Deafheaven

support Myrkur
author AP date 17/03/16 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

It feels like yesterday that Deafheaven laid waste to the much smaller (albeit sold out) BETA venue next door, and as such, to witness the 1,000 capacity Amager Bio nearly full tonight is rather humbling. I have made no secret out of my own intoxication with the Brooklyn, NY post-black metal outfit, and regard them as one of the most forward-thinking, eclectic and important metal bands right now. But until tonight, it had not struck me just how meteoric their rise to success has been, nor just how widespread their appeal has become. Rubbing shoulders are music enthusiasts from nearly every imaginable scene with just one thing in common: the desire to behold for themselves the phenomenon that is Deafheaven. And, of course, to catch a glimpse of the much talked about Myrkur, who was handpicked by Deafheaven guitarist Shiv Mehra to provide direct support on this European tour.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Myrkur

One has to admire Amalie Bruun for her total commitment to her Myrkur alias. Whether it is her insightful referencing of the Asa religion on social media, photography and exploration of the Nordic wilderness, or her resilience toward the condescension of black metal truists, she takes her art very seriously. Some find it a little pompous, but even so one cannot deny that with Myrkur, she is onto something, and if it polarises people, well… is that not the very mantra of black metal, to cause controversy? And anyway, the naysayers seem only to have fuelled her ambition; both her début live performance at last summer’s Roskilde Festival, and her first club show at Pumpehuset in Copenhagen invited ridicule by way of Bruun’s nervousness and technical mishaps such as an unplugged microphone that went unnoticed all too long. But her timid entrance here aside, watching her now, it is difficult to even recognise those stories (I did not attend those two gigs, you see) as true.

Apart from the low-ish volume at first, all of the beginner’s creases have been ironed out, and in her own introverted way, Bruun appears super confident, flanked by her trio of session musicians (bassist Jeppe Skouv, formerly of The Psyke Project; guitarist Andreas Lynge of The Cleansing; and drummer Rasmus Schmidt of Illdisposed) well versed in the art of performance. By not exchanging banter with her audience save for the obligatory tusind tak every now and then, Bruun sustains the air of mystique surrounding Myrkur, rather connecting with us by virtue of her expressive body and arm movements as though her entire physique were a voice. That would go some way toward explaining how impeccable her singing is in songs such as “Hævnen” and “Skøgen skulle dø” at least; a heavenly juxtaposition to the cascades of tremolo and blast beats and the occasional outburst of demonic shrieks, her voice seems at times to melt into Lynge’s folksy, nordic melodies.

When Ole Luk, frontman of Danish atmospheric black metallers Solbrud, makes a cameo for “Mordet” however, one does get the feeling that Bruun’s strong suite is not the harsher vocals, sounding rather feeble next to Luk’s maniacal growling. But that is a minor pitfall in an otherwise solid and entertaining concert. Contrary to my own expectations, none of the unfounded hatred toward Myrkur manages to breach the atmosphere here; in fact, there is a respectful silence even during the quieter parts (such as a piano-and-vocal cover of Bathory’s “Song to Hall Up High” at the end of the set), and people genuinely seem mesmerised by Myrkur’s uniquely evocative showmanship.

Deafheaven

Deafheaven on the other hand, have absolutely nothing to answer for, and it shows in their nonchalant arrival on stage: ”We’re deafheaven, and this is ‘Brought to the Water’”. It marks the beginning of a breathtaking storm charge through the entirety of last year’s magisterial ”New Bermuda” record. Loud and relentless, the band carries out a redefinition of the black metal genre with such burning intent it has the audience transfixed to the extent that only the tiniest of moshpits is what it can muster during my personal favourite “Come Back”. Trust me, the absence of your usual crowd participation antics is not a negative sign in this context, but rather a testimony to the all-encompassing power of Deafheaven’s performance. You cannot avoid it, you cannot escape it.

Much of this paralysing quality owes to vocalist George Clarke, who takes Amalie Bruun’s expressionism into another dimension. Eyes and veins bulging, the man looks about to burst for every line of piercing, shrieking vocalisation; about to fall of the hinges for every violent twist and contortion of his body; about to murder someone with every swing of his microphone stand. This is what passion looks like personified, and you cannot take your eyes off it. Well, except to divert your gaze at Daniel Tracy, whose virtuosity behind the kit would dampen the enthusiasm of even the most talented aspiring drummer. Not only is it technically advanced and executed to perfection, but the guy is something as rare as a drummer who performs, the emotion perpetually visible in his anguished expressions, the fervour obvious from every strike of a drum.

Indeed, the brunt of Deafheaven’s performance rests on the shoulders of those two gentlemen, allowing guitarists Kerry McCoy & Shiv Mehra, and bassist Stephen Clark to focus on the razor sharp execution of music that, let’s face it, is pretty demanding on the wrist, the amount of shredding involved taken into account. But when the band enters one of the many shoegaze or post-rock passages contained within each song, those three musicians become much more animated and in fact take the driving seat. That is the beauty of it: there is always something visual happening to accentuate the variety of the music; a sense that Deafheaven is just on the brink of collapsing into chaos at any given moment. Once “Sunbather” and “Dream House” wrap things up in the encore, the cheering that engulfs the venue must rank among the loudest I have ever heard, and why shouldn’t it? What we just bore witness to is majesty, proof that Deafheaven can handle an audience of any size and still feel like they are right in your face.

9

Setlist:

  • 01. Brought to the Water
  • 02. Luna
  • 03. Baby Blue
  • 04. Come Back
  • 05. Gifts for the Earth

—Encore—

  • 06. Sunbather
  • 07. Dream House

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