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Festival Review

COVENANT FESTIVAL V RETROSPECTIVE: Congregation of Timeless Deathcraft

You see them. Your people. A few on the bus, all exit at the same stop, start the walk up the hill. Hoodies with patches adorned, the tell-tale scrawl hieroglyphics of black and death metal bands. Long, long hair. That calm yet commanding demeanour of metalheads and those of similar ilk. Feels like a pilgrimage. It is. But there is nothing holy here; I am no virginal disciple. I am a heap of rotten flesh stuffed into a young body-bag, flailing frantically to find the zipper and release the truth of what I am: putrefact. This gathering is the hand that reaches around, finds the pull and undoes the row of meeting teeth that hold you together. Welcome to your wretched undoing. Welcome to Covenant.


COVENANT V – NIGHT 1

The moment I walk in, I can’t stop smiling. Perfection chants in my head. This is perfection. A long rectangular hall, stage at the far end. A woman stands on stage, screaming. Not hysteria but perfect control. A focused scream. Perfection. The hall is gymnasium style, flashbacks of grade seven dances certainly tenable. But that is utterly forgotten. Smoke floods the space, ghosts of incense commemorate the evening. Everyone draped in black, a band shirt plethora, the visual currency of outcastery. There are generations here: some white beards dyed only by decades, some soft faces newly escaped from the Mordor of adolescence. Whatever it is that births people like us, the millenial age and the tech revolution have not destroyed it.

Vendors line the hall, lamps shining onto the desecrated objects for sale, be it esoterica or band merch. In this unworldly marketplace I feel as much awe as I have at the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, or the crowded markets of rural Kerala. I have taken the bus 20 minutes but may as well be abroad, and surely there are stranger objects here: animal skulls, books on alchemy and dark magick, human ribs and vertebrae. You forget it’s a warm summer evening in an expensive city populated by hipsters and rich yoga moms. In this relaxed air, people are at home. We cannot separate the sameness of opposites. In sacrilege we find the sacred. Pilgrimage indeed. Whether you know it or not, you yearn for this.

The vocalist on stage keeps screaming, the accompanying keyboardist devout. They have ended my enshacklement to the tedium of the everyday. I surrender to the Truth of Howl. Oh to hear a woman scream. I mean this with affection for her sacrifice, not sadism for her agony. She screams on my behalf. The vibration is intense, my neck shakes, and is sliced. Ah, she screams. We share an aural umbilical cord and she’s voicing all my horrors. The beautiful smell of smoke, the candelabra on stage aside the singer glowing, ah. Eventually, her voice becomes operatic. The lyrics love is disillusion singe the air. My throat is tight. A synth organ sounds. This music wouldn’t be out of place in a cathedral. Isn’t that the Wise Hall tonight? Cathedral Damnation. The Covenant flag hangs humble behind the performers. How is it one feels so at home amid terror and darkness than pop melodies and sunshine? The Mother Tongue of so many strangers: screams.
*
They finish. I make my way to the washrooms. I worry my festival bracelet absorbs a drop of piss as I pat myself dry. Well, Hail Satan. I open the door quickly, surprising a beautiful bald woman, face luminous as a full moon, she smiles in surprise. The smile of this she-devil is glorious.

A new act. This is seduction. This is a lovers tongue entering your dark rose-wet cave. Yes my friends, music can feel like this. They collectively caress that clitoral audience before them, rhythmic bodies shaking with the songs they have necromanced. The ground reverberates beneath me. Another feeling emerges, one of pride. I look upon these creatures, grown men, so committed to their craft, smiths forging gold from their own turbulent viscera. I am swept away on the wings of these dragons, I am riding through the sky. Cerulean world abounds, coniferous forest beneath.
*
Someone throws a can into the bin beside me. He walks over to check that it didn’t ricochet onto the ground. I am touched. Who says social degenerates aren’t considerate? I look across the crowd, faces entranced, death disciples receiving condemned communion. Brilliance.

The difference between listening to metal live versus recorded is perhaps a greater gulf than any other genre of music. It is a corporeal genre. Feel. Feel. To know you are real requires being physically moved. This is why abuse is often preferable to solitude. Here, instead of harm, instead of drawing blood, it is kept inside and rumbled with sonic waves. I press my body against the stage. The drums play me.
*
I blink. It is late. I work in the morning. I am back in the world, the fluorescent lighting of a city bus guiding my eyes around the normalcy. Someone yells out the window at a pedestrian. A hunched over man in a camouflage bomber jacket eats Doritos out of the bag. He has worn out Coach running shoes that scream stolen. The world where I return.
*
COVENANT V – NIGHT 2

Before the music, people chat, shop the market. Yet many stand facing the stage, just waiting. Such obedience in such a defiant culture. In the end, I suppose it’s just choose your altar. A woman paints on a canvas propped on the stage as a band plays. An eye? A volcano? The minutes upcoming will tell. (Isn’t that all Time does: tell?) Performers are blindfolded with black gauze/mesh. Though the painting has evolved, the surroundings could be lashes or shrubbery. It is an eye or a mountain? Mountains, the earth gazing upwards to the stars. Are mountains not the eyes of the world? (Am I really this pretentious?)
*
I step outside for fresh air and remnants of light. The walk up to the Wise Hall is one of my favourite parts. Apt that it is atop a hill, the urban coven a little removed from busling hippie streets of this neighbourhood. At the park a block down, children and parents play. It is strange to think of childhood, a time before the life that mutilated me. Run, sweet gremlins, run now in your gleeful play, laugh and be free, because one day this ends. Lifes’ fire will disfigure you. And maybe then, they will join us, will they play on the Wise Hall stage at Covenant XVI? I end my demented musings and head back up the hill, the sky turning amethyst. “He puked on the painting.” someone says, walking out of the hall. Eye or mountain, I will never know.

