The other night, I knew I was tired of hanging out in the house being reflective. I decided to go to a heavy metal/doom metal show by myself. I’d invited a friend last minute, but she ended up coming down with a cold. I came home from work to my empty room and showered, and sat on the end of my bed contemplating whether I wanted to drive over the bridge to San Francisco, find parking, and watch four bands I’d never seen before by my lonesome.
So I went. There wasn’t any traffic, but parking took about a half hour, which was to be expected.
Almost immediately after arriving at the Elbo Room and going upstairs, I ran into a fellow musician I’d met a few weeks earlier through a mutual friend. He had listened to some of my music, as we had spoken about working together on some songs. He told me my songs were too mellow for him, but that he’d loved my voice and he had listened to every song on my soundcloud. I was flattered. I also bumped into a friend from childhood who is friends with the second band that was to play that night: Atriarch, the one I originally was curious to see. We ended up chatting for a while about the things I love to chat about like the human condition, socialism, America, the point of life, dealing with emotions, being an excitement junkie, etc. etc. etc.
The first band, Altar De Fey, which originated circa the ‘80s, was quite good, I was pleased. It was post-punky and gloomy, kind of a little Bauhaus/Sisters of Mercy tinged. The second band, Atriarch, took a while to set up. It seemed to me like they were taking everything very seriously, and being all dressed in black about to play gloomy music, I wasn’t that suprised until they lit a sage stick before they started and the guitar player, Brooks, waved it around, the lead singer, Lenny, waving his hands in front of him to make sure it covered him from head to toe.
The ritual was calming, and made me feel like they were taking their music seriously. I thought to myself, “This is cool, it’s like the music is a prayer, something they are about to channel.” Once they started, the music was heavy, dark, visceral—the way I like music, but it also felt cathartic, and it didn’t drain me, rather infused me with something potent, like relief and joy at being able to go out, hang with myself and see some killer music.
I was invited to go to a show the following night at First Church of the Buzzard in Oakland, an industrial warehouse space that was all decked out for Halloween with giant spiders and buzzards and haunted house walls. Atriarch was playing again, along with Worm Ourobos, a band fronted by two women singers over ambient, gloomy metal.
That night was weird, it was an infusion of hipsters and the bands playing until 4am were mostly noise bands, apparently a new type of music I can’t stomach which combines all sorts of dissonant instrumentation that isn’t in time or pleasingly layered together, but the two bands I came to see didn’t disappoint.
It seemed like their energy changed the energy of the warehouse during their sets. When they played, it was peaceful and people paid attention, the loud obnoxious drunks in ironical costumes disappeared to go break bottles or smoke cigarettes or what not.
My friend introduced me to the members of Atriarch, one of whom he’d introduced me to the night before, and they were all nice and good humored, seemed like pleasant people. One of them turned out to be sober. He and I had a long conversation while people behind me were doing bumps of coke off their hands about why we choose not to imbibe substances anymore.
“I always wanted to be a rock star or whatever,” he said, making quote fingers, “But I thought it would just happen to me. Now that I’m sober, I know how to work hard for these things and actually make them happen. And I can remember the next day what happened to me the night before.”
He also talked about being a bouncer and constantly seeing people drunk to the point of sickness, puking on themselves, in fact, one girl had been outside on a bad street in Oakland puking on herself before the show that night, and he and his friends helped get her to safety while she retched some more on them.
That stuff reminds me what I’m not missing, he said. I believe that music is transcendence, he said, and I nodded emphatically. With our songs, he said, we take emotions that are heavy and dark and channel them into music, and the people in the audience pick them up and feel them and hear them, but they end up having a happy experience because of it, so we’re taking all of that dark emotion and making it into a positive experience.
It was inspiring to see a band putting into action what I believe in, what anyone who realizes the power of music believes in, that it’s something bigger than us, that it’s speaking through us, that we are channeling human emotion through our creations. It’s a big power, and I respected the process of ritual Atriarch employed (sage stick, chanting, setting up in a paced fashion) to bring in the church of some damn good doom metal music.