Alcest/The Atlas Moth/Mutilation Rites/Hull

Last week I caught these four bands on their way through town after SXSW. There were two other artists expected on the bill – Nachtmystium and Bruce Lamont – but they cancelled midday on the date of the show. Apparently, they decided to go straight home to Chicago because, “they weren’t feeling SXSW.” Of course, these are the guys who begged to be on this bill in the first place, which the booker agreed to do even though it required him moving the show to a larger venue a week before the date because of the expected demand. They weren’t missed.

Hull

Hull opened the night to a sparse crowd; there was a hell of a storm coming through town, and just getting to the venue was a bit of an adventure. I’ve come to learn that Dallas roads don’t drain well under normal circumstances, and a storm dropping over 1” of rain per hour made me wish for a canoe. However, a crowd of 26 (I counted) didn’t stop Hull from roaring right out of the gates. Somehow, I missed the album Hull released last October (Beyond The Lightless Sky) so was unprepared for the huge leap they’ve made since their 2009 record, Sole Lord. This was an unholy and utterly amazing mix of sludge, doom and space-rock [I refuse to acknowledge post-rock as a genre, but that mix could be categorized thusly if one so chose]; taking full advantage of multiple vocalists and three guitars to lay down layer upon layer of harmonic riffing and the all too rare clean and harsh combined vocal lines. The set was, I believe, two songs that spun out over a half-hour or so, an angry thunder to rival the storm raging outside. A bit muddy in parts (a sign of sound problems to come), but a great set and a great kick-off to the show. Needless to say, I had a limited merch budget and it went to picking up Hull’s latest on cd.

Mutilation Rites played next, and though they seemed to really strike a chord with the growing crowd they were actively not my thing. I have an extremely narrow band of black metal that I enjoy, most of it the kind labelled “hipster” (though not “transcendental”). Mutilation Rites do not play hipster black metal; their one slight nod to anything like it being the occasional breakdown into a chug not unlike Motörhead at their most frantic. But I respect any band who can get the crowd moving and head-banging, and Mutilation Rites definitely did.

I hate busting on venues and sound guys, but I have to preface my thoughts on The Atlas Moth with a few words. This place had major, major issues, and because of it The Atlas Moth played an abbreviated set. When they had their gear set up and were ready to play, the sound men couldn’t get mics working, or monitors, or one half of the PA. Bum cords, loose wires, and more left the band standing onstage for thirty minutes while the sound guy ran from booth to stage and back, solving nothing. Once things were sort of fixed, The Atlas Moth literally said “Fuck it,” and started playing.

The Atlas Moth, stage left

And when they started, the whole place lit up. I had mixed thoughts about their latest album, An Ache For The Distance. I couldn’t get past the abrasive screams of vocalist/guitarist Stavros Giannopoulos (that’s him on the left, above) to get into the sound of the band. I have that issue with a lot of harsh vocals, but something told me that, like Ludicra before them, the live experience would give me a doorway into their music. The Atlas Moth didn’t just open the door, they kicked it in, broke the frame, and proceeded to tear through the place like Godzilla through Tokyo. Heavy yet perfectly clear, this was a band hellbent on overcoming anything that stood in their path. At one point Stavros’ microphone cut out, and he frowned but just proceeded to up the volume of his un-amplified voice to carry as far as it could. When the mic cut back in 20 or so seconds later he just leaned back a bit until he could readjust his voice for the next line. It was a masterful performance, despite two drops to one PA speaker (the one opposite my vantage point at the time, naturally), mics and effects cutting out intermittently and from what I could tell, only occasionally working stage monitors. I liked it so much I went to the other side of the stage and snapped this picture.

The Atlas Moth, stage right

Note the excellent unison headbanging from Kush and Klein on guitar and bass, respectively.

About halfway through The Atlas Moth’s set a second sound person emerged, and between the two they managed to iron things out and the load in for Alcest went off with almost no problems. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Alcest, though reports had reached me that they had become quite a good live band after some initial fits and starts as they moved from a one man bedroom project to full-blown touring band. And this truly is a band now, one with a great deal of practice and live shows behind them.

Alcest, the band

[note the Nate Carson doppelgänger peaking over the crowd from in front of stage left]

As stated, with the sound problems ironed out Alcest took the stage and were able to add muscle and heft to the beauty of the studio recordings. I am of mixed mind about the evolution of the band, as the bedroom record Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde hit me hard and strong, but the reintroduction of more black metal elements (those vocals again!) over the next two records have kept them at arms length, something I appreciate more than enjoy. Again, as with The Atlas Moth, the live experience allowed me a way in. This youtube clip of them playing “Percées de Lumière” from Écailles de Lune, though a bit rough on the audio side, does a decent job conveying how engaging their live sound can be.

Strangely, it was the more shoegazing and contemplative material that seemed to come up a bit short. I was grinning ear to ear when they launched into “Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde”, yet though I swayed and moved along with the rest of the audience, it seemed to be lacking something. It’s hard to sink into the otherworldliness when the band is onstage in front of you. However, it did let me capture my favorite picture of the evening, of Neige lost in sound.

Alcest, in heavenly rapture

All in all, well worth braving the torrential rains and 50mph winds. The real thunder and light show was inside this hall.

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