Wolves in the Throne Room
The Chop Shop, St. Petersburg, Florida
Friday, September 23, 2011
It's hard to reckon the episode we experienced in Florida's backwater over the weekend. It was was meant to be a quick detour on our way to the Death to the Sun festival. But it ended up being a thorough exercise in small-town mayhem.
We started our trip on the traffic-heavy Florida's Turnpike, taking it to I-75. The drowsy stretch was punctuated with five-minute storms, an FHP scourge, Walmarts, and rainbows. Eventually careening to sleepy St. Petersburg, we made it on time for the early show by black metal behemoths Wolves in the Throne Room.
We found the venue flanked by a McGee Auto Service and Tire right off the highway. We knew we were there because of the sun-dreading throngs dressed in all black. Everybody was just hanging out in the parking lot, looking unsure about where the place was exactly. The venue, tucked in a corner, was called The Chop Shop -- which in fact is a shop for chopping up old motorcycles and cars. Those running it had taken a week to clear out and organize the space, making space for the show. Through a big garage door, the inside was still littered with rusty old Mustangs and Harley Davidsons.
Local St. Pete band Set and Setting played first, warming up the metal-eclectic crowd with instrumental, clean-but-heavy jamming. Opening with some creepy-warm xylophone, the set segued into progressive, post-rock guitar chords and loud, round bass. A drum circle of two didn't consistently do much for the sound. But at times, it did lend a big sonic presence. We took some time also to note the social peculiarities: old-school metalheads in Megadeth shirts, plenty of punks with patches, and a couple hipsters and norms. South Florida wasn't well represented. But the 100-plus person crowd was strong.
Portland-hailing Megaton Leviathan, who's currently on tour with WITTR, played psychedelic riff-metal that felt improperly swollen with a recorded drum track played from a cloaked MacBook. As the down-tempo duo rocked out, a trippy set of visuals (kaleidoscopic scenes of forests and wartime) was projected in the background. A ritualistic interlude occurred as the bassist burned sage and the computer whirred with sounds of nature.
Beset by some unknown technical difficulties, Wolves in the Throne Room took some time to get started. They tore into the set, though, with a song from their newest album, Celestial Lineage. WITTR plays a mix of maximalist black metal and folk-inspired drone, and they included a good smattering of material from their back catalogue. Blue laser lights beamed from their guitars, and others illuminated five homemade banners of woodland creatures including a steer, owl, and some sort of rodent.
WITTR is well known for a self-espoused eco-spiritualism. But the sound of the set was imperial and kingly. Blast-beats and a wailing sheen of guitars pummeled the reverent crowd. We were a bit disappointed by the lack of a certain rawness. Nevertheless, the dexterous chaos was impressively huge, fast, and evil. The vocals were paramount for their hellish screeching, matching the odious atmospherics of the guitars and churning smoke machine.
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After the show ended, we took to the road, heading for Sarasota. Upon arriving, we immediately went to Memories, an appropriately titled dive bar with '70s décor and crazy, lovable regulars. Geriatrics ceaselessly smoked cigarettes, young people yelled obscenities, and people of every stripe ripped it on the karaoke machine. It was a befitting end to a strange and swampy evening.
-- Rob Goyanes