A Tale of Two Cities
Demilich live at North Six in Brooklyn, New York, May 31st 2006 and The Back Room in Austin, Texas, June 3rd 2006
by: T. DePalma
It was back in March of 2005 that Antti Boman first made public his desire to tour abroad and to properly end the musical entity he had remained with for the better part of a decade. Demilich was formed in Kuopio, Finland in the early Nineties; a unique group that created bizarre song titles to match the palpable sense of unease running through their music. With unorthodox guitar techniques and ensorcelling rhythmic style, they remain arguably the strangest death metal band in existence.

In 1993, the group released their first and only full-length album, _Nespithe_ (an anagram for "The Spine") on the now defunct Necropolis Records. Among its highlights and memorable features is possibly the lowest vocal performance issued on record without the use of digital effects, with wickedly cartoonish artwork by Turka Rantanen that so accurately portrays the nightmare quality of the music itself. The band has never received any royalties for the album and, on its tenth anniversary, released the full work online for free in various formats. Although it has since been given a proper reissue on Repulse Records, for years after its original release there was only silence. Thus, the legend grew. The announcement this past March of a stateside tour caused a groundswell of support and anticipation -- not least of all having to do with the prospect of a shared bill between Demilich and Texas demons Averse Sefira, who have supported the band for years and were instrumental in distributing Demilich merchandise here in the States.

Fans came from across the country: from New York, Minnesota and Chicago; some even crossed the ocean from Scotland -- a pilgrimage to witness the metal Brahmans upon the stage. This is an account of two of those nights.

Wednesday

The North Six Club is located near the shore of New York's notorious east river. Upon entering you are greeted by a decent-sized upstairs bar (on this night playing an inappropriate mix of sour country-western tunes) with two doorways leading to the main stage and downstairs area. Around 7:30 the bands arrived and unloaded their vans. Fans eventually made their way to the downstairs area, where they shared close proximity with the performers -- whose stage was no more than a three-inch curb above the floor of the small, dank basement cellar, equipped with an hilariously out of place fish tank inside the wall.

Some confusion had set in as New Jersey's Funebrarum were late traveling in from New Jersey, and at 9pm the show was just barely underway with Biolich opening to roughly twenty people dispersed throughout the basement. Because of the delay, their set lasted only several tracks, but was enough to establish the band's energy and inventive destruction, as minor technical problems forced out the beast in their vocalist; rampaging through uncertainty and strangling his head in microphone chord while the group blasted through their melodic grindcore with no time to fuck around and bring about the lighter touches found on CD.

Although the locals had started the night with an energetic display, it was Germany's Mucupurient that roused the few moshers with a mediocre set of rhythmic death-grind chugging and lewd song titles that seemed like a godsend to a Brooklyn metal show. They continued on for a half-hour until Funebrarum arrived (sans Nick Orlando), and hell finally started to bleed through the underground stone. It had been awhile, but I remembered them being just a little bit slower as they pounded out song after song with relentless, barbaric strength and the guttural voice of Daryl Kahan bouncing from head to head. Things came to an abrupt halt when Kahan was knocked through the drum set by an overzealous fan that was then removed, via his collar-bone, by another able member of the audience. The band resumed and finished to much applause, sweat and laughter.

With any show, the under-card is guaranteed to have a certain amount of filler, but in this case just about every band performed up to standard, keeping this audience lathered until the main event. Even bands that aren't anything I might recommend listening to on plastic can be quite interesting in a live setting. Such was the case with Winnipeg quartet Electro Quarterstaff, an instrumental group boasting three guitars and astonishing muscle memory. The group blazed through a round of three songs, practically in the crowd because their equipment was so manifest. What I actually heard I can't tell you, because it was so fast and seamless: metal athletics that left those that heard it confused and somewhat exhausted. Not surprisingly, the band is set to release their debut on Willowtip Records this year.

It was now after 1am, and those that had stayed above ground for most of the evening socializing now entered below, and what had previously been a small gathering of bodies lined elbow to elbow now saw each atop the other, above chairs and filling every available spot to witness Demilich for the first time. The temperature inside the room had risen to a sickening degree, and as the group threw themselves into "When the Sun Drank the Weight of Water" a sea of bodies churned, mesmerized by the inhuman tones erupting from the newly minted line-up of three guitars alongside Boman's unmatched vocal abyss. It was Boman, with sunken eyes and otherwise concentrated movements throughout the set, seemingly in another world, that began to combat the anxiety of the long night and ugly heat that stewed in the room with some welcome levity, introducing one track as "The Sixteenth Six-Tooth blah blah blah". The crowd thus far was appreciative with a few stragglers -- one memorable exchange occurred when a member of Biolich declared that the Finns were "Fucking godz!" and was challenged by a young female who insisted that, no, Origin were the deity. A painful silence followed.

