Bleeding Ears in Brooklyn

By Zachary Schepis

Heavy metal trio Hasj takes the stage at Saint Vitus in Green

Last night’s CMJ showcase at Saint Vitus was dedicated exclusively to the bone-crunching sounds of some of today’s heaviest acts, with instrumental post-metal rockers Pelican headlining the sold out event. The show was sponsored by music blog Invisible Oranges, a name stemming from “the clutching gesture you make when the mighty force of metal flows through you.” The audience was certainly no stranger to the power of this force – some of which had traveled hundreds of miles to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to see their favorite bands tear the small venue apart.

“This is my first metal show in New York,” says Ashleigh Corbett, a die-hard Pelican fan from Texas, which also happens to be the band’s home turf. “None of my friends could make the journey, so they encouraged me to live it vicariously for them. These guys haven’t toured in so long; it didn’t even matter that I would have to come alone. I just had to be here.”

This kind of dedication radiated throughout the evening, with both bands and crowd mingling at the candle-lit bar between sets, sharing stories and offering gratuities to one another. Saint Vitus allows for an intimacy unheard of at most other venues. At the conclusion of each set the bands descended into the eager arms of hundreds of roaring fans in chaotic attempts to load equipment out the front door. No roadies, no backstage: just the audience and bands packed together in one very small and very deafening room.

The night started out with a creepy ambience as the ghostly echoes of the sludge metal trio Hasj swelled through the walls. A thick, green, impenetrable fog filled the room, and even managed to ooze its way all the way to the bar.

The resulting effect was truly surreal, with the swamp-like atmosphere complimenting the shrunken heads, human skulls, and candle lit shrines that adorned the walls of the venue. The bass player Cliff took a violin bow to the strings and produced haunting crescendos that drew the growing crowd to the back room, as if they were pulled on a string. The trio kicked into dirge-like progressions reminiscent of early Black Sabbath, with serpentine guitar riffs and amps so loud that sitting beers literally moved in circles and spilled over.

Things only got louder with Aksumite, the second band of the evening and another power trio. Picking up the energy from Hasj, Aksumite revved the audience up with blitzkrieg fast thrash metal that had bug-eyed front man and guitarist Cult sweating profusely and even spraying mouthfuls of sweat into the audience. They didn’t seem to mind.

Trios were the theme for the night, but a small band doesn’t by any means equate to a small sound. Especially not for Primitive Man – the heaviest of all the bands to play at Saint Vitus for the evening. There were no discernible progressions, chords, or anything resembling melodic structure – just sheer bowel movement-inducing feedback and growls that sounded like they were coming from a portal to Hell.

“This next song is about the prison system,” said the giant dread-locked guitar player before thundering into another “song” that had no semblance of lyrics. At this point many audience members were making their way back to the bar to purchase dollar ear-plugs.

“I think my fucking ears are bleeding,” one fan yelled to another as they exited. Someone wandered by with a sweatshirt reading “Deaf Forever” in gothic lettering. “Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun,” said Hasj bass player Cliff, whose earplugs were notably absent.

Ringworm were the last group to take to the stage before Pelican, and shattered the trio formula with their five man onslaught of classic hardcore stompers that got the packed room moving. “You guys feel stupider yet?” front man the Human Furnace growled at us, “we’re trying.”

Clearly fan favorites, the Cleveland metal heads managed to whip the room into its first and only mosh pit of the evening.

A sense of humor abounded amongst the brutality. “Here’s a love song,” the Human Furnace announced at one point amidst audience laughter, “it’s called ‘Two-Dollar Whore’.”

Around midnight, with palpable restlessness from the sweaty, deaf room, Pelican finally started. Technical difficulties delayed the first song, which seemed to only build anticipation further.

“It’s been three years,” bass player Bryan Herweg announced to a crowd who quickly drowned out his voice with applause and cheers. The band released their second album earlier in the month, and hasn’t toured in years.

There might not have been any moshing, but fans let their hair fly in true head-banging style as the band pummeled their way through mind-bending tempo changes and intricate guitar passages that were far more complicated than anything played throughout the night. Many in the audience even closed their eyes, in what appeared to be deep fascination of the technical prowess they were witnessing.

Pelican played a long set that left fans drained and staggering out the door well after one in the morning. BTR got a chance to catch up with Hersweg as he was unloading equipment. The bass player was beaming with joy.

“It feels great to be back in Brooklyn again,” he tells BTR. “It’s been a while, and it might be a while again. But there is something truly special about this place.”