Some tours try to combine similar bands on a single bill, trying to hit a core target audience right in the heart, while other tours opt to pick a more general audience and have a little something for everyone. This flavor for diversity combined with the acceptance of its fans is one of the most endearing qualities of the Metal scene. On the 28th of November, 2015, it was the latter kind of tour which graced the stage at The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, California. Broadly a Metal tour, more specifically a Progressive Metal tour, the package included representatives of so many different aspects of the scene; from the Theatrical Christmas Classical Metal of Native Construct, to the Post-Metal, Experimental Metal of Intronaut, on out to the Norse flavored, Progressive Extreme Metal of Enslaved, and concluding with the interstellar space operas of headliners Between the Buried and Me. A package fans of the genre did not want to miss this Saturday night after Thanksgiving was one sure to be packed with excitement in the Bay Area.
The first act up was Native Construct. The band, having recently inked a deal with Metal Blade Records, is comprised of Singer Robert Eden, Guitarist Myles Yang, Max Harchik on bass guitar, and for live shows, Guitarist Poh Hock Kee. Having formed in 2011, they met while attending Berkeley College of Music. Marking their first national tour, for many, this would be a first introduction to this talented, young band, but definitely not this San Francisco crowd.
The first track that Native Construct opened up with was the intro to their 2015 album Quiet World, as well as an intro to the world they created, called “Mute.” Because of the way their music is written, so meticulous and with every tiny detail agonized over, it is quite a feat to be able to translate this to the live arena. Although, Native Construct is a band truly created for the stage. With their theatrical sound, it feels like a play unfolding right in front of the observer. They could perform their whole album in its entirety with stage actors acting out the whole story and it would, without a doubt, get rave reviews.
Not bothering to move through the album in any kind of order, the next track was “Come Hell or High Water,” which begins in a Waltz-like manner. As the crowd bobbed their heads back and forth, things got heavier. A poly-rhythm came in before Edens broke into his William Shatner vocal impersonation, which turned into a digital manipulation that made him sound like a child. It was fantastic to watch him do this on stage. “Your Familiar Face” saw them going back one track prior and is a prequel track of sorts for the album itself. During this song Edens was sitting on the front edge of the stage, swinging his legs over the side while the main composer of these tracks, Yang, moved around on stage a bit more. After shout outs to the other bands, they went into their last track, “Passage.” Kee really looked like he was enjoying himself on stage. A fellow Berkeley alumni, he will be traveling with them for the remainder of the tour and seemed ready to make the last track of the night in San Francisco really count. Arranged slightly differently for live performance, the song was still just as extravagant as its album counterpart, just differently. Those who still do not know Native Construct should get out there and check them out.
The next band up is the elder Intronaut. Coming into existence in 2004 in Los Angeles, Intronaut consists of Sacha Dunable (vocals and guitar), Dave Timnick (guitar, backing vocals, and some percussion), with Danny Walker (drums), and Joe Lester (bass guitar). The progressively Post-Metal Jazz infused band has steadily been carving their way through the noise to become a light for those seeking something different. Their latest album, 2015’s The Direction of Last Things, is a testament to their ability to make something hard-edged, yet thoughtful. Having always considered themselves a live band, they forwent spending weeks or months in the studio, instead cutting it down to just four days. The result is an album that feels like a live wire, unpredictable and sparking away, which made it a perfect choice to play exclusively on this tour.
From the get-go, Intronaut was incredibly tight and together. The mix was excellent, even with the dynamic vocal switches Dunable and Timnick performed. The intro leans closer to Enslaved territory and was suitably brutal, but the great thing about all these bands is their ability to alter the musical atmosphere from one minute to the next. The musical interlude and the harmony on the chorus were all much more tender and beautiful than it would seem a band like Intronaut would be capable of producing. After a greeting and water consumption break, “Digital Gerrymandering” began to come to life in the background. The second track on the album, it is much more technical sounding with some sweet tapping, courtesy of Timnick. This track sounds almost Stoner Metal, being reminiscent of Leviathan-era Mastodon, while the middle to end sounds a bit more like Baroness with the way the vocals come across, solemn like a drawn out prayer. The outro goes on for a while, but they moved swiftly on to another part of the album with “City Hymnal.” Out of all the epics on the album, this is one of the shortest, but it is also the most drawn out. The call out to the main theme of the album definitely had everyone’s hearts pumping. Going on to thank the rest of the groups on the tour, Intronaut went into their last song of the night, “Sul Ponticello.” Definitely a song to get the crowd primed for Enslaved, it features some of the more brutal screams on the album and also some of the softest growls. The song ended on the haunting sample of a man talking about the blood of goats, perfectly setting up Europe’s own Enslaved.
Being the least Progressive band of the tour, Enslaved makes up for it with legacy and pure number of fans. Having been around since 1991, they are the oldest band in the lineup and despite hailing from far away Norway, they have a more than solid fan-base here in the US. For roughly the past twelve years, the group has consisted of Grutle Kjellson (vocals, bass, FX), Ivar Bjørnson (guitars, backing vocals, synth and piano), Cato Bekkevold (drums), Herbrand Larsen (vocals, organ, keys), and Ice Dale (guitars and backing vocals). Progenitors of the second wave of Black Metal, their inspiration was always more toward the realm of Norse mythology and ‘Viking’ themes. In keeping with their last seven albums, this year’s release, In Times, continues to tread a more Progressive path than many of their Black Metal brethren. With all the interesting sonic elements added in, Enslaved continues to win major international awards and spread their influence to a growing audience the world over.