It was during this set that the pipes on the ceiling began to leak down onto the band and their audience. To take one look at that shitty environ, it was hardly surprising. On the other hand, that they made the building cry is, I think, some sign of cosmic approval. They had darted through the whole of _Nespithe_, adding "Emptiness Vanishing" off the delayed compilation release and closed with "Embalmed Beauty Sleep" to a felt chant of "Demilich!" ending the show just shy of two in the morning.

Saturday

Although the heat in that cursed Brooklyn sweatbox was exhausting, few things can compare to the murderous effect of a high Texas sun.

I arrived at Austin's Back Room just as the staff were correcting the unfortunate error on the marquee that announced "Demelich and Averse Sefira" on the bill. Suffice to say, they eventually did get it right, though not after first experimenting with the eleventh letter of the alphabet.

The Back Room is a large and hospitable building, split into a game room and main stage area with plenty of chairs and a large bar which was indulged repeatedly. I had missed most of the first band's performance and do not recall their name [later identified as Spliteye, from Clear Lake, Texas -- Todd]; a rhythmic, moderate death metal affair that seemed rather trivial if capable.

Biolich was set to perform second, and for them anticipation must have been at a pitch, as contempt from a Texas audience was something they deemed almost a fait accompli. Problems began that lasted throughout the night, as the sound levels were overly mismatched and the vocals so drowned by the guitar that the band were forced to restart early on. However, once regrouping they continued with a stronger, larger set than back home, including, "Unfortunately They Don't Allow Us to Store Bodies in the Dumpsters at Work" and "Morals Like Frozen Piss" as well as new material that was surprisingly faster and less obtuse. Here the crowd was perhaps even more appreciative of their quirks, at one point viewing their vocalist, Will, drumming on his skull with the microphone and hanging over the audience from the stage poll like King Kong to favorable response. A good start before a room still far below capacity, and an improvement for the band themselves.

For my part, most of what happened next felt like a long interim, as local black metallers Sothis fought through their own problems with feedback during a dull symphonic set while Abythos, featuring a member of Texan thrashers Hammerwhore, performed their odd mixture of heavy/doom metal with technical skill and fair presence above the crowd.

It was not until after eleven that Averse Sefira began to prep the stage for conquest by situating a pair of wolfen banners near each corner. Roughly the same troubles persisted and the trio stood anxiously working through sound with the club technician, in full black metal regalia. What happened next would erase any question if the "illusion" was ever in jeopardy.

Performing tracks from the sterling _Tetragrammatical Astygmata_ but also including the squelching "Death Hymn", Averse Sefira treated the entire club as a whetstone upon the blade of feral, uncompromising black metal. To be honest, I can hardly recall the entire set (mark down "Transitive Annihilation" and "Decapitation of Sigils" as definite). A thick wall of sound lost shape and dimension through the speed and limitations of equipment. Yet they pushed on, unflinching, creating an atmosphere none could argue against. It would not be a stretch to say that with their vivid aesthetic, snarling visages and the preternatural hell-scream of Sanguine Mapsama, eyes flaring like comets in this premiere performance, that they would have stolen show had they not gracefully bowed out to make room for Demilich, who entered soon after.

As Antti Boman conversed laconically between his band mates, the members of Averse Sefira and Biolich had joined with the audience. When it was finally time to begin, Demilich conjured the loudest music I have ever heard before -- something not generally thought in connection with their style. The completely absorbing character of this performance left many visibly impressed and lost in similar states as Mr. Bohman, whose own voice was nearly fully overpowered. Here again, it all seemed too short and the band departed looking regretful that they were unable to give the encore desperately called from below. Yet over those last few hours, there was the feeling something truly momentous had happened.

The significance of this tour and following performances must be viewed first from the standpoint that it was no festival and had no major backing: a true representation of the underground in practice, whatever has and will become of it (It's unlikely that change starts here, as attendance was still somewhat split between diehards at the stage and regular dregs in the background. However the crowd mixture remained impressive for a show of this nature.);and lastly, as nearer to the passing of one of the genre's most outstanding yet frequently passed over groups, who in their last days may finally receive their due -- dying in ascension.

Visit: http://www.anentity.com/demilich/

(article submitted 20/6/2006)


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