Triptykon @ Slim’s, El Rey Theatre
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Slim's, San Francisco
October 23, 2010
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When I think of this rainy San Francisco night, and the metal these three bands wrought upon it, I can think of only one word: generosity. Some bands you can just tell are up there for themselves. Others may be playing for you, but in a really desperate, pandering way. More often than either case, I'm struck by how often bands generate an indifferent energy, to the point where you have no tangible idea why they do what they do. Triptykon, 1349, and Yakuza I felt each wanted to make us, the audience, happy in their individual ways. It was a virtually banter-free (nigh on mute) evening that united everyone under a banner of riffage.
Yakuza hit the stage promptly at 9pm (I'm noticing this more and more - are the days of the fashionably late-friendly start times done and gone?) They hit it with aplomb, integrating a super-diverse palette of post-metal colors and stepping up the game for that sphere of metal from the boring post-rock meanderings that tend to bog it down. If I have any criticism of Yakuza, it's that their considerable musical dexterity would sometimes get lost in the maelstrom. I attribute this to a badly balanced live mix that plagued the night, mostly sacrificing the clarity and "cut" of the guitars. Yet literally any time I strained to discern an arcane bass-tapping figure during their set, a motif of face-melting simplicity followed to tell me what's what again. Great, exciting, unpredictable music.
After I swooned over Yakuza's dense and ambitious sonic world, 1349 reminded me of the merits in a more monochromatic approach. I don't say "monochromatic" derisively: from note one, 1349 were a blackened death metal perfecting machine, churning, grinding, and pounding, with a few timely mid-tempo relents for mercy's sake. Seriously, such a stunning force-of-nature metal performance I have not seen in some time. The aforementioned lack of cutting guitars was a problem here as well. I would occasionally look at Archaon's hands and see him doing something fascinating, though all I could hear was a general churn. But, oh, that churn.
Triptykon came on a little late for a three-band show that started on time (11:30pm), so I was a little more flagged for them then I'd like to have been. However, hearing them open with "Procreation of the Wicked" at a sluggish tempo, those fat, burly guitars in perfect unison, I got a second wind. Someone figured their shit out by Triptykon's set because, DAMN, those guitars were gloriously chunky, like the sonic equivalent of ground beef and peanut butter. Perhaps some specters of Valhalla carried Mr. Warrior's tone on the riff-filled winds.
Whatever the case, this technical improvement enabled Triptykon to truly paint a sonic landscape. I say "paint", because whenever I closed my eyes during their set, the imagery of H.R. Giger began emerging in my mind's eye. Their brand of science-fiction metal makes me think of a Fear Factory that didn't go off the rails after Demanufacture or a baroque sonic cousin to Selfless-era Godflesh. It's a sound that never properly got on its feet quite as well as it did with Triptykon's latest, and I am very thankful to Tom G. Warrior et al. for doing so. At one point, he expressed his thanks to the audience and alluded to circumstances that at one point made him believe a US tour could not have been possible. The sincerity in his voice was palpable as the netherworlds to which his riffs transport us. Thank YOU, sir, for gracing us with your sound.
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El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles
October 24, 2010
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When the second-largest city in America can't fill half a theater for the return of Tom G. Warrior, something is wrong.
I don't know why Yakuza opened this tour. Triptykon and 1349, as inverses of each other - the former is about space, the latter is about filling it - are logical choices to co-headline a tour. Their dark energy demands a suitable opener. Jazzy technicians who can't write songs don't fit that bill. I enjoyed watching the members of Yakuza play their instruments. But I did not enjoy hearing their songs lurch about in search of a direction.
1349 headlined this night, but they were more bark than bite due to poor sound. Since guitar and vocals were nonexistent, they essentially put on a drum clinic, complete with clicky bass and vigorous headbanging. It was like watching some sort of avant-garde theater. Rendered mute, vocalist Ravn tried to speak through his body, bending back and forth with mighty effort. Drummer Frost was man and machine. Like Dave Lombardo for Slayer recently, he was 75% of the band. It is a tribute to his power that I enjoyed 1349's set.
Triptykon were not only the story of the night, but also the year and possibly a lifetime. I will remember this set for a while. It was a perfect example of how albums, however hallowed they may be - and Triptykon's debut should be hallowed - achieve new stature when presented at their full potential: stacks blazing, earth quaking, soul shaking. Headphones cannot replicate that. At home, you can listen to music loudly, but you will not enter that space, temporary and sacred, of performer and audience worshiping at the temple of doom.
This Triptykon/1349 tour is the most well-documented tour I've ever seen. Photos, videos, blogs, and social media have brought reports big and small. Yet this show surprised me, partly because reading about something (or even hearing its recording) is no substitute for witnessing it firsthand.
The surprises included:
How lively, relatively speaking, Tom G. Warrior was. He's spoken about grave health problems, but he was not only upright but also animated - attacking his Giger Iceman with big flourishes, bouncing to his riffs, tapping his toes (which were shod in sleek, pointy boots; Warrior's sense of style is underrated).
How much of a band Triptykon was. Warrior has spoken about this, but, again, to see it in action was something else. He made frequent eye contact with all his bandmates - guitarist V. Santura, bassist Vanja Slajh, drummer Norman Lonhard. Despite its darkness and heaviness, the set retained an air of rehearsal room camaraderie.
How good a bassist Slajh was. Not that her skill was ever in question, but she provided amazingly precise and supportive low end, given a very physical style that looked more like sawing than playing bass.
How important leads were. When V. Santura dug into the off-kilter melodies that coat Triptykon's songs like a viscous film, time seemed to slow. The image came to mind of wounded angels singing.
The set list (see here) was half Celtic Frost, half Triptykon, and all of a piece. I appreciate the heavier, doomier direction Warrior's work has taken. It's both an acknowledgment of mortality and a push back against it. Primordial images flooded my mind - big bones creaking, rusty machines roaring. Good live sets consume you, so that details like song selection stop mattering. The set becomes pure ebb and flow, making one captive to its "now". That was the case with Triptykon, who, like Krisiun several years back, brought metal so powerful and elemental that I could bypass my cerebral nature and access my animal instinct. Very few artists try to do this; even fewer succeed.
My animal instinct did yield once, for a brief flash of anger. It was not at the band, who was delivering 100%. It was at the rest of metal. How many inconsequential blastbeats and useless notes people have churned out! Yet Warrior made open strings sound like thunderstorms. Here was truth, an arrow into the depths of being - and so few had bothered to receive it.
Metal has become busy music. Blastbeats this, shredding that, technical riffs on YouTube. Such music is selfish. It leaves no room for the listener. Warrior's riffs are black holes. They are yawning abysses into which the listener pitches headfirst. Light does not escape. Neither does the listener. The commitment is lifelong.
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TRIPTYKON w/ 1349 & Yakuza
10/28 – Ridglea Theatre – Fort Worth, TX
10/29 – Emo’s – Dalls, TX
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