I knew it wouldn’t take long until I found another reason to revisit ye olde Soda Bar in sunny San Diego. Though the weather was fair, the night’s music would be bringing plenty of gloom ‘n’ doom in the form of Cryptic Languages, Void Omnia, He Whose Ox is Gored, and Samothrace. After circling the block for twenty minutes trying to find parking, I entered my new favorite venue and took the pole position (literally, it’s a pole that has the baffling honor of being located right in front of the stage). Ideal viewing conditions or not, I was ready.
One good thing about seeing a shit-ton of recent shows is the routine exposure I get from the local metal scene. I can directly support hometown acts and get a taste for genres I normally wouldn’t seek out myself — a win-win for this metalhead who’s always looking to expand his listening horizons with new jams. So it was with Cryptic Languages (San Diego), an instrumental psychedelic/stoner-doom metal trio with some seriously tasty parts.
Right away, I was quite taken with their huge bass sound, which employed phaser and other effects to add texture and fullness in absence of a vocalist. The guitarist’s tasteful solos were a treat for the ears and not one bit overused in the way some bands do to compensate for a lack of vocals. I’ll also say that the drummer had among the best live tom sound I’ve ever heard — thick, full, with the perfect amount of thud. The band’s foray into stoner/psychedelic territory led to a good mix of energetic, uptempo parts that contrasted nicely with backbreaking doom passages. All in all, way more enjoyable than most opening bands have a right to be. Liked, followed, shared, and subscribed, gents.
Void Omni-YEAH, BABY!
I can’t quite remember where I’d first come across black metal quintet Void Omnia (Oakland), but I’d always been curious of their live potential. Their 2016 release “Dying Light” has only recently been demanding a lot of my attention, but what I’d heard was reason enough to make the trip south solely for them. As the band set up, the Soda Bar crowd had turned noticeably more grim, their t-shirt logos more illegible. A couple Void Omnia devotees wormed their way to the front, blocking my view, which spurred me closer to the stage as well. Since missing Taake last month, I was eager for some blackened barraging up close and personal.
Once the levels were set, Void Omnia’s vocalist hopped off the stage to let the rest of the band open up with the ominous, plodding intro for Of Time. I’ll be honest, the slow-paced opener wasn’t what I was expecting, but all my feelings were laid aside once the spark of the song ignited into a full-fledged flame. Their second song, Remanence of a Ghost Haunt, spread the flames even further, the flames of which were fuel by the vocalist. Upon his return, the man was positively unhinged and blazing across the stage with a fervor granted to him from some dark, cosmic force. A few songs later he left the stage to scream and rage right in front of the crowd, elevating the insane vortex the rest of the band were unleashing behind him. Their live sound cut through with furious clarity, this in stark contrast to the unfortunate muddiness of Ghost Bath, the last band I’d seen at the Soda Bar. Bear in mind the guitarists were still whirlwinding with tremolo black metal ferocity, but I could finally enjoy hearing the riff changes rather than guess at them. And the drummer — that poor guy! — his limbs were mostly a blur of 32nd notes for the entire show. Someone give him a medal.
Void Omnia carried their level of vigor and vehemence on until the end, closed out by the obliterating Emptied Heartless, an utter black hole of despair with a multitude of fakeouts that left me wondering if there’d ever be an end in sight (I would have been willing to be punished by a few more songs, but alas — the show must go on). As a whole, the band was searing, complete annihilating energy incarnate — the proximity certainly helped, but these were musicians that knew their instruments and knew how to use them in a way that infected the audience without any trite bullshit. I’d see them again in a heartbeat.
After the all-consuming force of nature that was Void Omnia, I wasn’t ready to get proggy — but He Whose Ox is Gored (Seattle) wasn’t going to wait for me to catch up. The vocalist/keyboardist came right out and plopped her rig right in front of the stage, and it wasn’t until I saw her start plugging cords in that I realized there was no room on the stage for it. I’d listened to a bit of the band beforehand and found them interesting — but bands always shine when they’re live and have you as a captive audience.
And captivate they did! He Whose Ox is Gored plays a pedigree of synth-assisted prog that is both wildly like and unlike heavy hitters like Dream Theater and Between the Buried and Me. Maybe it’s their bleak sludge metal bits that makes their prog parts seem more weighty — either way, their comfort in using twisting time-signatures while maintaining melody at the forefront made a lot of the music of the aforementioned bands seem almost pedestrian and uninspired. He Whose Ox is Gored didn’t shred for shredding’s sake — they preferred to prog along with an acute sense of emotion and mood; the vocalist embodied this as she gesticulated wildly with passionate vocal delivery. I was also impressed by their amazingly clean guitar tone (although I’m a drummer who doesn’t know more than two things about guitars, so take that however you want).
He Whose Ox is Gored is one of those bands that gets more rewarding the more you listen to them — and that’s even more true live. Before closing out their set, they thanked Samothrace and their tour manager in a moment of pure, genuine feeling that reflected the passion in their musicianship. They left us with a new song — Ache or Egg, I’ve been unable to discern which — an intense, dazzling track with a simply stunning conclusion. If ever there were an indication that a band is reaching a new height in its creative career, it is Ache/Egg for He Whose Ox is Gored. I believe I uttered an earnest “holy shit” after it ended.
Let me be frank — I didn’t have a pressing need to see Samothrace. I’m not a big fan of doom, and although what I’d heard from them wasn’t bad by any means, I couldn’t see how they could follow up the previous two acts of the night. But I stuck around because the other bands spoke very highly of Samothrace, and I saw this as an opportunity for me to try to “understand” doom. With their extra-high cymbals and super-low mic stand, I was already a bit puzzled before they even starting playing.
Their set seemed pretty standard doom to me — long songs with lengthy open chords, punctuated by crash cymbals and low, cavernous roars. But around the second song, I thought I began to “get it” — it seemed that, to me at least, doom metal was all about building toward this great, big, cathartic climax. As the undulating waves of toms, cymbals, and cacophonous chords rolled over me, I had to admit the release was satisfying. But by that logic, it felt to me like most of each song’s duration just didn’t matter, especially when it went on for several more minutes after it had reached its big peak. This was most apparent to me on their last song, the end of which they drew out for what felt like five minutes with the same percussive pattern. Samothrace didn’t make me a believer, though they were potent doomsayers/players, but I’m glad I stuck around and saw what they had to offer.
As I walked back to wherever it was I parked my car, I reflected on what a strange lineup the bands had been. Doom seemed to be the uniting factor, save for Void Omnia, but each band sounded too distinct from each other. What struck me was how none of the bands announced who they were, or where they were from — it didn’t matter. These were four groups of talented musicians just doing their thing — listeners and audience be damned. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t come there for Samothrace — they knew what they were there to accomplish, and they believed in that to their fullest. Several times throughout their set, their drummer would bend over and rest his head on his snare drum — I couldn’t really say why, but for some reason it made me think of how music means more to some people than it does to others, and it may mean the most to the artist most of all. All music is subjective and deeply personal — it’s capable of pulling a small unit of highly creative, sometimes highly reclusive musicians miles away from their homes to express themselves to crowds of strangers. And whether that’s in some rundown bar or an enormous theater, that’s a hell of an amazing thing.