Willemeen, Arnhem (NL), 12th May 2013
It is always a true pleasure to travel to Arnhem for some well selected black metal live treats, and Willemeen is the perfect-sized venue for an underground gig to be enjoyed close-by. The Dutch date of the Lucifer Over Europe 2013 Tour includes a performance of no less than 2 hours from Agalloch, but to open the sold-out evening are Brits FEN with their atmospheric black metal enriched with post-rock. Abandoned the keyboards and accompanied by drummer Derwydd, the amiable Allain brothers have now found a comfortable level of confidence on stage, where performance never overpowers the intimate and evocative dimension of their music. Fen’s art has always resonated deeply within me so I am especially keen to see them perform again. While I find bass-player and artwork-meister Grungyn sporting a good new look with a shaved head and a beard, vocalist/guitarist Frank has not changed much, except looking more muscular. He has grown leaps and bounds as an artist since the last time I saw him fronting Fen back in 2010 (recently stunning me with his clean vocal performance with De Arma too) and all I want to do after the concert is to give him a huge hug for what he has accomplished so far. Through a striking balance between sobriety and intensity, their 45-minute long set reaches beautiful moments, for example with the stunning “Consequence”, opening track of their great new album “Dustwalker” (Code666), confirming their natural talent and hard-working attitude. Instinctively a huge soft spot of mine since the beginning, I am convinced that Fen has something special give to rock and metal both: potentially a band that could add a lot to British music history in years to come.
(More photos of Fen below)
A year ago AGALLOCH stunned the main room @ Tilburg's 013 with a breathtaking multimedia show for Roadburn festival. This time around no projections will enhance the mood of their music, but there are some evocative spells and rituals to be performed prior to the gig, ensuring that our minds and senses are fully receptive for what is to come. John Haughm concentrates while placing some exquisitely fragrant incense over a few propitiatory wooden totems by the side of monitors then, immersed in darkness, he begins to slowly liberate sprinkles of notes which take form in the beautiful Limbs, sweeping us into a magical, otherworldly dimension. Time-space stretches and bends within us, and when that celebratory gem of pagan/atmospheric black metal that is Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires takes shape, it resonates profoundly across the entire venue. The first part of the 2-hour long set consists of 8 pieces, inclusive of the entire Faustian Echoes EP, their latest effort. You Were But a Ghost in My Arms, In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion and Kneel to the Cross close up with a sequence that is nothing short of sublime: the dense and intense notes produced by the musicians stun and mesmerize. The band has reached an unquestionable golden caliber, a true joy to the ear... John’s guitar, conveying both clean and heavy sound at once, works wonders, adding a further dimension to their layered music even on stage!
Aesthetically, it is rather unusual (and especially cool for me) to see 3 musicians who could very well be part of a HC or indie band surround the introverted but charismatic figure of John Haughm, the only through-and-through, long-haired “metaller” in Agalloch. Guitarist Don Anderson (whom I trust is doing a splendid job with his lucky university students) in particular moves like a hardcore musician, injecting good energy to the overall band performance, in great contrast with the captivating mercurial attitude of singer/guitarist Haughm.
As Agalloch leave the stage a roar explodes from the packed venue, demanding for an encore. They return to delight us with touching renditions of Of Stone, Wind and Pillor and the entire Our Fortress is Burning. What can I say: I know that John is a perfectionist, but I hope he realizes how good they have become in a live situation. They have worked hard from a technical and arrangement point of view to bring their complex, lengthy and layered songs to a fantastic live rendition, and undoubtedly the advice and mastery of their touring soundman, none other than legendary producer Billy Anderson!, must have helped… Today Agalloch are amongst the absolute best within the underground, and uncompromisingly so! Whilst many big labels would love to have a piece of them, they stay true to a more comfortable dimension, working hard to maintain control over their art, reaping the rewards during these grueling, intense but culturally stimulating tours. In fact John, Billy and friendly drummer Aesop Dekker (who has promised me an interview for his fantastic new project Vhöl), tell me they cannot wait for the 2 Italian dates: not only do they appreciate the expressiveness of the people and the crazy enthusiasm of the fans, but they are gagging to see the sights. A trip to the Colosseum will be on the cards, whatever happens!