The night gets going with the second act. Killer drums is the first thing you notice. Pearl kit, a cinderblock affront the main drum. I feel the tormented corpse in me awaken, this dancer on coals, she moves through me and I am ignited. The inner realm is vast and though our own, always needs initiation from an external summoning. Only the stage holds to magic to unblock my dark channels. Beside me, an ocean of delicate, appreciative head nods, quite different than headbanging.

These are sorcerers admiring skilled incantation. The guitarist plants his feet flat, he does not move or shuffle around. Absorbing power through rooting himself to the altar. The guitar ceases to be separate from the musician, and he sings with his hand and metallic vocal chords. He has a face-mouth and a hand-mouth. The incense begins to burn. Covenant V is getting closer to its zenith.
*
Summoning ancestors, ancient tongues. What a gift. A group which summoned itself back from near disappearance. Communion with the audience, inviting, sharing, feeding us hungry souls the spoils of their tilled and stolen soil. Audience yells “time for another album.” Everyone basks in affection.

Again, smiths at the forge, male bodies electric. Violent, tantric, you are with devil spirit. They come from caves with armies, soldiers rhythmic assault. War and orgy. A mucosal feeling in the crowd, in that we are brought together in some mordial ooze. There is fucking inside your heart, your heart pounded upon by phallus of collective creation. Somehow, you feel hands caress your face. The chest cavity shakes. Then the ground like a death rattle. If this is death, let me transcend. Sweat soaking their hair, the scent fills the hall, merges with incense.

I move from the front to the centre of the crowd. They look calm yet possessed. Ascended disciples. Darkness enshrouds each player, emitting not light, but something as visible and entrancing.
*
There is something undeniably tender in all this. Family coming home.
*
I am beheaded over and over again, my body command a head grow in order to enjoy the honour of decapitation. Suddenly the sensation transforms: now swords push through my neck and body, I am kept in tact, but spliced from many angles. To be stabbed again and again, yes, we can enjoy pleasures of the flesh without the physical harm – only metaphysical harm. But it is not harm. How can destruction make you feel whole?

The clink/chime of cymbals are as though pins pushed into you, perfect sharpness. Nothing is blunt, mutilation is perfection. Easy peasy. Pins. Voices are duct tape over your eyes and mouth. The relief from the senses! Instead, only shock. The shock of experiencing the bellowing bowels of another. Rollercoaster of intestines. We become shit and are grateful, because it is greater than the singular quotidian bodies we regularly are.

The shock of being saved when you didn’t expect it, it didn’t realize you needed it. Projections, cloaks, green, camo, where am I? Where are they? Like being launched into space, and through suffocation, a part of you breathes for the first time.
*

COVENANT V – NIGHT III

Tonight is different. The creature has emerged from the mucus fully formed, like Saurons’ Uruk Hai, ready to be harvested and summoned. But we are not warriors organizing ourselves for battle. Mundane daily life is the battle. This is congregating after the fact to honour the sacrifice and celebrate the spoils. Less and less, this feels demonic. Or my flimsy idea of what demonic is no longer serves. Such comfort among the citizens of this underworld. The benefits of a small city, a small scene, but also I think a universal understanding exists in metal and underground: the genres are universal orphanages. We know each other.

The long slow rousing drum, vibrations lull you, walking, wading into still water. We stand and dark liquid envelopes us. Body temperature, you can barely tell that you’re surrounded. I wish I could be set afloat on this strange river, the birthplace I never knew I had.
*
Discoballs, chandeliers, fernels. String lights.

Young women ponder buying human bones. I fear such an investment myself, who knows whose they were, how they died. I do not need a vertebrae or jaw at home resenting me. My own flesh bears enough hatred.

Backstage. I have never seen drummers warm-up. It’s a beautiful thing. A large bald man in a wife beater closes his eyes and drums in the air. Later I see him with a small drum pad. He is serene, the focus of a child, the focus of a master. The champion shadow boxing before the bout. This is human worship at its finest.
*
Oh, backstage is backstage. Theatre or music, high school or professional, it’s the same. My heart explodes. Chatter, anxiety, flirting, chips, mismatched tables and cabinets, an old piano, stacks of chairs, coats and bags flung around, an ocean of instruments, half-empty cans, a mini fridge, dressing mirrors, always the same.

This abrasive music has the comfort of a warm bed and soft sheets. Why does it feel like love?
*
They are a crucifix for us upon which to nail our horrors. Thank you.
*
Appreciation. Flawlessness. The cervical vetebrae of the hall undulating like a pendulum. Megalith of sound. Genuine cadence, the architecture of velocity, rage, and chaos, all these elements compliment by discerning choice. Dew of morning.

Backstage. Surprising absence of coffee, a few takeout cups on the table. They emit their beautiful scent, couvetted elixir brought forth from scalding water and crushed powder of earth pods. Is this not art, not music, the scalding passage of time extracting from us something bitter yet valuable? I scan the green room. Some organizers take a well earned selfie. The room itself is nearly empty. Beyond the wall, the ceremony endures. Sagging leather couches, bottles, cans, chips, amps, guitars that have travelled the world, tables pushed to one side. Backstage is backstage.

Near the end, I am overcome with sadness. Dead Congregation instills the lifeforce with stamina, whereas each day in the office, on the train, in the true dead congregation of society at large, we must endure our corpse laiden lives. Bursts of death-life of black metal amid quotidian decay. I must wait another year to breathe. The ultimate mediation.

