Bringing the spirit of its flagship magazine to stage by featuring legends of the old school alongside contemporary rising talents, The Decibel Tour offers an extreme metal spectacle that you’d need to damn good excuse to miss. Like, both of your legs fell off on the way to the venue good. Which is why tonight is so dumbfounding; any bill with At the Gates at the top of it shouldn’t be one hampered by underwhelming ticket sales. In any case, with tonight’s relocation from The Commodore Ballroom to Vancouver’s more intimate Venue, the chance to get up close and personal with an array of excellent bands from across genres and generations proves a sweatily silver lining.
Maniacal death-worshippers Auroch catapult things into motion at an unbridled break-neck pace, for at least the two final songs of their set this reviewer managed to catch. The local troupe have gained much momentum recently on the strength of last year’s ‘Taman Shud’, and with their performance only gaining in vigour and ferocity their trajectory into extreme metal’s depraved underworld seems to be off to a strong start. While missing much of their performance proves disappointing, the band’s appearance at Vancouver’s Covenant Festival this summer will no doubt nullify such regrets!
Travelling to the opposite end of the experience spectrum next with Vallenfyre, the Venue audience area treated to a charismatic, cataclysmic performance by Greg Mackintosh and co. Dominated by the talents of Mackintosh, of Paradise Lost fame, and Hamish Glencross, previously of My Dying Bride, the band are 50% British death/doom supergroup, yet their classic, raw-as-fuck death metal wears more Celtic Frost than anything else on its sleeves. Mackintosh presents a toweringly entertaining force, unleashing gut-wrenching roars along to his bandmates’ rumbling grooves and bantering along between airings from both records in their repertoire. Bruising their way through the set, Vallenfyre’s no-frills, grimy death metal proves both infectious and an effective way to spark the crowd’s slumbering energy, with the heads beginning to bang and tentative pit action starting up under Mackintosh’s command. Completing their set with the rampant ‘Cathedrals of Dread’, band’s virginal Vancouver appearance receives roars of approval from the crowd, and plants Vallenfyre’s boot firmly in the city’s memory.
Putting something of an abrupt end to the ferocity, Decibel favourites Pallbearer are next up, yet the band’s stirring prog-infused doom proves no less compelling than their predecessors’ aggression. With memory still fresh from Pallbearer’s headline appearance back in December potential disappointment with their three-song setlist is minimized, and a peace settles over the crowd as they revel in the quietude of the band’s impassioned sounds. From the sorrowful dirge of ‘Worlds Apart’, to the crunching riffery of ‘Devoid of Redemption’, the band coax every nuance of their songs to life perfectly, and by the time the heart-stopping melody of ‘The Ghost I Used to Be’ rings out Pallbearer’s repute is as vindicated as ever. Perhaps the change of tempo was a misfire for some, but those who fell under the band’s spell, fell hard, and Pallbearer’s presence on the bill proved both an enjoyable change of pace and a glimpse of the quality music emerging from all ends of the metal spectrum.
As if to make up for Pallbearer’s tranquility, Converge then attack their set with the unrestrained lunacy their live show is so renowned for, with Jacob Bannon careening around the stage like a man unhinged and whipping the Venue audience into an instant frenzy. The band’s frenetic, break-neck pace and dissonant melodies prove an infectious combination, and even the most stubbornly close-minded of metalheads would be lying if they said they weren’t impressed by Converge’s performance, thrashing so so precariously between precision and unbridled chaos as it does. Unfamiliar with the band beyond their name and reputation, this reviewer can’t report on the band’s set list, yet Converge’s live presence demanded attention and appreciation regardless. Limbs, microphones, and guitar headstocks flew as the band offered up track after track of heart-on-sleeve hardcore passion, and by the time Converge leave the stage from the barrier to the bar the Venue crowd is seemingly in awe of their live prowess.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the next band to take stage, and tonight’s headliners. The Godfathers of a sound that inspired a multitude of pale imitations, and a band that caused a global furor when they announced their 20+ year absence would be concluded by a return to festival stages back in 2007. Tonight makes only At the Gates’ second appearance in Vancouver since the mid-90s, yet the band play to a crowd well below that which their repute deserves. In any case, those in the sold-out Venue audience are in the know, and chaos ensues as the band rip through those 90’s classics as well as tracks from last year’s ‘At War with Reality’. Unsurprisingly the live staples from ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ garner the most rabid response, with a beer-soaked pit dominating the front portion of the crowd from those opening notes of the album’s title track (‘GO!’) onwards. Lindberg’s trademark scream is as throat-wrenching as ever, and the frontman stalks ecstatically around the stage as he offers up those sardonic, scathing lines, clearly reveling in bringing those classic tracks to life. While some may have criticized the band’s newest offering *hand raised*, the tracks sit well alongside the band’s older material, with the title track’s especially sinister tone and Gothenburg riffery offering a powerful modern interpretation of At the Gates’ sound. The band indulge the Vancouver crowd with a marathon set spanning both their early releases as well as their more well-known output, and it’s hard to imagine any At the Gates fan not being joyously fulfilled by the band’s set and performance. As that pivotal feedback leads the way into ‘Blinded by Fear’ and the band’s three-track encore, one final round of pandemonium is unleashed into the Venue, and At the Gates depart the stage to fanatical approval from those wise enough to be here tonight to witness their mastery.
Photo Credit: Char Tupper