Friday, September 15, 2006

Thursday-night brutality: Celtic Frost & 1349

It was an awesome one-two punch of an evening at B.B. King's yesterday. I had just swallowed the last bite of my pretzel and stepped into the club when the second opening act, 1349 (pictured) got on stage, at the unmetallic hour of 8pm and with all the house lights blazing. (I can't even fathom when first opener Sahg went on. Tea time?) What a sight: They were all in corpsepaint and half of them wore huge spikes on their wristbands. And what a great show! It's not a diss to say that 1349—named after the year the black plague hit Norway—plays textbook black metal. The Norwegian band takes the genre's basic elements (speed, growls, buzzy guitars), throws them into a caldron of bile and spits them out in three-minutes orbs of blackened hatred. No keyboards, no epic suites about Azazel or the distant moons of Pluto—just savage focus and grim, charismatic grandeur (1349 superbly ignored an audience member who taunted them in a parodic high-pitched screech).

The best part is that because the gear of headliner Celtic Frost was already on stage, 1349's drummer was sitting upfront and we could all watch in awe as he carpetbombed the club with double-bass action while his hands flew so fast that his sticks were a blur. While the legendary Frost is 1349's regular drummer, this dude didn't look like him—which I could tell not because I recognized his corpsepaint pattern let alone his face, but because his hair was suspiciously American-curly, not Scandi-straight. (This kind of detail is extremely important in metal, in which men keep their hair long and silky, perhaps in order to better execute hair windmills.) That human beatkeeping machine turned out to be one Tony Laureano, who's spent some time in Nile and Dimmu Borgir—I had in fact seen him play with Dimmu at Ozzfest a few years ago, but he hadn't made quite the same vivid impression as he did yesterday.

After Emperor back in July, Celtic Frost confirmed that 2006 will be remember as a very good year for live extreme metal. The quartet came on a little after 9pm. As vocalist Tom Gabriel Fischer (a.k.a. Tom G Warrior, and one of the best rock vocalists around) put it when he introduced the beginning of the band's US tour in his blog, "Finally we will be able again to convey the dusk of our musical processions to the masses that have been deprived of sufficient morbidity for so long. They shall never forget."

That is an understatement. Boris et al. can just go back to their training wheels: The Swiss vets know heavy. Steve Smith put it best (by way of Strapping Young Lad), describing the band's incredible reunion album, Monotheist, as heavy as a really fucking heavy thing. And live, it really was super-duper double-skull-penetration heavy.

They started on the dirgey side with "Procreation (Of the Wicked)," from Morbid Tales, but then picked up the pace and delivered a half hour that was as perfect a balance of doomy and thrashy as anything I've ever heard. They then returned to the slower mode, and never were less than majestic. When Fischer roared "Oh God, why have you forsaken me?" during the mammoth "Ground," my mind flashed with visions of Hannibal crossing the Alps, hammers of the gods pounding away—a whole array of visuals that seems to have been conjured up from my role-playing days. (It was in college and we played the arcane Chivalry and Sorcery, not the mundane D&D, thank you very much.) The set ended with Monotheist's "Synagoga Satanae," a track which had not particularly caught my ear on record but was a filthy slow burn live. No encore, and they left to the tune of Frank Zappa's "The Torture Never Stops" on the PA. Nice touch.

In non-metal news, the six finalists of the Man Booker Prize have been announced, and I realized I've actually read two of them. The Night Watch isn't Sarah Waters' best novel by far; its backward structure (from 1947 to 1944 to 1941) means that Waters has to contort herself in order to avoid revealing in the first part things that need to be surprises in the last. But the description of London during and right after WWII is very compelling, and the period details anchor the story without ever drawing attention to the painstaking research that no doubt went into gathering them. The second finalist I read is Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which follows a Thames bargeman and his family as they are forcibly moved to Australia in 1806, and they settle by the Hawkesbury River—where they dislodge the local aborigines. The consequences are dramatic, as you might expect, but Grenville's lush prose makes the book both realistic (the early bits about the life of a bargeman are pretty great) and magical. And just when you think it's all going to end in tears, Grenville pulls back slighly in a bittersweet way.

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