words and photos by Stefan Raduta, intro by BBG
Agalloch in Bucharest
Stefan Raduta is no stranger to the darkness. As a writer with Metal Maniacs, Imhotep, and many other outlets, the Romanian born scribe has profiled and reviewed some of the biggest and most influential names in the blackened depths of extreme music. In the following piece, Stefan hit the road with the great Agalloch on their recent trek to Romania, where the band intresected with Alcest on their first ever live appearance (they play NYC on 4/29 as part of their first US tour). His story from the road is below.
I arrived in Brasov on the Friday the 19th exactly at midnight, and met with the band on the theater's stage, as they were getting their gear ready for a first rehearsal, helping the sound guy (who was very late) bring everything upstairs...drums, cabinets, amps, PA speakers, everything; so much stuff. It took over an hour and a half to set up the backline, everyone was visibly exhausted, but around 1 am finally they started. Somewhere around 2 am they were done with the first trials, but barely standing, having arrived in town just the day before after a ridiculously long flight. Aesop (also drummer in Ludicra, great band, check them out at Europa in Brooklyn on April 18th!) was going to play a couple of songs he never performed with Agalloch, so there was some pressure on the them. It was really interesting seeing the band interact without an audience, being really in it, trying to get it done right in time...At one point they came up with the idea to bring a jar and whoever would screw up would throw in lei (the national currency). Don won.
The day of the show went very fast, they met again at noon for another rehearsal session and then again three hours before the gig, with the PA set. I was really quite impressed to see how much effort they put into getting everything perfectly. More money for Don.
March 20th, Brasov. The town, the venue, the show
Located in Transylvania, Brasov is one of the most beautiful medieval city-fortresses in Romania, definitely my personal favorite not only because of the incredible architecture, but because of the stunning beauty of the nature surrounding it, being at the very bottom of the Carpathian Mountains surround it. The venue's location wasn't chosen randomly either, Agalloch were to perform at the Reduta Cultural Center, a very fancy, impressively looking classical theater. This was also the first metal show ever performed there.
By 7 pm all 300+ seats were taken, the Alcest guys were in the first row, and the show was about to start. One interesting thing to mention is that almost a third of the audience in Brasov and Bucharest were fans from abroad, totaling around 15 countries. I've met people from Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Austria and so on, even a few from the US. Now, to fly half way around the world too see your favorite band play live when you could just wait a year and drive half an hour...that's loyalty. And not to forget, for this special occasion, Agalloch printed 250 hand numbered double CD digipacks featuring The Demonstrations Archive and Assorted Works and Rarities.
Those who've witnessed Agalloch live have surely seen the ritual of burning the incent (Aquilaria Agallocha or agalwood) the actual soft wood that gives the band's name. Depending on the circumstances, it could be something that could pass rather unnoticed (unless you have a clear view in the front) but in Brasov, the guys turned the process into an actual ceremony, a real theatrical experience that was so interesting to watch. Once lit, as John was holding the deer leg up high, Don and Jason were slowly carrying it in these iron cups throughout the venue, enwrapping the whole theater in to a deep forest-like smell, that pretty much made everyone understand what was to come would be a memorable experience.
I find it very hard to put into words what followed on. Agalloch's music and lyrics are so spellbinding, one would simply have to see it, to live it, in order to understand the splendor of what this band becomes when playing live. And it wasn't just the circumstances of that one evening, because the following night's performance was just as outstanding. But in Brasov, due to the unique settings their performance (over two hours long!) was truly surreal. It was one of those unique experiences in life when time just stops, where all your worries vanish, where everyone becomes one heartbeat, one soul. "The Hawthrone Passage II" (surreal!) and "Of Stone, Winds And Pillar" hadn't been performed live in four or five years, they were such a treat for those traveling from so far away to see them. Aesop did great! (Full set list below)
Agalloch - "Falling Snow" (March 2010, live in Brasov, Romania)
Agalloch - "As Embers Dress The Sky" (March 2010, live in Brasov, Romania)
Agalloch - "Bloodbirds" (March 2010, live in Brasov, Romania)
Agalloch - "Of Stone, Wind and Pillor" (March 2010, live in Brasov, Romania)
Song by song, Agalloch put the audience through such a blissful waterfall of emotions, creating a sort of dream world for all to drown their sorrows in. People reacted differently, mostly just sinking in their seats, some with their eyes closed, others closely following their every move...When they started "Not Unlike The Waves" though, everyone just lost their shit, getting up, jumping seats, coming close to the stage, head banging like there was no tomorrow. I though there goes the theater...Awesome! Such a crushing piece! I think many of their songs could be considered masterpieces, at times they can become so overwhelming they can bring every soul to its knees. "Limbs" and "Bloodbirds" for example were such godly moments that night, I get shivers down my spine just thinking about it. I'm not ashamed to admit that my entire life passed before my eyes through the latter...I can not think of another song in this world that can so easily tear my fucking heart apart and just hand it to me, with such simplicity. The emotion and despair in John's voice as he's wailing simply cut your air off...