Yet sadness is given comfort in knowing I can keep this moment inside of me, the sealed sarcophagus of Covenant, until again revived. This is beyond a good memory. I can hold the very thing itself precious and dear.
*
Applause, smoke, the peeling away of the event at large. All I am left with: gratitude.


Observed, written, and wordcrafted by Indu Iyer – Homepage | Instagram
All photography by Chelsea Mandziuk – Homepage | Instagram 

Categories
Festival Interview

KILLTOWN DEATHFEST’s mastermind DANIEL ABECASSIS gives a taste of life on the road and behind the scenes at Europe’s best death metal festival

We first met Daniel Abecassis off Vancouver’s Main St. in a hidden, locals-only bar called The Narrow. It was December of 2013, and we had met to discuss how operating a tour booking agency for underground death metal actually works, and to better understand the logistics involved. Since then he’s taken a few Covenant circle bands on the road, and put them on both of his past festivals.

A lot has happened since that night 5 years ago: Killtown Deathfest has been laid to rest, resurrected, countless tours have taken place with many now-pivotal bands putting their stamp on the old continent, and Daniel Abecassis has been reconfirmed time and time again to be perhaps the most important behind-the-scenes individual in this tight knit, yet massive scene.

We caught up with Daniel to help give our readership and all rabid fans of this genre a better perspective on what he does, and the answers are nothing short of elucidating. Enjoy!

I think we should start with something that will lay some good groundwork for the reader. To a lot of people, the logistics and dynamics of what you do is confusing. Some people think that tours for bands who have a decent following, but may not be tremendously “popular”, are more luxurious than they are. Other people think that these tours are a lot more punk than they are. Can you walk the readers through your process – from the starting point of a tour, to piecing it together, to how an average day on the road would look?

Hey! First off let me introduce myself. My name is Daniel Abecassis and I’m running Killtown Bookings and I’m part of the collective organizing Kill-Town Death Fest (KTDF). I’m based in Copenhagen, Denmark and so is the Killtown Bookings office and the festival.

I had quite a few ideas about touring life – like you mention in your question above – and some of them turned out to be true, but most of them didn’t. A lot of people romanticize touring and tour life, but from my perspective it’s mainly a lot of work, but of course good times and fun too. When I’m on the road I usually work up to 20 hours a day. Usually the day starts early and we get to bed at a very late hour. I drive during the day sometimes just a few hours, but for the most part 6-10 hours per day. Then you arrive at the venue for load in and setting up the stage and then sound check. While the bands are doing that I’m usually trying to catch up on some emails if I have a few hours. Then its dinner time, then doors and then the show. Usually there isn’t much time for sightseeing or walking around the town, so you end up seeing endless kilometres of highways, gas stations, venues and hotels… Not super romantic. And then there is the question about the girls. A lot of people think that there are a lot of girls at shows and that they are always running after the bands… Well maybe I’m in the wrong scene, but there isn’t a lot of girls running after the bands I tour with and not that many present at the shows in general. It is getting better with the male/female ratio, but there is still a long way to go. In general I don’t see a lot of band members hooking up on tour, so girlfriends out there who are really worried about their touring boyfriends (or the other way around) you don’t need to worry that much …

Since I book, drive and tour manage the majority of the tours I book – which is around 10-15 tours a year, I’m usually on the road up to 6 months out of the year. That’s tough and straining both physically and mentally, but I still really love what I’m doing and I’m super passionate about the bands I work with and the culture I’m promoting. I’m very picky with what bands I work with and I always try to curate my roster after the bands I’m listening to at home and that I think deserves more exposure here in Europe. So far I have been really blessed with most of the bands that I’m into contacting me and wanting me to work with them, so I cant complain about how things are going.

I have plans to expand Killtown Bookings more. At the moment I have Andrea Vissol working with me based out of Brussels, Belgium where he is running Killtown Bookings Belgium. There are also ideas to open up a branch in Germany and possibly also a Killtown Bookings North America at some point …

How did everything get started for Killtown Bookings exactly?

Killtown Bookings started after we did the first edition of KTDF back in 2010. Since we were flying in bands from around the world, more and more bands started asking if we could provide touring options for them. I had been booking shows locally since the early/mid 90´s and done my fair share of touring – mainly through the punk/DIY network – so I was familiar with how shit works, but had no real experience as an international tour booker… The first two tours I booked was for Funebrarum (us) + Undergang (dk) and Sonne Adam (il) + Cruciamentum (uk) back in 2011. Both tours went really well despite that I had to figure most things out while booking the tours. Everyone I got in touch with were super nice and supportive and within long I had mapped out the DIY death metal underground promoter scene of Europe. The budgets were very unrealistic cause I had never worked with tours with bigger budgets before but it all worked out fine in the end and all costs were covered and the bands still got to walk home with some cash.

After the pretty good start with some strong names it just took off from there. Daryl Kahan from Funebrarum designed me a logo (based of the KTDF logo) and did a website for me. At that point I had just finished my bachelors degree in political science and history at university, so I was kinda at a crossroad where I had to decide if I would go with the booking or with an academic career. I decided to go with opening my own booking agency and make that my primary work occupation from day one. I was lucky cause it worked out more or less from the beginning and it still does.

Let’s talk about something current. Kill-Town Death Fest has had an aura of mystique and a cult following unlike any other festival in recent memory. When it was laid to rest in 2014, the world cried out that it was all too early, and the plethora of people who did not get to go have grumbled ever since. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, KTDF is back from the dead. Why was this the right time to do this?

