Dimmu Borgir Brings Invaluable Darkness To Baltimore, Maryland
Band Photo: Dimmu Borgir (?)
Continuing my quest to explore the Baltimore metal scene, as I've previously gravitated toward DC and Northern Virginia exclusively, I made my first trip to Sonar to catch the Dimmu Borgir, Unearth, Devildriver and Kataklysm on the "Invaluable Darkness Tour" Sunday, April 29, 2007 - making this report long overdue. I'm not sure I would have ventured out to see Dimmu Borgir and Kataklysm alone even though I like them, but I enjoy Unearth's live show immensely and had yet to see Devildriver, whose last album I enjoyed a lot. I was still very interested in see Dimmu Borgir live, both because I have enjoyed their recent efforts and I had yet to catch a black metal band live in an intimate environment (Ozzfest appearances not withstanding).
Kataklysm opened up with their brand of death metal that set a heavy pace from the start. Rather than full-bore speed, their style of death metal is one that I like very much and one that breaks the mold of stereotypical death metal bands. Kataklysm's handful of songs they played, while I couldn't name a single one, was classic death metal interspersed with with technical thrash riffs and some awesome headbanging grooves. The vocals were fairly audible as well and had more of a punch than a typical more guttural or deep delivery would have yeilded. The venue was already fairly packed for the opening performance and the band was clearly stoked at the positive reaction they received from the sizable crowd and the fact that many in the crowd knew their material.
When Devildriver took the stage, the first thing I noticed is that mainman Dez Fafara has done all he could to distance himself from the appearance of his youthful days as the eye-liner wearing frontman of Coal Chamber. With his messy long hair and unshapely lambchop style beard and all-denim clothes, one would never guess that this is the same person.
The next thing I noticed was that the sound wasn't great either. After photographing the first three songs, I walked around the venue a bit during their set, and the sound quality varied quite a bit from place to place, but it never sounded great while Devildriver was playing and it seemed to detract from their sound moreso than it affected Kataklysm's (if Kataklysm even experienced any sound issues).
Despite the issue of sound quality, Devildriver did their best to put on a good performance and were energetic throughout. They mixed up quite a bit of material from their two albums. The sound of the older material sounded much more like their second album when played live, which is a good thing as it sounds a little flat on the CD. When Devildriver played a new song from their upcoming album, "The Last Kind Words," the audience mostly stood still and observed quietly. But there was one groove that was repeated a few times throughout the song and as soon as the band hit that groove, every head in the club simultaneously started bobbing. That was a clear sign that their new material connected with the audience. The newer song also sounded much more in the extreme metal vein. The pace was more frantic, with plenty of change-ups and some crazy drumming. Dez's singing alternated from a low yell to higher pitched screams, much like in "Fury Of The Maker's Hand," but to more extreme sounding music.
Even if the sound issues kept Devildriver's performance from being an especially memorable one, it certainly should have whet the appetites of many fans for their upcoming CD, "The Last Kind Words."
Unearth were next to take the stage, in direct support of Dimmu Borgir. Having recently seen Unearth play with Slayer, I knew that they could hold their own more than any other metalcore band in such a lineup, even if they didn't appeal to all of the fans who were there to see other bands. This was an all-ages show though, and there were more Unearth shirts to be seen in the crowd than any other bands' among the kids that night.
I've nearly said it all about Unearth before - with several albums under their belts, they have had plenty of time to hone their stage presence as well as skill and they put on an exceptional show nearly every time. They played mostly material from their past two albums, and only the heaviest and fastest of it, much the same as their set in support of Slayer. Unfortunately, the sound system was an issue for Unearth's set as well, affecting the melodic songs more than their break-neck pace metalcore songs. It was those faster songs that sounded the best and made the performance a worthwhile one. Like at the Slayer show, they also brought out the beer bong and did some stage antics. Guitarist Buz McGrath (if eyesight and memory served me well) ventured into the crowd and climbed the left-side bar and continued playing for a song while walking up and down it.
With the sound issues, this one wasn't one of Unearth's best shows, but they did chalk up another good one by the end of their set. After seeing them support two well-known, fairly high profile bands this year, I can't help but hope to see them play a headlining run soon so they can play more of their material.
After a suspenseful wait and ominous intro music, Dimmu Borgir finally took the stage a little after 10 o'clock. I was looking forward to experiencing their performance up close in an indoor environment. The sound seemed much clearer than for the previous two bands from the first note and as the band crashed through song after song spanning more albums than I'm acquainted with. I did recognize a good bit of material from "Stormblast" and their latest "In Sorte Diaboli," however. The songs flowed from very heavy to symphonic, but still managed to sound extreme in some sense. Rarely did they get really fast and the oft-used blast-beats of black metal were hardly to be heard, if at all.
There was a break when the rest of the band left the stage and Hellhammer performed a drum solo. I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the drum solo, however, both by its [lack of] complexity and length. It simply paled in comparison to the overall performance of the band that night.
The band members seemed to have a lot of personality behind the corpse-paint and spiked outfits than just a bunch of devil-worhipping black metalers, as the sterotype might dictate. Galder was up front striking awkward poses with his psychopathic grin while Vortex had a quite intimidating appearance, looking like a giant flesh-craved zombie. It was quite a suprise to hear the clean vocals come from him for the first time that night. Shagrath was about as expected. His vocal delivery isn't as caustic as many black metal bands' and behind the facepaint he seemed like any other metal frontman and not overtly sinister. The rest of the band seemed a little more subdued and were into their playing the music and interacting with the band members on occasion. Hellhammer remained hidden behind his elevated drum set and smoke, however. One could only catch a rare glimpse of a waving drum stick or flash of corpse paint from behind the smoke on occasion.
In the end, Dimmu's performance easily outshined the constumes and personas. Their entire set list was enjoyable and each song seemed well-crafted and cleanly executed. Their stage presence was commanding. The symphonic aspect of many of the songs as well as the vocal delivery makes Dimmu Borgir much more accessible than most black metal bands. For that reason, they most certainly had some appeal to the younger crowd who were there to see Devildriver and Unearth, making the very diverse lineup an obvious all-around win-win decision.
Dimmu Borgir's complete set list was as follows:
Progenies of the Great Apocalypse
Kings of the Carnival Creation
Sorgens Kammer - Del II
A Succubus in Rapture
* Hellhamer Drum Solo
The Serpentine Offering
The Chosen Legacy
The Insight and the Catharsis
Spellbound (by the Devil)
While I am not a huge fan of Sonar compared to some of my favorite venues, it did seem fitting for the more extreme bands with the very dark setting and single level and low ceiling. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and it's a decent sized alternative venue that hosts a lot of metal shows.
The diverse lineup of the "Invaluable Darkness" Tour turned out to be a great idea, allowing each of the bands to reach a larger audience of people who may not have heard them before, and play larger venues than many of them would be able to play alone or with exclusively like-sounding bands. The complete lineup is definitely what convinced me to go to the show rather than any individual band.
While the tour just wrapped up at the end of last month, I would highly recommend checking out any of the bands who played on it, as they were all great to see individually on this tour, despite my praise of the overall tour package.
Finally, you can check out photos from the show in the photo gallery as well.
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