I was either fickle or faithful that night, depending on your point-of-view.
Agalloch had again announced a tour. The pitch-black pastoral Portlandians are rarely seen in real life, so just like back in early 2011, I jumped at the opportunity to catch them. As someone who hosted a weekly live Metal Monday gig and frequented heavy live actions in Vermont or Montreal, I missed the energy, the camaraderie, the completely fucking different feel of my favorite bands in front of me. So of course I’m going to Agalloch. We didn’t say these kind words about them and include the band on three of our ‘Best of 2010’ lists for nothing.
I’m finally starting to feel like a participatory, social human again, following a couple months of chaos from moving, nephew birth, parent surgeries, and other such distractibles. I’ve also been writing for MetalReview lately, so I felt a little less moochy when I dropped a line to my favorite PR chick — Liz Ciavarella-Brenner over at the Earsplit Compound — and requested a ticket/photo pass.
I was absolutely not prepared for what followed. As we waited in line at the Middle East, a dude in (I believe) a Consecrator shirt saunters up to some people he knows behind us, singing the praises of the show right next door at T.T. The Bear’s Place: Hammers of Misfortune | The Gates of Slumber. Well, shit. As far as I’m concerned, both bands are just now releasing their finest material and I especially love 17th Street, yet have seen neither group perform. This needed to be corrected.
It was slow at T.T.’s (likely due to Agalloch next door) — maybe 50 people altogether. We missed first opener The Below, but did catch direct support in Eerie, who slogged more than expected, but released glimmers of beauty, as though they were sunlight glistening off a murky mire.
Now for a band called The Gates of Slumber, these dudes channel vibrant energy that’s burly and hairy for sure, but with surprising speed and dexterity (like the world’s best gorilla surgeon). They charged headlong into “Death Dealer” from 2009’s Hymns of Blood & Thunder, and scarcely relented for the hour to follow. Unsurprisingly, I think the crowd got extra rowdy for “The Scourge of Drunkenness” from last year’s epic The Wretch, but when they circled back to HoB&T for “Beneath the Eyes of Mars” my smile was officially plastered on. American traditional doom metal really needs clear, consistent leaders, and The Gates of Slumber is truly one of our pillars. I had to speak briefly with guitarist/vocalist/frontman Karl Simon and tell him approximately how much ass they kick, which he appreciated, but was visibly disappointed at the attendance. It seems everyone was that night.
Hammers fucking killed it, despite the light turnout. They curiously began with the opener “317” from 17th Street, but although the title track follows on the album (and, I thought, would logically follow live), we did not hear that until later in the night. I actually forget the second song, but strongly recall them harking back to their debut The Bastard for “The Dragon is Summoned”, somewhere around the end. Utterly unforgettable was “The Grain” — possibly their finest song to date, and also the point when I headbanged hardest, foot firmly planted on stage, tears welling in my eyes.
I absolutely needed a Hammers of Misfortune shirt, plus I wanted them to get as much cash as possible that night. Longtime keyboardist/vocalist Sigrid was the first [wo]manning the merch table, so I bought from her, professed my love for them, and sincerely thanked for a kickass night. But I still had to speak with mainman John Cobbett, because this has been his baby for the last dozen years. Here the deal: I sometimes have trouble saying… well, not only the right thing… but just understanding how something could be misconstrued as offensive; context fucks me once in a while. Whatever… my foot tastes awesome.
Anyway, here’s the lesson: If you are speaking with a musician whom you respect about how much you enjoy their work, do not undermine your own praise. Example: “Hey, John! I just wanted to tell you that I love 17th Street, and believe it’s your best album yet… [note that we’re still okay here] …and you were only edged out on my ‘Best of 2011’ list by Cormorant Dwellings!” [aaaaaand I lost him]. I did a fair attempt at backpedaling — and he probably could have treated the situation with better humor — but as it stood, was pretty dang unimpressed.
Remorse has been the name of the game in the wake of that night. I staunchly wore my new Hammers of Misfortune shirt for the two days following, and I think there was been lingering (ahem) “black guilt” since missing Agalloch, because it seems my mornings have recently been filled with solid BM (ha, that sounds gross). As such, a review is on the horizon for Khors Wisdom of Centuries. Hmmm… sounds exactly like what I could have used in my noggin.