 

We decided to quit doing Kill-Town Death Fest back in 2014 due to a couple of different reasons. Mainly we felt that we had achieved what we set out to do which was promoting the best of the contemporary underground death metal scenes of Scandinavia and Europe in general. We had reached a point where in order for us to maintain a high level in our programs we needed to book bands we had already presented earlier on. The UG death metal scene seemed also to take a dive around this time compared to the wave that was happening when we first set out back in 2009/2010. We didn’t want to keep booking the same bands over and over again, so we decided to call it quits while we were ahead.

Last year we had a meeting in our association Undergrundsmusikkens Fremme (Underground Music Promotion) and decided that the time felt right to pick up where we had left off. In the 3 years that had passed when we had the meeting a lot of new and interesting bands had emerged – especially in North America – so we decided to turn our focus towards the North American continent. A lot of really good new, young bands had started putting out demos and releases on some of the labels that we have always worked with like Dark Descent Records, 20 Buck Spin, Profound Lore Records, Parasitic Records and Me Saco Un Ojo to just name a few.

So we set out to book the line up for what would be become “The Resurrection” of Kill-Town Death Fest. Through my booking agency I’m often in contact with a lot of the contemporary bands and David has a lot contacts throughout the world through Undergang and Extremely Rotten Productions, so the line-up came together relatively smoothly being booked mainly while I was on the road where we would communicate online in the KTDF collective. The outcome turned out quite spectacular – also for us. We had a meeting a week before we were supposed to start the announcements and sat down and compiled the whole line-up and wrote it out on paper. Since we had all been scattered and never had time to sit in the same room, the outcome came as quite a surprise to us. It turned out to be really good! We ended up having booked 12 bands from North America – a few old ones, but mainly fresh new young bands that have never played Europe before. Besides the 12 from North America, we have bands from Asia, the Middle East, South America and Australia and of course quite a few Scandinavian and some European bands. There are a few bands that have played before on there, but the majority of them have new releases since they played last time. We have a lot of special appearances from bands that have never played Europe before. Derkéta is a band we have tried to get over since years and I’m really stoked that we are able to host them for their first and so far only Euro performance ever! Also after trying for about 7 years to convince Runemagick to rise from their ionic slumber, we finally managed and can proudly present their first live show since 2005! Also we have the great honor of hosting Mortem from Peru´s first Euro show since 2004! Hyperdontia from Turkey and Denmark will play their first ever show at KTDF and Wormridden will play their first ever Euro show. Other special one off /first Euro performances worth mentioning are Sempiternal Dusk (us), Mortiferum (us), Cemetery Urn (aus), Ascended Dead (us), Triumvir Foul (us), Fetid (us), Scolex (us) and Torture Rack. Necrot will also play their first much anticipated Euro show before embarking on a month long Euro tour. All in all there is a lot of special performances you won’t see anywhere else. And that’s a deeply rooted part of the concept.

Our focus has always been on making a spectacular and varied programme with contemporary live acts from around the globe. We aren’t doing this to make a profit – we just want to promote the best bands that are around plus try to make some unique unforgettable live moments that will hopefully go over in history. Speaking about money – everyone in the organization and the crew working the festival (beside the venue staff) are all volunteers and working 100% for free. None of us in the KTDF collective has ever made a cent – all profit if there is any will proceed towards next years edition. Our motivation is promoting bands from the underground that we think are great and deserves a platform of exposure. That’s what we set out to do back in 2009 when we first started discussing this and hopefully that’s what we have created and achieved. We try to make a festival that isn’t part of the typical festival circuit where the same bands tour around all summer and play all festivals. We are a niche festival that only focuses on UG death metal combined with our Gloomy Sunday concept where we end off the festival with a chjll sesh afternoon/evening with the best of doom/death and funeral doom bands we can dig up.

So can stoners, sludgeheads, and doom worshipers the world over expect a similar reanimation of Heavy Days In Doomtown?

Heavy Days in Doomtown (HDDT) was the sister festival of Kill-Town Death Fest and was put to death back in 2015. It was organized by a different group of people under Undergrundsmusikkens Fremme and I was also part of that collective. The idea to HDDT came about after a trip to Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands back in 2011. After I came home me and my partner in Killtown Bookings at the time Nikolaj Jakobsen agreed to start a DIY doom/stoner/sludge event build after the same model as KTDF. We formed a collective consisting of friends from our immediate circle and was comprised off 2 Danes, 2 swedes and 1 American. We were all living in Copenhagen at the time we started, but after the first two editions the majority of the collective was spread out across the globe again – making it somewhat more complicated to work as a collective. But we continued as we had set out to do 4 editions of the fest based on the 4 elements; earth, water, fire and wind. HDDT I though IV were all huge successes and became larger and more popular than KTDF. Mainly because of the style of the festival which had a much more popular and broad appeal than KTDF.

It was sad to put it down in 2015, but at the same time it opened up for a me to put a lot more focus back on my booking agency. Also the amount of Roadburn copy-cat festivals were exploding so we felt that there was no need for the festival anymore since there were so many good curated festivals out there. Quite the opposite turned out to be the case for KTDF since there are no other (or at least very few) festivals solely dedicated to underground death metal. Every time I was out on a tour people would come up and ask me if or when KTDF would come back. That happened so often and so many times that I started thinking about that there is such a high demand out there for that exact festival concept and that it has a very special place in many people´s lives. For me personally that was one of the main motivations to doing this again along with missing the craziness of being responsible for such a massive production with just a few other people.

As for your question if HDDT will ever return; Never say never, but I have hard time seeing that happening for all the same reasons that we put it down in the first place.

What is the part of all of this that you enjoy the most?…and the least?

