It was most accommodating of LA Weekly, as part of its LA Weekend, to stage a Death-Metal Afternoon at this classic Beverly Hills palace just for me. Three bands, one film, one accommodating bar with a gritty tequila sponsor called, for some reason, Sino. Chinese agave? Or Si-No? Si, por favor.
Dreams of Damnation lit a slow-burn instrumental before Loana dP Valencia fired out of the wings to roar the fury as the tempo accelerated. With vet scowler Jim Durkin (formerly of Dark Angel) laying the guitar foundation, DoD pushed beyond the catechism of thrash, building layers of logical architecture atop Mars Castro's hard-rumbling drums. Melody lurked behind violence: Valencia, palm upthrust, screamed a high note that was flawlessly extended by fug-it-all bearded co-guitarist Rick Alsup's vicious string-bend. The contrast between mini-bullet Valencia and bald-mountain bassist Charlie Silva made for a visual hook; everybody gathered like a coven around the drums toward the end, but whatever evil they were stirring meant no harm to the righteous. Valencia's occasional halogen smile proved one thing: Joy is compatible with rage.
Professor cranked a listenable brand of nearly traditional twin-guitar metal, the lone dissonance deriving from the fact that only the lead voxman-axman looked like a metal dude rather than a math teacher. But I guess that's why the band's called that.
And Dreaming Dead were a damned impressive trio, reaping a wide swath of progressive death and sludge. Behind her Flying V, Elizabeth Schall (pictured) not only spieled difficult riffs with high precision, but looked good in black hot pants and boots. If drummer Michael Caffell flicked polyrhythms around his somewhat miniaturized double-kick kit like a Musicians Institute jazz-fusion guy, it didn't go amiss in this context -- Dreaming Dead keep your attention more with their originality and chops than with an image of metal badness. Watch this band.
Then came a screening of "Until the Light Takes Us," a documentary about the history of Norwegian black metal. And this is fascinating sh*t. Whatever you've heard about the murders and church burnings of the scene's early-'90s origins, it's made flesh here in eyewitness accounts by the key dramatis personae. "He had this sacrifice knife that he was cutting himself with. It was a good show." "He crawled in the window and found Dead [Pelle Ohlin of Mayhem] dead." "He killed this f*cking faggot in Lillehammer. I really honor him for that." "I stabbed him on the skull, so he died." We hear the roots of the anti-Christian movement in the ancient destruction of Norway's indigenous culture. We learn of deathly faddism and copycat violence. "In a sea of lies," says one commentator, "the truth is impossible to find," but directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell do a damn good sleuthing job. Emperor, Immortal, Burzum, Satyricon -- we get tastes from all the main bands, set in stark panoramas of Northern snow and darkness. Released late last year, it ain't on Netflix yet; soon come. Meanwhile and thereafter, Uncle Gregory says, "Save your matches for the blunt."
In tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, I sat in Row HH for the duration.