Delirium – Church – Forced to Rot – The Dark and Bleak – Coathanger Abortion: an Overwhelmingly Positive Experience
Bernie’s, Columbus, Ohio
“I’d like to see a small mosh pit.”
Bernie’s Bagels – perhaps the most odiferous of Columbus’s institutions. It is a subterranean bar/bagel shop/music venue that always smells like a state park pit toilet but whose importance as a venue cannot be overstated. It exists literally underground – just by being there, no matter what kind of music, you have shown where your affinities lay. You have to be in the know, you have to want to go there, you are happy to go there, and this is why I went by myself two weekends ago.
Bernie’s non-descript doorway opens to a graffiti-covered stairwell that in turn opens to a lunch counter and booths and tables. Fliers with the evening’s schedule were taped all over the venue and said the show wouldn’t start until 9. I was there at 7:30, as the Walgreens 5x7 photo fliers said the doors opened at 7. No matter – time flew by as I watched band members run in and out on desperate pre-show errands and confused college students huddle in a corner of the bar as a form of nervous self-preservation. The substantial wait was worth it, as it turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve been to in years.
Each member of the opening band appeared to be no more than fifteen years old. Delirium were all seventeen (though one kid ruefully owned up to being sixteen) but looked years younger. They played a sort of noodly metalcore, the kind that could be assumed from their high school-shag haircuts and pattern-print t-shirts. Yes, it’s probably be the case that I’m old and think everybody under twenty-five looks the same, but their youthfulness worked in their favor when it came to surprising the crowd with their incredible musical abilities. The first few seconds of their first song proved the larger point that high school bands today are so much better than high school bands when I was younger. I feel that the bar has been raised because metalcore is predominantly a teenage phenomenon and with it has come an overall enheavying of what’s palatable to mainstream ears – kids today learn arpeggios and syncopated double-bass patterns where kids back in the day learned some shitty Nirvana riff and were considered the epitome of greatness.
Delirium’s talent was evident as soon as they started playing: arpeggios, sweeps, scales, and weird tapping occurred with such gratuity that it made me chuckle. It wasn’t like the music of Viraemia or Monumental Torment (intended to baffle you with otherworldly musicianship/brutality) but the product of a band replacing traditional riffing with a lot of little guitar tricks, as if they have no experience with the former because they started out learning only the latter. It was interesting to see that you can transmit the same level of nuance with a series of untraditional guitar playing as you can with chords or riffs. Their abilities, from vocalist to drummer, were impressive enough to gain the approval of the old metalheads in attendance, a notoriously stodgy crowd. (Years ago a gray-haired metalhead wearing an empatched vest over his leather jacket told my friend to take off his flap-eared winter hat because it was an embarrassment to metal. “Did you even know that guy?” “No.”)
Delirium were clearly having fun and were really excited that people were enjoying them. They were playing like pros while still not quite being able to pose and headbang as confidently as their older brethren. The friends that came with them were excited as well, obviously having as good a time on the road trip as they were at the concert specifically. Delirium: a band of friends having fun and being friends and stunned at how fun being a band can be. Hold on to it my young friends! Soon you’ll have to put up with the flakiness and mercurial personalities of adult musicians.
Delirium stuck around for the duration of the show and moshed and cheered for every band that followed. Every compliment they received was repeated among themselves with wide smiles and disbelief. The older dudes in the other bands had to feel like they were the coolest people on Earth for being so revered by the next generation. Delirium’s bass player was overheard telling his mom that no, no he wasn’t ready to leave - the headbanging must continue!
The show was put on by Jonathyn Arthurs, a 17-year old theistic Satanist who performs under the moniker The Dark and Bleak. He also books shows and shoots promo photos as Crystal Moonlight Studios. TDAB will be discussed later, but suffice it to say that like Delirium’s set, the whole affair had the charming naiveté of an excited kid – the fliers with set times were posted everywhere (“set times are approximate”) as were signs noting that
“Neither Crystal Moonlight Studios or Bernies Distillery are responsible for any injuries or stolen/missing property. Any damages made to the venue or any of the bands equipment is YOUR responsibility and you will be required to pay for the damages within a short period of time. Please stick around for all the bands and just have a good time.”
The enthusiastic professionalism of the signs aside, this professionally-run ship did make for smooth sailing. The show was a little ahead of schedule and nothing appeared to have been broken at the end of the night.
Assorted parents and grandparents were in attendance – what did they think of the name Coathanger Abortion? The name Coathanger Abortion was even conspicuously absent from the illuminated dry-erase board that lists the evening’s bands. Coathanger have been a band since 2000 and have toured extensively since then, so you also had to wonder what they thought of everything, the parents and teenage bands and the promise of a one-man black metalish band playing right before them. It is brutal death metal so it’s always going to be a little weird, but still.
