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Live Report: The Metal Alliance Tour at Irving Plaza

Behemoth

Back in February, Behemoth frontman Nergal caught some fire for saying the following in an interview with Ghost Cult Magazine:

Extreme Metal music these days is often only extreme by definition. It is a never-ending process of striving for perfection. Too many bands are chasing this and the scene is becoming like the X-Factor for Black Metal. There is no danger and unpredictability anymore. The majority of Death Metal bands from the U.S.A are so generic, they all sound perfect. It is fast and technical but there is no substance. Bands forget about emotion when they strive for perfection. You should be driven by your intuition and not just be concerned with shredding on your guitar. Perfection is boring and uninspiring….Extreme art must make people uncomfortable whether it is music, art or films.

I agree with Nergal’s sentiment for the most part, but it certainly sounds odd coming from him. Behemoth are masters of pasteurized, arena-aspiring extreme metal — one of its best practitioners, in fact. Their work since Demigod is about as raw and off-putting as an Underworld flick: it’s pristine in both performance and production, clearly the product of a sizable budget, and quite accessible by extreme metal standards. On top of that, a lot of the bland American death metal he’s criticizing draws directly on those albums for inspiration. So despite the resonant substance of Nergal’s remark, it reflects a deficit in self-awareness.

It also highlights one of underground metal’s many idiosyncratic cultural tensions: its fans are preoccupied with authenticity and trueness, even though the genre itself is fundamentally artificial. Nergal’s interest in being “driven by intuition and not just concerned with shredding on your guitar” comes from a powerful strain of thought in the underground metal community that associates grit (and sometimes amateurishness) with genuine emotion. The same attitude holds that professionalism and precision betray artistic impotence. Nergal got his start as an underground black metal guy, so it makes sense that he still harbors some of these suspicions.

In reality, though, many metal bands go the polished route and still deliver their music with undeniable conviction — a notion that Behemoth and their tourmates on this year’s stacked Metal Alliance lineup ironically provided powerful evidence for.

Aside from perplexing openers Black Crown Initiate, whom I missed, every band on this bill was both ungodly tight and steeped in lovably familiar theatricality. Inquisition and 1349 both opted for the classic Scandinavian corpsepaint-‘n’-spikes look; the latter’s bassist bizarrely chose to wear a robe. (Mismatched costume levels among metal band members are always funny; it’s like when album personnel notes credit Nekroshaman, Maniacal, Caligula, and Steve.) Ben Falgoust of Goatwhore might be better at metal-frontman posturing than anyone I’ve seen — he strikes badass pose after badass pose for the entire set every time they play, all without his powerful voice ever faltering.

Behemoth are on a different level, though. Their live show is as flashy and elaborate as a Broadway production. The musicians wear elaborate get-ups and perform choreographed moves together. Their stage rig features a complex prefabricated backdrop, a synced light show, and various platforms to facilitate posturing. Someone brought out a thurible at one point. There was even a costume change, of sorts — the band briefly donned masks during closer “O Father O Satan O Sun!” (Photographic evidence below.)

Their performance conflicted with virtually every part of Nergal’s kiss-off — it was planned down to the tiniest detail, delivered perfectly, and not exactly transgressive or unpredictable. It certainly wasn’t dangerous. But it also wasn’t boring. In fact, it was pretty fucking awesome. He and his band absolutely crushed; I found myself shouting along to songs I hadn’t listened to in years. The guy may not be philosophically consistent, but he and his band know how to play to their strengths.

— Words by Doug Moore
— Photos by Caroline Harrison

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Black Crown Initiate

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Inquisition

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

Goatwhore

1349

1349

1349

1349

1349

1349

1349

1349

1349

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

Behemoth

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