Celeste/Primitive Man/Ilsa/Connoisseur/Musket Hawk at Sidebar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, June 28, 2015

France’s Celeste is a band that I’ve been anxious to see live for close to seven years now, as ever since Denovali sent their debut full length Nihiliste(s) my way for review back in 2008 I’ve kept a close eye on them. The group merges elements of sludge and post hardcore together into a murky, chaotic mixture that completely overwhelms the listener with darkness and sheer intensity. Considering that all of their material to date has been released on German label Denovali Records, I had assumed that my best chance at seeing a live performance would involve a trip to Europe. So I was thrilled when earlier this year it was announced Celeste would be coming over to the U.S. for their first North American tour along with sludge/doom heavyweights Primitive Man. Despite the Baltimore show taking place on a Wednesday night, a packed venue came out to see a bill that was killer from beginning to end.

Baltimore locals Musket Hawk started the night off with their blend of grind/sludge that pulls in elements from just about every sub-genre of metal. I first wrote about these guys a few years back and have seen them a couple times since then, and they seem to get better and better with every performance. After releasing their debut full length back in 2013 Musket Hawk has been a very active band, playing shows on a regular basis and releasing live demos and a split with Sunburster. If you haven’t heard these guys before, the first thing you’ll likely notice is that their sound is very appealing but not easy to classify. At its core, there are a lot of fast, chaotic riffs and sudden breaks that bring grindcore to mind along with some sludgier breaks. But there’s a lot more happening than just those two styles, and the newer material that the band played on this evening was a great example of that. The all-out grind assault would often give way to some blues-tinged sludge riffs and there was even a moment during one song where the guitar lead sounded like it was channeling black metal. While all of this is happening from the instrumentals, Musket Hawk employs a dual vocal attack that perfectly balances super low growls/grunts and high pitched shrieking/screaming and the switch off between the two constantly catches you off guard. This was definitely the tightest set I’ve seen from them yet, and with another full length currently in the works I think it is only a matter of time before this band is known far outside the local Baltimore area.

Connoisseur was the next band on the bill, and the first touring act to play. I didn’t know a whole lot about the Oakland based group aside from the fact that all of their songs are written about weed, but man was their set some of the most fun I’ve had watching this type of hardcore/punk and sludge in quite some time. They had a giant banner that said “Smoke Weed” up on the wall behind them, and in between almost every song they were telling weed stories and jokes that had the entire crowd laughing the whole time. But that’s not to say that stage banter is all these guys had to offer, as the music was heavy hitting hardcore/punk with some hints of powerviolence and sludge thrown in for good measure. There was a great balance between the slower breaks and super-fast instrumental attacks and quite a few of the riffs grabbed me throughout the set. Plus vocalist Carlos is a perfect fit for Connoisseur’s humorous yet aggressive performance, as he has a very thick growl/scream that hits with the maximum level of intensity. He was also very animated during the set and ran around the front of the stage quite a bit, which ended up sans pants by the end of it all. It was equal parts entertaining and heavy, which is definitely a great combination. I know that a lot of people, myself included, aren’t always into when a group talks a lot between every song but I’ll have to make an exception for Connoisseur because they really sold it and who doesn’t want to have a laugh about some good weed in between some killer tunes? I’m going to have to catch up on their discography, and hopefully they come through the East Coast again sometime because this was a really fun set that everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy quite a bit.

Up next was Ilsa, who I now think I’ve seen more times than I can count. That’s definitely not a bad thing though, considering that out of all the local DC/Baltimore area bands I think they’re probably the best representation of the death/doom/crust sound from around here. This particular performance also served as the official record release show for their newest full length The Felon’s Claw, which A389 Records put out as a pop-up gatefold cover vinyl at the end of May. Although their sound hasn’t changed that much since I first became familiar with their music quite a few years ago, Ilsa has been one of those groups that found a style that worked early on and has been making subtle tweaks ever since. Their live set takes the crunchier riffs and heavy hitting drums from their recordings and amplifies everything even more, making it the best way to experience what they have to offer. As you would expect from a record release performance, a good amount of the material was focused on The Felon’s Claw but the group still had time to include some old favorites that had the sizeable crowd whipped up into a frenzy. Even though the riffs and drums are absolutely crushing, I still think that vocalist Orion is why I like this band live so much as he has an incredibly raw and abrasive screaming style that towers over the instrumentation and brings that much more energy to the table. Every single time Ilsa plays in Baltimore they always draw quite a few people and it’s easy to see why, as their performances never waver in their intensity or quality and they continue to be one of the best acts on A389’s roster.

