I learned something Saturday night! Listening to old-school black metal and seeing it performed live are wildly different experiences. That holds doubly true when the band is Sweden’s Watain. There were a lot of—how shall I put this—”unexpected” surprises throughout. Even the stuff I did anticipate didn’t really register until the moment it was actually happening (“Wow! That guy is about to throw a whole goblet of animal blood all over us!). Anyway, we’ll talk about that later. First, it’s time to discuss the talented opening acts!
I’d listened to a bit of Ares Kingdom prior to the show, but I feel like seeing them live gave me a better appreciation for them. They were a lot of fun to watch, in large part thanks to how “in their element” they appeared to be. They loved feeding off the audience’s energy, pointing and smiling whenever they caught someone singing along. Towards the end of their set, they even managed to stir up a mosh, not something you usually see the first act on the bill accomplish. Overall, an energetic, tight thrash band with a good sense of how to connect with a crowd.
You know that gloriously awkward period in 80s thrash where everyone still dressed like they were in a hair metal band? If not, please do yourself a favor and look up some pictures of your favorite thrash group during that period. All of the dudes from Slayer lined up in skintight blue jeans and leather pants is truly a sight to behold. Anyway, this was exactly the look that Destroyer 666 embraced, and I dug it a lot! As for the music, these guys clearly knew what they were doing. The sheer technical prowess required to play that fast is not something every band possesses, and even the ones that do rarely seem to be able to translate it into coherent, impactful songs. Not a problem for Destroyer 666 though! Also, that cover of Motorhead’s “Iron Fist” made my night.
I can confidently say that Watain was totally unlike any other black metal show I’ve ever seen. The whole thing caught me off-guard. Being a big fan of the band, I’d already plenty of online articles about their infamous onstage antics (satanic rituals, dousing their audiences in actual animal blood, etc.), but the realization of what was about to go down didn’t really kick in until right before their set, when one of their roadies walked onstage with a severed goat head and impaled it on an inverted cross two yards in front of me. It had been skinned, but the eyes and tongue were still intact. Not a pleasant sight. Not a pleasant smell.
As soon as Watain took the stage, the lights went out and the ritual began. The crowd, which had already been fairly rowdy throughout the first two sets, turned up to eleven the moment that first wave of tremeloed, buzzsaw guitar riffage hit. From that point onward, there was no going back. Pure black metal insanity ensued. Blood was spilled. Flesh was burnt (as if the poor goat head hadn’t been through enough, they had to light it on fire in the middle of the show!). Sacrilegious prayers were howled into the night. All in all, not my typical Saturday, but a nice change of pace. Watain are clearly great at what they do—to say otherwise would be to incur the wrath of too many pagan deities for me to handle.
Photographer Notes: I was covering for one of our photographers who is a lot more into the genre than I am, so I was a bit concerned about shooting at a venue without a photo pit. What I found at other metal shows that I covered in the past, held true for this show as well. Metal heads are some of the kindest and coolest fans on the planet. Random people were offering my their spot for a better angle – you guys are the best! Watain’s set was a perfect storm (super dark, fast movement, and a very active crowd) so the photos are the best I could get without being a jerk and pushing my way to the front. The mosh pit was impressive, but again good natured and not out of control.
There were 2 shows at the Skyway that night. The sight of club kids in costume and rough rockers peacefully sharing the smoking patio outside the venue should be a notice to others that no matter how different we are. We all can get along very easily, it just takes a bit of acceptance and good will