I’m a nerd about organization – I love to create events, to curate them, to make them come alive aesthetically, to promote them, to see them flourish and get their own lives and to experience the rush of the actual event itself. I’m not a musician myself and I’m not a person who enjoys being on a stage and center of attention. I prefer to be in the background and make sure that things work out and that everyone is having a good time. I have always been a worker and worked hard with music since I was very young. I have worked since the mid 90´s with stage building, rigging, backlining, security, graphic design, catering and bar-tending – everything that had something to do with music. I also started promoting shows from a very early age – already at 14 I booked my first show with a friend and then just did it on/off from there up through the 90´s, but always very low-fi and very underground. It wasn’t until the early 2000´s that I started doing it more seriously, but always 100% DIY without earning a single cent at any time. The first time I ever made any money with a tour or show was when I opened up Killtown Bookings in 2011 after having been promoting shows at that point since 1993…The downside of this life is that I don’t really have a life… Well I love my life, but there isn’t much time for anything else than work and touring – which is what I do all day every day. Weed and vegan food is what makes all this manageable for me – so if that’s provided at a show – which it usually is since people know me by now – all is good and I have zero complaints!

The list of tours you’ve put together reads like a death metal fan’s wet dream. What was the tour you’ve done that excited you most as a fan?

As mentioned before I try to only work with bands I’m really passionate about. I hate work for the sake of work – I want to curate the bands I work with so there is more to it than just a business transaction – I want to form friendships, to get involved and invested and want to see the bands playing every night. If a band or a tour isn’t like this I loose interest very fast and I really try to avoid that. I don’t like to bring highlight some bands over others, but of course I have crossed path with and been so fortunate to work with bands or people who have really inspired me over the years listening to music. One tour that was very special for me was when Tau Cross asked me to work with them on a tour. I’m a big Amebix fan since I was a young crustie and to work with and being on the road with Rob Miller was a really cool experience. Also having Michel Away from Voivod and Jon from Misery in the van was something that 14 year old me never imagined would happen. I have toured with so many amazing bands over the years and I’m really stoked and proud about the majority of tours I have put together. I’m really fortunate to be able to wake up every day and get to deal with bands whose vinyls are in my collection and spinning om my record player every day.

When you look ten years down the road, what do you envision as part of Killtown’s set up? What are you working towards?

The future looks quite hazy… Not just because of all the heavy weed smoking, but just because life is unpredictable. As I have already mentioned I have always been passionate about music and the music industry – at least to try to change it for the better – so I would have a hard time not seeing myself still working with music. If I don’t then something drastic will have happened and I hope that wont be the case… I just turned 40 and that was a weird milestone to pass, but not much has changed personally in the 25 years I have been involved with music. Im still as passionate and motivated as I have always been, so hopefully it will be the same in another 10 years. A family would maybe slow things down a little and keep me from touring constantly, but there is nothing pointing in the direction of that happening anytime soon… I really hope my taste in music wont get outdated or I will adopt a shitty(er) taste over the years. Would be awful if I would be sitting managing sell-out bands just to make a buck… but again I don’t see that happening ever!

At risk of attracting more business than you can handle, what would be some dream tours for you?

Not sure to be honest… I work with the bands that I care for and my experience is that when bands get bigger the focus change from being a band that loves to play and perform to a focus on money. The more money the better. And then my job is just to sit and make money for a band that isn’t passionate about what they do anymore… That’s of course a bit black and white and of course there are bigger bands that are cool and passionate about what they do, but the bands that aren’t have none of my interest. Of course I hope that some of the bands I work with will rise to prominence and have success because of their music and hopefully also my work. At the moment I work with a couple of bands I see great potential in; Blood Incantation (us) and Slægt (dk). Both fairly new young bands, but both storming forward with massive potential in each their own way. Lets see what the future holds for them (and me…).

Thank you Daniel! You’re doing the devil’s work and we applaud you eternally. You’ve said quite a bit here already, and we think this will be a very important read for ALL underground death metal fans worldwide. So at this point we’ll let you have the last word!

Thanks for the interest in what in I do and for reading through all my gibberish about myself and the stuff I do. Keep an eye out for tours coming across Europe and maybe soon on the other side of the continent. Maybe see some of you out there on the road.
Cheers,
A//E


The Resurrection of Killtown Deathfest is slated for execution on September 6-9, 2018 in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset. It’s been long sold out so if you were hoping to go … well, you’ll just have to kill yourself.

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Categories
Editorial Festival

Fear & Loathing at COVENANT FESTIVAL IV: A Manic Retrospective

THE COVENANT LIVES!

Among all the things involved in putting together this account of Covenant 2018– the article outlining, the draft edits, the irreparable hearing loss and brain damage, etc. — the greatest challenge lay in deciding what I might say first about it. Not only that, but sheltering that choice from further urges to go back and revise. There was a lot packed into those three days, and so much of it is worth talking about. Such as things are, I doubt this article could ever feel satisfactorily comprehensive, never quite as good, as I’d like it to be. On the other hand, that brand of perfectionism tends to feel a lot like a dress rehearsal for one of the milder Circles of Hell, where it’s grey and nothing ever really happens– a quiet torment designed for those damned souls deemed too mediocre to even suffer fashionably.

With that in mind, I think the best thing to say first is that everything in this article is hideously limited in perspective, biased by design, and imperfect out of necessity. Of course all music writing is technically subjective to begin with, but with this article I wouldn’t try to have some pretence of authority– at least no more authority than anyone else that was present for it. The article’s scope is necessarily bound by my experience; at the same time I’ve done what I can to cover all of the broadest points as I saw them.

If anything at all, I hope I’ve been able to capture the broad spirit of what Covenant IV was like. I had a great time, and reflecting on the experience while writing only made the memories sweeter. Still, in the event I’ve made some grave sin of omission; I hope whichever Circle I’m banished to burns warm and snuggy.

