San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill might be small, but at least it’s not super pretentious. The venue has played host to some of the most idiosyncratic bands around, including Battles and – on July 20, 2011 – the current Black Metallers du jour, Liturgy. Those Brooklynites’ brand of BM has nothing to do with corpse paint, leather, or highly questionable politics: the genre tropes they favor are devilish speed + high-pitched shrieks + occult imagery, the latter strangely more reminiscent of witch house and hipster Goth fashion than Satanism. And since I am no purist (thank God), that’s perfectly fine.
First: the opening acts. When my faithful concert sidekick (aka husband) and I entered the space, San Francisco’s own Common Eider, King Eider were playing. They churned out sloth-paced Metal, with ritualistic chants, post-rockish instrumental explosions, and absolutely monstrous drums (by the way, on drums was George Chen, of the highly commendable Chen Santa Maria). The general atmosphere was of unease and foreboding. I felt those sound constructions ominously sucking the life out of me – which may or may not have been the musicians’ intention.
Next: Chelsea Wolfe, a LA-based singer who usually performs with her face covered by a black veil. SF Weekly promised us some kind of “doom folk,” but instead we got PJ Harveyish indie/ gothic fare. My husband loved it… as for me, it was not enough to warm up my tiny little shriveled black heart.
What got my blood going was the headliner, actually. Very invigorating. Some people say, “Liturgy are so shoegaze-y,” implying that their sound is more beatific than torturous and punishing, but really – they are a battle band. No, they won’t pummel your ribcage into dust, like, for example, Neurosis would, but there is absolutely nothing Ambient in their set – just super fast, high-precision, high-energy stuff. A few songs seemed to be real endurance pieces for the band – the drummer must have lost ten pounds. Liturgy call their music “transcendental Black Metal,” and indeed, they channel not misanthropy and despair, but something like joy. I recall the name of the famous piece by the great New York composer Glenn Branca, “The Ascension” – that word neatly describes the effect that Liturgy tries to achieve with their manic repetition. And, while being repetitive, their music does not stay static – it is always being propelled forward with a rock’ n’ roll force. Oh yes (I can’t believe I’m saying that) the angel-faced singer’s screams reminded me of my favorite character from the latest X-Men movie: Banshee.
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