Welcome to another typically rainy Portland evening. The Hawthorne theater is a popular all-ages venue located at 1507 SE 39th Ave in Portland, OR. It’s in a hip part of town that draws a diverse audience. As you can see below, the décor was fitting of a metal show, especially that glorious poster (RIP Lemmy). Like many venues, it features two bars and areas for merch booths. Dark Tranquillity had SO much great stuff from hats to vinyl, so I had to really restrain myself. I picked up my usual tour T-shirt and grabbed some cheap beer ($3 PBR 16 oz.) for the show. Because it is an all-ages location it is a little annoying to have to keep showing your 21+ stamp every time you transition between the “drinking area” and the front stage area (and leave your drink behind for that matter), but it’s worth it to get the new blood out to these shows. I chuckled a bit as I used the bathroom as someone had left out a display of Satanic Temple pamphlets in the bathroom. Hey, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses can do it…why not?
The first opener was a local Portland band. Despite their moniker, they do not play doom metal but rather modern melodic death metal. They personally recommend their music for fans of Lamb Of God, Megadeth, Killswitch Engage, Amon Amarth, Sylosis, and God Forbid. I sadly missed a bit of their set due to a mixup in the lobby, but the songs that I caught were pretty good. They were very aggressive, and you could hear the dissonant riffs and harsh vocals out in the second bar. The singer was a hulk of a man, and I hope he starts using this more to his advantage in his performance a la Greg Puciato. You can check them out on Facebook HERE as well as the track below.
We got a double-dose of locals this evening. Up next was Increate, an instrumental progressive metal band somewhere between Behold The Arctopus and Animals As Leaders. Employing two eight string guitars, a monster of a drummer, and some righteous bass grooves; these guys were true musicians. Even though they look a little like the Lone Gunman with a guest appearance from Corey Stoll (The Strain), their skills were undeniable. The upwards-facing fan on the “lead” guitar player was a nice touch. His hair was blowing around like a super model on the runway. Gotta keep cool for this level of shredding. Facebook them HERE and check out their music below.
More hometown Chicago representing at this concert. Starkill is a band that seems to be gaining momentum as they just this November released their latest album, Shadow Sleep, through Prosthetic Records. These guys taking the stage was a complete 180 from the previous band. And despite my amateur camerawork, Starkill is certainly one of the most photogenic bands I have come across. They know how to work the stage and started drawing more people up front. The guitars players were switching sides, throwing their instruments, standing on the monitors; you know the drill. It certainly re-energized me. They play kind of an over-the-top hybrid of melodeath, thrash, and heavy metal with a hair metal mentality. In a way it reminds me of Children of Bodom. The guitar riffs were impressive, but half of the show is groin-thrusting, eyeliner, and pointing to the audience. Say what you will about that, but these guys know how to sell themselves and are not ashamed to do so. The performance was highly engaging and their soloing skills demonstrate something beyond their image. FACEBOOK.
Nevermind. If Starkill is over the top, Nuclear Blast’s Enforcer jumps the f#$king shark. I must have stepped through a wormhole to the 80’s. The lead singer is basically David Lee Roth with a Swedish accent. Leather pants, MORE eyeliner, MORE cock-guitars, MORE synchronized guitar choreography. He even did the heavy metal voice (e.g. “Are you ready to roooock!?”) for the between-song banter. It was like watching Pickle’s side band Snakes and Barrels. I definitely snickered a few times, but once again, their impact could not be denied. The crowd easily doubled at this point and the cheers grew louder. They knew the song names and sang along. And the hooks were solid, heavily influenced by groups like Maiden and Priest. FACEBOOK.
SWALLOW THE SUN
Let’s take a little detour into Finland before we move onto the main event. Sharing the stage courtesy of Century Media was death doom band, Swallow the Sun. If there is one thing I have to say about their sound it is this: the bass rumbled through my very being. They were an ominous bunch taking the stage, and perhaps more difficult to get a photograph of than a vampire. Backlighting was a hurdle with most of the bands on this night, but seriously…I have never had so many pictures come out looking like there was literally no one standing right in front of me. Such was the mystery of their presence. Oddly enough it was the keyboard player who mean-mugged better than most; often picking up one side of his rig much the same way a guitar player might hold their guitar in a theatrical manner. I’ve never been much for this particular style of doom, but they were a pleasant surprise. FACEBOOK.
For me, this moment was 12-13 years in the making. As I told Mikael when he and Anders were kind enough to give me a few seconds and a photo op, I will never forget the day my friend Paul loaned me his copy of Damage Done. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to that album on repeat no matter where I was. I could be sunning by the public pool and while everyone was listening to the new Cher single, I had my discman blasting “Final Resistance.” Furthermore, in my humble opinion, Dark Tranquillity is the last remaining legacy of the Gothenburg movement. There will be those that argue, but I feel that Atoma represents a band still very much in its prime while others like Soilwork, In Flames, and even At The Gates fail to truly live up to their past work.
As for the performance. It was breathtaking. If I could choose one word to sum it all up, it would be “gratitude.” Mikael and company seemed so genuinely struck by the dedicated nature of their fans. Between each song, either verbally or physically, we were thanked repeatedly for this. Some of these moments can be seen in the photos below. One member of the audience even brought a Swedish flag that Mikael excitedly waved around. One might argue that it is typical for a band to pull the whole “We are SO happy to be in our favorite city, INSERT CURRENT CITY HERE” crap, but the nonverbal language said otherwise.
Musicianship was totally on point. Though I seem to have a knack for finally catching my favorite bands right after losing longtime members, the lineup changes did not impact the songs at all. Both the veterans and newcomers worked together to recreate the recordings that had captured my heart to perfection. The always crowd-pleasing hooks were flawless, and Mikael’s snarls and baritone singing were respectively earth shattering and filled with emotion. He danced around the stage like a madman, never straying far from the audience, as they played an epic mixture of tunes both old and new (including several from the aforementioned Damage Done).
In addition to all of my favorites from Atoma, beloved classics included “Monochromatic Stains,” “Terminus,” “The Treason Wall,” “White Noise/Black Silence.” The biggest crowd-pleasers were the two closers. The first was the jewel of Projector, “Therein”, which nearly brought me to tears at the crowd’s (and my own) level of participation. The second was the final encore, “Misery’s Crown,” which we had been demanding throughout the performance. Many moshpits erupted and invisible oranges were held in response. As the dust settled, I gathered up what keepsakes I could and felt like an awkward teenager again while addressing one of my favorite bands of all time in person. 17 year old me would be in complete disbelief. This tour is a lengthy one with many stops, so if they have not passed you by yet, I highly recommend you get off your ass to see these legends in their element. They will also be hitting Europe with Amon Amarth beginning in March. See venue and ticket information HERE.