After Delirium was a band from Columbus, and they were unfortunately called Church. The vocalist noted that the band can be found online at facebook.com/notyourmomschurch, leading me wonder if the whole point of the name was to be able to make that joke. They were all metaled out - wallet chains, beards, sleeveless shirts, etc. - and played beer-drinking metalhead-metal, a fist-pumping force one or two steps heavier than Lamb of God. They actually sound a lot like the bands on underground metal comps from the late 90s/early 00s and reminded me of Deceased, if Deceased were actually good. (I recently re-listened to Blueprints for Madness and it is fucking terrible. [Aside from ‘the Triangle,’ which is a killer song with cool lyrics about the Bermuda Triangle.])
Church is good but the tepidity of their moniker carried over to their song titles: “False Redemption,” “The Lack of God,” “Sheep to the Slaughter,” etc. etc. I want to hear stuff like “The Vault of Ancient Bone & Poison Saliva” and “Genesis of Putrescence” - how is one supposed to lead the charge against moronic religious bullshit when your battle hymns aren’t particularly inspiring? But their bassist is a towering dude who looks like Peter Stormare from Fargo and we all know that guy didn’t need to be a wordsmith, so whatever. But the band was good enough. Delirium loved them and the power of their set made a dad shout something between songs. “What did you say?” his companion asked. “I don’t know – I just wanted to yell!”
Forced to Rot was like Church, but tighter and with better equipment, and they too played no-frills underground Metal. They were a little more brutal overall than the previous band, as they opted for guttural vocals instead of throaty old-school roars. Like Church is one step heavier than Lamb of God, Forced to Rot is one step heavier than Church.
Aside from having a really cool name, Forced to Rot were fantastic. Watching them play made me re-appreciate x100 why metal is cool: it’s unparalleled musicianship, you get enveloped by sound, and there are parts so universally good that you headbang involuntarily. Plus seeing a bunch of long hairs headbanging in unison is super sick regardless of what kind of music you normally listen to.
But it is always awkward when only one guy in a band is wearing corpsepaint. One and only one member of Forced to Rot had his face painted like a skull. I guess my feeling is that it is kind of goofy and a little bit distracting, but if it helps him get in the zone, who cares…? I’m personally taken out of the zone when I look up and see not a misanthropic ghoul but a guy who just really wanted to wear corpsepaint. But it’s not really his fault - how many times has a band’s corpsepaint looked genuinely creepy in high-contrast album art only to lost its entire forest-dwelling mystique when you see the band live and you realize it’s just a bunch of sweaty men dripping white paint down the front of their distended tank-tops? (This wasn’t the case here; no sloppy paint, it was just kind of out of place.)
But again, who fucking cares? It was a metal show – it’s not often you get to unabashedly celebrate this thing of ours with a bunch of people who totally get it. Forced to Rot’s vocalist got it and definitely appreciated it. All night he was positive and happy. Between songs he made a point to complement each one of the bands. “Delirium – if I played guitar like that I’d have no fucking fingers left! Church – give it up for the only kind of church I enjoy!” It wasn’t just the music that made this show great – it was cool to see that this thing, the metal scene, an international subculture, a thing that few people inside and outside of metal really understand the value of, continues to exist on its own terms with camaraderie and insouciance.
The singer was positive through the end of their killer set:
“This is the last song. It’s time to go crazy. But more importantly, it’s time to have some fun. If that means committing mass murder, then so be it. If it means getting yourself hard and jacking off in the mosh pit, do it! If it means…oh, whatever, just play the fucking song!”
The Dark and the Bleak is apparently somewhat of an institution in Columbus. It is the solo project of the aforementioned Jonathyn Arthurs, a young man who epitomizes the idea that working hard will bring success. According to the collection of flyers on his Facebook page, he has played everything from high school battles of the bands to a Used Kids Monday Matinee to the Obetz Zucchinifest, where he opened for Bret Michaels. I can’t imagine how crazy the last show must have been – the Dark and Bleak, in Obetz, at the Zucchinifest, wearing a black leather trench coat and face paint, on stage playing shredding metal by himself, to people who are there to see Bret Michaels. But I was admittedly skeptical - how many trenchcoat and nail polish-wearing teenagers really have decent solo projects? What is the likelihood that a band with a plain font logo will actually rule?
He explained his MO during his set at Bernie’s: “Some of you may be wondering, ‘why is he up here by himself?’ And the answer is because I promote independency. You all have the power within you to reach your dreams. You know that fear you feel? Take that and turn it into motivation!”
Right on, man! I like this message not only for its general application but because it allows him to fearlessly do what he does. But I got nervous for him when I heard him sound-checking his mp3 drum tracks. It was a Casio-keyboardian 4/4 beat, and he was being really particular about it. He walked around the stage, then out in front of it, then smiled and shrugged at the sound guy. He introduced himself, thanked everyone for being there, and started playing. And it was fucking KILLER. I was stunned at how good it was. He was shredding as well as any of the known one-man death metal bands that routinely play festivals and put out records. There was conveniently a brick on stage, and this allowed him to stand with one knee bent, a position taken to maximize brutality. (He reportedly sometimes brings his own fan, for maximum hair enblowment.)
