Chaos Raids USA Tour at Empire

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, March 1, 2015

Norwegian black metal band 1349 has gone through some fairly significant stylistic shifts in recent years after offering completely unrelenting material for the better part of a decade. Liberation through Hellfire all seemed equally focused on decimating everything in their path, which made 2009’s Revelation of the Black Flame so unexpected. That particular album went for a slower black metal and dark ambient sound, which divided opinions (I personally thought it had good intentions but didn’t deliver with its executions). Since that time 1349 has released two more full lengths, 2010’s Demonoir which went back to the fast paced black metal while keeping some of the dark ambient interludes, and last year’s Massive Cauldron of Chaos which stripped things back down and offered traditional black metal and black/thrash. Massive Cauldron of Chaos ended up being a bit of a surprise with how solid it was, and as a result I decided that it was time to catch another live set from this group on their Chaos Raids USA tour.

Cladonia Rangiferina started the evening off, taking the stage shortly after doors opened. Although the crowd was still fairly sparse during their set (likely because of how early doors were on a Tuesday night), those that showed up early were able to catch what I think may be some of the more promising black metal I’ve heard from the local-ish area. The group is based near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, so they aren’t quite a local band like many of the NOVA acts that often open up at Empire. But their addition to the bill was appreciated, as it fit perfectly. Cladonia Rangiferina’s singer started off the set with a scream/chant that reverberated throughout the room even though he wasn’t using a microphone. This set the tone for the particular type of black metal that they play, which focuses on lengthier songs with hypnotic, sprawling riffs that sucks the listener right in. In between the louder, fast paced moments there were quite a few softer interludes that had a much warmer feel and seemed to be channeling some psychedelic influences that gave their material a very different vibe from some of the other black metal out there. Throughout the performance the vocals stayed at a harsher scream/growl but they added a considerable amount of intensity and consistently grabbed my attention. My only criticism was that a few of the transitions from the mellower clean instrumental work to the harsher blasting seemed a bit abrupt and not quite as fluid as I would like, but aside from that I was very impressed. Keep this name in your head, as Cladonia Rangiferina’s combination of abrasive black metal and warmer, earthy tonality gives them quite a bit of potential.

Yesterday’s Saints were the other addition to the Empire tour date, and they’re a band I’ve been familiar with for a few years now as I’ve seen vocalist Matt Rice at various shows and festivals over the years and have chatted with him quite a bit. Rather than jumping on every single show, it has often seemed like Yesterday’s Saints has been a bit more strategic about what tours they chose to open for and they’ve been getting their name out there quite a bit lately. After releasing a self-titled demo in 2011 the group released their debut full length Generation of Vipers at the beginning of February, which is a concept album based around the Satan throughout various points in time (this is simplifying things quite a bit, read the bio on their Bandcamp for the full concept). Their overall sound falls somewhere between melodic death metal, thrash, and even a little power metal, and it’s a combination that’s likely to appeal to a fairly wide range of the metal fan base. While I like the sound that the band was able to achieve on Generations of Vipers, based on the sheer amount of energy they put forth in a live setting I feel like this is where they truly thrive. The instrumental work hits even harder live, as the riffs move between mellower hooks and intense melodic death metal/thrash that grab your attention, while Matt Rice brings a level of intensity as a front man that is hard to match. His vocal work is a lot more diverse than one might initially expect, as rather than sticking with lower pitched growls and screams like so many of the other vocalists out there he heads into cleaner territory on a regular basis and the sheer amount of pitches he is able to utilize makes a big difference. Sometimes when bands like this have a lot of clean singing in their material it becomes apparent how much studio wizardry they use as the singers deliver weaker or off key ranges during their performance, but this is definitely not the case with Yesterday’s Saints as Rice’s vocal work is just as strong if not more so in person. Yesterday’s Saints delivered a tight performance that made it clear they are seasoned live players, and if you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned metal styles they’re worth catching at a show.

