May 3, 2016 Absu & Bastard Sapling Cast A Spell Over Brooklyn, NY 4-28-16
Announcing a 42-date tour and new album coming later in 2016, Texas based Black Metal outfit Absu have many fans excited for the third installment in an album trilogy dating back to 2009. Absent from the domestic tour circuit since 2013, Absu’s return kicked off on March 17th with a string of shows that rattled the USA coast to coast. On Thursday, April 28th, while bigger and brighter things were going on in glitzy Manhattan, the neighboring borough of Brooklyn became the epicenter for three slices of concentrated aural darkness. In the tucked away backroom known as St. Vitus Bar, the vault within which most extreme bands pour their filth over New York City, the mighty Texan trio known as Absu were returning once more. Brought along for support were Virginia’s Black Metal upstarts Bastard Sapling, as well as New York City’s own Imperial Triumphant. Fans arrived early at the plain black doors of the club, the nondescript entrance and lack of any kind of marquee more than made up for by the array of patch vests, black hoodies, and black t-shirts worn by the faithful.
First to the stage was the pall of violent darkness known as Imperial Triumphant. Each band member enshrouded and garbed in the rags of pure death, it was clear the Manhattan based band would bring no rays of light to the murk. Their sound is a swirling maelstrom of atonal nightmare, with a funeral doom stench mixed with the sort of uncomfortable Black Metal put forth by bands like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord. Secreting the bludgeoning “Sodom” and “Devs est Machina” from their 2014 album, Shrine to the Trident Throne, the latter song featured some adventurous bass guitar work amid the cacophony.
The entrancing “Krokodil,” from 2015’s Abyssal Gods album, lurked through the gloom of St. Vitus, penetrating the ears of fans as insidiously as the bootleg heroin which bears the song’s name. Relying on the simple menace of their stage attire, Imperial Triumphant ended their set with “Breath of Innocence,” from their psychosexual E.P. Inceste released earlier this year. Strangled riffing, hammered drums, and no-let up save for some truly disturbing slower sections, Imperial Triumphant certainly brought down the casket lid over St. Vitus, setting the table for the next chapter in the evening’s blackened itinerary.
Next was Bastard Sapling which features members of the better known Inter Arma, and after one E.P. and two solid full-length albums, it was time for this Virginia collective to storm the gates. On the smaller stage, the five-piece encompassed most of the available room. Vocalist Mike Paparo stood perpendicular to his band-mates, offering onlookers a ferocious profile view of his emotional, rapacious performance on the mic. The humble, unassuming stage presence of these musicians vanished beneath the onslaught of their set. Consisting of five selections from their brilliant sophomore effort Instinct Is Forever, they slew in equal parts speed and measured intensity. “Subterranean Rivers of Blood” battered the black-clad gatherers, while the gritty, double-bass harmonies of “Opal Chamber” delivered a mid-paced heavy hammer blow courtesy of Drummer Elway. Bass Guitarist Trey Dalton, whose work stands way out when listening to this album in headphones, dominated on stage, especially during “Opal Chamber,” whose twists and turns kept the crowd mesmerized.
Finishing up their set with “Splintering Ouroboros” and the blistering “My Spine Will Be My Noose,” Bastard Sapling mesmerized the crowd with riffs propounded steadfastly by Guitarists Drew Goldi and Steven Russell. Bastard Sapling’s sound, a uniquely American take on Black Metal that features a little bit of Sludge and even some blackened Thrash Metal thrown in for good measure, ensured their brilliant but altogether brief performance went down a storm. By set’s end, the hall had filled up considerably, and it was now time for the headliner.
Casting spells since 1991, Absu was conjured at the provocation of one Proscriptor McGovern, who these days rounds out his arsenal with Guitarist Vis Crom and Bass Guitarist/Backup Vocalist Ezezu. The trio is unique in that Proscriptor plays drums and provides most lead vocal duties, a task both difficult and comparably rare within the spectrum of Heavy Metal music. The fans here at St. Vitus welcomed Absu to the stage as returning heroes, most of the faithful having long followed the band’s career.
Wasting no time, Absu ripped right into the classic “Swords and Leather,” a Black Thrash lightning bolt of sound that immediately grabbed onto each member of the audience. A brief loss of Vis Crom’s guitar sound did not trip the veteran trio up one bit, as he got the juice back into his ax after only a few seconds. Proscriptor behind his kit is a sight to behold, and with his trademark headband, thick black eye make-up, and manic leer of ecstasy, he inhabits his role as one possessed. “The Sun of Tiphareth,” the eponymous title-track of their 1995 album, kept the first part of the set rooted in the old school. The thrashing, manic nature of the songs had fists in the air and sweaty heads banging all around.
Few songs exemplify the tightness and absolute skill of Absu better than “Girra’s Temple” off of 2009’s Absu album. The band handled the whirlwind of time changes and hyper-fast stops and starts with practiced magnificence, conjuring classic Morbid Angel as Ezezu rumbled some of the vocal parts. His deeper voice juxtaposed with Proscriptor’s screechy rasp made a nice contrast. “The Cognate House of Courtly Witches Lies West of County Meath” thrashed up next, coming from the Tara album of 2001. The barrage continued after a short respite with the smoothly pronounceable “In the Name of Auebothiabathabaithobeuee,” once more from the Absu album. Fans cheered enthusiastically after each blistering performance, regardless of which era of the band the song was pulled.
No matter where they perform, Absu manages to create an unbeatable atmosphere through the inhuman voice of Proscriptor. Having a small face-worn mic a la Madonna or more dance-prone singers allows him to shed the normal limitations of a typical Heavy Metal vocalist. Introducing “Circles of the Oath” from 2012’s Apsu, the second album in a trilogy which began with Absu in 2009, Proscriptor arose from his kit like some demon spiraling up from hell. The gatherers were summarily riveted.
The breaks between songs were as quiet as the songs themselves were loud. Halfway through the set, Proscriptor harked back to The Third Storm of Cythraul for fan favorite “Highland Tyrant Attack.” This got the pit moving, not unexpectedly, as the thrashing beat and wicked riffing embodies all that Extreme Metal need concern itself with: the vocal trade-off between Ezezu and Proscriptor was the icing on the cake. Absu almost never fails to air out “Never Blow Out The Eastern Candle,” and tonight was no exception. Making fans feel like they are involved in the weaving of mighty spells, this classic song heated up the venue with its bold Maiden-esque riffing amid the Thrash.
As an interlude called “Prelusion to Cythraul” played out, Proscriptor disappeared from behind the kit. Replaced by one of the guys behind the scenes in Absu, the primary founder of the band transitioned to vocal duties only with “…And Shineth Unto the Cold Cometh.” Free of anything like a stationary microphone, Proscriptor gestured and capered around the stage, intensity fixed upon his face even as the sweat poured off of him in buckets. The music flowed through him, and out of his spread hands into the crowd before him, the incantations of his growled words a missive of Celtic war and mysteries.
Finishing off their performance with a selection from the Tara album, “A Shield With An Iron Face,” “Bron of the Waves,” and the epic “Stone of Destiny,” Proscriptor bled his mythological occult Metal directly into the senses of his fans, who ate each sonic gem up with fury and triumph. Absu is always a crackling entity of fire and mystery, as vital and penetrating on stage as they are in headphones, the trio wove their spell over St. Vitus, leaving their fans screaming for more.
With the swirling murk of Imperial Triumphant, the sludgy blasting fury of Bastard Sapling, capped off with over an hour of Black-Thrash occult Metal goodness, it was a night of dark magic in Brooklyn, NY, one the gathered horde will not soon forget.