Mortuary Drape and Volahn announced a North American tour a few months back, and although I don’t listen to either group, the metal lover deep within me knew I wouldn’t want to miss this show. I came in with no expectations and left with high opinions of the two acts; and I’m not really that much of a black metal fan.
Ah, black metal. Corpse paint, spiked wrist bracelets, demonically raising one arm towards the sky while ominously grasping the air, all were to be seen last night at the Piranha Bar. There was even a punk getting tossed around in the pit, which was really weird to see at a Mortuary Drape concert.
I prefaced the following with an admittance to not being knowledgeable about either act, although I have heard about Mortuary Drape before. The tour announcement did however cause quite the stir on social media, so I wanted to be in attendance as people were telling me the show would not disappoint; they weren’t wrong.
The surrounding excitement stems from Mortuary Drape’s primordial nature within the metal scene. Hailing from Italy, they formed back in 1986 and are still going strong. Their lineup and output has been somewhat staggered, however, since the only original member remaining is Walter Maini, the group’s original drummer and vocalist. They have five full-lengths to show for their career, and all seem to be enjoyed thoroughly by fans, as their lowest scoring record on the metal-archives is Buried in Time with a 74%. Either way, it was really great to see such an original band in person performing live. They did however have three acts that played prior, so let’s go over a rundown of the night’s events.
Messe Noire, translating from French to “Black Mass”, was the first group to warm up the stage. It was relatively early at that point, so the room was only about half full in comparison to the attendance for Mortuary Drape, but that did not necessarily deduct from the experience. The group played a simple-sounding traditional black metal style, best described by being to the likes of Darkthrone and Mayhem from the Norwegian scene. Messe Noire’s music was more broken up, however, with various time signature changes and drum fills thrown in the mix. While their music was decent, neither did their stage antics nor performance style do anything to bring them above any other black metal band you can mention. They wore corpse paint and played in a very throwback style, there isn’t much else to be said other than that.
Occult Burial, however, was a jam and a half. They played a faster-paced, more black/thrash style of metal that lent really well towards a live atmosphere. They were also only a trio compromised of a drummer, bassist (who also did vocals), and a guitarist. Their output seem to be harder-hitting than the prior groups, which is even more telling when Messe Noire consisted of five members.
The chosen song structure and the vocalist’s singing ability were the two highlights for their portion of the show. Occult Burial’s music was very bass-heavy, which gave them a punkier, party-invoking sound to the likes of Motorhead. They also emphasized guitar solo sections which were masterfully crafted, quick, dirty, and even got a little bluesy at some points when they slowed down. Furthermore, the vocalist had an extremely strong and consistent output, which is fairly difficult to achieve when you’re singing at high speeds with frequent intervals. He also transitioned frequently from a guttural rasp to a high pitched sort of wail, which reminded me a lot of Deathhammer’s vocalist, who has that same ability to switch between singing styles, often mid-word. I highly recommend both bands for black/thrash enthusiasts. They even did a cover of Bathory’s “Sacrifice” which was amazing.
Now we commence with the main acts for the night. Volahn is a relatively newer black metal outfit from California who formed back in 2003. They released their debut LP in 2008 and have been going strong since then, releasing six splits and another full-length.
The trio plays a very bestial and primitive style of black metal which seems to be centered around an ancient Amazonian/jungle occult theme, which is best observed during the various samples and song introductions they played during their set. The vocalist and guitarist were both larger guys with long curly black hair and their outfits consisted of the traditional: black boots, pants, and battle vests, but they wore a face paint which was simply black lined patterns going over their cheeks and forehead. The whole look reminded me a lot of the stereotypical aesthetics from some sort of Mayan or Mexican jungle tribe; I’m not that familiar with the topic but they got their point across.
While they’re labelled as simply black metal, the hard-hitting blast beats and vocal performances leaned more towards a black/death outfit, from the small sample of music I saw that night. Their music was very vocal heavy, which offered the main vocalist many chances to unleash these raw, high-pitched screams during the set. The music also got fairly experimental at some points, with some unorthodox time signature changes and weird solos thrown in the mix. They were something else.
At this point of the show I was starting to get a little tired, so I fuelled up and got myself a junior chicken with a side of fries from McDonalds before Mortuary Drape was set to come on at 11:00PM. I arrived back just as the quartet was getting on the stage, to the crowd’s excited applause.
Right off the bat I knew I was in for quite the show. Mortuary Drape’s gimmick consisted of fairly elaborate costumes which, while has been done before by bands like Ghoul and Ghost, came off very well. Vocalist Walter Maini was dressed in a medieval executioner’s outfit, with black drapes flowing form the top of his head down to his feet. He was also wearing a black mask which only gave way to his eyes through the use of a pair of very thin slits in the cloth. The two guitarists to his adjacent were dressed in grey robes with a bright golden lining; each wearing black shirts with a satanic-looking design embroidered on them. The scene was topped off with the black podium that was set up in the front of center stage which, when the scene was observed in entirety, looked like some sort of demonic alter of sonic worship. I was happy to be in attendance at this black mass.
Right as the music started, Walter pulled down the top portion of the mic stand (which can be moved as the whole length is split by a joint that allows for top mobility) in fashion as if he was pulling down the executioner’s handle to drop someone about to be hanged. It was the coolest thing.
As far as the music goes, Mortuary Drape’s thrashier style of black metal transitioned really well live. I listened to a few of their tracks prior to the show and they didn’t do much for me from a studio or home listening perspective. When played live however, they stole the night away. As mentioned above, I was getting somewhat tired, but all my negative feelings went away after I observed how amazing Mortuary Drape’s live sound was.
They seem to place an emphasis on the drums, so all of their songs have this really grooving nature to them, rather than the lighter and colder percussion to be found on more traditional black metal acts. The lyrical designs to be found throughout the group’s songs were also crucial for their ability to play a live set, as they feature a lot of call and response techniques and predictable choruses. Even though I didn’t know any of their songs in advance, I was able to catch on to the choruses fairly quickly, and by the end of the songs I’d be singing along as well. Their music was simply excellent live due to its catchy yet technical nature, but not to the point of being boring.
Of course, the other aspect which added to their success in my eyes was their stage presence and costumes. The executioner’s robes, the black podium up front, the singer’s ceremonial antics, they all conjoined to create this evil and ominous atmosphere. Walter would frequently bump the microphone against his head, clench his fist and beat it against his chest, and point towards unsuspecting victims in the crowd. Whatever Ghost is trying to accomplish with their costumes and desired vibe, they should look at what Mortuary Drape is doing for inspiration. One of the highlights of the show was when Walter grabbed an audience member’s video camera and held it in his hand whilst singing, filming the crowd form different directions from a stage point of view. I really hope that footage goes on YouTube at some point.
The show ultimately ended up being one of the best I’ve been to. While I enjoyed all of the acts who played that night, I’d say that three out of the four were absolutely stellar. However, Mortuary Drape ended up stealing the night with their stage antics, music flow, and atmosphere. While this is said in respect to most groups mentioned above, make sure to catch Mortuary Drape live if they are playing near you. This was most likely your last shot for a while if you’re a North American, as the group resides in Italy. Heck, that’s even more reason to see them if they come back to the continent.