Memorial Day weekend started off with a bang this year, as an early egress from work led to a full afternoon of cartoon-watching before dragging myself off the couch to jet over the Pulaski Bridge for a night of ambient black metal. Of course, the Pulaski was drawn to allow for the passage of some bullshit freightliner, arousing fears I would not get to Club Europa in time for opener Thrones, but alas the drawbridge quickly descended and I made it to the venue with time to spare; in fact, I wound up standing in line for quite a while just outside the Greenpoint police precinct, where three canine officers eyed me curiously. Eventually, I was let in by a man wearing a mauve ascot and directed to the end of yet another line until finally I was admitted. For those who checked out of the hardcore and metal scene decades ago, Club Europa has emerged as New York's premier punk, hardcore, and metal venue, holding shows that in a different era might have been held at CBGB's or Coney Island High -- that is, when it's not being used in its intended role as a Polish disco.
This would be my second Friday in a row seeing Thrones. Fresh off the previous Friday's set at No Fun Fest (and a show later in the week with Blues Control), Joe Preston walloped the crowd with his one-man juggernaut. Tying his hair in dual braids like Pocahontas, Preston worked through a set largely similar to his No Fun set. He bookended his romp with tracks off 2000's Sperm Whale, beginning with "Ephraim," a moody dirge that sounds like humpbacks mourning the loss of a fallen leader, and ending with the epic "Obolus," which, when sung through a vocoder, sounds like The Melvins (of whom Preston has been a member) covering Neil Young's Trans. In between those tracks, Preston worked through a few less sprawling and more pummeling grind-influenced tracks, providing a couple head-bangers to please the hair- and tat-heavy crowd.
A Storm of Light was up next and their post metal stylings felt like a watered-down Neurosis (Neurosis Lite). The interlocking and sometimes harmonized male and female vocals, delivered by Josh Graham and Nerissa Campbell, were transcendent at times but painfully off key at others. Although the bassist thrashed around with brutish force, A Storm of Light's sound had less of a tough exterior, coming off like a slightly heavier Slint or a less tongue-in-cheek Swans. The swirling visuals provided some eye candy, but soon enough, I had drifted towards the back bar, where a heavily siliconed Polish waitress poured me a drink.
Wolves in the Throne Room capped the night off with their distinct brand of trance-inducing thrash. As they adorned the stage with their aromatherapy candles, I perused the merch table, pet the small skull, and handled the piece of fool's gold that were laid out there. The band's core, brothers Aaron and Nate Weaver, were flanked by former tour bassist-turned-guitarist Will Lindsey, Ludicra, and Impaled member Ross Sewage, who stood lankily and mustachioed to the side of the stage. Aaron led the group rhythmically through infinite spirals of transcendent darkness and never ending tempo changes, while brother Nate screamed and bellowed away, a beam of blue light emanating from his guitar and through the fog-covered stage.
Working through material mostly from the new Black Cascade album and a few from the previous album Two Hunters, the Wolves' brand of unrelenting, cathartic black metal transformed the crowd's sense of foreboding and pain into a triumphant wail. Musically, their sound borrows most from the earlier waves of BM -- Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone all could be named as musical touchstones, but the group generally shirks BM-purist tendencies, opting for a more organic feel, one informed more by the natural forces of the universe than church-burning and corpse paint. Some audience members banged their heads as others stood humbly in a satanic trance, but few prostrated themselves and wept into the floorboards, which is the band's preferred method of taking in their live shows. In the end, which ever way you choose to take in WITTR's sound, whether physically or spiritually, their bottom line effect is the same: cleansing metal for the blackened soul.