The incense was lit. Classical music and Nordic metal flowed out from the PA’s into the ears of the horde that had gathered at the Mohawk on Saturday night. Like an ancient clan gathering before battle, the black-clad cretins of heavy metal were angsty and restless for their music show. Swedish death metal showmen Tribulation were on the opening docket, and shoegaze-metal headliners, Deafheaven, had been slated to destroy eardrums after.
Tribulation, for lack of a better word, is epic. The expected pageantry of Scandinavian metal is put into overdrive as these death metal demons unleashed their skull-fracturing pestilence upon the Austin crowd. Dressed in full deatheater makeup and emitting enough psychotic energy to stifle the Manson family, Tribulation was the full metal package. Morbid lyrics, power-chord headbanging, and intricate solos lead me to believe that this quartet might be the inspiration for the show Metalocalypse, as they were too exciting to deviate my attention away from.
I have never heeded to consistent warning from old-timers telling me to protect my ears from the harsh volumes of live shows. I have attended hundreds of shows and laughed at people with ear plugs, thinking how ironic it was to pay for a ticket and simultaneously block out the performer’s sound. However, after Tribulation’s stultifying set, I began to perpetually hear what sounded like running water, and Deafheaven’s set would only exacerbate these ear problems. This is a quick public service announce to wrap up on those eardrums kids.
Deafheaven already has a reputation for baptizing their audiences in the pure adrenaline and energy of their unique style of metal. Lead singer George Clarke is the minister and conductor in his symphonic congregation of metal devotees. With enough kinetic energy to galvanize the most stoic show attendee, Clarke serves to translate the music’s emotion through his banshee-like shrieks and embellished pantomimes. Their Saturday night show would commence with a slew of songs off their recently released album, New Bermuda. “Brought to the Water” had the crowd pulsating with feverish violence and reckless abandon. Young men and women threw their bodies around the pit like lifeless rag dolls, seemingly seeking a Sufist enlightenment within the chaos of the show.
Deafheaven would play through their entire new album, only interrupting the linear play for an interjection of “From the Kettle Onto The Coil”. It can be irksome when bands only play new material throughout their set, but Deafheaven’s New Bermuda defies that rule and its deservance is obvious in its dedication to a full set. The savagery of “Luna”, deceptiveness of “Baby Blue”, and sinister “Come Back” all rocked and roiled the crowd into cult-like worship of George Clarke.
As if to throw the obedient minions a treat, Deafheaven came out to perform fan favorites “Sunbather” and “Dream House” as an encore. The reaction was maniacal, the pit of the Mohawk swirled with wanton destruction and possessed eyes of intensity. At one point a stage diver accidentally unplugged one of the guitarist’s instruments and “Dream House” was forced to start again.
The culmination of the entire experience, although it left me half deaf, was cathartic. Deafheaven dedicated their set to Tribulation, in a show of solidarity, and then proceeded to high-five the audience after their encore, acknowledging the effort and love put forth by the animalistic and adoring audience. Once the band left the stage, many pit warriors stood still, gaping at each other with wide eyes and shit-eating grins, unsure of what to do with their energy and gratitude. On cue, the sweaty heathens let out a cheers and yawps of celebration, like wolves howling at the moon of metal. Then, almost like a football team of battered players having slugged out a victory, they left their place of worship, still basking in the glow of camaraderie and fortitude, that only the insane can feel when amongst their own.