Grab a drink.

PART I: PRELUDE TO COVENANT IV

Hours before the doors opened on Thursday, I was reminded of something obvious, though no less startling: Covenant Fest has been running now for four years. Four years is a long time. Counting the folk-oriented “Denouement” nights, there have now been enough Covenant Fests to fill out two weeks if you linked them up as one, and that’s without taking its younger Atlantic counterpart into consideration. I’ve had the good fortune of being there every year to date, and while the number might seem small in light of all the Covenant have achieved, it begged a moment’s pause when I realized how much else in life had changed in that time.

The Covenant has established itself by now as a Vancouver staple; certainly the most significant force in the local metal community, and wielding due respect from onlookers abroad. For myself and many others, it’s become a yearly tradition, a recurring madness to look forward to as the months grow hottest. Depending on who you ask, the Summertime could mean fun in the sun, beach parties, drinking iced tea, and mowing the lawn. For this circle in Vancouver, the summer schedule’s come to include shortening your life expectancy with unhinged mania and wargrinding fukk. In other words; business as fucking usual.

Anticipation for Covenant IV arguably started a few hours after Covenant III wrapped up last year. Although the success of Covenant Montreal has taken a share of the hype, it was fairly common for Covenant speculations to arise in conversation in the year in-between– particularly in the months leading up after bands had been announced. The festival’s (as always entertaining) Facebook event page always had something new to announce. The full lineup was impressive once fully revealed, and the fest headliners standing out as particularly strong catches.

As with previous years, there was a share of bands that had to cancel. The presence of Black Witchery was sorely missed, although Hacavitz, who took their place, actually turned out to be the highlight of CovIV. There’s always been an air of chance and uncertainty leading up to a Covenant. A few bands inevitably drop out, others surprisingly jump in. The best one can do is to keep fingers crossed for certain bands, but the end result’s never been anything short of outstanding.

By the week of the festival, it seemed to be all that people were talking about– that is the sort of hype that can’t be bought by PR or ad campaigning. There was a pre-fest vinyl night the weekend before at Pat’s Pub, right down the street from the venue. With all the buzz, I was surprised how empty it was. It turned out to be pretty fun regardless– it’s not every day you get to see a cozy pub cleared out with Triumph Through Spears of Sacrilege blasting at high volume. I guess that proves Walt Disney right: sometimes dreams do come true.

When the day finally arrived, we were all ready for chaos…


 

PART II: STORMING CHRIST’S KINGDOM

(THURSDAY, JUNE 21)

The first night felt surprisingly barren in the first half, though it might have seemed packed at the sort smaller venues Night I has usually been held in the past. Opening duties were entrusted to Vomiit– a name you can say with your hand in your mouth if you try hard enough. This was their first show as a band, though certainly not as musicians– for those sharing duties in Firecult, it’s not even their first time opening a Covenant.

Coming across essentially as “Finite does Arizmenda” musically, Vomiit kicked off the fest at some of its most physically animated. The music was good, but the performance is what sold it. Vomiit had a real will to provoke, beginning with Michael the vocalist writing a mean word on his stomach that looked an awful lot like “RAPE,” and arguably culminating when he started spitting fucking crickets at people like it was a Satanic LARP of Pinocchio or something. Is it silly? No shit it is, but it’s that same sort of self-conscious edge that’s been at the forefront of this music since people decided to start sniffing dead birds for fun– and long before that too. I give this emphasis because it’s that sort of no-fucks theatricality that makes for weird and twisted memories, and I kind of wish there had been more of that eccentricity at the fest.

The set from Victoria’s Human Agony was a closer indication of the general Covenant IV vibe. Gas masks and blasting noise following the footsteps of some of the bands later on that weekend. Graveolence after that were about as decent, although I found it interesting that the relatively slight difference of their deathgrind angle and plainclothes performance set them apart from the others.

Speaking relatively, Graveolence had a more lively, fun sort of tone that is maximized the times I’ve seen them on a small stage. It’s weird there’s such contrast in tone; the music itself ran fest par in chaotic noise.

I’m pretty sure Auroch is among very few bands I’ve probably seen ten times in about as many years. What I like is how they’ve managed to outdo the standard they set for themselves each time. There’s no doubt by this point they’re one of Vancouver’s world-class exports in death metal, like its companion project Mitochondrion in that regard, although with Mito I’ve never had the sense what it must be like to get rabies and attempt suicide-by-cop. Auroch’s material is a whirlwind already, and the stage presence translates it with greater viciousness.

Black Witchery’s cancellation meant the classic USBM fix rested ultimately with Profanatica. They’ve never really been my bag, but I was genuinely excited to see them. It’s something special when a band can come across as so fucking absurd, yet totally authentic. From the atmosphere to the performance, Profanatica exuded old school Satanic theatricality.

Although I figure they probably would have been booked for a club-sized venue at a standalone show, Profanatica do a surprisingly good job of making an open theatre space their own. One issue above any that bothered the first night was the shoddy sound quality. With Profanatica, whether the sound got better or worse depends on your view of guitar tones that sound like they’ve been implanted with wasp larvae. I think it was great, honestly, and I was surprised how well they culminated the first evening.


 

PART III: VANCOUVER BECOMING GOLGOTHA

(FRIDAY, JUNE 22)

By the point of arrival, Friday was already looking a lot bigger than the first night. Among all second night acts, I was most anticipating Sorguinazia, for reasons their 2016 demo could convey better than I ever could. The dread surreal imbalance come across immensely live, and I was reminded of the atmospheric effect during Sortilegia’s set from last year’s fest. The atmosphere returned to ground when Ahna took stage. I’ve always really liked them anytime I’ve seen them. I think the close quarters experience of their Red Gate show circa Covenant II was a better suit for the sort of death-infused crust they play, but they play fast and filthy enough to have fit right in with this year too.


