The Raven is located on 3100 NE Sandy Blvd. in Portland, OR. It was previously called “The Panic Room.” I was very pleased with this location as the décor and setup were both aesthetically and functionally exceptional when compared to some of the other venues I have attended. The biggest highlight is probably the gigantic screen in the main bar area complete with fireplace and couches where you can lounge and watch the show if you prefer not to go body-tp-body with the riff raff. All sorts of alternative and morbid art adorns the walls, including a large framed photo of UADA playing their stage.
The staging area is a tight, concrete slab complete with its own bar, though they left all the drinks to the main area tonight. The stage is low to the ground and the funnel shape of the room seems to encourage people to get up close and personal. Further back you can play pool, arcade games, and other time-killers, though most of these were moved to make room for the merch tables. The bands were selling some good stuff. I had hoped to pick up a shirt or CD from Zhrine, but poor planning at the ATM left me broke after visiting the Ulcerate table. I bought Vermis and Shrines of Paralysis along with a killer tour T-shirt while talking to the very nice woman running the table. In her New Zealand accent she talked about the long travels and her excitement about returning to the next venue in Seattle; somewhere that they have had good experiences before.
The staff were equally affable. The bartender and I briefly discussed favorite genres and joked about metal sound checks while listening to an excellent playlist consisting of classic punk tunes from The Misfits, The Descendents, Black Flag, Bad Brains, and some crossover courtesy of D.R.I. I also recall a discussion about Greenland vs. Iceland which led me to throw out a Might Ducks reference. A nice couple sitting next to me shared their thoughts on the new Meshuggah album and Ulcerate until the latter showed up to order drinks. The male half of this duo quickly made his exit to speak with the band members. As has been my experience, they were just a normal bunch of dudes and were friendly, but shared that similar air of discomfort in fan worship. But enough preshow. Let’s commence with the destruction.
Burials were the local act of the night. I took a few minutes to check out their Facebook and I guess they’ve been somewhat out of circulation for a bit. Anyways, these guys know how to play their instruments. After the very first song the first comment from the audience was “nice kick, bro!” I concur. The drumming was exceptional, as was the varied shredding from the two guitar players. Vocals came from both the bassist in the form of low growls and the stage left guitar player with higher shrieks. I wasn’t too impressed with these, but the musicianship more than made up for it. The shrieker was like Jekyll and Hyde, always reverting quickly back to the mild-mannered former between tracks. Also, I swear that the other guitar player looks like a skinnier Tormund from Game of Thrones. He laughed when I brought this up during the break before I even finished. It wasn’t the first time he had heard the reference. You can decide for yourself below.
Time for some DOOOOOM. I was somewhat familiar with this Montreal band as their promo album had crossed my path some time back via Satanath Records. Those familiar with me know that I’m not really one for the extreme doom standard: slow, endlessly drown out death growls, eternally sustained power chords, etc. But that’s just me. The audience enjoyed these guys, and I must say that their bass drum sound was pretty imposing. I also appreciated that they had some faster moments to better showcase each musician’s skills. If you’re into classic death doom, you should check these guys out.
Oh man. I was not prepared for these guys. Zhrine are from Iceland and earlier this year spat out one of my favorite blackened death metal albums of 2016. Given their intensely dark and atmospheric sound that rivals other favorites like Portal and Abyssal, I was expecting them to come out in dark cloaks or corpse paint. Nope. Their frontman is such a boss that he doesn’t need any of that. He came up on stage in a button-up, collared shirt and skinny jeans like he was taking a family photo. And no disrespect at all. The very “everyman” way these guys dressed only made their music seem more impressive. Anyone can be terrifying in costume. A real performer creates fear at any given moment.
Anyways, this band gave a spell-binding performance. I think they actually had the best sound of the night. Whether tearing through massive chord progressions or layering intricate, dark melodies; they sounded every bit as good as they do on the record. Their level of teamwork was commendable, staying perfectly in sync for a number of punctuated little breaks in the music; often followed by a simple four note transition back into a sledgehammer of distortion. More great drumming here with a very versatile performance to compliment both the simple 4:4 sections and the faster, more technical ones. And did I mention they pulled out a freakin’ bow to play the guitar a few times? It was like This Is Spinal Tap, except way less funny. They also use an electric, standup bass which is not something you see every day.
This night moved along quite quickly, so before I knew it Ulcerate was upon us. These New Zealand natives did not disappoint. Getting one complaint out of the way first, I feel like our sound amplifying technology hasn’t fully caught up with bands like Ulcerate. Their sheer speed and loudness seemed to make it difficult for the system to translate all of their wonderfully twisting and contorting riffs clearly into the airwaves. This seemed to be no fault of the band as standing right next to the stage it was clear that they were prepared to sacrifice all of their appendages for the sake of creating another technical masterpiece.
Speaking of which, these guys make it look easy. It’s simply not fair. These pictures can never truly capture the wonder induced by witnessing the light speed snare hits and fills, or tendonitis-inducing tremolo picking. And yet all three members of the band appeared as calm as Hindu cows. When James played so hard that he broke a BASS string (in case you aren’t aware, those are thick AF), he shrugged it off, finished the song, changed the string in about a minute and growled the intro to the next song like nothing had happened.
The band played mostly a mixture of favorites from Vermis and their latest opus, Shrines of Paralysis. They initially closed with the title track, but James was soon back on stage to ask nonchalantly “One more?” This was met by a slew of audience members screaming “EVERYTHING WAS FIRE!” They teased for a bit while readjusting their instruments, but ultimately complied with the request. It was a strong finish to a very consistent set. Tired, battered, and nearly deaf I headed home. I would have liked to speak with the band and even get my CD signed, but by 1am I only feel myself getting older these days. Back to the wife and kids. But thanks for the chance to step into the hellfire for a few hours. Check out our full review of Shrines of Paralysis HERE.