Goddammit, though. I hate to say it, but the second song he played confirmed my initial fears. The song starts with bells that sound like a sample from the ‘Home Alone’ soundtrack, and is followed by a metal-voiced recitation of poetry over mid-paced melodic metal. The stylistic change completely caught me off guard. It’s the kind of metal that people who like metal without getting too hooked by a specific subgenre listen to; the midpaced triplet-driven song is a staple on metal albums, and I guess he wanted to make a contribution of his own. It was well-played and the title “Masquerade” implies an important reiteration of seeing through society’s bullshit, but the gothic flavor nonetheless killed the momentum of the first excoriating attack.
Fortunately the next song he played was more like the first. He said that he wrote the song in 2008. This means he wrote it when he was around eleven: “This next song is about pollution. But first, I’m going to take this [leather trenchcoat] off – this thing is ridiculous!”
He laughed as he said this. He seemed at home on the stage but was humble and appreciative and very polite. His modesty throughout the night was endearing. “I have one more song before we get to the real talent.” Pointing at the kids in Delirium: “I’d like to see a small mosh pit.” More than half his set was ripping death metal, and I was continually impressed and was able to look past a long solo that was only incidentally in tune. This kid rules. Support him in doing what he’s doing: leading a metal life because it’s satisfying on the deepest possible level. (And according to a recent Facebook post, there are “64 things left to finish in terms of recording the new album. But with 3 things or more getting done each day it should be done in great time.”)
Coathanger Abortion was sitting quietly in a corner of Bernie’s. They were manifestly brutal death metal dudes – Gutrot shirts, camo shorts, hawking the requisite color-logo-with-gruesome-white-art shirts almost mandatory in BDM. Stylistically, I knew I would be really into them - they are on Comatose Records and will be touring with Devangelic and Lust of Decay this summer – but I couldn’t help but be annoyed by their name. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Disgorged Foetus and Nailshitter, and that Scatorgy record is great; it’s not baroque grossness that’s the issue but the kind of grossness their the name implies: the kind of really, genuinely eerily violent and misogynist brutal death metal that makes you realize that maybe some people involved with this musick really are terrible assholes and not just dudes trying to outdo each other with scenes of zombie and medical violence. Lividity, Incestuous, Female Nose Breaker - dudes who seem to take pride in being as fucked up as they can as a supremely juvenile form of revenge against women they probably routinely creep out. I was prepared for Coathanger to say something ultra-degrading between songs but they totally did not. They have a song called ‘Leaves,’ about smoking weed, and they have a song ‘Mall Monster,’ whose lyrics are the following:
Now as darkness falls over me, sitting at the hotel waiting to leave
Just waiting to get this night over
Down on your knees
Crawling toward a break
I can't escape from this place that I hate
I can't wait to leave this place in the morning
I can't wait any longer
Waiting for dawn
Mall monster. Muzak insanity, its driving me crazy
Mall monster. Glaring at security cops
Seeing constant pop culture
Yuppie fashions under surveillance
Surrounded by a mass of idiots
Money blowing fools
Dollar signs are everywhere
Pick me, buy me, I am what you want
Food court terrorizer strolls by you
Cover your children's eyes
The mall monster has consumed you
Shit on sale
I admittedly passed on their album “Dying Breed” because of the band’s name, but now realize I was totally remiss in doing so. As a review on Encyclopaedia Metallum goes, “Within the grotesque heap of muck known as modern brutal death metal there are some albums floating around out there that no one has and know one [sic] even knows about that are insanely sick.” (Seriously, get this album. It’s really, really good.)
I like brutal death metal way more than I like regular metal, so the pleasure I derived from watching Forced to Rot play was multiplied tenfold when Coathanger started playing. I was entranced watching everyone in the band go about their business. They are so tight and the riffs are so patently interesting that the brutality almost took second stage to the joy of watching the songs unfold. Almost but not quite, since the fact that it was brutal death metal made everything that much more enjoyable. The drummer was absolutely incredible (and sports killer sideburns), the guitar players were astounding, and the vocals were awesome grunts that sounded like someone was turning on and off a faucet running with the sound of inhuman roars echoing through a drain. (And it wasn’t even the regular vocalist – the bass player handled vocals since the vocalist couldn’t do the tour.)
And within watching Coathanger Abortion play is the essence of Bernie’s – it’s not your mom’s church but an even higher and much more genuine form of affirmation. You feel proud of what you are into; you can’t believe you are witnessing something so powerful – on a small stage in a dank basement in a random city on a random evening, something is going on unlike anything else on earth. You are moved to headbang, to smile hugely in appreciation of an insane riff or Neolithic mosh, to celebrate it all with thirty other people, the number not a poor turnout but a hush-hush klatch that makes the evident secrecy that much more profound. Thank you Jonathyn Arthurs/the Dark and Bleak/Crystal Moonlight Productions for setting up the show – it was totally fucking sick.