Just eight days into 2015 and I was heading to my first show of the year, the Black Metal Warfare Tour, featuring Canadian Black/Death Metal band, REVENGE, Swedish black Metal titans, WATAIN, and True Norwegian Black Metal legends, MAYHEM. I purchased tickets for this show the day they went on sale, so I had been greatly looking forward to this night for what seemed like an eternity. Just hours before the gig, A&GS received a little bonus in that Erik Danielsson had sent his answers to our email interview. However, an unexpected change took place for the night when we got the news that MAYHEM could not perform due to visa complications. But this wouldn’t dare stop me from seeing REVENGE and WATAIN! Each band was able to play longer sets, so it evened out. I arrived at my favorite Philadelphia venue, Union Transfer, shortly before REVENGE was about to take the stage.
I quickly met up with The Maestro and asked him if he was ready to see who I believe is the heaviest band on the planet. He said yes, informing me that my statement was very bold. The trio took the stage one by one, and seconds later the non-stop assault began with “Cleansing Siege (Take Them Down)”. They continued on with a personal favorite, “Traitor Crucifixion” which gave way to a brand new song. I was unable to get the title of this new track, but I will tell you that it was crushing and powerful. Hopefully this new tune means we will see a release from them this year. Other highlights included “Death Heritage (Built Upon Sorrow),” “Pride Ruination (Division Collapse),” “Desolation Insignia”, and “Altar of Triumph.”
Although there seemed to be some technical issues with the mix at times, REVENGE sounded dominating, fierce, and chaotic the entire way through their eight-song set, ending with “Parasite Gallows (In Line).” Maestro clearly saw my point, recognizing the extremity of the Canadian three-piece. This was the first chance I have had to see them, and I am already looking forward to my next REVENGE show.
Their war banners were removed from the stage in favor of crucified human skeletons and a goat skull-adorned altar, as WATAIN was ready to begin their live ritual. Shortly after, the lights went out, giving way to the stage illuminated in red light. The band appeared first, with Erik Danielsson joining them later. He entered the stage holding a chalice built into a human skull. He stood in front of one of the two crucified human skeletons as he drank from the chalice, spitting the blood he drank onto the bones from head to torso. He did this to each skeleton, then the quintet began their extended set list with “Death’s Cold Dark” from 2010’s Lawless Darkness. The crowd was entranced and the energy immediately swelled. This being my first WATAIN live ritual, I knew to expect the extreme in regards to the visual, as well as the musicianship. However, both aspects instantly surpassed my expectations.
The warfare raged on with “Black Flames March” from their 2013 opus The Wild Hunt. “Total Funeral” was next and an absolute highlight for me. It is one of my favorite tracks in their catalog and seemed a thousand times better in a live setting. Sworn to the Dark made its first appearance of the night with “Storm of the Antichrist.” It was around this time that Erik lit three of the five candles at the onstage altar and spewed more blood. The Casus Luciferi record showed its face with “Puzzles ov Flesh.” To this point in the set, it seemed to get exponentially better. The song choices were spread across almost their entire discography, and once you thought the atmosphere and energy was at its peak, it raised another level. And another. And another! The beatings continued with “Underneath the Cenotaph” before slowing the tempo down with “The Wild Hunt.”
Erik lit what appeared to be a bundle of sage on fire, holding it outward and above his head while reciting his verses. Going into this show, I wasn’t expecting to hear any of WATAIN’S slower tempo songs, so this was a thoroughly enjoyed and welcomed surprise. The tempo was increased as Erik screamed “THIS IS OUTLAW!” at the song’s end, and the band broke into the opening notes of “Outlaw.” All the members had a menacing and intimidating look for the duration of the set, and at times, Erik appeared to be possessed or empowered by his live ritual. There are many bands that use these stage “theatrics” as just that, but you could tell that a WATAIN live performance is truly their temple as Erik told us in his interview. This is the real thing, not some shtick to seem falsely “dark” or “mysterious.”
“I Am the Earth” steam rolled forward, and at this point, the band could have had the entire Philadelphia crowd eating from their palms. Erik spit more blood onto the skeletons, preparing the finale of their massive twelve song set. “On Horns Impaled,” my favorite track from their debut LP, Rabid Death’s Curse, got everyone’s heads banging and the pit grew to its largest size of the night. Again, being able to experience various compositions from their entire collection of studio LPs was truly a spectacle that I will not soon forget. After the song ended, I turned and said to my friend Bill: “Man, I REALLY hope they play ‘Sworn to the Dark.’” AND WOULDN’T YOU FUCKING KNOW IT; THEY BLASTED RIGHT INTO THAT EXACT SONG! We looked at each other in disbelief and quickly made our way over to the pit to have a go. This moment really sent my night over the edge and I was in my utmost state of euphoria.
For this entire performance, the band didn’t miss a note. Their mix was absolutely perfect and WATAIN most definitely gave it their all on this night. They concluded their extended set, returning to the Lawless Darkness record with “Malfeitor.” The quintet ended with an extreme and epic choice, and as the final notes rang out, they exited the stage with dim red lighting upon the fog they left behind and an ominous backing track playing through the sound system. A couple minutes later, the house lights went on and the night was over.
The group of friends I traveled to Philly with and I met up with The Maestro briefly after the performance. There wasn’t a disappointed comment to be heard. Sure, it sucks that MAYHEM was unable to make it, but REVENGE and WATAIN did one hell of a job filling the extra time, and those in attendance received their money’s worth!
I spoke to some fans that had seen WATAIN numerous times before, with many stating that this was the absolute best show they had witnessed from them. As my first chance seeing both bands, I can honestly say that it was one of the better shows I have ever seen. I cannot wait to catch each of them again, which will hopefully happen sooner rather than later. 2015 has started with a hard act to follow. It’s going to be damn near impossible for any shows to stand up to this. Since this night, MAYHEM has joined the Black Metal Warfare Tour on U.S. soil. Whether they were able to make it or not, I’d still GREATLY urge you to witness this incredible black metal experience. This will be a tour that fans will talk about for many years to come.
LIVE REVIEW: ERIC THE BULL
LIVE PHOTOS: MIKE SIEVILA PHOTOGRAPHY