Although we are getting close to summer, the cold and grim music that was played at the Phoenix Theater in downtown Petaluma on Saturday night made it feel as if we were in the heart of winter. Appropriately named, “A Burning in the Darkness 2,” this small festival offered up five brutal black metal acts. The night’s lineup consisted of Modraniht, Ehecatl, Xenotaph, Nan Elmoth and Gloriam Draconis. From what I heard about the festival last year, I was really eager to hear some solid extreme black metal music.
Sure enough when arriving to the Phoenix Theater, I saw some underground band wearing black metal dudes outside the venue, who were probably arguing over which of their band shirts was more obscure. After reviewing black metal bands from all across the world for about four years now, I was really looking forward to hearing the extreme and unholy talent that my state had to offer. I think what needs to be brought up right away is that whoever put this show together, really wanted to get all the black metal fans from the Northern California region to come together and enjoy a night of sinister music. The turnout was decent, especially for a show of this style of metal music, and I think those who did not show up missed an opportunity to hear a consistent black metal lineup.
Taking the stage first was the two piece black metal band, Gloriam Draconis. Hailing from the Sacramento area, these guys opened up the show with a very traditional sounding black metal song with plenty of minor chords, constant tremolo picking and blast beats. Both members of the band had hoods over their heads to hide their identities, because for all we know they are members of an underground cult... or their parents told them to do that so the neighbors would not find out (Attention: this is not a diss to the band, but a satirical comment on how mainstream society views black metal fans). Anyway, I felt like the two guys had a decent sound and the minor chord progressions were definitely something to bang the head to. However, I felt that the absence of a bass player might have prevented them from having a louder and more impactful sound. Still, for a two piece they did a solid job opening this night of bone chilling musical terror.
Next up on the stage was Nan Elmoth, a band taking their name from the world of Tolkien. This trio of black metal dudes unleashed a vicious sound once they began and I liked the very basic harsh instrumental jams they could conjure up. Their sound definitely reminded me of early European black metal in the way that they were not trying to create technical sounding compositions, but it was more about coming up with a dark and unforgiving overall sound. They put on a wicked sounding set and I think if they find ways to deviate from your usual black metal worship bands, there is the possibility of coming up with some really strong material.
Third up on the bill was the Bay Area group, Xenotaph. As they walked on stage their faces were covered with corpse paint and they brought an upside down cross with them. Before they started the first song, all the members of the band drank from a goblet as if they were getting ready to perform a satanic ritual. Xenotaph really captured the sound and spirit of Norwegian black metal in their music. At times though I felt like the songs were recycled black metal riffs that could have used some more variation. The drummer was truly amazing when it came to creating those blast beat rhythms which laid down the foundation for the tremolo picked minor chord riffs. Also, I felt like they could have turned the smoke machine down a bit, since eventually I could barely see the band on stage and the Phoenix was just as smoky as a Cheech and Chong movie. Xenotaph did fit the image and sound of black metal fairly well, so I will give them that without question.
After all the blast beats, tremolo picking and harsh growl vocals from the previous, I was looking for something to go against the grain a bit. The fourth band, Ehecatl happened to be the act who offered a not so straight forward black metal sound. This group created more ambience in their music and the compositions were very haunting in their presentation. There was also good use of dynamics in their tempos and I really liked the slower and very ritualistic rhythms. I think the band’s drummer and bass player made a tight rhythm section and the singer had a unforgiving vocal presentation. Also, their keyboard player helped add to that overall ambient and dark atmosphere that the band seemed to be going for. The crowd was hooked the entire time during Ehecatl’s set. They are definitely a band with great potential that will hopefully continue to explore their creativity.
The last band on the bill was the black metal trio from Sacramento known as, Modraniht. The band began their set by standing together on stage and performing this ancient pagan chanting that paid homage to the Hag of Winter. It had a very calming spiritual effect which grabbed by attention along with the other concert attendees. Then once they were finished, each them went to their instruments and tore into a crushing piece of black metal music. I also detected elements of doom in their sound, which at times amplified their music’s bold emotional tone. The band sounded very tight as if they were all connected by some unforeseen guiding force. Throughout their set I could tell that each member played a vital role in creating Modraniht’s extreme and powerful sound. I think they were a perfect choice to end the show and I would really like to see them back at the Phoenix Theater.
At the end of the night, I do believe the black metal fans who attended were given their extreme sounding fix at this year’s, “A Burning in the Darkness 2.” Putting on a black metal show is not easy and there are very few venues that can support a show of this type, so major thanks to Tom and the Phoenix along with the people who worked to put this show together. I am looking forward to, “A Burning in the Darkness 3,” and hope to see more bands and people come out for the unholy celebration of a style of music that has been known to inspire some of the internet's best memes.