Behemoth, At The Gates & Wolves In The Throne Room
The Fillmore, Silver Spring, Md.
Nov. 2, 2018
Text and photos by Peter Atkinson
When Poland’s Behemoth passed through the D.C. area a couple months ago, they played on the big “shed” stage out at Jiffy Lube Live in suburban Virginia as part of leg one of Slayer’s Final Tour. It was a quick hitter of a set – six songs, including the yet-to-be-released “Wolves ov Siberia,” along with a 41st birthday toast to frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski by Slayer’s Kerry King and Gary Holt and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe – that was over in a flash.
Still, they brought with them the costuming and stage gear befitting a headline slot and certainly made an impression by wrapping things up with the epic “O Father O Satan O Sun” in horned demon masks while guitarist Patryk “Seth” Sztyber and bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski stood sentry-like on platforms flanking drummer Zbigniew “Inferno” Promiński.
This time around, playing inside the Beltway, they came as genuine headliners, topping the Ecclesia Diabolica America 2018 e.v. Tour bill that included Swedish legends At The Gates and American cult heroes Wolves In The Throne Room. And while the venues are decidedly smaller – theaters and large clubs like The Fillmore – Behemoth’s production has only grown bigger and more ostentatious.
In announcing the tour, the band’s first supporting the recently released I Loved You At Your Darkest album, Darski promised “we are bringing all the artillery.” And the band’s Friday night performance at The Fillmore proved he was a man of his word.
Elaborate staging; lots of strobe lights and steam explosion-like smoke effects; the signature serpentine mic stands; incense pots; and more cloaks, capes, masks and head dresses than a Broadway musical – it really was quite a spectacle. And Behemoth backed it up with a ferocious 14-song set that offered all the firepower one has come to expect from the band.
Wolves In The Throne Room got things started with half-hour set that though it offered only three songs – all from their most recent album, 2017’s Thrice Woven – was fairly mesmerizing. The band’s Pacific Northwestern take on black metal is titanic in scale and feels more like ritual than performance, especially with the arcane stage adornments – which seemed part pagan and part alien – minimal lighting and opaque drapery of dry-ice smoke under which the band performed. But where Behemoth was pure theater, this had a more primal, shamanistic air.
With three guitars and no bass – guest keyboardist Brittany McConnell provided what bottom end there was – Wolves offered a sprint-and-slog wash of trebly trem driven by a hypnotic thrum of drums from Trevor Deschryver – who has been touring in place of Aaron Weaver, who founded the band with his guitarist/vocalist brother Nathan. It was shrill – especially when Nathan chimed in with his banshee-howl vocals – but it was also captivating, as each song played out in a series of movements that swelled from the utterly brutal to the serene and mysterious.
I’d love to see a full set from these guys – and gal – and I get the impression I was not alone, as Wolves were well received by the already relatively full Fillmore. Here’s hoping they come through the area again soon.
At The Gates were the no-frills band on this bill, and seemed like an odd choice for a lineup as steeped in extremity as this. But their melodicism was matched by their intensity, and they fit rather comfortably between their more “blackened” tour mates. And having not seen them since 1996, not long after their benchmark fourth album Slaughter of the Soul was issued, and not long before they subsequently broke up, it was like catching up with an old friend.
The band jockeyed between classic Slaughter material – “Cold,” “Blinded By Fear,” Suicide Nation” and the title track with frontman Tomas Lindberg’s famous “Go!” and “Do it!” commands – and tunes from their reunion albums, 2014’s At War With Reality and this year’s fantastic To Drink From The Night Itself during their brisk 45-minute set. “Do it” they did indeed, with the steady d-beat/double-bass battery of Adrian Erlandsson providing plenty of “go.”
At The Gates’ lively “melodeath” certainly hasn’t lost any of its bite with the passage of time, and an 11-year hiatus. Newer tunes like “To Drink From The Night Itself” and “Death and the Labyrinth” may have more nuance and depth than earlier material, but were delivered with the same vigor and the energy rarely ebbed.
Jonas Stålhammar fit right in as a replacement for founding lead guitarist Anders Björler, who departed over a year ago. Indeed, he showed much the same sort of unassuming personality, his all-business approach contrasted by the steady fist-pumps and horn-throwing of Lindberg and bassist Jonas Björler, who got into the Friday night spirit of it all as much as the crowd.
After a lengthy set change-over, it was time for Behemoth, and they sure made an imposing entrance. White lights projecting from the back onto a stage-front curtain cast the band in near ceiling-high shadows, making them – I guess fittingly – seem like giants as they ambled out to children’s choir of I Loved You’s intro “Solve.” When the curtain fell, the band – draped in black cloaks and eerie skeletal masks – ripped into “Wolves ov Siberia” and the cavalcade to hell was off and running.
The breakneck “Daimonos” and “Oro Pro Nobus Lucifer” keep the momentum going before things took a dramatic goth-rocky turn with I Loved You’s latest single, “Bartzabel,” which sounded a bit rougher and more powerful in the live environment, even with the “taped” backing vocals filling out the choruses. As head gear played a prominent role on this evening, Darski donned some sort of papal mitre for the song, which only added to his scornful demeanor.
It also made for an element of camp, which was accented by the staging and effects – and the posturing all that allowed. Behemoth has always had a flair for the dramatic, but some of the schtick was a bit cheesy and excessive – the drumline in black hoods to close the show during the outro “Coagvla” was straight out of Metalocalypse. That said, the feathered head dress Orion stalked the stage in for the monumental “Lucifer” was pretty damn freaky, especially under the hellish red lighting. It looked truly demonic.
And all the accoutrements really didn’t take away from the music, or the vehemence of Behemoth’s performance, which was as fierce as ever. As the touring cycle is just beginning, Darski’s voice was in full roar, and the band charged through I Loved You’s “God = Dog” and “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” and vintage ragers “Slaves Shall Serve,” “Conquer All” and “Chant for Eschaton 2000” with undeniable authority. And that was impressive enough, even without “all the artillery.”