notes from the coast: Vreid @ the Whisky, 09-09-11

Like two Viking Knarrs silently washing up onto the Santa Monica shore, The Black Path of America Tour glided into town and dropped off Norwegian crews Vreid and Kampfar to pillage the Whisky Friday night. Admittedly these two bands hadn’t fully grabbed my attention until both released albums that will almost certainly be among my top albums of 2011, but this was a show I was not going to miss.

But first things first, there were no less than eight total bands playing, none of whom I’d ever heard of before. And even though I love seeing unknown metal bands, that was simply too much unknown metal for me to take and I didn’t want my enthusiasm to wane later on. So I decided to skip out on the early bands altogether. Ok, I did manage to catch the last few songs of the 5th band of the night and though I thought their enthusiasm was good, technically they kinda sucked and my decision to skip out on the earlier bands was well justified in my eyes.

There was one band I did end up seeing in full before the headliners took the stage that I actually enjoyed, Necronomicon from Montreal, Canada. They came out dressed in Behemoth-style attire with matching facepaint and right off the bat I figured I was in for some more Behemoth/Azarath clones. But my ears quickly perked up when I heard their thrash style riffage ringing out. I started to pay closer attention to what was going on. Technically these guys were leagues ahead of the previous band and the pace of their songs shifted between serious death blasts and some slower thrashy tempos. When I heard they had been around for over 20 years and were from Montreal, it all started to make sense. Their style of metal seemed to sound like heavier versions of old school Canadian brothers Sacrifice or Slaughter…I liked this. Amazingly this was their first time performing in LA and they seemed to be really enjoying their time here. Their set was very good and the crowd was very receptive and enthusiastic. I enjoyed watching them play and may very well pick up an album or two in the future. Color me sold on Necronomicon.

During the interim, the house played the cantina theme from Star Wars mixed with some mosh-y Jabba/Chewbacca chanting song that had a group of youngsters acting silly and dancing around in the pit area. Now, black metal crowds are always interesting to observe and watching these kids dance around made me wonder exactly what it was they were so happy about. I know times have changed and I’m gettin old, but I can’t remember ever feeling like I could sing and dance around like a silly little kid at a serious metal show…not without facing some serious retribution/repercussions by some bitter, angry metalheads. Things just didn’t used to be like this…black metal is supposed to be angry and hate filled right? For some bands this might be true but on this night people were giddy in anticipation of witnessing Kampfar‘s first stint on American soil.

Kampfar‘s brand of epic, anthemic, pagan black metal is the kind that gets one fired up and contrary to traditional black metal creed, is strangely uplifting. Consisting of a blend of repetitve Burzum riffage with the melodic sensibility of Drudkh and the grandeur of folk/power metal, their songs make you feel like you want to march off to battle, like you’re drinking in celebration of victory, or both. Their latest album Mare is one that caught my attention earlier this year and has gained a lot of steam on my playlist lately, especially after their performance. Lead singer Dolk came out like he owned the place and immediately had the crowd pumping their fists in the air and banging their heads with delight as the band marched through a blend of newer tracks like the new title track Mare and Inferno off previous album Heimgang. They even dug further back in their catalog with songs from Fra Underverden, all the while keeping the energy and intensity extremely high, ending their set with a blistering version of Ravenheart off that had everyone clamoring for more. And although Vreid were the top act of the night, I have to admit that Kampfar were right there with them performance-wise. They were simply that good and had the crowd in a state of bloodlust when they were done. If you haven’t heard them them, I highly recommend you go out right now and pick up Mare.

After Kampfar‘s blistering performance, only a crushing set by Vreid would suffice. Needless to say, this Norwegian crew delivered in spades. Now, Vreid are a very different beast than Kampfar. I love the way they seemlessly incorporate all different kinds of styles in their music yet somehow still maintain an overall black metal feel. It’s a rare black metal album these days that breaks the mold of what we as listeners come to expect from certain genres. While Kampfar are more of a straightforward, meat and potatoes band, Vreid‘s newest album V shows that they are far and away one of the most dynamic black metal bands to come out of Norway and their performance was nothing short of spectacular. They started off with new album opener Arche, which riled up the crowd and had them in a frenzy before they kicked into high gear with old band favorite, Raped by Light. They had their black boots firmly on the neck of the crowd and were not going to let up as they did a fantastic job playing an array of newer songs like Blucher and Disciplined off Milorg and Wolverine Bastards and The Others and the Look off V. They also kept the old guard happy by playing one song each from older albums Kraft, I Krig before ending the set with burner Pitch Black.

From a selfish standpoint, I could’ve stood to hear a few more songs from their latest, songs like Then We Die or The Blood Eagle, but that’s only because I wasn’t as versed in their older material. As this was their first headlining tour of the states I couldn’t blame them for wanting to win the approval of the crowd by going with their strongest (oldest) material. But believe me when I say that their latest album is a masterpiece and deserves every accolade it gets. If anything, I say it more as a compliment to them that their newest material is so strong it can stand on its own merit. Maybe next time around I will get to hear more of the brilliance of their newer songs. Vreid performed beautifully and they looked and sounded first class, like they’ve been doing this for years. I feel they are one of the brightest stars in the black metal universe and I can’t wait to hear more from them in the future. If there’s one album you should listen to this year, it is V by Vreid.