I was not supposed to be at this show. I was in Germany for Wacken but the rain had other ideas. As I scrambled to figure out new plans, I searched concerts happening across Germany and came across this one, so I rented a car and hit the Autobahn for the 4.5-hour journey from Hemmingstedt to the UT Connewitz in Leipzig. The venue which felt like an underground concrete bomb shelter, was slow to fill with fans. Shortly before the opening act came on, the fog began to fill the stage, and it continued to fill the concrete bunker we were in.
The local openers, Naxen, took the stage and by now the fog was relentless, seeming to pour forth from the musicians themselves; not quite summoned, but accompanying them as a member. I was wholly unfamiliar with Naxen (and I was somewhat off-kilter from the journey to Germany and the chaos around Wacken), but I enjoyed what they brought to the stage.
There was very little dialogue and no theatrics, just straightforward black metal. The crowd, showing a reserved but engaged nature, headbanged along to the set and disappeared into the thickening fog. Naxen’s set seemed to be otherworldly, somber, distant; not in a negative way, but in a way that the band had crafted for an audience. The set ended and the crowd cheered; the fog dissipated (slowly) with the band. I’d encourage you, the reader, to give them a listen.
Next up was Afsky. A favorite amongst the black metal fans I know, the four piece from Denmark were definitely a point of jealousy from my friends back in America, many of whom wanted merch and footage from Afksy. The band made their way to the stage and wasted no time in getting set up, adding minimal but notable décor to the stage (branches with decorative candle holders atop). Once set up, they blazed through part of song for soundcheck, and immediately got to work, opening with “Stormfulde hav.” The fog grew heavier, surpassing the wall that Naxen brought, as Afsky surged through their set (“Tyende sang,” “Frosne vind,” “Skær,” “Et sidste farvel,” “Tak for alt,” “Angst”). The band wasn’t rushed, they were efficiently delivering well-crafted songs that the crowd wanted, and the energy in the room appeared to make the fog grow unsettled, violent. The room grew noticeably warmer through Afksy’s set and the band seemed to be louder than they were in a mystical sense – they were powerful and made it look effortless.
Spectral Wound was next and during setup and soundcheck the fog from the previous acts remained. The band appeared to be a pretty standard troupe of five members, all in black and leather. There was something about their appearance that struck me, perhaps a bit of a feral touch, but I knew they were going to deliver something serious, and I was not wrong. At this point in the year, I’d attended over 70 concerts and I can safely say Spectral Wound put on the best set I’ve seen so far. The fog grew almost impenetrable, requiring the help of the searing stage lights to see through. The light spread through the fog creating walls of color, leaving the band often as silhouettes – strong outlines and shapes playing fiercely in the artificial light, vocalist Jonah drinking from an unmarked vessel and storming about with grasping gestures, head thrown to and fro… I imagine a werewolf transforming but finishing a set first; comical, sure, but it was a ferocious set. The audio was great, and the band played remarkably well in the lighting conditions (at times, though I was against the stage, I could barely see the band at all). The entirety of the set was a force to be reckoned with and overtook the crowd – the room was very hot now, and the crowd was very loud as Spectral Wound left the stage.
Gaerea was #2 on my personal list of bands that I wanted to see. My initial plans trashed, I made a long drive in a country I do not know well just to see them. I fought with poor Wi-Fi, poor weather, poor sleep, and a wave of fatigue from navigating language and land I did not know. I was also sad that a very important experience was taken from me, so I felt that I needed this and that I needed Gaerea to somehow make this all ok. I had also found that Crowbar was playing in Berlin the next night, so that was a two-hour drive for what I knew would be a good show, but I needed *this*. And I won’t lie, when Gaerea’s set started, I was scared that I was going to be disappointed. The house lights did not dim completely as the masked band, dressed all in black (only the sigils on the masks were in another color, white (gold for the vocalist)), and it seemed wrong.
The band started playing and you could see them so well but not at all, as the exposed skin on their arms was also blackened with paint of some sort. A wall of sound rolled forth in the light and the band was frenetic on stage – I was bothered by this. In their videos, their vocalist screamed and tensed as though holding in some demon, yet on stage he moved differently, unnaturally. It was disturbing in some way I could not identify.
It wasn’t until about the third song that I understood that this wasn’t just a set, it was a performance, as the artists are wont to put forth. The musicians playing the instruments postured and delivered a relentless performance, impressive in their execution. The vocalist, who eventually changed into a gold mask with black sigil, seemed to be playing numerous roles on stage, and was never still as he climbed atop risers, fell to the floors, spun about, and released cathartic howls into the mic. I could see it now, this was not a video but a performance, shadows cast upon a wall to tell a story for grown children, leaving our minds and senses to thicken and complete the scenes. The set went on for some time, but I could have listened to more. Still, I got what I needed, and I am beyond eager to see them again.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY C.ELLARTS