Neurosis at Danforth Music HallSupport: Amenra| Converge
August 2, 2017 at Danforth Music Hall
While some may not find the link all too obvious from a stylistic perspective, the Neurosis and Converge co-headlining pairing for this North American tour makes every bit of sense when one looks beyond the attempts at classifying both bands musically. Besides their shared affiliation with the US hardcore scene at their beginnings, Neurosis and Converge are both defined by their unwavering relevance and cult status in the heavy music scene, having both established a new precedence through their unique, groundbreaking sound and timeless releases, paving the way for countless subsequent acts and musical genres. Having announced no more than ten dates for this current tour, fans from Canada as well as Toronto’s remote vicinity flocked before the Danforth Music Hall, lining up early in the bright sunlight and bracing themselves under the sporadic rain downpours than followed.
Completing this fantastic tour lineup, post-metal heavyweights Amenra were enlisted, having flown over from their home country of Belgium for the occasion, gracing early birds with a formal introduction to their pitch-dark musical incantations, channelled through a truly spectacular live performance. Saving their slowly-building post-metal number for later in the set, the band opted for a fast introduction, hitting things off to the swirling chaos of ‘The Pain it is Shapeless’, dazzling audiences to sounds of vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout’s torturous screams, with waves of overdriven, dissonant riffs merging with stark, black and white landscape visuals projected onto the stage’s backdrop. With numbers such as ‘Le Gardien des Rêves’, ‘Razoreater’, ’Am Kreuz’ and ‘Terziele’, the band made their case through a heavy half-dozen of songs, strung together into a concise setlist, retaining the dreary, suffocating ambience pertaining to the bands’ ritualistic essence. Unfamiliar audiences – initially puzzled by Colin’s tendency to turn his back on his audience – did not take long to immerse themselves into the spectacle, punctuating each song with a roaring ovation of cheers growing louder and louder as the show went on. Closing off with grace and splendor, Amenra hammered their last case and point to mesmerised audiences, stepping off the stage as triumphant conquerors.
Following up on a spectacular opening set, Converge took to the stage, freshly warmed up and determined to keep the ball rolling, as evidenced by their explosive overture lining up the hypercharged ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Aimless Arrow’. With vocalist Jacob Bannon sprinting across the stage and Kurt, Nate and Ben thrashing at their instruments as though their life depended on it, the bands’ fiery energy on stage still shines intact, driven by the very same passion accounting for the bands’ ongoing success streak, twenty-seven years into their career. Graciously swinging his microphone cord in the air, Jacob remains at the top of his game, his yells and tortured squawks sounding as poignant and powerful as ever. Throughout their hour-long set, the Massachusetts quartet gave their fans a heavy concentrate heavy, hard-hitting bangers with a setlist geared towards the bands’ last few records, namely Axe to Fall, All We Love We Leave Behind as well as their freshly released I can tell you about Pain, played in its entirety. With the announce of a ninth studio album just around the corner, fans even got to hear the band debut a new track live, a steady, mid-paced cut named ‘Under Duress’. As a band with an acute attention to pacing, the band made sure to splice in a bit of down-time starting from the rusty, twangy opening riff introducing ‘Worms will Feed/ Rats Will Feast’ and segway-ing into the climactic build of ‘Eve’. As a fan accustomed to seeing the band in more intimate indoor venues, I did however miss the close relationship and the communal sense found in the bands’ French shows, the spacious Danforth Music Hall as well as the more subdued Canadian crowd somewhat diminishing the cathartic energy of the show; whereas the maelstromic pit of ecstatic fans would typically sing scream half of the lyrics, kept the microphone to himself for the most part. Nevertheless, Converge’s infectious, adrenaline-packed performance stood brilliantly on its own merit, closing off with the riotous outburst of ‘Concubine’ and the epic title track to Jane Doe.
As the technical crew and the band started prepping the stage for the final set, one realisation slowly but surely seeped into consciousness: in all but a few particular cases, taking to the stage right after Amenra and Converge pertains to an inevitable path to failure. With that being said, this gig line-up is not included in what you may call a ‘typical case’, and Neurosis is definitely not your average band. Though I initially would have argued that inverting the running order to have Converge’s set close off the night would make more sense pacing-wise, the sludge metal Godfathers firmly defended their position as the crowning act for the evening, undoubtedly making their case abundantly clear to any likeminded audience members through their masterful wielding of bone-crushing heaviness and majestic grandeur. Light dimmed and the air grew denser; “Are you lost?” asks a manly voice through the speakers, signalling the start of the show to the trudging baseline of ’Lost’, the gargantuan opening track to Enemy of the Sun. Hair-raising resonances rang out, titillating ears like dagger blades brushing against skin. Stepping up to the mic, Steve Von Till tightens the grip on audiences with his raspy and grave voice tone, straining and swelling in intensity before turning into a roaring cry as the distorted guitars, bass and drums come crashing down, stunning audiences with the sheer intensity of the bands’ mighty live sound. With the exception of ‘Water is not Enough’ off of Given to the Rising, the evening’s setlist skipped over the bands’ 2000’s era releases as well as Honor Found in Decay, focusing on their older songs and their latest album. Five out of the six tracks off of Fires within Fires were played during the course of the evening, taking up no less than half of the set, making a brilliant case to skeptical fans through brilliant renditions invigorated by an extra layer of low-end added to the phenomenal live mix and an imposing stage show.
Although largely stationed at their designated stage spot, the group’s stage presence yielded a brooding aura, the band appearing like seven-feet tall titans, their faces contorting, their feet dragging, like giants bearing the weight of their pachydermic sound. The meaty bass slithered like a crawling reptile, the guitars organically switched from light, textured ambient tones to devastating distortion outbreaks, though the most impressive feature deserving due credit is the massive, booming drum sound and performance by Jason Roeder, resonating with the power and resolve of a hundred men. Keyboardist Noah Landis’ presence was also allowed to shine through, largely contributing to the whole awe-inspiring, cinematic experience through his crucial wielding of noisy soundscapes and additional arrangements, serving to elevate the bands’ sound above and beyond the mere idea of a gritty “metal-performance”. The show was cinematic, leaving little room for interruptions to submerge its audience neck-deep into its bog-like, decaying decorum. After a final merciless onslaught with ‘The Doorway’ followed by a massive drum outro, the band closed off and stepped offstage, thus sending stunned audiences home for recovery.
No requests for an encore were shouted; the whole venue left under the implicit understanding that all that could possibly be done during the course of one evening had been accomplished. Nights like these leave no stones unturned, no questions to be asked, no reservations to be had: whether we’re talking about Neurosis, Converge or Amenra, time bears no mark on legacies destined to remain unmatched.