The “Black Metal Warfare Tour” pulled into its final stop at the historic Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA, on the night of January 31, 2015. The tour, which featured co-headliners Watain and Mayhem along with Canadian opening band Revenge, was one of the most anticipated black metal jaunts in recent memory and that was evidenced by the mood in the air amongst the capacity crowd. Fortunate enough to find myself on Watain’s guest list, I was able to scope the festivities from my bird’s eye view in the balcony.
It was an amazing night as there was very strange vibe in the air. Black metal shows, in my experience tend to be a bit more somber, almost morose affairs in general. There was, however a certain (dare I say) excitement in the air for this particular outing. I’m not sure what it was; the beautiful historic venue, a nearly full moon or the sheer excitement of seeing this lineup with a sold out crowd of like minded black metal enthusiasts. But there was definitely an electric feel buzzing around me.
The night started out with a lackluster set from Canadian trio Revenge. The band was just starting their second song when I entered the venue and I initially thought that I might really dig these guys’ brand of straight-ahead, blackened speed metal. However, after a couple of songs, I was left flat by the absolute lack of anything varied or interesting going on musically. The songs were all extremely similar and featured some of the wonkiest, unstructured guitar work that I’ve ever seen. I retreated to the rooftop bar for a respite and found it packed with the crowd that I thought had yet to arrive. Seems that I wasn’t the only one underwhelmed by the opener.
This is the point where things started to get weird. While enjoying my first moderately priced mixed drink ($9 is a bargain for Jack and Coke in L.A.!), I was nearly knocked over by a couple of meathead “bro metal” dudes rolling around pulling each other’s hair like a couple of little girls before security tossed them to the curb. It would be the first of two fights that I would witness that night, with the other erupting in the pit during Watain’s set. Now, there are two things wrong here: Fighting and giant mosh pits are pretty atypical of black metal shows. In fact, Watain has stated in the past that they frown upon moshpits because they feel that it detracts from the ritualistic, black mass atmosphere that they strive to attain. I’m not sure what was up with all of this, but I hope that it doesn’t become a trend at black metal shows.
There was a third oddity that I actually feel quite the opposite about. Women. Lots of them. I’ve been going to shows like this for more years than I care to divulge and the female contingent has historically been virtually non-existant. Not so on this night! There were ladies of all sorts out in force. After speaking to a few I have ascertained that this may be owing, in part, to the fact that Watain singer Erik Danielsson is now apparently something of a corpse-painted sex symbol. Who knew? The fact that the room stayed packed to the gills for Mayhem suggests that maybe something deeper is afoot as well. Whatever the reason, I’m all for it! (Just go ahead now and cue the knuckle-dragging, sexually confused cult metal fanboys bitching about girls ruining metal. It’s a given amongst a certain contingent.)
As for the headliners, Watain took the stage just after 9pm to the strains of “Death’s Cold Dark” and proceeded to tear through a ferocious set that hit the highlights of the band’s 17 years and 5 studio albums, including a few selections from their most recent offering, The Wild Hunt. This is the second time that I have seen the Swedish wolf pack live and this was certainly the better of the two shows. Despite once again having to drop the flaming tridents and impaled goats’ heads from their stage show, the band still delivered an intense, ritualistic show complete with the omnipresent alter and goat’s skull filled with “blood.” (Fortunately, TMZ was nowhere in sight!)
The most infamous band in all of metal was up next. Mayhem is currently touring in support of their best album in ages. In fact, Esoteric Warfare is their first album at all in 7 years. Legendary vocalist Attila Csihar, who was behind the mic for the band’s iconic debut album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, is back at the helm. Csihar put his operatic vocal range through a dynamic workout leading the band through some of their most brutal material. From the moment that the band launched into “Deathcrush” until the stage lights came up signaling the end of the evening, the intensity never let up. Attila is a larger than life, imposing, and mysterious figure. He’s also a man of few words between songs, but the rabid fans packing the house did not need introductions to classics like “Freezing Moon,” “Chainsaw Gutsfuck,” or “Pure Fucking Armageddon” to go absolutely crazy. Fortunately bassist Necrobutcher was able to overcome the visa issues that kept him from entering the country in time to perform at the beginning of the tour. His chainsaw bass lines are an integral part of the Mayhem sound and it just wouldn’t have been the same without him. (Interesting side note: apparently I look enough like Necrobutcher that some dude kept insisting that I WAS him out in the lobby!) I for one was riveted by Mayhem’s performance. I had never seen them live before and I must say that even the newer, lesser-known material translates much better live than on any recording the band has ever put out.
Overall a great night with two truly iconic black metal outfits. This is the kind of tour that makes all who missed it kick themselves for years to come. Let’s hope that the fact that the tour sold out almost every venue encourages these two bands to come back and give it another round. If they do, be sure not to miss out on it. This is the kind of show that you talk about years down the road.
Watain “Storm of the Antichrist” Live @ The Fonda Theater 1/31/15
Mayhem “Deathcrush” Live @ The Fonda Theater 1/31/15