Reviewer Mitch Alexander
Photography by Mark Hoffmann
Of all the things I was expecting to see and hear tonight, the doom metal equivalent of a solo acoustic opening act wasn’t it. Standing onstage by herself, ripping sounds from a convoluted assortment of pedals and amps, Bonnie Mercer produced a half-hour set of Whale Spoken Word drone that sounded like those epic intros or outros to actual songs that go somewhere. I was having fun imagining her going to band practice like every other act, standing in a rehearsal space by herself, drowning out everyone doing their terrible White Wedding covers. However, I couldn’t help but feel that at best, this set was just a meta-intro for the rest of the bands and after a while, the lack of structure started to wear thin. I’d like to hear actual songs beneath the fuzz.
Merchant hit the stage very quickly after and were bloody pummelling, with, dare I say, a more “contemporary take on Doom Metal” (don’t worry, I hate me too). At any point, I was half expecting to hear their vocalist scream “this ain’t your granddaddies doom metal!”. Merchant has more modern tones and songwriting sensibilities, with a vocalist that could be right at home doing death or metalcore, and just the right amount of “fast bits” (‘fast’ being a relative term at a Doom gig) to keep me surprised. They also gave my favourite performance of the night, playing with a passion and intensity that sold their already fantastic songs. Special mention goes to the bass player in this regard; he had a crushing tone and an awesome performance which made the band stand out that much more. I’m keen to see them again.
YLVA, however, stole the show, even over the headliners. Despite the, unfortunately, annoying pre-show drum soundcheck (which didn’t seem all that necessary; seriously dude, if it’s not asked for, stop hitting shit. Drummers, amirite!) this band was powerful. I had high hopes for YLVA after a few friends clued me into them a while ago, but I was not expecting such a physical experience. There is not a wasted note, beat, tone, noise or vocal line, but there’s also a beautiful level of restraint, both regarding how they write in levels of light and shade, but also in how no one in the band ever seemed to overplay. All of this works to make those moments, the big fuck-off sledgehammer hits, feel all the more impactful. I’m very glad I got to hear these guys on a big stage too; with the minimal light show and huge sounds (especially on the drums) it worked well for them. Here’s hoping they get more big ticket supports.
Co-headliner Monolord is probably the most no-frills bands I’ve ever seen. They swaggered about the stage for a few minutes before starting, just sorta hanging out, and when they finally kicked into their set, they seemed to be playing for themselves first and foremost. It’s obvious they believe in what they’re doing, and we would’ve gotten this performance if there were 12, 120 or 12,000 in the crowd.
I’ve said before that I think Monolord have the best-recorded guitar tone I’ve ever heard, but live it transform from a perfectly fuzzed-out precision laser, and into a rumbling earthquake made of buzzsaws, tank engines, and avalanches. I was surprised by just how much heavier they are live compared to recordings. I was expecting a much more chilled out, stoner metal vibe, but instead got an earful of pounding, heavy metal (not to be confused with Heavy Metal), which was sold by their loose and off-kilter performance. And even though they were swinging their instruments about like a truck-driving Gumby on meth, Monolord were tight. When music is played this slow it can be obvious when a group is even just a fraction of a second off of each other, but they crushed it. Despite the fact that some of their songs sound the same (putting Cursing The One right before Empress Rising was an interesting choice), they managed to craft a set that was consistently engaging and exciting.
If Monolord is a souped-up muscle car, finely tuned to deliver simple riffs with a crushing tone, then Ufomammut are a fleet of semi-trailers racing down Kilimanjaro. This was perfect “wall of noise” Doom, with every available frequency being utilised and punished with huge guitars, massive drums, and constant, unsettling samples. All of this, enjoyable enough, was enhanced by the physics itself; I’ve never been to a gig before where I felt how loud a band was through my plugs. The sheer volume of air being pushed around Max Watts created it’s set to assumed melodies and overtones, and it was something else. It was an intense experience, with the riffs mattering less than the physical sensation of being in the same room as the band as they play. I get the feeling you could use an Ufomammut gig to build a tunnel or mine for coal if you ever ran out of dynamite. It was a glorious set that a lot of people seemed to lose themselves in, and I did take some fun from looking at the venue and seeing the bobbing heads of a packed venue ripple like a brutal Mexican Wave.
My one gripe of the night, which is a petty one, is that it would have been if someone had done any light show. YLVA tried to backlight themselves with white and gold, and Ufomammut had a projector going, but staring at an unchanging red stage for four hours got a bit much by the end.
An overall special mention, however, needs to go to the sound guy who worked the night. Every single act sounded fucking phenomenal, and for this genre that makes the mixer essentially another member of the band. They all did a fantastic job and deserve the recognition. Awesome work.