Hellfire Deathcult deliver war metal in its straight, most unadulterated form. One of Covenant IV’s more distant visitors from Chicago, it wasn’t so long ago they played the same stage, having opened the historic Archgoat/Blasphemy show in 2017. The first time I saw them, I found them competent but inspired; I’d probably say the same thing about their Black Death Terroristic Onslaught from earlier this year as well.


I had to reconsider my stance after being really impressed by the wisdom and character of an interview they did some months back. I wouldn’t say my opinion on the music itself has changed much, although I was impressed this time by how well they command the stage.

Then a pair of witches. Portland’s Witchvomit was one of the bands I’d heard nothing from prior to going in, but their atmospheric take on old school death metal was a perfect fit for the curated style of Covenant– not to mention ideal support for Incantation. With Witches Hammer, I was thinking an old-school  speed metal band would feel out of place in the fest. Not so.

Like Ahna, Witches Hammer got over any chance of being singled out for their style on the merit of the sonic filth they inject into it. They had a ton of stage energy for a band that’s been gone so long. Covenant has been host to a few returning sleeping giants; even if I had no expectations from the band going in, special events like that are what make something like Covenant feel as significant as it does.

One way a festival might be judged lies in how the experience of the bands all come together. In this, Covenant IV struck gold getting Profanatica and Incantation under the same banner. Incantation have weathered the years the best of the old USDM heavyweights; John McEntee’s the only original member left but some Ship of Theseus argument needn’t apply when the authentic energy comes through as well as it did on the Friday.

Incantation’s performance felt like the biggest set the Covenant has ever put forward, the closest to the feeling of a classic fun metal show, without the usual underground severity.

I think part of the sense of “letting loose” stems from the fond memories listening to Incantation records as a teenager and subsequently losing my mind; the nostalgic charge gave it the feeling of something extra. Watching them within the context of the fest, too, underlined how legendary they really are. Many bands within Covenant owe something of their sound to Incantation’s — how fitting that the second night ended by returning to the source.


 

PART IV: FALLEN ANGEL OF DOOM RETURNS

(SATURDAY, JUNE 23)

I can always rely on Covenant Fest’s lineup for a list of superb black/death upcomers. Goathammer and Gloam were the two previously unknown newcomers that managed to knock me over unawares– I had a similar experience the year before with Brulvahnatu. Goathammer loaded their filthy black metal with some of the best stage presence of the fest. Gloam played a noticeably more melodic strain of black metal with unexpected progressive undertones. Both bands were further proof that it pays to be there from the start for these bills. The theatre was already pretty packed by the start of the third night.

Next was Weregoat, who have become a frequent sight in Vancouver, not least of all through their participation in Covenants past. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen them at this point, but they’ve been consistently successful in bringing about their murderous caveman atmosphere. They would get my vote as the most musical and enjoyably listenable band in the current wave of war metal– and that doesn’t mean a whiff against their violent atmosphere.

Antichrist helped stoked the flames of Covenant as a fest of rare appearances; a local name whose limited recorded output made them underground legends. That history is a lot like Witches Hammer. The music’s a lot more like Blasphemy though– something that applies to several in CovIV’s lineup (not least its headliner!) Antichrist did a solid job, although I wonder if the concentration of war bands made their set less punishing than it might have otherwise. I actually think their Sacrament of Blood LP is the strongest release to come from RBC; but when it comes to playing live, there’s not some unique angle to Antichrist’s performance like I can pinpoint for Weregoat or Blasphemy. All the same, it was satisfying to have seen them play.

Hacavitz were announced shortly after Black Witchery dropped off the bill. Big shoes to fill. For a long time, I’d only been peripherally aware of them, and didn’t know much except that a) they’re from Mexico, and b) friends spoke well of their music. Fortune blows in mysterious ways. Their set turned out to be the best of the fest– in fact, one of the best Covenant has ever lay host to. Fucking phenomenal. I’ve since listened to a couple of their records and enjoyed them, but Hacavitz is clearly the sort of band that knows how to manifest real magic in their performances. Black and death done right.

Given the war metal throughline across every fest incarnation, there’s not a band in the world that fits the role of Covenant headliner as Blasphemy does. This was my third time in five years seeing them– once a year and a half ago in the same theatre with Archgoat, one back in 2013 in Calgary. They’ve always been the sort of band that commanded my respect for their history and authenticity; I could still never understand the rabid adulation fans have for Fallen Angel of Doom. Yeah; any reservations are out the fucking window anytime I’ve seen Blasphemy play live. They have a genuinely dangerous atmosphere on stage, and after a festival of bands owing much to them in style, the live energy reminds me what a unique entity they are. It’s probably best they played last too– the crowd went a notch up in mania and it all fed back into the atmosphere. This may have been the strongest set I’ve ever seen from Blasphemy– and that is saying a lot.


PART V: AS THE DUST SETTLES…

COVENANT IV HANGOVERVIEW

Following the three days of Covenant IV, the Lord’s Day of Rest was well-timed. I, like everyone else, spent the better part of Sunday scraping my brain off the floor after everything. Seventeen bands is a lot to take in one weekend, and even if I thought I’d had my fill by the end, that unique feeling of post-fest depression doesn’t take long to kick in and make you wish you were still in the midst of it.

