Dutch Treat: Krallice’s Nick McMaster on seeing (and sharing a stage with) Urfaust
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I never thought I'd see Netherlanders Urfaust live. They are the kind of band you have on a ratty cd-r made by your doesn't-get-out-much black-metal-encyclopedia friend. The music so obscure and odd sounding, yet deftly tasteful, that it seems like their songs simply grew out of hissy old reels of 2-inch tape, no humans required. Along with Negură Bunget and a handful of other black metal gems, Urfaust was introduced to me and many U.S. listeners by the Aquarius Records mailing list, which in the early 2000s had an incredible knack for finding and disseminating rare, quality metal bands. Their description of Urfaust, while characteristically hyperbolic, bears repeating for the uninitiated:
"Imagine an opera singer, wandering drunkenly down the street, ducking into a Karaoke bar, only to discover that the back up band is Burzum or Woodtemple or some other stumbling droney black metal outfit, and thus proceeds to CROON maniacally atop their grim fuzzy midtempo buzzing backing, in a ultra dramatic warble that is equal parts Ethel Merman, Devil Doll's Mr. Doctor and Tom Jones."
It's really pretty accurate. At some point, Urfaust and New York-based Black Anvil struck up a correspondence out of mutual admiration. While Krallice and Black Anvil have been kicking around the East Coast for a few years now, we'd never played with them until this April on the Connecticut date of our tour with Withered. Everyone seemed to think that we were a good fit, and they let us in on their plans to chaperone Urfaust around the East Coast. We jumped at the chance. I knew the shows would be small, special events catering to a self-selected audience—Immortal, this is not.
Shows start late at Golden West, in Baltimore's Hamden neighborhood. Even so, Krallice managed to arrive around 11, just about when we were supposed to go on. We set up quickly and tore into a short set: our two short songs and two of our usual 12-minute numbers. The length of our sets has crept up over the years, and these shows reminded me of when we'd first started the band and would play a set of just 3 songs from our s/t and get off the stage. If successful, a short set with long songs should feel like no time passed at all. Hopefully that's how it happened.
Black Anvil set up in record time and got to work. Their set too, was clipped; the whole show felt a like a merely a brief showcase of American talent- one which left plenty of time for the main event. Soon enough, it was time for the Dutchmen to show their stuff.
The live setting is kind to Urfaust. On record, their looseness has at times been a distraction for me- something that only worked for certain moods. The band seems to hold alcohol consumption as central to their craft- here we were on the "US INTOXICATION TOUR 2011". It seems that they even record drunk, which can be off-putting to the sober listener. Live, their big, open swing gains momentum like a snowball rolling down a mountain in slow motion, feeding off the energy of the lubricated audience. From the beginning of "Die Kalt Teufelsfaust" from their first album, Geist Ist Teufel, the Urfaust template was in place: a caustic yet full-bodied black metal guitar sound, loose but forceful drums, that slightly damaged-sounding operatic (but not really Opera) voice, DSBM shrieks, sad and slow 12/8 riffs. I like "Die Kalt Teufelsfaust" on record. But live, it was something else: a depiction of mourning and melancholy, of failed aspirations and broken hopes. Willem's voice seemed more powerful, more emotive, than on record, as he tore into each word with power befitting his imposing 6-foot-4 frame. I don't know what the lyrics mean, but it almost seems unnecessary. The emotion translated perfectly.
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It had been a tense day for my band, with traffic, nerves, rushed set up, worries that we didn't get the merch out in time. But as Urfaust continued, hitting (along with tracks from Verräterischer, Nichtswürdiger Geist) two more numbers from Geist- the uptempo, almost sea-shanty like "Drundenfub" and the anguished (even for them) "Auszug Aller Todlich Seinen Krafte", I felt a peculiar feeling descend upon me: unadulterated happiness. It's disheartening how rare this is for me at a show these days. Often I'm waiting for the band to play this or that song, then picking apart how exactly their performance of it differed from the recorded version. Is it lame to say that this melancholic, unfuckwithably cult black metal brought me joy? So be it. The climax for me came with the performance, about two-thirds through their set, of "Vom Geist Der Schwere", a song from their split 7" with Ruins of Beverast (another of my favorite bands). I didn't expect to hear something from an obscure vinyl release, but the band seemed to hold this song in as high esteem as I did. The rest of the set blended together in a rolling, blackened trip- I did take the whole INTOXICATION TOUR vibe to heart- and then was over. "Play more songs!" someone shouted. "Go to Brooklyn!" Willem responded. After all, they'd crossed the Atlantic.
Outside, the duo mingled with colorful Baltimore locals, many of whom it seemed hadn't attended the show, and I introduced myself. I mentioned how excited I was to play "home turf" tomorrow with this package- Krallice has probably played Brooklyn's Union Pool more than any other venue. Willem said it would be special to play Brooklyn because it was the hometown of Peter Steele. Wait. Of Type O Negative? "Yes." Willem responded. "If not for him, I'd be playing in a fucking marching band."
This made me think about the snobbishness of American metal fans- so many of us live in walled gardens of taste where only bands that fit an ever-narrowing criteria are allowed, and would blanche at admitting to liking a mainstream goth-pop band like Type O. I knew that the lines of taste were softer in Europe—Poles in underground black/death bands had asked me excited questions in 2003 about Slipknot. And yes, the fact that Willem and Jim are in their mid-30s has something to do with it as well. But I think Americans, especially in our presence on forums and the like, have taken culter-than-thou to ridiculous extremes. My thoughts turned to the Angry Black Metal elitist blogger, who'd ridiculed Krallice and Black Anvil's involvement with Urfaust (whom he worships), and how little he seemed to have in common with the object of his admiration.
I finished my beer and we loaded out.
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Urfaust - "Vom Geist Der Schwere"
Krallice - "Dimensional Bleedthrough"
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