Kevin reports from a stoner doom show like no other
It was on a fateful Saturday night in a frozen west coast city in Canada that I set out for a stoner doom metal show like no other. High on Fire were in town for the first time after main man Matt Pike checked into rehab last summer. Joining the legendary trio on the bill with them were Norwegian black and rollers Kvelertak, and the American doom quintet Windhand.
It was an early show with doors opening at 6, and the first band going on at 6:30, and because of that, my photographer ended up having to bail on me due to work. I did the best I could with my phone camera just so you could have some pictures for this review, but the quality just isn’t the same.
I arrived just in time for Windhand’s set after getting a pint at a small bar near by. Guinness on tap is not something any man should ever pass up. Windhand are a fairly standard stoner doom metal outfit, clearly worshipping at the altar of Electric Wizard. Jesus fucking Christ they’re heavy! And fucking loud too, which is why I brought hearing protection. The sound was all-encompassing, being thick and doomy with a bit of that slow heavy blues feel. A friend described Windhand as “playing a Led Zeppelin record really slow” which is a comparison with which it is pretty hard to disagree.
Though Windhand were excellent musically, there was one element that really took their show down a few notches. I found their stage presence to be extremely weak. Vocalist Dorthia Cottrell had her back to the audience for quite a bit of the time, instead looking at the drummer as if they were just practicing in their garage instead of playing to an audience. The rest of the band loomed large on stage, especially bassist Parker Chandler (who is admittedly somewhat of a veteran given that he is also in Cough) and I was also quite impressed by the drumming, but the lack of any presence and absolutely no interaction with the crowd from the singer really killed the energy. Hopefully that is something they can work on for the future, as there is quite a bit of potential for this young band.
Norwegian sextet Kvelertak have really risen fast in metal of late. Their self-titled debut, and its follow up Meir earlier this year, garnered a lot of praise in metal media, and it’s easy to see why with their combination of punk, black metal, and rock and roll being something that really is not heard very often. Unfortunately, I find them pretty boring on their studio albums. Nothing they’ve done yet has really jumped out at me as being truly great. In spite of this, I was ready to be impressed by their live show.
And I got what I was hoping for; a high energy set filled with riffs and snarls and blast beats and three-guitar harmonies. Vocalist Erlend Hjelvik came out wearing some sort of owl headdress – though it was removed after the first song – and he was clearly full of vigour. At one point, he kicked the stage monitor off the front of the stage. His vocals were great, if a bit hard to hear (that isn’t his fault though) and the rest of the band were absolutely getting into it. The real unfortunate thing though, was that after their set was over, I felt really under whelmed by what had just transpired. For the life of me, I cannot remember a single moment in their set aside from the final song, which suddenly and startlingly reminded me of Pat Benatar. Despite all their energy, they really weren’t that memorable.
Headliners High on Fire had a pretty big reputation coming in to tonight’s show. I’d seen them once before, but that was years ago and before I was into them at all. They were supposed to be at Heavy MTL in 2012, but then Matt Pike went into rehab and they had to cancel. It was good to see Pike back on stage again, sans shirt and all. High On Fire completely rescued the night, which was otherwise sort of disappointing. They were absolutely heavy, razor sharp, and pummelling. Their closer of “Snakes for the Divine” was… well… divine, bringing the house down completely.
Their set covered all six albums, plus the new one-off single that they released recently. The sound was really good – easily the best of the night. Usually at the front it can be hard to hear the vocals, but I had no trouble hearing Pike’s seething vocals, which washed over me like smoke. Pike’s guitar tone was excellent and Jeff Matz’s bass was fuzzy and booming, and the drumming was the perfect foundation for the two. For a power trio, they were really loud, filling the room with their might. Years of playing together have really given them great stage presence. I read an interview with Matt Pike saying that playing live sober was really tough for him and made him really anxious, but he looked perfectly at ease out there, so good on him for conquering his demons and continuing to do it.
It was weird for a show to be done so early, High on Fire finished at 9:40pm, but I got my night’s worth of kick ass riffs anyways. I kind of wanted to hang around and see if I could talk to any of the bands, but I also was hungry and had to work the next morning, so I ended up just heading home. It was a pretty good show, even if it wasn’t exactly the highlight of the year.