If you can drag yourself away from stealing high performance sports cars, robbing banks, dealing drugs and murdering prostitutes for five minutes, you might like to read about how mighty Polish death metal stalwarts Behemoth returned to Bangkok to tear it a new arse.
I don’t own a PS3, or an Xbox, or even a desk top PC. So as yet, the sweeping craze that is GTA 5 has not taken over my every waking minute. I was recently generously given a PSP by my good friend as a birthday present, and am now addicted to a game I had never heard of before. I’m on holiday right now, and much to the irritation of my girlfriend, I am playing Pangya. It’s a golf game set on a planet inhabited by kawaii manga characters who all seem to hate each other. Now, I know it hasn’t started well, but bear with me here. There are no Russian mafia types, no massive selection of fully automatic weaponry, and certainly no prostitutes. However, there is an addictive need to beat the little bastards I compete against, to the point where, if the ball strays even a foot from where I try to place it on the fairway, I want to throw the PSP at the wall. Who thought cute, outer space golf could be so violent? PANGYAAA!
However, this piece is supposed to be about a much anticipated show in Bangkok, so let’s continue down that route, for now at least. I guess I should point out at this early juncture that I am not a Behemoth fan. I own one CD; The Apostasy, released in 2007, and I’ve listened to it all the way through maybe twice, so I am no expert on the band. The overriding reason I wanted to go if I am honest, is because I missed Cannibal Corpse in October last year, due to work, and I was in the air flying back to the UK in April of this year as Obituary hit the stage, both to record crowds, I might add. I’ve seen Obituary twice, both times back in the mid 90’s, and I have never seen Cannibal Corpse (and probably never will now) so when an outfit like Behemoth are announced to play, especially at a venue that boasts a great PA system, I’m not going to just ignore it. Add to that a fantastic girlfriend who produces a ticket on the morning of your birthday, and I’m all in on this deal.
I put out a few precursory feelers on Facebook, to see what others might say about Behemoth live. The returns were encouraging. My friend in Sweden who is a Behemoth die hard said they were slick live. Similarly, everyone who got back to me from the UK said that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t know the material, live the Moth are great fun. I do like a spectacle live, I have to admit. A bit of theatrics never hurt heavy metal, however I draw the line at David Lee Roth doing back flips.
So, armed with all that, I left for Hollywoods Awards in Ratchada Pisek road around about 7pm, aiming to get to the venue at 7:45, which was the listed door opening time. Now the promoter has a reputation of being very professional, and from the shows I have been to set up by them, it holds up. Howeverrrrrrrrrrrrr….. This is Bangkok, and it is almost a given that if a door time is set, you can add thirty minutes to an hour to that. Seriously.
The journey to the venue was typically Bankokian in nature. The walk from my condo to the motorbike taxi stand was the first leg, waving at the riders for the 100 metre stroll, with all 10 of them ignoring me until I got to within 3 feet of the stand, then they all jumped up and started pointing at the next available ride. Dudes I do this every morning to go to work! What’s the difference between me wearing a shirt and trousers, and a red t-shirt and jeans?
If I’m waving my fucking arms like a maniac, as I do every morning, why do you ignore me? Seriously.
The second leg was the actual ride. I didn’t get offered a helmet, as usual. It’s interesting. You can time when they WILL offer you a skid lid by the time of the month. No, seriously! If it’s anywhere between the 27th of the month through to the 5th of the following month, you’ll generally be told you have to wear the helmet they offer you. Why, I hear you ask? Well it’s “Salary” week. Still don’t see the connection? Ok. Salary means money in the bank. Money in the bank means you can afford to lose a little cash. If you can afford to lose a little cash, the Boys in Brown, known publically as a police force, but privately as… well many words my mother would blanch at, come out in force, set up speed traps, breathalyzer stations, bottle neck check stops and helmet watch gangs. You can ride your motorbike in Bangkok with no helmet, your mother, your wife, your 3 year old son riding on the footboard, while your sister cradles her eight week old baby on the back, all sitting on two sacks of rice tied down by string, and no one will look twice. Come salary week, everyone is wearing a helmet, with no more than two people on a bike. No one wants to give up hard earned cash to the Mafi…. The police. Gotta put your kids through college, right?
