Middian, Asunder, Slough Feg, Oakhelm – Live in Portland, USA
Friday, April 13th
Live Review & Pics by Aryn
Living in Portland, OR can be a blessing or a curse. You can very often find hard music being performed somewhere in the city on many given evenings. Be it crusty punks grinding in a basement, would-be thrash metal superstars in a bar or frigid black metal in a theater. Everyone is in a band, probably two or three. You can’t spend five minutes at a show without being handed flyers for three other shows within the next seven days. It comes to the point where you start to take it for granted. You grow apathetic about shows, only attending because your friends band is playing or you just want to hang out. Going to shows becomes more social then musical. I can’t even recall how many evenings I have went to a show at a house or a bar and not even paid any attention to the bands playing due to utter lack of interest. Not in the bands, but just in shows. And “The Scene” in Portland is growing at such an exponential rate I have to wonder when it will simply implode. Left and right I see friends and co-workers being signed to labels like Metal Blade and Alternative Tentacles. And that’s not even taking into account the increasingly asinine “Goregon” cabal of sickos, from which the entire Razorback Records roster is essentially based.
So if I am actually excited about a show, and count down the days until it, it must be a hell of a lineup. Such is the case the evening of Friday, April 13th. No, the joke is not lost on me. A lineup consisting of the funerary doom of Asunder, the true metal fist pumping of The Lord Weird Slough Feg, the transcendental dirges of Middian, and the pagan folk black metal of Oakhelm, was enough to make this show one I had to some degree, been waiting for for eighteen months.
Let us jump back to 2004, the International Year Of Rice. The hopes of democratic America ride on the craggy features and stentorian manner of John Kerry, the summer Olympics was held in Greece, and a much whispered about band called Fall Of The Bastards was blazing trails across the country earning a cult status the hard way. This was a band that was spoken of in awe, and held in a pedestal by many. On more then one occasion upon remarking that I was from Portland when out of the state I’ve had the reaction be “Oooh! Do you know Fall Of The Bastards?” But simply put, it never really happened for them and they broke up, playing their last show December 31st, 2005. And many people on the west coast and abroad waited for what would become of the members. Some went on to thrashier pastures, some went all Goregon on us, but the heart of the band was alive and slowly crafting what would become Oakhelm. Speculation abound, people on the internet started to buzz about this band. Before anything was ever put to tape they had fans, even if the fans had no idea what Oakhelm sounded like. Some expected straight ahead power metal, some expected completely acoustic music, everyone waited.
Eighteen months later, Oakhelm unveiled themselves. And all those in attendance understood the time and care that was taken in the creation of Oakhelm. This is a band that draws it’s inspiration from the trails blazed by Mithotyn and Moonsorrow, which is to say they have a heavy folk influence that imbues their black metal with a sense of awe and wonder. And in a live setting it is so refreshing to hear a singer who is not afraid to sing clean, utilizing the baritone chants of their musical forefathers to get the crowd desperately attempting to swing their ale in unison without spilling it. After 30 short minutes of tales of old, their set was over. Talking to various people in the crowd, it’s safe to say that a large majority of the attendees minds were blown. Very few American bands have attempted this sound, much less so nailing it perfectly and making it their own.
After a few obligatory chats, I whisked myself out the door to go to a cheaper bar. Great show, horrible bar. I’m a poor man, and can’t afford 3 dollar beers particularly when I am drinking them en masse. Buy a pitcher, pound it down with your increasingly drunken friends, get a quick shot of whiskey then it’s back to the other bar to catch The Lord Weird Slough Feg.
What is there to say about a Slough Feg performance that hasn’t been said already? These are the fist pumping barrel chested war painted heroes of imagination, rocking so hard that your socks threaten to leave your feet. The feral tenor howls of Mike Scalzi sending you in an atavistic frenzy of headbanging mayhem. When a band knows how to perform for a crowd, and they are The Lord Weird Slough Feg, you are in for a hell of a show. Between a shirtless Scalzi and a twin guitar attack unrivaled by anyone short of Murray/Smith you are lucky if you have a functioning spine by the end of the sweaty, hairy, manly performance. Being the birthday of Oakhelm singer Pete, we were also treated to a performance of “Hiberno-Latin Invasion” dedicated to the birthday boy. Whether or not this song is played regularly, I don’t know. But it was a treat to hear. As The Lord Weird Slough Feg always is.
Whisked away again. Different bar, pints instead of pitchers, but always with a shot of whiskey. Gotta run back to see Middian.
For the uninitiated, Middian is another band that people have been looking for since the demise of the members previous band, YOB. Middian carries on much in the tradition of YOB’s psychadelic soundscapes of doom, but with a harder edge that hits you much harder then YOB ever did. YOB wanted you to smoke pot and just get taken away, Middian wants you to drink yourself stupid and get bashed over the head with their concrete slab stoner doom. There’s a reason that Middian was more or less automatically signed to Metal Blade at the demise of YOB: they are worth it. If there is one genre that permeates the pacific northwest and no one seems to get sick of, it’s doom. And Middian, like the band before them, will always draw a crowd ecstatic to see them at home or elsewhere.
Whisked away again. Different bar, just shots, beer back. Stumble back to bar to see Asunder.
If Middian are the drunken older brother punching you in the arm, then Asunder are the goth chick that you called in sick once to stay home and fuck all day who years later killed herself and you weren’t terribly surprised. I think the best testament to Asunder’s funerary dirges is the fact that shortly into the set, I saw a man asleep with a smile on his face directly on top of one of the stage monitors. Unfortunately, I also had to leave the show to catch the final bus home before I was able to fully appreciate Asunder’s death crawl performance.
Whisked away. Caught the bus, went home, went to sleep, my neck is going to hurt tomorrow.