The cavernous locale of Mr. Smalls Theatre usually sparks a lot of debate amongst Pittsburgh show-goers. The venue, a converted church is now the primary mid-sized club spot in the city, replacing the very much missed Club Laga. As far as location goes, it’s right on the perimeter of the city, so that’s not really a problem. And inside, it’s a neat, roomy area with a conveniently located bar and merch area.
While the amenities of the theater is great, the main sticking point with Mr. Smalls is that extreme metal always sounds like garbage inside its walls. The sound dissipates to the ceiling and never catches anything, forcing the soundman to over-correct his settings, making everything louder than it should be. Such was the case for tonight’s Dimmu Borgir/Behemoth show.
Funny, the first bill on the bill usually sounds the best, which was the case for Norway’s BM up-and-comers Keep of Kalessin. Operating without the benefit of a full soundboard, the four-piece enjoyed instant clarity, with guitarist Obsidian C. running amok with some brilliant chord progressions and structures. In fact, Mr. C. was the one to watch – his flawless and inspired technique is something to marvel, recalling prime-era Emperor and his session band, Satyricon.
Cuts from Armada and the forthcoming Colossus were aired and garnered a positive response from the mostly-full venue. Hats off to drummer Vyl, who managed to twirl his stick ala Tommy Lee during several blast portions, a move that was both unexpected and fun to watch.
Behemoth were up next, making their second appearance in Pittsburgh in six months, the last with Job For A Cowboy in November. This time, Nergal and co. didn’t have their full stage setup, as drummer Inferno had to play on the stage floor, but that didn’t deter the band from their usual scorching set of black/death metal. The sound was a mess, with Inferno’s drums getting buried amidst the guitars and the guitars getting lost amidst the vocals and the vocals getting lost amidst, well, the sound. Here’s a tip: turn everything down just a tad.
A set that culled mainly from last year’s The Apostosy album, Behemoth are a marvel to watch live, especially Nergal and bassist Orion and cuts such as “Slaves Shall Serve,” “As Above, So Below,” “Conquer All,” and “The Apostosy” went down in a storm. The band’s stage presence and diabolic charisma sets them apart and is even more impressive given how much road-dogging they’ve done the last few years. A well-deserved break for the band is up next before their next album, due out in 2009.
Dimmu Borgir hasn’t headlined in Pittsburgh since 2003, and that was when Nick Barker was manning the throne. This time, the band’s profile is double what it was five years ago and instead of Barker and In Sorte Diaboli drummer Hellhammer, we got former Nile/Angelcorpse/God Dethroned sticksman Tony Laureno. Laureno, who slopped his way through Dimmu’s 2004 Ozzfest stint seems to have finally gotten the band’s set down, duplicating some of Barker’s tasty fills and Hellhammer’s beyond-human blast runs.
Visually, Dimmu is striking: a video runs throughout, chronicling the various eras of the band, intersped with classic old-school footage and sinister graphics. The frontline of bassist Vortex, lead guitarist Galder, vocalist Shagrath, and guitarist Silenoz is imposing, especially the monstrous bassist who oddly bobbed his head from side-to-side as if he was actually having a good time, a move that was pointed out by the drummer of my band, who would only care about such things…
The setlist was largely enjoyable, most notably the opening 1-2 punch of “Spellbound” and “In Death’s Embrace,” which could be the best song off Enthrone…. The new album got the most nods of the night, with “The Serpentine Offering,” “The Chose Legacy,” “The Sinister Awakening,” and “The Fallen Arises” being aired.
Naturally, Dimmu sound all out of whack. Laureno’s drums were unheard the first half of the set, while the guitars were on overdrive and overpowered everyone but Shagrath. Towards the back end of the show, the sound slowly improved, as the left field (and awesome) “Succubus In Rapture” was included. One of Dimmu’s more melodic tunes, the song went over the heads of most in attendance, but was a real treat for yours truly and his cohorts.
As the set wound down and the very un-black metal encore consisting of “Progenies of a Great Apocalypse,” “Puritania,” and “Mourning Palace” echoed throughout Mr. Smalls' halls, one couldn’t help but think about how far Norwegian black metal, or in the case of in-between-song Shagrath, “Pure FUCKING Norwegian black metal” has come. Dimmu are the commercial apex of the genre, not Cradle of Filth and nights like these only serve to reinforce the notion that if anyone can serve corpse paint and Satan to commercial America, it would be Dimmu.