What was Covenant IV in a word? Satisfying, for starters. It satisfied in all the ways I’ve come to expect from Covenant. Expectations were met, and a few pleasant surprises were tossed in for good measure. There is no doubt that it outreached the scope of the year before. A lot of the exhilaration arose from the jaw-dropping selection of headliners CovIV had on offer.

With Revenge headlining Covenant last year, booking Blasphemy clearly upped the ante. Profanatica and Incantation both felt perfectly attuned to the Covenant character; something feels inherently historic in bringing the two bands together under a common banner. Hacavitz perhaps felt most special of all; they’re not a band we probably would have seen here otherwise, and I found their set to be the most emotionally charged and significant of the entire fest.

There’s always the question with an event like this, how to improve and expand it each year. It can be tricky to pinpoint with something as underground-focused as this; increasingly “bigger bands” wouldn’t take long before it really deterred, and I doubt Covenant Fest is in the firing line for energy drink sponsorships. If judged by its cohesion and memorable tightness, Covenant IV succeeded, matched only by CovII in 2016.

If Covenant Montreal has benefited from a more metropolitan selection of bands, Vancouver’s edition is distinguished by its specialization. More than any one thing, Covenant IV felt like a veneration of the city’s scene itself. Witches Hammer, Antichrist and Blasphemy all shone light on the city’s legendary past, and the local younger blood proved a formidable force amidst the imported talent. Part of the promise of Covenant Fest lies in its effect on the notoriety of Vancouver’s scene to the underground abroad. Covenant IV served as reminder that the scene’s already plenty notorious as is.

PART VI: CRITICISMS AND OBSERVATIONS

There’s an element of the uncanny and miraculous behind any successful fest. Covenant is no different, though the miracle gets easier to predict every time they deliver an experience like this. The organizers’ increasing confidence in pooling these events together is apparent. From an outsider’s perspective, CovIV was the smoothest-running operation to date. I didn’t feel that CovIV was bogged down by anything too significant. The experience was great on the whole, so I thought it best to throw all criticisms and nitpicks here at once, all with the blanket understanding that they pale against all of the good. Add “Alas! No perfect vvorld…” to the start of following points wherever necessary.

One of the coolest things about Covenant in years past was its tradition of showcasing immersive ambient sets– a tradition CovIV broke away from to its own detriment. The ambient artists calibrated the festival’s atmosphere in a way that felt missing this year. I have strong past memories of sets from Randal Collier-Ford and The Nausea amidst the metal fare. For whatever reason it didn’t happen this time, I think the fest could have been more effective if they’d kept the ambient element. You don’t appreciate a respite fully until it’s gone.

Sound quality felt like a recurring issue over the weekend, most notably on the Thursday. I think there’s only so much you can expect from a venue that size. As noisy as this music is to begin with, it feels washed out further by the theatre resonance. Notably, although mixing was never great, it was significantly better by the third evening.

photo from Covenant team

Regarding the venue, I have a love-hate attitude towards the Rickshaw Theatre as the festival host. One the one, it’s comfortably spacious, easily accessible, with arguably the best staff in a Vancouver venue. The sound’s not even so bad with all factors considered, but totally lacks for atmosphere. The space is a deadzone for the sort of vibe Covenant aims to manifest with these shows, and the venue geography lacks a proper place for the fest vendors. I know that booking the Rickshaw makes the most sense from a business lens. I don’t think I’d even be thinking in terms of atmosphere outside the context of a festival. Still, there’s a side to Covenant that’s not being explored to its full potential.

PART VII: SOME CLOSING REMARKS

(OR, PERSONAL MUSINGS ON A WILD WEEKEND WITH A GOAT-WITCH VOMIITING)

photo from Covenant team

There’s a special satisfaction in having watched Covenant Fest grow and mutate over four years; like most great things, it’s more than the sum of its parts. Music aside, the fest has been a great place to congregate with friends and forge new alliances. Covenant brings with it a very specific sort of “fest mode” mindset that spurs adventure. I can’t comment on the nature of aftershow extracurriculars this time around, but there was plenty going on during the day. A lot of the best memories that weekend involved catching up with friends from out of town. On a side note, on Saturday afternoon before the third night, I hit up the Mountainview Cemetery (only a ten minute walk from home) and toured the crypts Blasphemy had posed photos with years before.

There was a slew of strong shows rounding the weeks after. As with last year, CovIV was rounded off with an acoustic denouement, headlined by Galician folk act Sangre de Muerdago. I wasn’t able to make it, but Sangre’s new LP is tied with albums by The Caretaker and Mournful Congregation for my current favourite of 2018. So I need not speculate on how bad I missed out.

The aftershocks of Covenant IV arguably climaxed with the “Clandestine Congregation” on July 13th, with Mitochondrion, Encoffinate, Akyros Expanse and Kanashibari– all of whom would have been formidable additions to the festival itself. Evenings like this offered some consolation for the inevitable post-fest depression. As the coming months return us back to the cold and dark, so we return to the state of gnawing anticipation. As for the future… there are predictably high standards for the inevitable Covenant V, but I know better than to have clear expectations on how they’ll achieve it. Some of the my favourite sets from the past four years have been bands I’d never heard of before, and I dare not speculate how they’ll push the envelope after a set of headliners like those they boasted with IV.

Onward and forward, then… No end in sight.

One last thing: a major “thank you” goes to all those involved in some capacity with bringing the Covenant Festival to being in Vancouver; again, and again, and again. I’d also like to extend my personal thanks to the festival’s organizers, who invited me to document the event as a third-party perspective. If it’s indeed true that a monkey unbound by time could compose the complete works of Shakespeare, I’m certain the same rule applies to underground black/death metal fest coverage.


All photos provided by Ndamato Photo (except where indicated)
http://ndamatophoto.com 
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