Primitive Man’s extremely dense sludge/doom caught my attention back in 2013 when their debut full length completely decimated my eardrums. Originally released on Throatruiner Records and Mordgrimm in Europe, the effort was later reissued by Relapse who also put out the group’s newest EP Home Is Where The Hatred Is. I came in with high expectations and it only took a few minutes for Primitive Man to completely blow them away, as their crushing, destructive riffs and sudden shifts from slow, plodding doom to fast attacks translates perfectly in a live setting. These guys play extremely loud, which allows the drearier tonality and overwhelming bleakness of the guitar and bass work to fully wash over you. The crowd seemed to be completely entranced for the majority of the set, captivated by the slower riffs and vocal performance of guitarist Ethan Lee McCarthy, but woke up into some intense moshing around the time that the instrumentals picked up speed. Speaking of the vocals, McCarthy has some of the most intense growls I’ve heard in this genre in quite some time as there is so much weight and expansiveness to each word that it feels just as bleak and destructive as the other elements of Primitive Man’s music. It was the type of set that seemed to end far too quickly, which is just a testament to how much the band was able to suck me into their songs and keep me fully engaged. I had missed their previous performance back in Washington D.C. in May, but after witnessing just how intense they are live I will be sure to catch them again anytime they come through the area.

Despite the fact that Primitive Man had just leveled the venue, Celeste proved themselves to be a worthy follow up and likely gained quite a few new fans that evening from those that weren’t familiar with the material. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as despite being a big fan of all their recorded output I hadn’t spent a good deal of time looking online for live videos to see what I was in store for. Choosing to keep it a surprise turned out to be a good thing, as it turns out that the group plays in complete darkness with red headlamps and occasional bursts of strobe lights offering the only glimpse of the members on-stage. Right as they began two fog machines on either side of the stage went off, completely encasing the venue and making it so that you could only see the members of the audience to either side of you. The effect was truly mesmerizing, as the headlamps would move up and down with the members’ movements and make red lights shine through the venue right before the strobe lights kicked into full gear. It fits perfectly with the type of music that Celeste writes, as their combination of abrasive sludge/post hardcore is bleak and unrelenting and the sheer wall of sound didn’t let up for the entire set. Vocalist Johan has a higher pitched scream that has a certain degree of rawness to it, and while there were moments where the volume of the instrumentals swallowed up some of his screaming he managed to break through when it mattered most. I would’ve been perfectly content with Celeste playing their material on-stage with the lights on, but the sensory experience they provided with the fog machine/strobe lights made this an unforgettable set that left me stunned when it was over. Definitely one of the best performances I’ve seen this year, and that’s saying something considering that I’ve been to some incredible festivals and tours in 2015.

Cheers to Hasan/Ripping Headaches for bringing together another killer package where each band would’ve been worth seeing on their own. There are still a handful of dates left on the Celeste/Primitive Man tour, and if it’s coming your way and you have any interest whatsoever in extremely heavy and bleak music it’s one not to be missed. I may have waited quite a few years to see Celeste live, but they exceeded every expectation and hopefully it won’t be long before they return.

Music:

Links:

Celeste- https://www.facebook.com/celesteband
Primitive Man- https://www.facebook.com/primitivemandoom
Ilsa- https://www.facebook.com/ILSADC
Connoisseur- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Connoisseur/192545677457907
Musket Hawk- https://www.facebook.com/Muskethawk
Denovali Records- http://www.denovali.com/
Relapse Records- http://www.relapse.com/
A389 Records- http://www.a389records.com
Tankcrimes- http://www.tankcrimes.com/
Unholy Anarchy Records- http://www.unholyanarchy.com/

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