Abhorrent Expanse, Sunless, and Bruce Lamont Practice Avant-Garde Excellence @ Cobra Lounge 4/7/2022 (Live Report + Photos)
My favorite show lineups are those that keep a common thread between bands on the bill, but also keep things interesting—nobody really wants to watch four bands playing the exact same stuff, right? This past Thursday at Cobra Lounge, experimental improv death metal band Abhorrent Expanse played their Gateways to Resplendence release show, joined by touring progressive death metal band Sunless and also Bruce Lamont, Yakuza frontman and Chicago metal scene staple. The differences were many: Sunless' death metal is fine-tuned and executed with terrifying precision while Abhorrent Expanse takes notes from free jazz and more, and Lamont's solo act is a loop-driven drone/ambient performance. At the same time, the pervasive weirdness on display linked it all together, each act taking their chosen genre and twisting conventions beyond recognition.
Bruce Lamont was up first, setting up in front of the stage with his eclectic set of instruments: a saxophone and soprano sax, an acoustic guitar, multiple mics, and even an iPad that came into play later on. Like with Yakuza, Lamont doesn't engage with the audience, focusing strictly on his performance, which is sort of a single, long-running drone piece that starts off with acoustic guitar and, as he reconfigures and adjusts his setup, ventures through oppressive doom-drone territory created by constant looping and experimentation. At one point, he created an unsettling background texture by rubbing what looked like steel wool on a microphone; at another he actually put a mic into his mouth, doubling over and screaming into it. Like with every time I've seen his solo act, the end is abrupt and fitting: he simply turns off the power to his whole setup and leaves.
On tour from Minneapolis, Sunless followed, playing a selection of gnarly tracks from their 2021 album Ylem. Their progressive death metal has been tightly refined for the stage, with the three-piece pulling off insane feats of dissonant madness in complete synchronization. It reminded me a lot of some sort of malevolent clock, except that each tick came in the form of sick drum fills and cognition-shredding riffs.
Bassist Mitch Schooler's hair is pretty impressive on its own, but Schooler's six-stringed bass is an object of fascination all on its own, used as it was to execute simply absurd bass runs. Also, I can't think of any other band I've seen where the guitar had the same number of strings as the bass.
Sunless hit the stage with a level of visceral devastation that only total cohesion can provide—it's all too easy to fall under the sway of their off-kilter grooves, which flow like running water from the hands of the talented trio. I spent most of the set basically in awe, simply absorbing each chunky riff as it came.
"We're an academic death metal band," Abhorrent Expanse guitarist/vocalist Luke Polipnick remarked wryly as they introduced an interpretation of a James Tenney piece. I think that's fair: the four-piece plays an experimental, improvisation-heavy form of death metal that is clearly inspired by things that are not death metal. I found the vocal element to the title track "Gateways of Resplendence" especially interesting, where Polipnick abandoned his guitar and added a creepy, atmospheric side using a host of odd, non-verbal techniques.
To be clear, it's not like the band got up on stage and just made up a setlist (although, I'd be into that)—rather, they ran through a selection of tracks from their released-today album, taking their already proven structures and playing the shit out of them, leveraging their considerable talent and cohesion to deliver a bespoke performance.
See tour dates for Sunless below, and then check out photos from the show.
Sunless and Noctambulist
Fri, 4/8/22 - Denver, CO - Hi-Dive [Event]
Sat, 4/9/22 - Salt Lake City, UT - Aces High Saloon
Sun, 4/10/22 - Boise, ID - The Shredder
Tue, 4/12/22 - Spokane, WA - The Big Dipper (with Inferi) [Event]
Wed, 4/13/22 - Seattle, WA - Substation
Thu, 4/14/22 - Tacoma, WA - The Plaid Pig
Fri, 4/15/22 - Portland, OR - High Water Mark [Event]
Sat, 4/16/22 - Bend, OR - TBA
Sun, 4/17/22 - Eugene, OR - Old Nick's Pub
Mon, 4/18/22 - Sacramento, CA - Cafe Colonial
Sunless and Teeth
Thu, 4/21/22 - Santa Rosa, CA - 3 Disciples Brewing [Event]
Fri, 4/22/22 - Oakland, CA - The Golden Bull
Sat, 4/23/22 - Long Beach, CA - Supply and Demand
Photo Credit: Andrew Rothmund