So I got dropped at the BTS Sky Train near my place. This part of the trip is always uneventful. I warmed up by listening to Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation. I did think of listening to Behemoth, but it seemed a little late by then. I got off at Sala Daeng BTS and walked to the MRT, Bangkok’s handy, but rather linier underground system. Fifteen minutes later I was at the Thailand Cultural Center stop, with no clue as to which exit to take. Luckily I spotted a rather large Thai chap in a Blasphemy t-shirt (it was always going to be a Blasphemy or Impiety tee, to be fair) and stalked him up and out of the station, down a side road, through dirty, gritty puddles on an uneven road and finally to the venue. Imagine if he didn’t know where he was going, turned around and saw me two feet behind him, trying my best to look casual. Awkward or what?
I hung around outside for 10 minutes, chain smoking. The problem with living in a foreign country, and not having enough time to go and get language lessons, is that you pick up a lot of phrases, and even more vocabulary. Fuck, I can even read most things I see in Thai now. Problem is, I don’t know what most of it means. So, my confidence takes a massive nose dive when the thought of starting a conversation with a Thai, or worse, group of Thais seems to be looming imminent. I saw three people I knew semi-well, but to my eternal shame, I am glad to say they didn’t see me. If it helps, Thais are by their very nature terrified of speaking English with native speakers when they think they may make a single, tiny grammar point or pronunciation mistake. They don’t suffer awkwardness. Hell, I don’t think there is a word in Thai for such a feeling. “Tom. Wow! You got fat. Tom, wow, your beard makes you look old. Tom, ohh hooo, you smell today”. The worry for Thais is about losing face. In Thai it’s called ‘Kai na’ (ขายหน้า) and drives the nation to just about every decision it chooses to make, from who greets who first, who sits where at board meetings and which way ‘respect’ is given in all business, family and social situations. Yet, I guarantee that most of the locals milling around the venue can speak, in English, for minutes before running out of language, compared to my paltry twenty to thirty seconds.
Luckily, an American guy I know from other shows grabbed me and we had a slightly drunken chat (not me, him, obviously) for about fifteen minutes. Ironically, a Thai guy I know from my old condo strode up and started asking me how I was, where I lived now and …. The rest I don’t know. He speaks not a word of English. So, what does he have to lose face about, right? I answered the first few questions with relative ease in his native tongue, but soon after I was utterly lost, and as amiable Thais usually do, he didn’t recognize my awkwardness, and carried on with gusto. I heard the words ‘money’, ‘younger brother’ and ‘tired’. I don’t even know his name. He is mad into black metal, never wears logos on his all black t-shirts (kvlt!) and wears an inverted pentagram around his neck at all times. He also happens to be a graphic designer.
Eventually I think the lack of response clicked and he happily strolled back over to his crew. One day I will have a full blown conversation with him in his mother tongue. One day.
I wanted to get into the venue so I left my slightly inebriated American friend to finish his can of beer. The promoters had made a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ which they posted to Facebook. Cans of beer were high on the ‘don’ts’. As were; no backpacks, no lighters, no spiked arm bands, no stage diving, no smoking, no cameras and no flammable objects or weapons. I was going to hide my lighter in my sock (what am I? Fifteen?!) coz I’d need it for the trip home, but after a quick glance, I saw that no one was getting patted down, so I broke the rules (MAN!) and went in.
Hollywoods Awards club is, on a normal night a pole dancing joint. It may well brand itself as an “International Dance Club”, but at the end of the day it’s a middle sized pole dancing club where women strut around in bikinis, which hardly ever come off, and semi-talented nobody singers perform in one piece minis backed by bored out of their minds dancers. I’ve not been, before you ask. Compared to American and European pole dancing clubs, it is rather tame, to the point of being almost twee. It has giant OSCAR awards adorning the stage, which in itself has a central catwalk that protrudes into the centre of the dance floor.
Check them out here:
Tonight most of them are hidden by a rather large Behemoth banner with the ‘Zos Kia Cultus’cover art on it (I looked it up on the internet). That’s a bit strange, considering that record came out in 2002.
For twenty minutes or so I stood slap bang in the middle of the stage at the end of the catwalk. The place slowly filled up, to the sounds of some quite atrocious Industrial type metal being pumped through the PA. The hall went dark, and there were shrills and hollers from over excited punters.
The fact there was a roadie on the stage lighting joss sticks and wedging them into the front monitors didn’t seem to register, and they carried on regardless. Going back to the oddness happening on stage, can you imagine the band rider? “One kilo of face paint. Black and grey. One litre of fake blood for spitting near end of set. Severed chickens feet, at least fifteen, to make odd necklace. Primrose joss sticks. Enough for two per monitor. Must be suitably fragrant.”
