High On Fire

support Anti Ritual + Dogmatist
author AP date 03/08/14 venue KB18, Copenhagen, DEN

For the second time in two days, I find myself in the dingy confines of KB18 in the hip Copenhagen Meat Packing District - this time to behold a band whom, despite playing in the city multiple times over the past few years, I have persistently failed to watch live. Tonight's concert thus marks the evisceration of my virginity when it comes to the iconic sludge metal act High on Fire live. As I arrive some 10 minutes before the scheduled start time of the evening's first support band, I am immediately struck by the hustle and bustle outside of the venue; there are more people than I remember ever seeing here before, amounting by rough estimation to a number very close to KB18's advertised 400-person maximum capacity. Nice.

All photos by Stefan Frank thor Straten @ thorStraten.eu

Dogmatist

That the turnout is strong is difficult to see when local crust/hardcore/grindcore trio Dogmatist assume their positions (guitarist/vocalist Philip and bassist Nikolaj are on the floor, as the enormity of High on Fire's amplification has made space on stage a luxury). Only a handful of people have traversed indoor to watch them, but the underground act that they are, Dogmatist look entirely unfazed by this fact as they proceed with their first song, a groovy mid-tempo piece which makes resistance to headbanging an impossible endeavour. The sound mix is terrific, with only Philip's unhinged demeanour standing in the way of balance. When asked "Can we get some more vocals?" by one of the crowd members, his response is "Yeah, I just have to actually sing into the mic…"; an honest answer, as his twitching, deranged movements tend constantly to distance his mouth from the microphone, thus leaving his growls lower in the mix than they should be.

He takes better care to rectify this problem in the latter half of the set, however, and while Dogmatist aren't the sort of band to reinvent any wheel, the sheer energy of their music and performance is a pleasure to behold. Drummer Steffen seems at times thoroughly amused by the ludicrous speed of the band's more grindcore styled songs as he struggles to keep his kit from falling apart, and his body from falling off the chair, and smiles are in abundance crowd-side as well. It's no surprise: Dogmatist is an exhilarating live band. But personally, the cold, barren style of their music proves a tad too monotonous for me (the only real variety is to be found in the rhythm section) to fully engage.

Anti Ritual

Darkness envelops the room (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) when local support number two, the recently founded Anti Ritual, stride onto the stage. Though far less cacophonous, the band's music reminds me a great deal of Hexis, all lumbering sludge and explosions of blastbeat driven blackness permeated by impressively powerful and menacing growls. Anti Ritual's vocalist carries himself with confidence and authority, and this way he is able to transform himself into a commanding presence on stage, albeit not removing the spotlight from his compatriots, who are certainly doing their bit to form the thoroughly punishing expression of the band. With wild eyed poses, brandishing of instruments and neck snapping headbanging, they look like the experienced musicians that they are (all of the members have their roots in bands such as Rising), and inspire a raucous reaction from the now sizable audience.

From my vantage point on top of some pallets on the right side, I note all of this and the fact that Anti Ritual may pride themselves with possessing a huge amount of variety within the boundaries of their genre(s). At times extreme, at times groovy, the songs sound as harrowing as the vocalist looks with his demonic appearance, but just as the proceedings are beginning to reach a boiling point, the set abruptly stops, cut at a measly 20 minutes or so. It's a short, but furious onslaught, and I'll certainly be giving this crew another shot when the opportunity arises.

High On Fire

As the lights dim for the headliner, I decide it would require a miracle for High on Fire to screw this up given the size and enthusiasm of the audience - not to mention the heat pressing into the room, which I find is always strangely appropriate to live shows within these Southern fried genres. The bombastic, almost tribal beginning of "Fury Whip" serves as the perfect beginning to the set, and as with the other bands on the bill tonight, the sound mix is verging on the sublime, with the low end expertly and necessarily pronounced. Sludge metal works best when felt in the pit of the stomach and lungs, and by all the gods this is hair-raisingly loud. Given this is my first experience with High on Fire in the live setting, my expectations are null. And while the trio could hardly be described as explosive in their demeanour, there is something utterly convincing about the way in which they perform; the hallmark of experience is present in every note, every movement of misters Matt Pike, Jeff Matz and Des Kensel.

I've always been partial to frontmen shouting or grunting out the titles of songs before playing them as it adds an element of narration to a concert, not to mention allows me to note down tracks aired which I may not have been previously familiar with. This is the case tonight, and as such especially the glowing urgency of track two "Eyes and Teeth" fills me with intrigue (it is the opening track to the band's 2002 album "Surrounded by Thieves", which I've not heard) before "Fertile Green" and the droning majesty and searing solos of "Madness of an Architect" both off 2012's "De Vermis Mysteriis" sends me deep into a contemplative sway. The discharge of melody that intercepts the song's low end constancy drills right into the soul, providing sweet respite from the otherwise lumbering, imposing nature of the track; which itself serves as a nice contrast to the turbocharged Motörhead-gone-sludge onslaught of "Frost Hammer" next.

With each of the band's six studio albums occupying between one and three songs in the setlist, tonight's showing is truly one for the fans, with songs like "Cometh Down Hessian", "Baghdad" and "Rumors of War" all offering excellent glimpses into the band's illustrious 16-year career. But my personal highlight of the evening is, without a doubt, the iconic "Devilution", its screams of "De-vi-lu-tion!" resounding from the walls like battle cries. "Snakes for the Divine" concludes the proceedings which, while perhaps not blowing me off my feet, manage to cement High on Fire as a trusty purveyor of quality live performances. The thunderous reaction of the remaining audience, too, speaks in favour of this.

8

Setlist:

  • Fury Whip
  • Eyes and Teeth
  • Fertile Green
  • Madness of an Architect
  • Cometh Down Hessian
  • Frost Hammer
  • Baghdad
  • Devilution
  • Serums of Liao
  • Rumors of War
  • Fireface
  • Snakes for the Divine

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