Guest reviewer Mark Hensch is a freelance writer based in Washington DC. He has been writing about Heavy Metal since he was in High School back in Michigan. He currently contributes to the Washington Times online as Heavy Metal Hensch and is senior editor of Thrash Pit.
The “Apostles of Darkness Over The Americas” tour launched their nationwide sonic assault at Jaxx Nightclub on Wednesday night. The first stop on a two-month tour, the lineup read like a roster from the embassy of evil: leading the charge were the grim ghouls of Abigail Williams, followed by the Middle Eastern heavy metal of Jerusalem’s Melechesh and the battle-ready anthems of Athens’ Rotting Christ. It was a concert of musical carnage that wasn’t just great it was global; fire-breathing proof that the heavy metal scene still thrives at home and abroad.
Thanks to Jaxx’s layout, DC-area heavy metal fans were treated to a trio of intimate performances. The crowd was small but vocal, filling the floor space in front of the raised stage with an energy that surpassed their numbers. There wasn’t much space between band and fan, letting the two collide in uproarious confrontation. Guitar necks brushed past thrown devil horns as the fans and bands became one in an extreme metal meltdown.
The first attack came from America’s Abigail Williams. Formed in 2005, the outfit has struggled for an identity ever since; which showed during their recent gig. After beginning in 2005 performing a mix of black metal’s grim theatrics and symphonic flourishes, the band soon discovered that many of its members weren’t committed to the style. The result was a revolving door of roster changes, solidified in the three-piece that is the band’s calling card. They’ve also shed the orchestral overtures, instead focusing solely on the cold, spiteful atmosphere that’s characterized black metal since it crystallized in 1990s Scandinavia.
Stuck between their former bombast and their current minimalism, Abigail Williams settled for a set that was tentative at best and schizophrenic at worst. Opening with the theatrical, blast-beat-drenched thunder of “The World Beyond”, they immediately shifted gears and embraced the ethereal, ghostly opening notes of “Hope, the Great Betrayal”. It was a drastic change in dynamics, one that would plague the band’s short performance and neuter all their aggression. The piano keys of “Into the Ashes” – formerly a chilling introduction – seemed silly here, mainly as the band no longer has a keyboardist.* If there was one highlight, it was the melancholy melodies of “Final Destination of the Gods” ringing in the air as their set ended. One song doesn’t make a set however, and indifference lingered in the air after Abigail Williams left the stage.
Much better was the self-proclaimed “Mesopotamian metal” of Melechesh. It’s been a long journey to America for these Israeli incendiaries: they’ve spent 18 years evolving their unique blend of Middle Eastern rhythms and malicious thrash;, getting charged with acts of dark occultism in their native Jerusalem; and traveling most of the world along the way. Wednesday’s concert was the first date of their first tour in the States and the band showed their appreciation by delivering a show-stealing performance.**
Melechesh made the most of their material old and new by striking a fine balance between unearthing buried treasures and keeping things fresh with more recent tunes. “Rebirth of the Nemesis” was a whirlwind of flaying melodies and massive riffs, intoxicating listeners like a snake-charmer. “Ladders to Sumeria” launched listeners into a labyrinth of hypnotic percussion and winding guitar notes. “Deluge of Delusional Dreams” unleashed a torrent of speed-picked notes before collapsing into eerie chanting and epic riffing. Cuts from the band’s latest effort “The Epigenesis” also proved strong: “Ghouls of Nineveh” sank into massive guitar grooves and “Illumination – the Face of Shamash” shook like a belly-dancer before a ritual sacrifice.
Melechesh’s combination of metal and mysticism wasn’t lost on Rotting Christ, the band trading in Arabia for the sounds of their native Greece. The two bands are remarkably similar, given they draw from their ethnic heritage and envelope it in the atmosphere of black metal. Where they differ is the amount of aggression: Melechesh is moody and malicious, while Rotting Christ simply marauds.
Attacking with songs largely culled from 2010’s “Aealo,” Rotting Christ unleashed a chest-beating performance packed with intensity. The title track got things off and running with its choir of sorrowful singers, while “Eon Aenaos” stomped and slammed like an invading army. “Enuma Elish” carried on in the same manner with crushing grooves and frantic drumming. “The Sign of Prime Creation” and “Fire, Death, and Fear” meanwhile, each eviscerated eardrums with their stabbing melodies and relentless speed. The undisputed highlight, however, was the band’s encore of “Noctis Era,” which saw Rotting Christ lead the crowd in a war chant that left everyone with serious blood lust.
One thing is certain, as the “Apostles of Darkness Over The Americas” tour soldiers on, the hordes already left devastated in their wake went home from Jaxx having heard heavy metal as it’s meant to be played.
* [Editor's Note] To further complicate the Abigail Williams tale: while they did not have a keyboard player on stage, they did have a fourth member playing second guitar at this show.
** [Editor's Note] Melechesh played a one-off show at Maryland Death Fest last year. This show was the beginning of their first U.S. tour.