GIG REVIEW: MAYHEM & BLACK ANVIL Live at The Marquee Beer Market, Calgary
Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem rolled through Calgary this week!
I felt like I needed to study a bit in preparation for this show! I did some reading and listened to the 1994 debut album, ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’; the album the band are currently playing in its entirety to audiences across North America. As I read through the band’s history, it’s became evident that this record is a big deal, being widely touted as one of the most important releases in the history of black metal. The band is not without its own infamous past; the fact that the studio line up for ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ includes both Euronymous and Varg Vikernes playing together before that relationship turned sour is a story that holds an intriguing lure to it. I believe that there are certain bands that every metal head should see at least once, and Mayhem is on that list for me. So off I went into Calgary’s appropriately grim cold night to see the show.
The show was at a venue called Marquee Beer Market on the other side of town; a surprising choice of venue for a show like this, so I did not know what to expect. This club has had a long history of different names, management/ownership changes, debauchery and violence, and well, backwards-capped bros on the prowl. I had never been before, so it really was all new for me. Relieved to be inside from the bitterly cold weather, I walked around the venue to see what it was all about and suss out the crowd.
The venue itself is beautiful; a long room with a great ceiling of dangling microphones and a shiny mirror ball, which I’m sure is great for it’s regular demographic of club-goers and DJ’s. What was a strange sight for me was the venues big digital screen rotating through upcoming events: DJ night here! Book your bottle service for your bachelorette night! I smiled as I wondered if their ‘sexy-party-rave-bass-in-your-face’ adverts (the most colourful thing in the room) was having an impact on this audience at all.
As I observed the crowd, the first thing that came to mind was how diverse it was. I was really surprised by the dynamics. While yes, there were all the people one would expect at a show like this, I was also surprised by the amount or ‘regular joe’ looking people, spotting a few seemingly out of place things including a hockey jersey, a blue jays baseball cap, and I even thought I saw a Calgary Stampede belt buckle!
As I waited for supports Black Anvil to complete their set up and start their show, my mind drifted a bit and I started playing a game of black metal bingo that looked a bit like this:
Burzum tshirt? Check
Corpse paint? Checkity check.
Army boots? Many a check
Goth girl? Check
Some very serious looking people? You bet-check!
Meanwhile, back in reality; the floor in front of the stage was empty, but as the moment got closer for Black Anvil to take the stage, movement began to increase, the crowd politely edging its perimeter. When they arrived, it felt like they were almost a part of the audience! The five-piece were right up front and centre of the stage, including the band’s drummer, sharing piece of the spotlight. With their latest album ‘As Was’ having just being released last month, it was a good time to hear some of their new material. Their sound is a bit of a unique blend of trademark black metal riffs and vocals, but also this slower, melodic, sludgy sound. I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear clean vocals at this show!
Mayhem’s entrance to the stage was ominous. By the light of two candles, the hooded guitarists appeared to the sound of a bell and some ritualistic chanting. The fast and high-pitched introduction to “Funeral Fog” began, and lead singer Attila appeared fully cloaked and casting a massive, dark shadow on the crowd.
With “Freezing Moon” up next, I felt like was watching the start of a satanic ceremony, with Attila in full ritual mode. Halfway through the bassist’s hood came back, revealing Necrobutcher sneering at the crowd. He remained the only hoodless member for the duration of the show.
The time between songs seems to be a time of prayer for Attila, as he faces the candles with his hands to the sky. Attila is a big presence on stage (really big. I mean, how tall is the guy? I hope he plays basketball!) and combined with the lighting and fog on stage, added to the already morbid mood, as the rest of the band returned to launch into their next song.
The crowd were really into it. There was no space between floor and stage, so the front row was right up and personal with the band hovering only a few feet above them. That was a little bit close for my liking, so I settled on a more spacious spot up the back where I could get a clear and full view of the stage.
When I listened to the album at home, it was an intense experience. Obviously, being a studio album, it has been engineered, mastered and is a professional production. I like hearing the bass clearly in an otherwise treble sound that’s the cornerstone of the black metal genre. It’s an incredible album to listen to. However, I liked it less live. While the visual live experience was intense and dramatic, audibly it wasn’t as much of a punch in the face as I’d hoped. Perhaps it was the way the sound traveled through the room, or perhaps I wasn’t in the right space to hear the full spectrum of the experience. What I do know is that the band played their guts out, and I really loved that.
Overall, this was a good show. I was impressed by the venue, and hope that they put on more metal shows in the future. Mayhem played really well, and as the fans were leaving, I could overhear people talk about how stoked they were to experience this special night.