March is Metal Month. Why is March metal month? Because record labels want your money.
For the last several years, the tagline has been used by various heavy metal record labels to promote giveaways, sales and special events. March is Metal Month has grown to the point that even mainstream retailers like Amazon.com Inc. now participate in the annual celebration of all things metallic.
Reno too, has apparently decided to partake in the festivities. The biggest little city has suffered a drought of notable metal shows for some time now. That changed this month. On March 9, Tool roared into the Reno Events Center and delivered a truly breathtaking performance. More recently, Reno has played host to heavy metal juggernaut Between the Buried and Me.
While Between the Buried and Me’s concert was unable to match Tool’s rapturous return to Reno, the former’s tenure at the Knitting Factory on March 10 made for a suitably enjoyable evening of moshing and mayhem, despite a few curious missteps.
It’s not often that an opening act manages to overshadow a concert’s headliners. If there were ever a heavy metal band that’d do so, however, it’d have to be Deafheaven. Against all odds, The San Francisco-based black-metal band exploded onto the (relatively) mainstream music scene with last year’s “Sunbather.” The album, which managed to creep onto the US Billboard 200 charts, earned numerous end-of-year accolades from publications ranging from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone.
As a result, expectations for the band’s live performance were quite high. Despite their criminally brief stage time, Deafheaven aptly proved that last year’s studio offering was no fluke. Black metal tends to be drenched in inaccessibility, but Deafheaven managed to stay true to the subgenre’s roots while putting on a thoroughly engaging act. The reverb-laden atmosphere, whirring guitar riffs and exclusively shrieked vocals of tracks such as “Dream House” exuded appropriate extremity, while the band’s softer side shone just as brightly, particularly on the beautifully peaceful “Irresistible.”
The scarcity of legitimate black metal in Reno made the set all the more engrossing. That said, it’s a damn shame that the tendency for black metal vocals to get drowned out in the music proved true for Deafheaven’s performance. Vocalist George Clark rasps and shrieks were largely a backdrop for the band’s instrumental core, which made Clark’s overly dramatic stage strutting all the more awkward.
The brief occasions when Clark’s voice was clearly distinguishable served as the night’s most memorable moments. Clark’s delivery of wholly un-metal lines such as: “I watched you lay on a towel in grass that exceeded the height of your legs/I gazed into reflective eyes/I cried against an ocean of light…It’s 5 A.M and my heart flourishes at each passing moment/Always and forever,” was both venomously chilling yet unequivocally beautiful.
Between the Buried and Me’s goofily schizophrenic genre mashing doesn’t tend to deliver the same kind of emotional reactions from listeners. While the difference in musical styles and atmosphere may have been a bit disconcerting, Between the Buried and Me kicked off their set in suitably explosive fashion. By opening with the first two tracks off of “Colors,” the band’s breakthrough album, Between the Buried and Me immediately captured the crowd’s attention. Thanks to the songs’ easily-sung lyrics and appropriately heavy riffs, fans of all sorts had reason to get involved.
It soon became depressingly apparent, however, that the band was catering to fans interested in their newer material, as nary a song from the band’s first two studio albums were given the live treatment.
The timeless adage of “their older stuff was better” aside, Between the Buried and Me’s music can be divided into two distinct categories. On one hand, the band’s older, hardcore-inspired records tended to be more streamlined, while their more recent offerings often incorporate a range of eclectic and experimental influences that tend to stretch songs well past the ten-minute mark.
The band’s technical skills are nothing short of incredible: Those looking for peerlessly complex and intricate musicianship need look no further than live renditions of “Obfuscation” and “Swim to the Moon.” While fan-favorites such as the epic “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” and cheer-inducing encore “Sun of Nothing” made way for plenty of memorable soloing and raging vocal antics, it’s unfortunate that Between the Buried and Me failed to give their more aggressive and energetic half the same attention.
Of course, worse crimes have been committed. The band has a prodigious ability to replicate unbelievably technical music perfectly in a live setting, all while vocalist Thomas Rogers’ lighthearted stage persona has become ever more entertaining throughout the years.
Whether you prefer your metal to be somber and vicious or spacey, complex or occasionally comical, the combined efforts of Deafheaven and Between the Buried and Me proved that Reno is able to satiate all sorts of metallic tastes.
Tyler Hersko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.