitting their head (or very nearly). Oh, and attempting to use a velvet rope as a barrier in front the stage (to designate a photo pit? not entirely sure), that was comically useless. Emphasis on comically, I suppose. So at least there’s that. The Jewel also has the unfortunate reality of being in Manchester, a town that should be a lot more interesting than it is… but, well, if you know, you know. I don’t want any of this to detract too much from what was an overall awesome night, but there’s no doubt better concert experiences involve crossing state lines. Anyway, onto the music.
The show opened with Stormruler, the fantastic (both in quality and theme) black metal duo out of St. Louis. Having yet to really familiarize with 2021’s Under the Burning Eclipse, I went into this set with a pretty open mind, and damn did that work in my favor. This performance exemplified everything that I’ve enjoyed about black metal in recent years (thanks, Stormkeep). It was energetic, it was heavy, and it was just the right amount of theater. Their concise and efficient set featured highlights from the aforementioned debut full-length, as well as some new material from a forthcoming album, one that I will definitely be watching for as we continue to slide through 2022. It was great. Listen to their shit. Here’s the Bandcamp link. We’re moving on.
One set down, five to go. I’ll be honest, I don’t have much to say about Vale of Pnath. Well, aside from the fact that their take on the more technical side of death metal slid in perfectly here. There seemed to be some technical difficulties with the monitors on the stage, but that impacted the audience experience exactly none percent. The entire set just felt ferocious. I’m not familiar enough with their catalog to pinpoint specific tracks, but needless to say I’ve done some backfilling and it has been a ride exploring everything they have out there. Additionally, it felt like a performance made specifically for venues like this, adding further impact to the brief yet intense set. Good stuff.
In my own ignorance, I wasn’t even aware Ghost Bath had been added to this bill until I was standing on the wrong side of the velvet rope. But when all was said and done, I sure was happy they were. Aside from a passing listen of Starmourner, I hadn’t truly submitted myself to Ghost Bath’s take on depressive black metal since Moonlover made waves back in 2015 or so. This served as a wake up call to correct that. They brought so much energy, and so much emotion, and it was delivered so loudly and aggressively, that this set may have had the biggest impact on the night overall. Additionally, having never put an image or face to the Ghost Bath sound before, it’s worth nothing that the entire package came together as well as one could hope — their energy fed into the venue in both sight and sound, from start to finish. And we were only at the halfway point of the night when they exited the stage. Despite another relatively brief set, they certainly left a mark on myself, and the rest of the audience.
It had also been awhile since I checked in with Abigail Williams. Since The Accuser in 2015, I believe (I’m noticing a trend here…) Spoiler alert: still amazing. Truth be told, this set served as a bit of an intermission for me. I spent most of the 40ish minutes at the bar rehydrating. (No, like, actually rehydrating. With water. I’m in my 30s now.) But that did not take away from how impressively the mysterious nature of this form of black metal resonated across the room. Initially curious how some of the longer songs would translate for such a set, it turned out that they translated very well indeed. It was a hauntingly dark set and, considering the other forms of black metal that had preceded Abigail this night, helped showcase how diverse the genre can be.
From there, we rolled into the two headlining sets, leading off with Borknagar. Really quick notes on this one. Borknagar sounded as great as I could have hoped, but I would have loved to see them perform these songs in a more impressive setting. The tight space did not do the epic nature of their music justice… at least in my opinion. But, like I said, they sounded great. And better still, I had the pleasure of taking in some of my favorite recent tracks from the last couple albums, including closing the set with “Winter Thrice” which was… oh so perfect. Most likely the definitive highlight of the evening for me. Beyond that, it’s also worth mentioning that ICS Vortex is an absolute treasure. Having seen him live on a couple of occasions, here and an Arcturus set at MDF some years ago, my appreciation for everything he does has only grown. His mannerisms and personality on stage are so enjoyable, and it translates so curiously well to everything else going during such a set. Borknagar rules. Come back soon please, and play outside. In the winter? Yes, in the winter.
Finally, at long last, we round out the extensive evening with the mighty Rotting Christ. The Greek black metal project has managed to elude me for a number of years now, so catching this performance was a huge checked box for me, especially considering how highly I consider both Rituals and Heretics in their more recent catalog. Speaking of which, the set they curated for this tour was brilliant. Favorites of mine from both those records made their way onto the list tonight including “Dies Irae” and “Elthe Kyrie”, the latter of which translated way better live than I would have thought, considering how complex and layered of a track it is. But most importantly, known to be one of the hardest working bands going, Sakis Tolis and the rest of Rotting Christ brought unrelenting energy and power to this performance. It was one of those sets where the tighter spacing and close proximity between audience member and stage really let the fire of their music envelope, well, everything. This was a long, hot, exhausting night… but Rotting Christ alone made it all worth it.
And that, my friends, brings us to the end. That was fairly concise, yeah? There’s no doubt that the six band lineup made the 2022 Devastation on the Nation Tour a beast. But when all was said and done, it was a tremendous evening that gave me the opportunity to reacquaint with bands familiar from years past and discover new favorites, all while taking in impressive performances from a couple of legends. At this point, the tour has officially wrapped up, but I hope many of you had a chance to take in this experience yourselves. As usual, many more photos are posted on my personal Instagram account if you’re interested.
There’s also a lot more coming from me in the near future, including another massive tour that rolled through my area only a week later. Stay tuned.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”