“Los Angeles, are you ready for the devillll?”

I laugh. But not at Helmuth. Belphegor’s vocalist/guitarist is dead serious. All the stage lights are red. It’s dark, and it’s hot. Others are smiling, too. Eyes glint. It’s time for revenge. Payback for the hours burned to get to this point. James Brown saw red and made it a party: “That’s it! Payback! Revenge!”

Backtrack a few long, long hours. Some opening bands not worth mentioning. A bill almost not worth mentioning. “Heathenfest,” a collection of bands bent on shoehorning Trinklieder into metal. It’s hours of polkas and bad costumes: a Finnish singer as a German beer girl, a crowdsurfer in a bear costume, keytar-wielding pirates. People wear eye patches and host beer steins. It’s a fustercluck of nationalism. See Casablanca:

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I’m a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Vreid kill the buzz in a big way. Who knows how they got on the bill, but if Norwegians killing Nazis is “heathen,” so be it. They are frustrated at first. Their amps sound like transistor radios, thanks to clueless soundmen. Vocals take some time to emerge. Eventually, the sound falls into place. Unlike what came before, it has national backbone. Songs hiss forth about the Norwegian WWII resistance, and staying true to it. It’s not hard to hear them as being true to metal. Fists rise and sweat drips.

Vreid – Disciplined

Belphegor offer the night’s other succor. They have the best timing I’ve ever heard from a band. It takes them just a few minutes to set up. The room turns red, and they’re off. They are as if shot from cannons. Riffs and blastbeats rain down hard and fast. Every so often, Helmuth picks out a solo. He’s economical. His fingers move twice, and four notes ensue. He hands a bottle of (hopefully) fake blood into the crowd. Of course, it goes airborne; some of it splashes on me. Horns fly, cameras snap, and it’s go, go, go. Between songs, Helmuth makes sure that we’re ready for metal, the devil, and so on. His English isn’t great, so he keeps things brief. This is a hurry-up offense, and we’re in the red zone. It’s over too soon. Sluicing for gold in hours of silt: at least tonight paid off.

Belphegor – The Crosses Made of Bone

– Cosmo Lee