Eventually the lights dimmed and the smoke machine puffed some haze over the greenly lit stage while an intro tape blared a suitably satanic hymn to get the blood flowing. The drummer, Inferno, came on and climbed the ten feet of stairs to get to the kit. Then the Bass player and guitarist, Orion and Seth, respectively, took up positions in front of mics set up left and right of centre, and finally main man, Adam ‘Nurgal’ Darski took to the centre of the stage shrouded in a black hood and wearing a necklace of freshly severed chicken feet. Don’t ask, because I don’t have an answer.
Nurgal began with some chanting of a blasphemous nature and then the first song ‘Ov Fire and The Void’ kicked in.
It should be noted that Nurgal was indicted in a Polish court for ripping up a bible on stage and calling the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.”
You can read about it here.
The set list was as follows:
1.Ov Fire and The Void. 2.Demigod. 3.Moonspell. 4.Conquer All. 5.Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel 6.Christians to the Lions 7.The Seed Ov I 8.Alas The Lord is a With Me 9.Decade of Therion 10.At the Left Hand Ov god 11.Slaves Shall Serve 12.Chant For Eschaton 2000 13. ’23’ (Youth Manifesto) 14.Lucifer
Only having heard one of these songs, ‘At the Left Hand Ov God’, I can report that not knowing any of the material on offer didn’t make any difference to the enjoyment of the show. The only let down was the sound. It was so fucking loud that the majority of the guitars, and certainly the leads got totally lost in the wall of noise. The drums were crystal clear. That Inferno can pound those tubs like no one’s business, and more than any other element defines Behemoth’s sound. The bass was also in evidence, which is usually a bad sign when you can make out every twang of a death metal band’s bass guitar. It should be there, but lurking in the background. The guitars were there, but they were just a murmur, and kind of rasping, continuous dirge.
I am certain that even if I knew all the material inside out and backwards, I still wouldn’t have been able to decipher the riffs.
And after saying all that, I still had a good time. Behemoth are slick. They know their trade well. The regular forays onto the catwalk by Nergal and man-mountain bassist Orion (seriously, this guy must eat at least 4 shredded wheat a day) were fun and added to the spectacle. Seth was pretty static except when he would swap stage sides with Orion, but then again he does have some serious shredding to deal with, so I’ll let him off. All three men share vocals on many of the songs, and the growling backing of Orion suited the songs perfectly. The light show was superior to any other venue I’ve been to in Bangkok and helped give it that professional edge. (Unlike this blog…)
Inferno, however, was hidden twenty feet up in the air, at the very back of the stage, in the dark. His presence was constant throughout though, with that trademark Behemoth staccato drum style hardly ever giving up on the faster songs.
That was another thing I liked about the band. Not all songs were hyper-blasting black/death speed fests.
New track ‘Blow Your Trumpet, Gabriel’ had a long, somber opening section that meant I could actually hear the guitars. Again, ’23 Youth Manifesto’ didn’t reach above snail’s pace. Similarly so, ‘Alas, The lord is With Me’ was, in the main a slow burner, with a massive blast-beat ending. Closer ‘Lucifer’, with its special effects intro tape and military bass drums over a slow funeral dirge was a nice touch to finish the show. It reminded me of Marduk in many ways, a band I’m much more familiar with.
The lead work was totally audible, and visually Nergal made it a bit more interesting by wearing some kind of devil mask (that made him look like Sauron) while the other guys on stage did that ‘rooted to the spot’ thing heads down, with Orion shrouded in a thick black hood. It worked.
Not surprisingly, my favourite track of the night sounded like a mix of Slayer, Massacre and Marduk. ‘Chant For Eschaton 2000’ was originally recorded in 1999, although I am reliably informed there is a second version on a more recent EP somewhere. This track had it all. Double bass drums causing some serious hair to fly down the front, a repetitive riff and some good old fashioned growling to top it all off.
It got the crowd going more than any other song of the night, proving once again, that tech death, fart vox goregrind and slamming death metal (no really it’s a sub-genre) might be what the kids deem cool these days, but it was an undeniable fact that the basic blueprint of extreme heavy metal, perfectly displayed in this song, won out, wholesale, on the night.
And so, as some 80’s AOR played us out around 9:30pm, everyone went home very happy indeed. Deaf as all fuck, but happy. Oh and with our 500 Baht tour t-shirts…
Who’s writing to Autopsy to come over? Anyone? ANYONE??!!!!!