None More Black: An observance at the Golden Bull
Once again, in the interests of whetting my Black Metal appetite and spreading the gospel to the masses, I braved the East Bay to witness some amazing bands delivering some amazing performances. Tonight’s agenda: Uada, Imperial Triumphant, Witchhaven and Gloam.
The setting for this evening’s performance was Oakland’s Golden Bull, which is a small-ish, dive-ish bar conveniently located right next to the downtown BART station. As the show was advertised to begin at 8:00pm (there was no other clue as to when the first band would take the stage), I arrived at 7:45pm to find no doorman, no people and virtually no equipment on stage. Promoters, why do you torment me? Have I wronged you? When there are four bands on the bill and it’s a Thursday night, there is no fathomable reason why the first band should not be on by 8pm. So off I moped to the bar to console myself with some amber nectar. There’s been quite a bit of hubbub in the media lately regarding Imperial Triumphant and Uada (especially the later) due to both bands releasing new material, and although I wasn’t expecting a huge flood of people to attend the show, I was mildly concerned about the number of people trickling in as I consumed my second beverage. Around the Toilet (and the internet in general), whenever a band gets mentioned more than a few times, invariably the word “hype” comes up and it’s usually in a derogatory way. Well folks, in case you were wondering the underground is alive and well in Oakland. In fact, it’s so far underground nobody has dug deep enough to find it. Seriously, until about 8:45pm, the venue was mostly filled with boozing band members. Come on guys, get out of your homes and go and see some of the bands that you spend all day researching, listening to and gossiping about! Anyway, I spent a little over an hour drinking beer and listening to whatever 80’s metal they were playing over the PA (there are worse things!) before the opener hit the stage around 9:00pm.
I guess there was a last minute change of schedule as the first band of the night was LA’s Witchaven. These guys are coming towards the end of a forty, yes you read that correctly, forty date US tour, and like the well-oiled machine that they are, offered to warm up the night’s proceedings. I’m not very good at estimating crowd size, but there were probably between thirty and fifty people in the bar, not that Witchaven gave a toss. They played like it was a packed house, feeling completely at ease and confident in their delivery. In fact, they were so at home on stage, the guitarist was still wearing his moccasins. Their class of Black/Thrash is short, sweet and packed full of catchy riffs providing ample time between songs for Henry (vocals, guitar) to throw out amusing anecdotes and song introductions, and generally give off feel-good vibes. The interludes also allowed the band to quench their ferocious thirst by swigging PBR like it’s going out of style. I must admit, I was feeling a little blasé before they came on, but they certainly shook me out of my stupor. They have a new album coming out this year and you can check out the last one here.
During the break, I grabbed another beer and introduced myself to Uada’s front man, Jake. We had a good chat about Toilet related things and what’s currently going on with band. He was super enthusiastic and I could tell that he was totally excited to be on tour. Also, he kindly agreed to do an interview, so expect that at some point.
With the modest growth of the crowd, it was the turn of the band with the best name in Black Metal to take the stage, Imperial Triumphant. I’ve no idea what it means but wow, does that name evoke some feeling! Clad in black hoods with gold braid and with faces blacked out, they stepped out in a swirl of smoke. I’m not really a fan of this type of dissonant avant-garde Black Metal, but in an intimate live setting it seemed to make more sense to me. I think that the combination of the aesthetic, music and delivery cast some kind of spell over me. Unfortunately, the spell was frequently broken as I was standing towards the side of the stage near the ladies, and every time someone needed to relieve herself, the door swung open casting a blinding light over the dimly lit stage. The sound was quite noisy and bass heavy although it wasn’t really a problem as I just focused on the bass player slipping and sliding his way up and down the fret board. My favorite moment of their set was when Ilya Goddessraper slowly growled, “We are Imperial Triumphant from New York fucking City.” It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. You can learn more about Imperial Triumphant here and here, and if you get the chance to see them live, do it!
During the break, I finally made my way over to the now present doorman to pay my eight whole dollars entrance fee, and then stepped outside to have quite a disturbing experience. I was just standing there looking around when I saw a young women sitting down in a doorway picking at her arm. I innocently thought she had a new tattoo that she was scratching, but as I watched more closely I could see that she was delicately slicing her forearm with a razor blade. Shit! I walked over and asked her if she was okay, and she was initially quite dismissive. I kept talking to her though, stating that I wasn’t judging her in anyway but was genuinely concerned. She thanked me and eventually we got to talking about music etc. After about ten minutes, the conversation ended with me telling her to come inside and see the next band. Later, I saw her with some guy so I hope she’s ok. When I got home, I mentioned this to my wife and she said that this type of activity was quite common amongst teenagers. Scary.
After that I was a little out of sorts, but Portland’s Uada put me straight (I know, I’m shallow). Taking the stage at 10:45pm, they blasted through almost their entire debut LP, Devoid of Light, out now on Eisenwald. With the dry ice machine cranked to eleven, the band gave it their all for thirty or so minutes of melodic, hook-ridden Black Metal. I feel that Uada have what it takes to appeal to a wider audience as they straddle the fine line between being gritty enough for the underground and accessible enough to coax in some new believers. They’ve got the songs, the character, the live show, and while their fourteen hole boots may look new, their skills are practiced and honed. To be honest, I felt a little spoiled seeing them from about four feet away on what I believe is their first West Coast tour. Closing with “Black Autumn, White Spring,” it was all over too quickly.
Tonight’s headliner was none other than Santa Cruz’s very own Gloam, which of course you are all intimately familiar with because they were lovingly covered here and here. By the time they were ready to roll, the crowd seemed to have thinned out, which was hardly surprising as it was 11:45pm. Candles were ceremoniously lit to deter any would be stage divers provide ambiance, and after a mellow intro, in came the riffs. I must admit that after the bluster of Uada, Gloam came across as a lot more laid back. This is not a knock in anyway as this is just their style, letting the music do all the talking while they effortlessly play, and passionately deliver their gloomy, doomy Black Metal. Although I only managed to catch about thirty minutes of their set, I did get to hear the mighty “Torrents of Blood,” and by the time that I left, there were probably only about thirty to forty enthralled people left. On my way out, I made a quick pit stop at the merch table, said my goodbyes to Jake and darted for the last train home.
I don’t remember, well at least I’d have to think very hard about it, the last time I thoroughly enjoyed a concert as much as this. It’s just a shame that more people weren’t there to share in the experience. Then again, I was in the front row for all the bands, so I shouldn’t complain.