April 30, 2015 At The Gates epic return to NYC 4-12-15 w/ Vallenfyre, Pallbearer, & Converge
In the Metal community in recent years when fans think of Spring, they think of the Decibel Magazine Tour. While in years past the tour included the likes of Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, and Behemoth, among others, 2015’s installment would see Swedish Melodic Death Metal kings At The Gates, Death Metal veterans Converge, Southern Doom Metal act Pallbearer, and UK Death Metal supergroup Vallenfyre. Continuing a tradition begun four years ago, the tour stopped in fifteen cities during this run, and on Sunday, April 12th, Webster Hall in New York City was filled to capacity with Metalheads waiting to bang their heads to some of Extreme Metal’s best. With a crowd ranging from younger metalheads to an older guard who grew up with albums like 1995’s Slaughter of the Soul as a mainstay in their CD changers, the energy was high with restless tension mounting for this long awaited, adrenaline-fueled show. This sold-out stop, in fact, marked At The Gates’ first time in the Big Apple in seven years, and armed with their first studio album in nearly two decades, At War with Reality, they and their fans were ready to celebrate.
First up was Vallenfyre. These extreme Doom Metalists know how to get a crowd whipped up. Gregor Mackintosh of Paradise Lost created Vallenfyre as a side project in reaction to his father’s death in December of 2009. The band is made up of Mackintosh on vocals/guitar, former My Dying Bride member Hamish Glencross on rhythm/lead guitar, Alehammer’s Scoot on bass,and At the Gates and Paradise Lost’s Adrian Erlandsson on drums. Named after the Old English words for “strong” and “fire,” Vallenfyre is a labor of love for Mackintosh, who initially never meant for anyone to hear the grim, haunting music that poured out of him after his father’s death. Although Vallenfyre’s mood, music, and lighting were dark and foreboding, the lyrics are surprisingly uplifting, especially during the track “Cathedrals,” a song about Mackintosh’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Intense and confrontational, their Doom Metal sound provided an earth-shattering start to the night. As they played songs “Savages Arise,” “The Grim Irony,” “Humanity Wept,” and set closer “Desecration,” their energy was amazing, fueled by fans who hung on each note. While the set may have seemed too brief for some followers, fortunately, later that evening Vallenfyre played a special headlining show at Saint Vitus, just across the Brooklyn Bridge in Greenpoint. Those who are not familiar with the band yet need to do themselves a favor and see what they are all about.
Second to the stage was the Arkansas Metal band Pallbearer. Founded in 2008 and making a name locally in Little Rock, Pallbearer hit the scene in a big way in 2012 with their debut album, Sorrow and Extinction. A part of the indie label Profound Lore Records, the band features Brett Campbell on vocals/guitar, Devin Holt on guitar, Joseph D. Rowland on bass, and Mark Lierly on drums. Primarily playing tracks from their 2014 sophomore album, Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer sent their Progressive Rock-tinged beautiful gloom through songs like “Worlds Apart,” “The Ghost I Used to Be,” and “Foreigner.” Often projecting a melancholic tone, Pallbearer’s ability to create the dark gloom atmosphere was striking as much as it was entrancing through each track they performed. Ask any true Doom Metal fan and he will probably say this is what Doom Metal is about. After performing at Psycho California on May 16th, the band will head overseas for three months of European touring.
After two imposing opening bands, the penultimate act of the night was none other than Converge. These veterans of Metal formed a quarter of a century ago in Boston, Massachusetts. Vocalist Jacob Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou combine Hardcore Punk, Rock, and Heavy Metal to create an earthquake of sound and fury. Pounding the pavement of the underground for years, Converge attained more mainstream popularity with their 2001 album, Jane Doe, released just a week before the events of September 11th. Jane Doe was named the #1 album on Sputnikmusic’s “Top 100 Albums of the Decade.” Still riding high off the acclaimed reviews from their 2012 album, All We Love We Left Behind, the band was ready to show New York City what they were made of.
Band members Jacob Bannon (vocals), Kurt Ballou (guitar), Nate Newton (bass), and Ben Koller (drums) bared their souls to the crowd that night with a sheer adrenaline rush that was undeniable. Their passion and energy were intense, and the whirlwind of Punk Rock undertones created a craziness that flowed out of Converge and onto the floor of Webster Hall. As a tornado of arms and legs flew through the air and over the gates, Converge filled the hall with the sounds of their eight albums, playing favorites like “Dark Horse,” “Aimless Arrow,” “Trespasses,” “All We Love We Leave Behind,” and “Predatory Glow.” By the time the band wrapped up their eleven song set with “Jane Doe,” the crowd was exhausted from the rush, but loving every minute of it. Now the band is set to tear up the European continent with seven shows in hand for May and June, so look out.
Finally, the time came for At The Gates to hit the stage. As a band that means so much not only to the current scene, but also to the history of Melodic Death Metal, seeing At The Gates back again was a massive experience. Touted as the pioneers of what is now called the Gothenburg Sound, At The Gates began back in 1990, and over the course of four studio albums, they dominated the scene until their break-up in 1996. Becoming somewhat of a legend to a new generation of Metal fans, At The Gates resurfaced for a brief reunion in 2007, thus re-igniting a vast interest, perhaps even bigger than before. Now older and wiser, the band made the decision to reunite for good in 2010 with the lineup of vocalist Tomas Lindberg, bassist Jonas Björler, drummer Adrian Erlandsson, and two guitarists, Anders Björler and Martin Larsson. When asked about reuniting after so long, Lindberg told CrypticRock “When we got back together it was like no time had passed and our friendships actually grew during our time apart.” With that said, it was now time for New Yorkers to get a taste of the resurrected band for the first time in a long time.
Drawing a huge response from the crowd, the band had even the top level of Webster Hall screaming and moving to the music as they opened with new song “Death and the Labyrinth” before going into “Slaughter of the Soul” and ” Cold.” Moving from there, the set seemed to blast by with a mix of older and fresher tracks like “At War With Reality,” “Terminal Spirit Disease,” “Raped by the Light of Christ,” “The Circular Ruins,” and “Under a Serpent Sun.” Fixed on the performance, Lindberg gushed immeasurable energy from the stage, resulting in an enthusiastic response from the crowd all night long. Featuring the tireless drumming of Erlandsson, the razor sharp guitar work of Andres Björler and Larsson, and the skilled bass work of Jonas Björler, At The Gates was a well-oiled machine that could not be stopped. The melodies, the fury, and Linberg’s distinctive Death Metal bellow sent shivers down the spines of spectators through songs like “Suicide Nation,” “Nausea,” and “Eater of Gods.” The band wrapped up the set with “Order From Chaos” and “The Book of Sand (The Abomination),” only to leave everyone yearning for more. Out of breath fans screamed for an encore after the band exited the stage, and At The Gates gave it to them, kicking out “Blinded by Fear” as well as “Kingdom Gone.”
Chanting and wagging Metal horns in the air from start to finish, fans made it clear that this At the Gates appearance was long overdue. Even after such a long hiatus, At The Gates never lost their passion or their ability to put on a great show. Although Webster Hall was their last stop in the cross-country Decibel Magazine Tour, cramming fifteen shows into a seventeen day period, they will be starting a seven month worldwide tour in May with just a twelve week break before jumping back in for four shows in Africa. Hopes are high that At The Gates will not wait another seven years before returning to New York City again. Either way, this was a night no one would forget any time soon.Photo credit: Charles Eames Photography