On Saturday the 19th of April 2014, hell came to Irving Plaza. The historic theater was invaded by three waves of American darkness: Black Crown Initiate, Inquisition, and Goatwhore, followed by a Norwegian plague taking the form of 1349. Headlining it all was a Polish juggernaut, better known as Behemoth. If you missed the fourth annual Metal Alliance Tour in New York City, get on a train and catch it elsewhere before it is too late. The sold out crowd of over a thousand people were treated to one of the finest billings to ever shred a note beneath Irving Plaza’s hallowed roof.
Instantly packing the place from the moment the doors opened, black-clad fans of all walks of life swarmed the merchandise stands and gathered in front of the stage. If the openers, Black Crown Initiate, were concerned their set might go unwatched, they need not have worried. Hailing from Pennsylvania, their prog-influenced brand of tech-death is quite unique. Seeming like it might go over the heads of the ravenous faithful, it didn’t take long before front man James Dorton’s wild mane of hair and brutal death growl took hold of the crowd. Another thing that stood out was the six-string mastery of bassist Nick Shaw. Aside from looking like he just came from fourth-period algebra, this kid played absolutely sick bass-lines, even stepping up to join the guitarists in some soloing jams. Somewhere Cliff Burton is smiling…
Playing their entire EP, Song of the Crippled Bull (2013), Black Crown Initiate transitioned seamlessly between blasting death metal passages and introspective, noodling moments of jazz-like departure. Clean vocals and some quiet, smooth cymbal tinkling by Jesse Beahler were offset by the band’s loud and confident heavy side. Throughout it all they managed to keep a host of corpse-painted black metal devotees engaged and entertained. I would keep an eye on these guys!
The build-up of tension leading up to Inquisition was tangible. Many of the gathered crowd had seen them; they knew what was coming. Tons of fans of Hispanic descent had also come to pay homage to a band whose roots began back in Colombia. But the empire of Inquisition is still being built. Many could be heard saying they hadn’t seen them before, or in some cases hadn’t heard them. Comprised of only two members, any empty spaces on the stage were immediately sucked into Inquisition’s swirling, all-consuming hell-fire. Guitarist Dagon launched, without preamble, into “Force of the Floating Tomb” off their new album Obscure Verses for the Multiverse (2013). Dagon went back in time with “Nefarious Dismal Orations”, before spitting forth the classic “Command of the Dark Crown”. His voice was gruesome and otherworldly; the sound was perfect, allowing his distinct voice to be heard from the photo pit all the way to the front doors. The most vicious song of the set had to be “Those of the Night”, whose slow intro gives way to a double-bass pounding that whipped the crowd into an utter frenzy. Pausing only once to thank the fans, Dagon stayed in bleak, imperious form throughout the tragically short set.
Next up was New Orleans, Louisiana’s very own Goatwhore. After the black metal perfection wrought by Inquisition, one might have wondered if Goatwhore would be able to match the intensity. The fans were soon answered in grand fashion. As the band’s cleverly phrased new shirt states ‘Less Whitechapel more Haunting the Chapel’, Goatwhore knows only one way to play and that is with old school Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom, Celtic Frost, and Slayer styling. Sticking to this formula, the band has managed to put their own stamp on such a sound through five, soon to be six, vicious and progressing studio albums.
Opening with “The All-Destroying”, Goatwhore proceeded to do just that. Vocalist Ben Falgoust had no issue engaging himself with the audience as an ill-timed handclasp with a crowd-surfer caused him to fall right into the photo-pit. The resilient Falgoust vaulted back up onstage, a smile on his lips, not missing a single verse. Clad in spiked arm bracers, his below the waist-length hair splayed out behind him, the demonic singer connecting with the crowd like few others can. Where Dagon from Inquisition is reserved, Falgoust prowls the stage like a mad minstrel of death. He stared into the eyes of his audience, imploring them with hand gestures and facial expressions, both vivid and intense. When guitarist Sammy Duet ripped a solo, Falgoust actual played air guitar with his mic-stand; his theatrics delighting the gathered masses. If you think music this dark cannot still be fun, Falgoust and Goatwhore are here to show you otherwise. Their stand-out performance was augmented by gems such as “Baptized in a Storm of Swords”, “Collapse in Eternal Worth”, and “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult”.
Shortly after Goatwhore exited the stage to a massive ovation, the cold winds of pestilence began blowing from the north, ushering in 1349 to lay waste to those still standing. The word that comes to mind when discussing front man Ravn and crew is battery – pure, unadulterated battery. Showcasing their new song “Slaves” among the classics performed from their highly respected discography, Ravn stood fast while his band mates thrashed around the stage. 1349’s Norse front man surveyed the crowd from behind corpse-painted eyes, screeching out his odes to darkness as the fans moshed themselves into dizziness. “I am Abomination”, “Serpentine Sibilance”, and “Atomic Chapel” proved 1349 is an absolute force in the black metal scene.
It was not long before it was time for Behemoth. Touring their amazing new album The Satanist (2013), Nergal and company have led the underground, extreme metal scene a long time. Their live reputation had the crowd riveted in tireless anticipation. As the stage lights went up, the intro music came in, and soon the first riffs of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” came pouring out of the amps. The crowd simply could not hold in their excitement as they moshed and pushed toward the front in pure pandemonium. Nergal has looked cancer in the eye and sent it to the lions, projecting a feeling of being reborn which has permeated every last detail of Behemoth’s repertoire. With Inferno’s drums raised high on a dais of complete aural punishment, bassist Orion and guitarist Seth provided ironclad compliment to Nergal’s militaristic stage supremacy. The crowd held horns in the air as one, hailing their heroes at the slightest urging.
Nergal, hooded and menacing, came out at one point with a thurible (the incense maker used by Catholic priests). This little inversion of the Mass brought a smile to many faces. “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” a storming track off their latest album, really got the hair wind milling with its driving pace. Stalwart songs like “Christians to the Lions” and “As Above So Below” fit right into the set alongside the awesome title track to the latest album. One cannot overstate the impact that the song “Conquer All” always has on a Behemoth crowd. The heaviness of the ultra fast chorus could curdle milk, and even now it has lost none of its impact.
There is the distinct feeling when watching Behemoth that you are gathered to celebrate a triumphant acceptance of Lucifer as a being of light, self-determination, and inner knowledge. As brutal as the music is, Nergal infects the audience with a positive vibe that is hard to equate with black/death metal. Saying farewell with the ever dependable classic “Chant for Eschaton 2000”, Behemoth returned for an encore with the glorious track, “O Father, O Satan, O Sun”. This song closes out their latest album, and its spiritual bite is not nearly as blistering as some of the songs which precede it. It was a victorious note to go out on however, and with it Behemoth proved they are an unstoppable force. The crowd left exhausted, sated, and smiling. Hell indeed came to Irving Plaza this night, and no one in attendance will soon forget this performance. Be sure to check out the Metal Alliance Tour before it concludes in a couple of weeks!
Metal Alliance Tour 2014 remaining dates are as follows:
4/23 Toronto, ON Opera House
4/24 Cleveland, OH Agora Theater
4/25 Chicago, IL House Of Blues
4/26 Minneapolis, MN Skyway Theater
4/27 Winnipeg, MB Garrick Center
4/29 Calgary, AB Mac Hall
4/30 Edmonton, AB Union Hall
5/2 Vancouver, BC Rickshaw Theater
5/3 Seattle, WA Studio 7