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Live Reviews : Mayhem, Bölzer, Ruins & Départe @ Max Watts, Melbourne 17/01/2018

By on January 18, 2018

Images: Rebecca Houlden
Words: Mitch Alexander

Standing in the sunny line for Mayhem was a thing of unbridled joy; yeah it’s still light out, yeah poorly applied makeup will run, and no you don’t give a fuck. You will stand there in your boots and your jeans and your jacket and your zebra pattern corpse paint and you will weather the looks of bystanders cause they don’t fucking get it. There is genuinely nothing sweeter than a smile emanating from behind corpsepaint; you were excited to see this band before you left the house, and you still are.

Départe spent most of their set playing to people in the line (who unfortunately couldn’t hear them) and a decent sized crowd (who fortunately could) for a band daring to open such a kvlt show. They were big, pounding and seismically heavy, which was only accentuated by the moments of rolling vocal melody, which didn’t so much “cut through the din” as it did rumble from beneath it, like thunder during a hail storm. If you like your black metal slower and more considered than normal, you’ll dig these guys.

Ruins, on the other hand, brought to rollicking Good Time punk-infused black metal I’ve come to know and… not mind. Musically and sonically these guys were a good time, but their stage presence put me off. Most of the members didn’t do a whole heap, which their singer seemed way to cognisant of, seemingly doing his best to single-handedly provide the entirety of the band’s performance. There were a lot of air guitars, windmilling hands, and punches being thrown. Maybe too many. It was kind of distracting as their set went on, which is a shame because the music is really very fun.

The first time I saw Bölzer, many lunar cycles ago as they supported Behemoth, I was in all sense of the word absorbed by their music. This two-piece have absolutely no right to sound as epic, as full, as clear, as perfect as they do. I’ve seen touring 6 piece bands not have the clarity, power, sheer force of a Bolzer set (looking at you, Whitechapel).

This time around, Bölzer were still good, but I got a chance to really listen and appreciate what’s happening. And by that I mean I tried to, but it’s a hard task. There’s still just so much happening; there are layers and layers of sounds, a front man who can command a stage entirely on his own, and despite their washed out and epic tones, songs with hooks and memorable riffs. All that is combined with the cliched European who speaks better English than us, who was jovial and, dare I say, “sweet” between songs, resulting in a band I enjoy enjoying. If you ever get the chance, try to see Bölzer for the first time, and let them happen around you.

Full disclosure – for the longest time, black metal was the last genre of metal, of music, that I could find anything to appreciate. I hated it. Not just didn’t like it – since I could hear noises and ascribe deliberate patterns to them, I’ve found the particular tapestry of black metal repulsive and confusing. Even as I got into deliberately abrasive bands like Dillinger, Psyopus and Daughters, I would hear black metal and think “ha ha yuck what a bunch of idiots.”

Over the years my tastes have changed, and I’ve come to enjoy parts of black – Dimmu (who are sellouts), Cradle (who are death-infused sellouts) Behemoth (who are morally and musically sellouts) and whole Reaper’s swathe of bands who are “Black-ish”. But I’ve never really been able to listen to even a full song from a tvre kvlt Black Metal group.

My main sticking points were specific – I hated the drums and hated the vocals. The drums, with the constant shitty blasting, were an affront to a young teen drummer raised on groove-based nu metal, and the vocals sounded like dad giving it a red hot go. Given that these (alongside the guitar progressions and production which I guess I could tolerate) were genre-defining conventions, I just figured black metal was forever locked off for me. But then I saw Mayhem last night and it all clicked.

Seeing proto-typical black metal live makes this genre, as well as most of the genres that followed, make sense. It’s pure theatricality, obviously, but it’s sonically theatrical, in a way that doesn’t translate on CD. The drumming is supposed to wear you down, not provide a pulse. The vocals are supposed to sound like sound effects in a horror movie, not the personal and poetic exposition of a tortured soul.
And fuck me, do Mayhem go hard with it. The light show was spot on, creepy in the way it would both obscure the band in shadow, and occasionally blind you with its brilliance. The stage outfits for the band – simple monk hoods and corpsepaint for the musicians, and religious vestments draped across tattered robes for the vocalist – were effective of themselves. Shit was creepy. And it was creepy because they onboard 100%. It was a “performance”, and while I usually chafe at bands trying to look “evil”, Mayhem just were. In the same way you suspend disbelief while watching a horror movie, every crooked hand, every wide-eyed stare, every rune drawn in the air, every candle, was affecting enough that I bought into the show.

As far as treating it as a “live show”, it was fine – mix was great, crowd loved it, they played well, yadda yadda. But Mayhem are, quite obviously, something above and beyond that. It was, in the proper sense, a performance, and one that’s changed my mind on an entire genre. It’s not that black metal isn’t very good. It’s that no one has been able to do it as good as Mayhem.


Mitch is a 26 year old vegan, socialist, atheist, utilitarian, reductionist metalhead, stand up comedian and philosophy major that hates labels. When he isn't being politely ignored at dinner parties he's being politely ignored on comedy nights around the country.