Behemoth & Myrkur Darken The Theater of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA 4-21-16

Sometimes a good tour package comprises a clutch of familiar faces, so fans know exactly what they are going to be getting. In the case of the Blasfemia Amerika Tour, which landed in the United States on Thursday April 21st, 2016 at the Theater of Living Arts in Philadelphia, PA, fans were getting set to experience an old friend alongside a completely new face within the darkened spectrum of Black Metal grandeur. Coming back from Poland to a land they have conquered before, Extreme Metal veterans Behemoth decided to give their stunning 2014 album, The Satanist, a proper representation by playing it in its delicious, heretical entirety.

Seeing as how they have made themselves a frequent flyer in American venues, the move added a bit of interest and intrigue to a live show with a peerless reputation for showmanship and energy. For support on this tour, Behemoth brought along the mysterious entity known as Myrkur. Hailing from Denmark, the one-woman project has been causing quite a sensation amongst the Heavy Metal press as well as anyone with their finger on extreme music’s necrotic pulse. The artistic offspring of one Amalie Bruun, a Danish multi-instrumentalist with roots in both Pop and Classical, the sudden and meteoric rise of Myrkur within the Black Metal subculture has brought her both high praise and vitriolic, bewildering hatred. Just what would her first foray into the gritty underground clubs of the United States bring, especially opening for the practiced professionalism of Behemoth?

On this night in Philadelphia, it was the first show of the tour, which is always a bit extra exciting and nerve-wracking for those involved. Outside the Theater of Living Arts, which exists within a bustling art district of the old city, black clad fans queued up amid the well-dressed, the punked out, and even a couple of bleary-eyed homeless folks roving the narrow streets. Once within the vast and vaunted hall, a knot of devotees pasted themselves to the barrier, looking like Black Friday shoppers just waiting for the gates to rise. But instead of a contrived commercial day of the week, it was Black Metal they were hungry for instead. Gazing at the sinuous tree branch double-microphone stand, the keyboard, and the off-center drum set, few knew what to expect when the house lights dimmed and Myrkur issued onto the stage.

Clad in a simple white dress, her messy blonde hair limned by phantasmal stage lights, Amalie Bruun immediately caught the attention of the hordes of Behemoth-shirts peeping from the pit. Her hands caressed the keys of her instrument, her voice a clarion, lulling the hall into a false serenity. As she pulled the strap to her jet-black guitar over her head, the familiar building riffs of “Hævnen” from her first full-length album, 2015’s M boiled over into a cauldron of madness. This sweet, beautiful woman was suddenly afire, each brief shriek a spell of destruction bolting into the crowd. Bruun’s transition back to ethereal, classically-trained singing was so seamless, so natural, one could be forgiven for thinking two spirits inhabited her body. The magic continued on “Ønde Born,” the twists and turns of the Ulver-inspired Pagan Black Metal handled adroitly by her band-mates, Andreas Lynge (The Cleansing) on guitar, Jeppe “Panzer” Skouv (Blood Eagle) on bass guitar, and Rasmus Schmidt (Illdisposed) on drums.

Interludes where Bruun played the keys allowed her voice to hypnotize the crowd, which was growing more and more engaged as she wove her secret sorcery into each corner of the hall. “Mordet” brought back the gales of vocal fury, and the most riff-heavy number of the set, Bruun’s demonic larynx again hijacking the gorgeous singing all were still digesting. Her double microphone stand, of pale branches as sinuous and majestic as their user, channeled the beauty along with the terror.

What stood out most was the way in which the music flowed through Amalie Bruun, her hands and fingers never still, her head and body arching and tilting to the pangs of loneliness and darkness imbued into each note. Ending her set with a lilting, riveting cover of “Song To Hall Up High” by the immortal Bathory, Bruun stood alone below the lights, only a lone EXIT sign behind her giving any sense that she was tangible, and not just some flitting spirit only half-chained to this plane of existence.

Conversations among the crowd persisted despite the beauty on hand, infiltrating but not ruining the performance. One might have wondered what it would actually take for people to just be quiet and be in the moment, and mute their mindless chatter. It did not matter though, because Myrkur entered that hall a relative unknown, but left with a horde of new followers. Expect this to continue as the North American trek travels onward. Her supporters will get louder, and the absurd chorus of hate for this talented young woman will only diminish, and grow more irrelevant.

With the crowd properly warmed up, it was time for a different sort of darkness. Behemoth have been around a long time, as long as any Black Metal band from the second wave. Their fans greeted them as returning heroes, in prostration beneath the awesome throne of Drummer Inferno, whose wicked set sat high above the stage. To a martial intro came the rest of the band, with Guitarist Seth and imposing Bass-Guitarist Orion clad in armor and the pale paint of the undead. The high priest of blasphemy, Adam “Nergal” Darski, crept out last, head swathed in dark cloth. His face, all black paint and piercing eyes, looked out as if from hell itself, and the fans erupted. The triangle above and behind the stage was met with fans raising their hands to make the three-sided shape. A mockery of the holy trinity, it instantly lent a rebellious aura of ritual to the proceedings. Opening salvo “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” allowed the band to cement themselves upon the stage and then blast into magnificent speed and fury, with a pit opening up and churning along with the hyper-blast rhythms.

The bottom-end in the sound was really high, which is a common theme when Behemoth plays. The drums and the bass guitar overpower some of the middle sounds, flattening out “Furor Divinus” and “Messe Noir” just a little bit. Luckily, the great solo in the latter song came through clearly. What makes it all work is the sheer energy Nergal displays. Full of surprises, he emerged from the strobe lights and vapor with a big thurible, swinging it back and forth spreading incense amongst his following. At a later point, he stepped forth with a chalice, performing a Satanic communion handing Eucharists out to writhing fans. This inversion of the holy rites of the Catholic mass is a very creative way to rain down blasphemy, and added a huge element of creativity to the proceedings.

“Oro No Probis Lucifer” had the pit in constant motion, its rocking beat and adventurous pace making it a perfect blackened Death Metal anthem. The title track of The Satanist, eponymous and evocative, went over amazingly well. Clean vocals and worshipful atmospheres ratcheted up the feeling among the crowd to one of triumph and abandon. The magnificent “O Father, O Satan, O Sun,” a creative and epic piece, sounded as bright and affirming as it was stygian in its content. Fans sang along even as they hauled one another up from being tumbled in the pit, or bore those who wished to crowd-surf up into the waiting arms of security.

The highlight of the set visually had to be when Orion and Seth donned goat masks complete with slender horns and stood up in the back on either side of Inferno (who also wore one). Silhouetted black, they stood like nightmarish minotaurs at vigil, the stuff of dreams and myth made flesh.

Being the first show of the tour, fans were wondering what songs the encore would comprise. Behemoth did not disappoint. Old school Black Metal goodness of “Pure Evil and Hate” laid waste the hall, followed by fan favorites “Antichristian Phenomenon” and “Conquer All.” The band retained its youthful energy, as did the crowd. “Slaves Shall Serve” spilled its high speed fury over into “At the Left Hand ov God,” before long-time staple “Chant For Eschaton 2000” squeezed the last drops of sweat and energy from the crowd.

Behemoth left as they came, conquerors and triumphators of the manifesting glory of rebellion, personified by a philosophical Satan whose tunes and spirit they channel so well. Blasfemia Amerika roared into being here in the city of brotherly love, sounding more like the end of the tour than the beginning. The fans could ask for nothing more, and it was written on every face that melted away into the cool Philadelphia night.

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