The god of man is a failure
Our fortress is burning against the grain of the shattered sky
Charred birds escape from the ruins and return as cascading blood
Dying bloodbirds pooling, feeding the flood
The god of man is a failure
And all of our shadows are ashes against the grain
"Lodge" seemed the perfect ending to the evening, they got really loud on this instrumental piece, and towards its finish, as if putting a final ceremonial end to the show, Don, Jason and John got on their knees and eventually were on the floor for a good few minutes, shredding their guitars in a massive wall of sound...and that's about all I can say about what happened that night, definitely a memory to be taken on the other side.
Bucharest, March 21st.
The Silver Church in Bucharest is a venue that can compete with some of the best in New York City, sound and look wise. It's actually quite impressive looking, normally a club but it always hosts goth and fetish parties, so it has a dark vibe..
The evening started with a CD release event, local band Nightpray announcing their debut album Dreamocracy. Costin Chiroeanu, a very talented Romanian designer (worked with Ulver, Grave, Absu, Foscor, etc) is the guitarist, and just for thrills the bass is recorded by Clandestine (of Norway's DHG!).
Alcest who are quite an interesting post-rock, shoegaze outfit with their roots in the black metal genre. Sort of. On that night, they performed in front of an audience for the very first time (although the first demo came out nine years ago), so the guys were a little nervous...Although a few musicians came and left the band, today it's Neige's (Mortifera, Forgotten Woods, ex-Peste Noire) personal project, and the guys joining him on stage were his band mates in Amesoeurs. While discography is not so vast (two LPs, an Ep and some splits), lately they've gathered quite a numerous fan base. Musically speaking they did a really good job, their style as of late being this dreamy, fantasy-world soft metal with clean vocals, very moody and sort of nostalgic...I'll put it like this, chicks really dig it. And you could tell by the long line formed for autographs and photos after the show...while Agalloch got most of the guys, Neige (of Alcest) got the girls...it was pretty funny actually, poor guy was literally ambushed and needed help. Joking aside, I personally need the right mood to enjoy their new music. I definitely prefer their earlier stuff, when they sounded like Austere. As far as Neige is concerned I'll take Peste Noire any day, definitely my favorite French act next to Deathspell Omega, but he was really in it just for a short period.
Alcest - live in The Silver Church Club, Bucharest 2010
Great set list though (below), Neige put it together brilliantly, beginning and ending with the two beautiful songs from their 2005 debut LP and EP respectively: "Printemps Emeraude" and "Elevation" (which is superb with the harsh vocals!).
Agalloch - live in The Silver Church Club, Bucharest 2010
Agalloch's set, as expected, was nothing short of spectacular. I can't say better because of the very different conditions...but no longer in a fancy classical theater, it felt like a real metal show, with people letting loose, not worried about damaging seats, head banging freely and crowd surfing, etc. There was no moshing (which was good, not quite that kind of band) although it came very close a few times.
After the success of their previous night, in Bucharest the band really exploded in a burst of energy, making every song sound even more intense, more powerful. The stage setting helped out a lot too, very eerie, the entire show was in this dark blue light, with a lot of smoke pumped out...simple yet effective. It was just perfect...Don was totally rocking his Weakling t-shirt, the crowd (sold out show!) was hungrier with every song, a really phenomenal atmosphere. With the exception of John and his girlfriend (whom together with the promoters would embark on a week long trip through Transylvania), all three were flying back to the US next morning, so the band really gave all their best.
The set list was identical with what they did in Brasov, except for "Of Stone, Winds and Pillor". But after the cathartic "Lodge", they came back and played it, that's how impressed they were with the audience.
All in all, another stellar evening.
Agalloch Setlist in Brasov:
Dead Winter Days
As Embers Dress The Sky
I Am The Wooden Doors
In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion
Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor
Not Unlike The Waves
Our Fortress Is Burning... II - Bloodbirds
Alcest Setlist in Bucharest:
Ecailles De Lune part 1
Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde
Percées De Lumière