BROOKLYN, NY—Sunday inevitably rolled around after seeing Kyuss Lives! on Saturday and Cortez/Mighty High on Friday, and where one tour was ending, another was just getting started. This time it was Black Cobra, emerged from under the Kyuss banner’s black rainbow/bird color scheme, taking on the role of headliner on a bill that teamed them with two of modern doom’s most formidable names: Zoroaster and The Body. I was exhausted, and had the show been just about anywhere else in Brooklyn but the Saint Vitus bar, which is unbelievably easy for me to drive to in non-rush-hours, I probably would’ve sat it out.
But I’d never seen The Body, and between last year’s All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood and this year’s Nothing Passes collaboration with Braveyoung, I’d been inundated enough with their fucked up sonics that I thought it worth my time and further wear and tear to show up and catch it in-person. Plus, I hadn’t seen Zoroaster since Mike Morris joined on bass in replacement for Brent Anderson and it had been nearly 24 hours since Black Cobra made my eyes bleed with the sheer force of their thrashing righteousness, so I had to go! I DVR’ed the Boardwalk Empire season finale (haven’t watched it yet, don’t tell me what happened) and hit the road.
Gang Signs opened, and I missed all but the last 30 seconds—literally—of their set. I barely had time to look up at the stage to see who it was before they said “thank you, good night.” Some you win, some you lose. There was a break while The Body positioned their strange tube-like drums and wall of bass cabinets, so I had plenty of time to stand there and obsessively check my email on my phone, send my wife text messages about how tired I was, check my forum for spambots and run through all the usual crap people do while pretending to look busy. When The Body, their sampler set and ready to roll, finally got going, they would be probably the loudest band of the night.
If it’s any indication of the kind of volume I’m talking about, guitarist/vocalist Chip King plays out of two sideways-stacked Ampeg 8x12s. The only other person I’ve ever seen pull that off is Dickie Peterson of Blue Cheer, who, of course, was playing bass. King ran his line through a Peavey combo amp and a bass head that had “Bastard Noise” on a plaque on the front, either in reference to the band or the sound it made. In combination with the distorted noise and samples from drummer Lee Buford, The Body’s sound was huge low-end malevolence. King’s screams rested far back in the mix as he stood away from the mic, and it was heavy enough that I was glad I left the house to see it. Their atmosphere is as pummeling as anything they actually do on stage.
I suppose that holds true for Zoroaster as well, though the Atlanta natives are a better stage act and were greatly aided at St. Vitus as always by an extensive light show—now with lasers! Their songs themselves came across in an overwhelming wash of noise through which drummer Dan Scanlan was charged with crashing, and as their progression over the course of their three-to-date full-lengths has taken them ever further into the psychedelic reaches, so too has their live show followed suit. I can’t remember if it was for 2010’s Matador or 2009’s Voice Of Saturn that I last saw them (it was downstairs at Webster Hall in Manhattan), but there’s been a marked change in their dynamic since then, and undoubtedly the addition of Morris in the bassist role is a part of that.
Could be that Zoroaster are maturing and are more assured in their aesthetic, or it could just be the new trio lineup works well together and I caught them on a good night, but either way, Zoroaster looked to be exactly where they wanted to be in terms of sound and presentation. The crowd was a Brooklyn crowd, and it was Sunday, but the room heated up quickly with the energy spent—though that could also have been the tubes driving guitarist/vocalist Will Fiore’s Green and Orange amps. With Morris putting a Sunn head through another of the evening’s several Ampeg 8x12s, I was starting to feel like I was at a trade convention for doom suppliers. Sounded cool, either way.
The danger as I see it for Zoroaster now is not losing themselves in it. They have this massively sensory experience happening, where the sound and the light envelops you and the band really seems to be going somewhere and taking you along, but I can’t help but also feel like they’re skirting a line between engaging and indulgence. If they are, they haven’t crossed it yet, and the crowd was certainly on board for what they brought to St. Vitus. It was Sunday night, and the crowd was meh, and I was meh, but they killed it anyway, and I’m excited to see where the follow-up to Matador takes them stylistically. It’s been quite a ride so far.
As each act played and then removed their equipment to make room for the next band, whose stuff was backlined behind, the size of the stage seemed to grow, so that by the time Jason Landrian (guitar/vocals) and Rafa Martinez (drums) of Black Cobra were ready to start up, there was space on either side of them and they seemed clustered together in the middle, huddled almost. Behind them, a large banner bearing the cover of their new album, Invernal, draped down to the floor and scrunched up there like poorly-measured curtains, and when they launched their set, they did so entirely without ceremony. No intro, no samples, nothing. Just the ambient sound of the crowd and then that noise eaten in an instant by the start of “Avalanche.”
Headliners, they obviously had more time than they had the night before supporting The Sword (whom they blew off the stage) and Kyuss Lives!, and they put it to good use, playing every song off of Invernal with highlights from 2007’s Feather And Stone and 2009’s Chronomega mixed in. The only cut from 2006’s Bestial to make it in was “Omniscient” (can’t fault the choice), so the focus was clearly on newer material, and though “Negative Reversal” and Feather And Stone closer “Swords For Teeth” were high points, they paled in comparison to the power Landrian and Martinez showed on “Abyss” and “Erebus Dawn,” their handling of which was so precise and careful as to be awe-inspiring.
Where Landrian’s voice, presented cavernously in parts of Invernal, had been naturally bolstered by the high ceiling of the Wellmont, in Brooklyn, in the considerably smaller room, he sounded more compressed, albeit clearer in the live mix. It did nothing to lessen the force of the material, and so wasn’t a problem. And if Martinez was at all spent by the month solid he’d just spend touring in bigger venues, he didn’t show it. Rather, Black Cobra made it perfectly clear why they were at the top of the bill (the fact that they’re the ones with the newest record and neither band wanting to follow them might also have something to do with it) and ripped through a round with their most potent material yet.
I was ready to go after “Obliteration”—how could I not be, after that?—but as Landrian and Martinez stood on stage with their backs to the crowd, waiting to start the encore, it was clear they weren’t done. “Red Tide” and “Chronosphere” wrapped the night and I was quick out the door, the wall long since hit and my eyes halfway closed before I was on the other side of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. It’d be another hour before I got back to the valley where I live, and I’d wind up exhausted all week from the three nights out and with a cold to boot, but screw it. If 2011’s taught me anything, it’s taught me that you’re either there or you’re not there, and I have no regrets on this one.
Black Cobra, Zoroaster and The Body are on tour now. More info at blackcobra.net.
JJ Koczan has plenty of other regrets to make up for it. firstname.lastname@example.org.