Whether you shrink away in terror or salivate at the prospect of the inevitable barrage of Year End Lists, you’ll have been hard pressed to miss the fact that the new albums from both Pallbearer and Solstafir have been two of 2014’s big talking points. With tonight’s show featuring both bands and the chance to sample some of the year’s best music, as well Solstafir’s first outing to Vancouver, it’s almost surprising to find the early atmosphere oddly muted…
Yet as soon as Brooklyn’s Mortals hit the stage however the calm is washed away in a tide of massive, swaggering crusty riffs and frenetic blasts. The trio absolutely batter through hybrid set of deliciously filthy sludge-infused black metal, with bassist/vocalist Lesley Wolf’s hoarse rasp lavishly layered over the top to glorious gurn-inducing effect. Although something of a musical wildcard on this bill, Mortals captivate the burgeoning crowd with a brilliantly entertaining performance, veering from cosmic-nod friendly doom to the grimiest of crust with an energy that’s impossible to not be engaged by. Drummer Caryn Havlik deserves special mention in this regard; her flagrant glee at playing totally raging beats perfectly captures the weird paradox of this downright filthy music offering immeasurable delight for riff-addicts everywhere. Listen to Mortals, do it now!
Pulling the aggression back in exchange for hearts-on-sleeve emotion and atmosphere, Solstafir next take the stage and flow straight into the opening track from this year’s seminal ‘Otta’. The Biltmore crowd reacts with a mixture of adoring approval and raised smart phones (seriously, why?), but tragically the Icelanders are plagued by sound issues and seem visibly agitated from the first note. Resolutely pushing onwards, yet unfortunately robbed of both their full range of effects and their usual immersive performance, Solstafir battle along until the crucial climax of the new record’s title track, abruptly halting the building atmosphere in its tracks to apologise for what they perceive to be a debacle. The majority of the crowd seem blissfully unaware of any complications, and upon their urges the band decide to continue the show, but sinking back into their natural ease unfortunately seems to be a now unattainable goal. Tryggvason’s innate charisma and natural showmanship carry the show on however, with his skeletal frame stretching over the audience to deliver his impassioned vocals to an unperturbed and adoring crowd. Despite the band’s palpable dissatisfaction the Biltmore audience seem fulfilled by the second half of the performance, and as the final enchanting notes of ‘Goddess of the Ages’ ring throughout the room the audience’s cathartic glow is oddly juxtaposed with the frustration emanating from stage. Not the smoothest first ride through Vancouver, but the reception will no doubt bring the Icelanders back soon.
Arguably the world’s most highly-lauded young metal band at the minute, Pallbearer’s reputation and sound have broken out of doom’s boundaries to captivate a broader audience than almost any other band chugging away on the low end, with a visible effect on the diverse crowd here to bask in their riffs tonight. The near sold-out Biltmore is a clear reflection of this, and from the first eerie notes of ‘Worlds Apart’ Pallbearer’s mountainous confidence and prowess stands in vindication of their acclaim. The band flow through a set of material from both this year’s ‘best of’ list-dominator ‘Foundations of Burden’ and their 2011 debut, with guitarist and vocalist Brett Campbell’s voice ringing out with moving clarity and emotion atop the band’s dynamic riffery to utterly captivating, mesmerizing effect. It’s during the airing of their newer tracks that Pallbearer’s musical growth really shines through, with moments of such as the absolute bliss as ‘The Ghost I Used to Be’ (if 2014 has birthed a more chest-clenching climax this reviewer is yet to hear it), driving home even more poignantly in a live setting. It is in this arena that Pallbearer’s compositional mastery, and their ability to command the ebb and flow of heaviness and delicacy really becomes apparent, with bassist Jospeh Rowland’s animated performance accentuating every hammered chord or delicately played harmony. Although they perhaps challenge much of the Biltmore audience’s staying power by playing into their forth encore song, Pallbearer’s ability to maintain this emotive atmosphere and performance for almost two hours perfectly demonstrates their genuineness, talent, and resonance with fans from across the musical spectrum.
Photo Credit: Char Tupper