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Live Report: False, Dumal, and Sonja @ Kung Fu Necktie (Philly)

Sonja is the latest project featuring Melissa Moore, formerly known as Vis Crom formerly of Absu before she transitioned. The trio is the diametric opposite of her former group’s intense blackened thrash (or any of the other handful of projects she has been involved with), instead opting for a classic hard rock vibe with a dark underbelly.

The songs they played last Friday in Philly were filled with big riffs and bigger choruses. It was noticeably influenced by classic 1980s metal though filtered through a dark, gritty street vibe, like a less pretty Wrathchild (the mid-1980s British band that merged mascara and Motörhead, not third generation thrashers Wrathchild America) and early Mötley Crüe. Still, her musical roots showed when the band closed the set with a rollicking, stripped-down cover of Mercyful Fate’s “Doomed by the Living Dead.”

Dumal is also local, though the band’s 2017 debut The Lesser God garnered positive reviews internationally. Watching the trio on the Kung Fu Necktie stage, it’s easy to see why.

The black metal they proffered was authentic enough that it didn’t matter, especially since it came out considerably rawer than on the album. Some of the more atmospheric qualities of the album were not apparent in the buzzsaw live mix but the trio more than made up for it with melodies that brightened up the bleak nature of the music.

Drummer Evan Williams and guitarist Andrew Dorflinger in particular showed an ability to play their instruments well yet also the innate sense to know when to rein in the impulse to show off for the benefit of actual songcraft. Maybe if they played out more the atmospheric qualities of their recorded output it would be more apparent, but there’s a lot to like about Dumal either way.

False is notoriously reclusive. The band scarcely had an online presence for ages before finally starting a Facebook page, only recently started doing more interviews, and didn’t even publicize the names of the six people who make up the band. They didn’t even title a record until Portent (our full review here) whose release this show celebrated. Even though they are coming out of their self-imposed shells and touring more than they probably ever expected, there’s still a mysterious allure when the band comes to town.

False is definitely black metal, lacking a better term, but with the uncompromising grime of crust punk coating everything in sight. Lots of bands proffer crusty black metal, but few of them also incorporate melodramatic keyboards, power metal flourishes, Maidenesque gallops beneath shimmering Norwegian riffscapes that don’t sound retro even though by all rights they should.

Technical prowess is what truly differentiates False from anyone else: keyboards flash (not as loud in the live mix as would have been ideal, truth be told), the tandem guitarist attack is manic and exhilarating, and the rhythm section operates on another level. The cacophony seems chaotic but the band’s talent keeps it all syncopated and glued to the rails no matter the speed or sharpness of turns that the music takes. And it gets very fast with lots of hairpin daredevilry, every second of it the thrill of a roller coaster going twice as fast as it was designed to go.

The intensity never lets up during the show. There is no between-song banter — there’s pretty much no between song pauses, even. This gives the set the feeling of being one long piece, like the loudest, most abrasive classical music imaginable. It’s sonically impossible to compare this to even the most bombastic classical compositions, but False refuses to safely fit anywhere else. So what the hell?

How fortunate that the exact moment they put everything together is also when they overcame the compulsion to be overly protective of their art and personalities and time and energies. They are not the band we deserve, but the band we need right now more than ever.

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