CRADLE OF FILTH, SATYRICON AND SEPTICFLESH DISTURB MY PEACEFUL WEST-COAST CITY
As a man, I’m painfully aware that at any metal show the chances of me being squeezed between two sweaty fat dudes in the front row for 90 minutes is infinitely higher than me being near anything that remotely resembles a female. I say “resembles” because I still remember the time my buddy wrestled a “dude” to the floor of the Commodore Ballroom after they both caught either end of Jimmy Bower’s drumstick. The look on his face when he heard obscenities yelled at him in a screeched, soprano voice ranks pretty highly among my favorite concert memories.
This time the venue was familiar, the metal crowd certainly was not. Oh sure, I already expected the Cradle of Filth fans who can count more zippers, buckles and chains on their outfits than times they’ve heard their parents say they’re proud of them, but beyond platform soles and midnight blue dreadlocks there were many perfectly normal and some perfectly curvy women in attendance. Now, I’ve never really believed that Dani Filth could be a sex symbol for anyone old enough to buy beer, but I guess being the front man of a popular metal band can make even a hideous midget significantly more fuckable. Then again, the gals probably just came out to hear the music.
Oh yeah, you probably want to hear about the music.
Septicflesh (formerly Septic Flesh) were given the task of warming up the crowd and took the stage after a lengthy symphonic introduction (just like everyone else that night). They opened with the punishing “Unbeliever” from Sumerian Daemons, giving vocalist/bassist Spiros Antoniou enough time to train everyone’s attention on him. Sure, he wasn’t playing much bass that night, but he had colossal presence. He told the crowd exactly what he wanted to see by communicating with his hands in true Mediterranean fashion (and using Decibel’s famous “invisible oranges” gesture frequently). The rest of their short set was dedicated to songs from my #10 album of 2007, Communion, which was deplorably disappointing in its over-reliance on samples. Though I wasn’t expecting them to take the entire Prague Philharmonic with them on tour, a little more live composition would have been much better. While fantastic on your home sound system, on stage every symphonic break translated into both guitarists turning their backs to the crowd to look interested in their amps or, even worse, hanging their arms and waiting. While heavier tracks like “Communion” and “We the gods” still hit their mark, I was especially gutted to hear “Annubis” which sampled both the clean guitar intro and the clean sung chorus. Only ol’ Spiros, that titan of a man, made them worth watching at all.
Newer is better, was also the theme for Satyricon’s set, playing material exclusively from their last three albums – including every single. As a result, I can honestly say that I’ve never chanted as much at any other show. Something about the frigid, catchy black ‘n roll they’ve invested in so heavily since the turn of the century made everyone near the front want to shout and pump their fists in the air. You would’ve thought they were Judas Priest or something instead of being part of the Norwegian old guard.
It seems that Satyr’s slicked greaser hair cut and fully-buttoned black shirt combined with the group’s greater overground success has lent a lot of rockstar swagger to his performance. While he spent most of the time traveling the stage, he made the point of picking up a beautiful white axe for “The Pentagram Burns,” and whether it was an ego play or poor mixing, it was the loudest instrument on stage for one song only. Near the end of closing number “Commando,” he leapt from the stage to the barricade to menace the crowd face-to-face while frantic female fingers grasped wildly at his torso. Maybe it was him they showed up for all along! Either way, his eagerness and constant appeal for chanting were essential in engaging the crowd, men included.
Although vocalist Satyr and blastmachine Frost have always been the respective mind and muscle of Satyricon, they could not have picked a better supporting cast for either musicianship or enthusiasm; windmills synchronized like clockwork and the frontline constantly acknowledged the front row with eye contact.
I really enjoyed hearing new tracks from The Age of Nero (“Wolfpack,” “Black Crow on a Tombstone”) but my fantasy Satyricon set list would have favored deeper cuts as opposed to the crowd pleasing singles, and the tragic absence of “Mother North” from Nemesis Divina was completely unacceptable. That’s like Slayer not playing “Raining Blood” or Morbid Angel completely ignoring Altars of Madness.
While I usually leave making fun of aging metal stars to the boys at Metal Inquisition, I have to say that the bald spots on the heads of Dani Filth and the Paul Allender (who looks like a cross between Glenn Danzig and Boris Karloff) were pretty visible from the bar where I watched most of the show. Poking fun at Cradle of Filth for their appearance is easy, but had the band appeared on stage without their assortment of leather clothes and bondage gear or sans an elaborate stage piece (in this case a crucified skeleton toppled on one side), I would have been let down. Their gothic image has been with them from their inception and has become just as intrinsic to their art as the music.
It might even enhance the music. I had never seen them live before nor had much interest, but when I was confronted with the visual spectacle combined with the extra enthusiasm of live performance, everything about them made a little more sense. All the pomp and pageantry that I had previously found to be so insufferably lame on their studio releases fell into place when it was in front of my eyes. Hell, even the tracks off Gospeed on the Devil’s Thunder, which I outright panned in my review last year, were a little easier to swallow.
The energy from the band was immense. Though dwarfed even by his elaborate mic stand, Dani Filth was king, marching up the temple-like steps behind the crucifix to tower even higher above the crowd for the most anthemic moments. The guitar players had an uncanny symmetry in their stage performances striking mirrored poses and simultaneously flopping like ragdolls during guitarless interludes. The unsung star of the show was session keyboard player Rosie Smith, whose stage presence provided a strong feminine counterpoint to the masculine gesturing of the rest of the band; not an easy feat being both a hired hand and behind a stationary instrument. She even took lead vocals during the ballady “Nymphetamine.”
Unlike their openers, Cradle understood how to balance a set list, keeping recent material like “Shat out of Hell” and “Honey and Sulphur” separated by fan favorites like “Dusk and her Embrace” and “Principle of Evil Made Flesh.” After a brief intermission they concluded their set with hit after hit: “Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids” into “Her Ghost in the Fog” with “From the Cradle to Enslave” as the coup de grace. No one even needed an encore after that crowd-pleasing onslaught.
You’ll still never catch me listening to an entire Cradle album, but lets just say I never expected to have so much fun at one of their shows.