As the diehard fans made their way, pushing and squeezing to the front, Kjellson led his band of brutes out onto the stage to be welcomed with a loud roar. Despite everyone in the band being a scary, long-haired Viking, he was very warm as he greeted the audience and introduced the first song, “Fusion of Sense and Earth,” off of 2006’s Ruun. The song was a brutal intro and it was cool to watch as some more hesitant non-fans quickly got into the very headbang-worthy music. Kjellson wanted so badly to interact with the audience, but for some reason they were extra unintelligible that night. After asking the fans what song they would like to hear next and an awkward conversation with one of them, he introduced “Building with Fire.” This single off of In Time is the only track they played off of their latest album. Whether that was due to mixed reception, an extreme confidence, or simply because they found it more fun to play their old stuff, the song killed. On a roll, they moved into “Death in the Eyes of Dawn,” which is a bit more of a slow chant off of 2012’s RIITIIR. The next track was “Ground,” and was off the only album they played from multiple times, 2008’s Vertebrae. The last track on that album is “The Watcher,” and that was their second to last song. At this point the Vikings had ransacked everyone’s attention away from their phones. The final track was from the oldest album they drew from that night, Monumension. Less Progressive and blacker than ever, they definitely stood out with their finisher among the more “refined” sounds of their tourmates.
Finally, after all the drink tokens were used and all the bathrooms vacated, Between the Buried and Me took to the stage. Everyone will have a preference, but they can typically appreciate the variety and unique focus of each band as well. For this particular tour, Between the Buried and Me was out supporting their latest effort, Coma Ecliptic. Moving away from space-based concepts, Coma Ecliptic is about a man in a coma experiencing his past lives and dealing with a choice to stay or move on to something better. An album that hit number one on many charts and even peaked to twelve on the Billboard 200, it is the band’s seventh full-length release and perhaps will be their most celebrated. Ever since the acclaimed success of their tour for 2007’s Colors, they have put together some of the best album-supporting tours in the Progressive world. With Coma Ecliptic out a few months now, this is their third supporting tour with Tommy Rogers on vocals, Dan Briggs on bass, Dustin Warren on guitar, Paul Wagner on second guitar, and Blake Richardson on drums. Experienced on the road, Between the Buried and Me were ready to offer an eclectic mix from their albums dating all the way back to Alaska.
They started off with Coma Ecliptic, which their ardent fan-base would expect. Skipping the intro track to maximize their time on stage, they started with “The Coma Machine.” It is not only from their new album, but it is truly an excellent example of their range and diversity. To please older fans, the next song was the intro-skipped beginning to Colors, “Informal Gluttony.” It built up slowly, but was recognized right away. Back and forth between the swooning, “feed me fear,” and the vicious scream of “I need to be led in the right direction,” the song was like a wonderfully Metal pendulum. To the joy of everyone in the audience, they then moved straight into “Sun of Nothing.” Colors had great elements from their earlier technical Metal days, but a complete lack of fear when it came to mixing things up and adding something different. “Floating Away” brought them to the childlike chorus of “nananana, nana-naa” which sees Paul backing up Tommy and the whole crowd getting into it, which sounded ridiculous but also ridiculously awesome.
The biggest blast from the past was, surprisingly, and to the chagrin of those waiting for the more expected live version of “Selkies,” a song called “Backwards Marathon.” It was a great groove and it was the perfect spot for a slower breakdown like the one three minutes in. “It’s raining” and then it is thundering as the song ends and they took a break to thank the crowd and grab some water. They then moved back into Coma Ecliptic with “Turn on the Darkness,” starting off slower and getting heavy, then getting jazzy before moving to a ballad, before getting heavy again. This is what Between the Buried and Me does best. The fusion of so many elements of music seamlessly blended into one song. “The Ectopic Stroll” was next and has some great synth ala Thomas Giles. There is another jazzy solo at the end of the track; an example of their Prog taken to the extremely tasteful edges of awesome. The final track of the night pre-encore was the only one taken from The Great Misdirect; “Fossil Genera – A Feed From Cloud Mountain.” The song ended slow and the applause was deafening.
An encore was guaranteed, but the encore San Francisco received was not expected. As Rogers talked to the audience, Richardson was messing around on drums and while he messed around on drums, Briggs joined in to add a little funk. As Tommy turned around to see what was going on, Wagner got in on it and Tommy just shrugged and said “fuck it.” He started doing some funky vocals and finally Waring got on board and they just free-styled this funky jam for almost five minutes. Every time Richardson would be moving to close it, no one else would be ready and it would continue. It was absurd to be sure, but absolutely entrancing. They finally moved onto the actual finale which was an amalgamation of “Silent Flight Parliament” and “Goodbye to Everything Reprise.” As they said goodbye to everyone there was a feeling of immense satisfaction in the air.
This was a progtastic night with a little something for all kinds of Metal fans. The theatrics of each band brought something a little different to the table. Native Construct incited visions of sugar plums and fairies, while Intronaut was your Classic Rock band with a happy-go-lucky bass player making everything more fun. Enslaved were the Vikings of the show, and Between the Buried and Me were masterfully bringing us snippets from all of their past and current stories while also showcasing their musicianship with completely ad lib parts. It is almost guaranteed that most people walked away from this show with a new band they simply had to investigate further. The Coma Ecliptic Tour III only has a few dates left before picking up again internationally in mid-February, beginning in Japan, so get out there and do not miss this opportunity to see this epic lineup live.