Up next was Minneapolis’ Wolvhammer, a band that I’ve read quite a bit about online but hadn’t spent that much time with yet. Their newest full length Clawing Into Black Sun came out last year on Profound Lore, and given that label’s ear for quality I had a feeling that I would like whatever the band had to offer. As it turns out, this was definitely the case and the group’s black metal/sludge combination made an immediate impression. The core of Wolvhammer’s sound falls somewhere between the two genres, as while they have plenty of slower grooves and that bottom heaviness that gives some real weight to the material there are plenty of faster sections that up the abrasiveness and have more of a black metal feel. It’s a combination that works extremely well and gives the band a different sound from quite a few of the other sludge bands out there, as they are able to maintain an equal amount of sheer abrasiveness and colder atmosphere. Lead singer Adam Clemens was able to bring the same level of intensity as the rest of the band, and his higher pitched screams often towered over the layers of sound and consistently grabbed my attention. I really liked the particular mix that Wolvhammer had on-stage, as not only were the riffs able to expand naturally and completely envelop the audience with their colder atmosphere and grittiness but the vocals were always clear and never got buried underneath the wall of sound. Like most of the performances that grab me this one seemed like it was over far too quickly, as with their allotted time the band was only able to play a handful of songs and they seemed to smartly gravitate towards material from Clawing Into Black Sun. I was left with a very strong first impression from a group that seems to blur the lines between sludge and black metal, and I’ll have to check their recorded output out a little more closely while I await their return to the area.

Although Abysmal Dawn is on the majority of the tour package they weren’t a part of the Empire date, so that meant that right after Wolvhammer’s set ended it was time for Origin. Chances are good that if you’re into death metal of any kind you’re familiar with Origin to an extent, as they’ve been writing extremely technical brutal death metal for over a decade now. Although I wasn’t quite as into their latest full length Omnipresent when compared to Antithesis and Entity, I thought that vocalist Jason Keyser was a great addition and was still looking forward to seeing them perform live. Despite the amount of intensity and brutality present in their live performance, Origin’s live sets can also be described as fun which isn’t something that you might always expect out of a metal band. I’m not sure where it originated, but fans of the group have started making pillow fights in the mosh pit a tradition of sorts, and this was the case on this particular evening. There were pillows flying everywhere as the band flew through their dizzying display of death metal, and Keyser was able to whip the crowd up into a frenzy regularly, at one point even starting a wall of death with the premise being that black metal and death metal fans should each get on one side and meet in the middle. However, despite the sheer amount of energy that the band was able to bring to the table I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the mix on-stage. The amount of clarity that was present for Wolvhammer seemed to have disappeared, and both guitar and bass seemed to be far too muddy and blur together underneath the dominant drum and vocal mix. Considering how cool a lot of the leads and solos are on Origin’s songs, it was a bit of disappointment that they seemed harder to make out than usual. The amount of energy and the amusing on-stage banter mixed with Jason Keyser’s crazy amount of stage presence still made this set an enjoyable one for me though, and I would recommend Origin’s live performance to anyone that likes this type of death metal and wants to have fun at the same time. I just hope whatever venue they come to next won’t bury the guitar and bass so much as the sheer technical ability of the guys in this group makes it something that should be emphasized more.

This was my second time seeing 1349, as they had been on a tour with Triptykon nearly four years ago. During that performance I found that the group put on a blistering performance, but my focus was almost entirely on Triptykon and I didn’t dedicate quite enough of my focus on them. A headlining set seemed like the perfect way to rectify that, and this proved to be the right decision. In case you’re wondering, Frost is not behind the kit for this particular tour, with Jon Rice filling in for the entire run. I’ve heard rumors of visa issues and things like that, despite the fact that Frost has come over with various bands in the past, but regardless of what the actual deal was Rice was very capable of pulling off the nuances of the drum work in between the all-out blasting. I was expecting that with the recent release of Massive Cauldron of Chaos 1349 would start the night off with material from that newest albums, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that they kicked things off with “Sculptor of Flesh” and “I Am Abomination” from Hellfire before offering some of the newer arrangements. After this point the majority of the set focused on Massive Cauldron of Chaos, with a few numbers thrown in from Demonoir, Beyond the Apocalypse, Liberation, and Revelation of the Black Flame. The instrumental work sounded great, and although the first song or two had slightly muffled guitars as the set progressed the balance between the instruments got a bit better. Admittedly, as with the last time I saw them as it got towards the end of the set some of the material had started to blur together for me but I found myself much more engaged than before and the band delivered a high energy performance. Vocalist Ravn’s harsher snarl/scream comes through even better live as well, and he kept the stage banter to a minimum which gave 1349 more time to cram in plenty of songs. I was worried that Ravn’s vocal work might get lost in the noisiness of the instrumentals, which has been a common element of many of the black metal sets I have seen over the years, but that proved to not be the case. They may not be one of my favorites in the genre, but 1349 has been on the upswing again recently with two great albums (Demonoir and Massive Cauldron of Chaos) and despite a little bit of repetition their live set seems even more intense and in your face than before. If you’re not already into their style of black metal I don’t know if a live set will change that, but if you have any interest at all in this band’s past or present material they’re worth catching on-stage.





Yesterday’s Saints-
Cladonia Rangiferina-

Leave a Reply