Amenra

support E-L-R
author AP date 21/11/19 venue Stengade, Copenhagen, DEN

A traditionally busy month of gigs for me continues with one I have been looking forward to with an eagerness that rendered even an intimate headlining concert by Baroness today a second priority. I have not seen Amenra live since 2016, and back then, the Belgian post-metallers had not caught my attention as completely as they did with their 2017 album “Mass VI”, after the release of which I have been longing for another opportunity to experience the Kortrijk-based quintet live. Having only seen Amenra on festival stages thus far, however, I am certain I have not witnessed the full power of their live performance yet, and as such, I have high expectations for their ‘mass’ (as they refer to their shows) tonight. Unfortunately, a busy schedule means that I arrive too late to catch the opener YLVA, but based on listening to their 2017 album “M E T A”, I highly recommend fans of sludgy post-metal of the Neurosis school to check the Australian quartet out. Missing them means that it is E-L-R from Bern in Switzerland, who have the honour of kicking this evening off for me.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest


E-L-R

Mounting tension. This seems to be the core idea behind Swiss trio E-L-R’s (mostly) instrumental music, and it has the desired effect on the audience, suppressing any peripheral chatter beneath its sonic weight and instilling a hypnotising atmosphere in the venue as soon as the opening track gets underway. Standing on either side of the stage and facing one another, the two frontwomen — bassist I.R. and guitarist S.M. — often supplement the heaviest passages in their post-metallic songs with evocative chanting that bestows upon them an air of ritualism (not unlike the mysterious Briqueville), and the iterative drum patterns supplied by M.K. help to maintain it. He is charged with giving the music an atavistic feel, while I.R.’s insistent bass lines fill the soundscape with dread and S.M. conjures monolithic walls of noise with intense tremolo-picked chords. Indeed, the band’s formula is quite primitive, but like so many primeval forces, it packs an awesome power that allures me throughout the trio’s set, even if there is next to no distinction between one song and the next. By controlling the pace of the music, M.K. does manage to inject some differences here and there, even enlisting a blistering style of percussion common to thrash metal in one of the songs, but in general, much of E-L-R’s philosophy seems to revolve around droning and repetition. This might sound off-putting to some people, but the sheer scale of the music, not to mention the energy with which the three musicians play it, holds me captive for the entire duration of the show and inspires me to take a closer listen to their début album “Mænad” (which was released earlier this Fall) once I get back home tonight.

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Amenra

A deadly silence settles in the venue as the lights dim, and the only sound that remains is a clicking from drummer Bjorn J. Lebon’s knocking two metal bars together rhythmically. We are being called to mass, and glum projections on a white screen spanning the entire breadth of the stage indicate that the sermon is not going to be light or uplifting. And as this opening track, “Boden” off Amenra’s 2012 album “Mass V”, leaves its eerie intro behind, and the bass, drums and guitars fall in at last, it feels like the ceiling might collapse at any moment from the sheer devastating volume and weight of the music. Standing near the sound desk, I notice that the decibel counter seldom sinks below a deafening 94 dB during this song, and it remains at that level or above for virtually the entire length of the concert. But while the band unquestionably is loud, they are also blessed with a mix in which every instrument is balanced, so that no detail of their music is ever lost. It is, however, a shame that, once again, there is a small group of people here, who see every moment of calm in the music as their cue to talk loudly to one another — even after explicitly being asked to be quiet by numerous other attendees. Respect, it seems, is hard-earned for a band these days.

Amenra are not discouraged by these disruptions though, and after the gentle shoegazing segment in “Plus près de toi” (off 2017’s “Mass VI”), we are given another reminder of what makes this band so special. Not only is the crescendo magnificently dreary, it is also in these swells that the group’s showmanship is at its most intense, with vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout moving as though he were possessed, and the other musicians around him losing themselves to emotion. If you have not seen Amenra live before, you will probably be surprised to find that van Eeckhout is reputed for spending entire shows with his back to the audience, but rather than creating a disconnect, this actually plays into the overall theme of the band’s performances. The five musicians insist on maintaining a veil of mystique around themselves in everything they do, and as such, there is never any interaction with the audience at their concerts either; they arrive unceremoniously, they play continuously, and they leave silently, as feedback rings from the amplifiers. And the atmosphere this creates is what makes the band so spellbinding in the live setting. At the very least, it is a crucial part of their show.

Over the course of the evening, Amenra delve into most of their repertoire, leaving only their début album “Mass I: Prayer I-VI” untouched — which brings a lot of variety to the setlist. During the eight songs that are played, the band swerves from dense, Cult of Luna-esque passages to moments of plaintive tranquillity, climbs through monolithic crescendos, slows down, speeds up, and sometimes ends up in seriously jarring terrain that reminds me of the late Psyke Project. And yet, throughout all of this, there is a clear and entrancing central thread that makes it impossible to not be completely fixated on the proceedings. But although there are few, if any moments of weakness, there are, of course, moments that stand out more clearly than others. One of these is a beautiful rendition of “A Solitary Reign”, in which the juxtaposition of shrill screams by bassist Levy Seynaeve and emotive singing by van Eeckhout gives rise to stunning contrasts, before a gargantuan riff brings the track to a conclusion in breathtaking, funereal fashion. And the mental antics of all five musicians during the abrasive “.Am Kreuz.” (taken from 2011’s “Mass III”) also make an instant imprint on my memory.

As mentioned just before, it is not easy to find imperfections that can be attributed to the band tonight. My annoyances rather stem from the behaviour of a few crowd members, who manage to spoil a couple of the more fragile moments that Amenra allow us to share with them — and even these I can brush aside by relocating myself to a different part of the floor. No, it is a show bordering on magical, one in which the music, performance and visuals form a nigh perfect symbiosis that will haunt me for a long time. And given that this is the first time Amenra have visited Denmark since their appearance at the 2014 edition of Copenhell, one can only hope that the wait will be shorter until the next time these Belgians call their Danish fans to mass.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Boden
  • 02. Plus près de toi (Closer to You)
  • 03. Razoreater
  • 04. A Solitary Reign
  • 05. Thurifer
  • 06. .Terziele.tottedood
  • 07. Am Kreuz
  • 08. Diaken

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