The landscape of black metal is morphing into something else entirely. As it happens with all artistic movements and their respective subdivisions, experimentation as a statement of healthy aversion to the status quo has proved itself to be inevitable in inducing the magic of conceptual and artistic evolution. Both Batushka and Gaerea are fine examples of that.
The past 25th of September turned Hard Club (Porto, Portugal) into an altar that displayed the new blood of black metal in all its splendour, in a spectacular testament to a modern twist of the genre’s core values consisting of mayhem, darkness and nothing but spite for organized religion. As the first dissonances speared through the warm late-summer night, the atmosphere itself grew instantly colder as the crowd gathered to witness what would soon become a true spectacle of extreme music.
Bearing masks of sheer black and with little to none interaction with the audience, the highly promising Portuguese black metal outfit Gaerea ravaged the stage and showed about 300 concert-goers just why they are rightfully hailed by critics and fans as one of the best bands of the Lusitanian underground scene. This show was part of the promotional tour for their excellent debut, titled “Unsettling Whispers”. It was about 45 minutes of furious tremolo riffs entangled with monolithic doom vibes and purposely dissonant melodies, which they performed with excellence and complemented with their signature eerie stage presence. Their debut self-titled EP was not forgotten, having played “Void Of Numbness” and “Santificato”. As per usual in most live shows, the sound started as ok in the first two or three songs and quickly rose to the band’s habitué high quality standards in the last half-hour. An overall great show that proved that Gaerea are meant for bigger stages, and for the sake of extreme music, we should all root for Gaerea to reach them.
About 40 minutes later, those who went outside for a smoke and a chat came back to an impressive scenario, as Batushka’s liturgic stage decorations turned Hard Club’s stage into a small Orthodox Christian church. After a lengthy intro, bells served as heralds to Yektenia 1, officially introducing northern Portugal to “The End Of Litourgiya”, the final tour concerning the promotion cycle of Batushka’s debut masterpiece, “Litourgyia” (Witching Hour Productions, 2015). Unfortunately, the sound was moderately off during the first three of Batushka’s musical sermons – even for the standards of a metal show’s first songs – slightly tainting what would otherwise be a flawless beginning. The vocal choruses were difficult to hear, and the overall mix sounded “muddy”. However, Batushka’s performance was incredibly tight throughout the whole show, something you would normally expect from a band who is promoting the same album for three years but does not always happen – even with bigger bands – so kudos to them for the excellent execution.
15 minutes in the sound reached its peak and gave the audience a truly wonderful experience, if such a term can really be applied to this kind of music. The perfectly pitched Gregorian chant alternated with harsh vocals and flawless performance in the strings and percussion departments provided the right sonic landscape for listeners to enter that trance state that good and well-played black metal often provides. One thing that must be highlighted is Batushka’s almost motionless but somehow extremely intense stage presence, complemented with a myriad of theatrical elements, fitting props such as candles and censers and, to top it all off in style, an impressive light show. Besides the less-than-optimal sound quality in the first few songs, the only flaw this show really had was the fact that it was too short, something which we cannot really blame the band for since they don’t actually have any more songs!
In short, this was a night that surpassed the standard quality of “ideal for fans of the genre”, transcending towards the status of a true celebration of music and art that finds beauty in chaos. Such events are rare, and those who filled the room to its bream during that warm September night should be proud to have had the chance of doing so.