Another year, another great package of bands touring together. When the news reached me last summer that Behemoth had announced a European tour, I thought I might go to the gig in my hometown. When I discovered later that besides Behemoth also At The Gates and Wolves In The Throne Room were on the bill – At The Gates being a band I probably love more than Behemoth, Wolves In The Throne Room being a band I had been wanting to see live for a while already but hadn’t been able to make it so far – it was kinda clear I’d follow my habits and go to more than one show. This way I found myself spending three ice cold January afternoons queuing outside venues in Frankfurt, Oberhausen and Hamburg, fortunately always in the lovely company of good friends! And to those people who are still in doubt whether it’s necessary to see the same show several times – this tour was another proof to me that it’s always worth it, because each night was different. The one thing they had in common though were three great performances by three great and unique bands!
Wolves In The Throne Room
Wolves In The Throne Room had the ungrateful task of opening the show every night. While I had been lucky enough to discover their atmospheric melodic black metal a while ago already, most people in the audiences never seemed to have heard of them before. They played an almost dark stage that took the focus completely away from the musicians who were hardly visible anyway. Instead it was about the atmosphere that was created by the music, the ambient sounds, the stage decoration, the lighting and a little play with fire and incense. For the 30 minutes of their set, you were not standing in a concert venue anymore. You were sitting around a campfire in a cave of ancient past, dreading the dangers that are lurking on the outside.
WITTR were received surprisingly well by the audiences. Where other people would have said ‘boring’, everybody here seemed to be really impressed by their efforts. Whether the band was still stuck in people’s heads three hours later, after you’d been blown away by Behemoth’s massive show, I don’t know – but they would certainly deserve it!
At The Gates
At The Gates took the stage as main opener. In between WITTR and Behemoth who both worked a lot (or at least to a certain extent) with show elements, the Gothenburg legends were sort of the outcasts of the night, because even if their light tech gave everything, in the end it was still just a bunch of scruffy dudes in jeans and bandshirts rocking the stage. And that’s not at all meant as a negative thing. At The Gates don’t need to be about looking good or doing a show, they are simply about the energy kick you get from the music, and in their case that’s more than enough. The band itself is the show, especially singer Tomas Lindberg who owns the whole stage, doesn’t stand still for a second and keeps posing and animating the crowd. Looking through the few (mostly blurry) photos I took when I was not too busy rocking out with them, I realized that there’s indeed not a single shot where he’s not striking a pose, shaking his fist, pulling a face or being fun in some other way. This speaks for his performance which is one with his in-your-face vocals.
There was the show in Frankfurt though where due to wrong sound mixing I almost couldn’t hear the vocals, while the rest of the band sounded fantastic. I still enjoyed this one a lot, which speaks for the band, the songs and the arrangements. Then there was the show in Oberhausen where the sound wasn’t great at all. But then there was the show in Hamburg where really everything was perfect. At some point halfway through the set I became aware that my face was pulled into a huge smile… This band makes me happy, and I hope I’ll get another chance to see them soon!
Behemoth were the mindblowing grand finale of the night of course. It’s not often that you get to see a show like this. Lights, fire, smoke, so much fire! At the front, you don’t just watch and listen, you feel the waves of heat from the fire and the cold from the dry ice. Eventually, to complete the all-sensual interactive 4D experience, you get spit with artificial blood straight from the mouths of the musicians. In the center of it all there’s the band in their elaborate outfits and masks, especially Nergal of course with his unbelievable stage presence that is so mezmerizing it’s hard to take your eyes off him.
Even if I had seen Behemoth before and more or less knew what to expect, at the first gig in Frankfurt I found the show absolutely overpowering. The music was great, of course, but especially compared to the not so easily accessible older songs in the set, it was the visual side of the concert that was most effective and made me gasp over and over again. And this left a foul aftertaste, because as much as I enjoy watching a great show, in the first place I go to gigs because of the music, and it should be the music that blows me away the most. It shouldn’t be a mindblowing show with okay music.
Fortunately, (I will never get tired to stress this) it always, always pays off to go to several shows of the same tour. In Oberhausen, declared one of the best shows of the tour by Nergal himself, all of a sudden music and show felt perfectly balanced, supported each other and together created Behemoth’s fascinating dark ecclesial atmosphere. In Hamburg finally, just like for ATG the show with the best sound, and now that the thrill of the show had worn off just a tiny little bit, I even found myself dwelling deeper into the music and enjoying the brutal power and untamed beauty of the songs. In this regard I have to say the setlist was perfectly chosen; with a good mix of older and newer songs there was always a good balance of catchy and more tricky parts.
In the end, it’s impossible to say one band was better than the other at these gigs. Especially At The Gates and Behemoth are so different in the way they do their shows, there’s no comparison or competition between them, and no band can take away from the other. At the same time, musically the fans of the one band mostly probably won’t exactly hate the other. All in all, this combination of bands was brilliant and I’m glad I was able to be part of this tour for a bit!