DEVASTATION ON THE NATION 2022
NORTH AMERICAN TOUR:
STORMRULER + VALE OF PNATH + GHOST BATH + ABIGAIL WILLIAMS + BORKNAGAR + ROTTING CHRIST
Dedicated to Enyil Cordova Santos
Finally, after two years of cancellation, Devastation on the Nation 2022 took place, with ROTTING CHRIST and BORKNAGAR as headliners and ABIGAIL WILLIAMS as a support band. Initially, the Finns WOLFHEART were in the lineup, but when they dropped out, the bands VALE OF PNATH from Denver, Colorado, GHOST BATH from Minot, North Dakota, and STORMRULER from Saint Louis, Missouri entered the picture. These bands toured several cities in Canada and the United States from April 21 to May 22.
White Oak Music Hall doors opened at 6pm sharp, and there were four Cubans among the most punctual, although we were not the first ones. The show was supposed to start at half past six, but the black metallers STORMRULER had a setback with their van and could not arrive in time for the show in Houston. I am afraid black metal diehards were not happy with what happened because, although the Saint Louis quartet has been on the scene for less than three years, they have made a good impression with the debut album Under the Burning Eclipse in 2021. They perform a black metal that has everything in it: atmosphere, speed, melody, and aggressiveness, and the album has good sound quality.
At 7:10 pm an intro announced the beginning of VALE OF PNATH. This act already has years of experience because they founded in 2006. They have produced two albums, and the most recent EP Accursed, from 2019, marks a difference in comparison with the first ones. Previous recordings were on a technical death metal path, but on Accursed, there is more of an inclination toward death/black, especially now that they have Ken Sorceron on vocals, although they keep the technicality that has always existed in them. They played less than half an hour, and if I'm not mistaken, all the songs belonged to the aforementioned EP, although they played a new song, whose name the singer didn’t mention. It began with an exotic Middle Eastern scale that later was diluted in their death/black sound. This new song had good feedback because I began to notice more movement in the first rows. Until that moment, many were like us: beer in hand listening to the interesting quartet. It was a bit of a cold show, without communication or much interaction from both sides, but without a doubt, it is a tremendous band.
GHOST BATH were the second to go up on stage. This band is a quintet with three guitarists, one of them being Dennis "Nameless" Mikula, also the singer. The coldness continued since this act is more black metal oriented, and although they label themselves as depressive, it was not like that all the time. They played the last album Self Loather in its entirety, and if it is true that it is atmospheric and slow at times, they have some thrashy parts to excite the first rows. However, there was not much enthusiasm; everyone was very expectant, but the audience always thanked them at the end of each song. If they had interacted with the crowd, I am sure that they would have responded better. I understand that we are listening to black metal, but it was a show, not an online stream.
The third band (or project) had familiar faces, musicians who had already been on the stage just over an hour earlier. Ken Sorceron was the vocalist, and drummer Gabe Seeber’s beard was recognized from previous act VALE OF PNATH. Both musicians pulled double-duty that night. ABIGAIL WILLIAMS performed as a quartet on that tour, and I can’t remember the names of the other two hooded men. This is a band that has been changing or refining its style from album to album. In my opinion, they have been painting their music in black more and more. With Legend in 2006, they sounded more melodic metalcore with black voices, with In the Shadow of the Thousand Suns from 2008 being more symphonic or closer to DIMMU BORGIR, and Becoming more experimental and atmospheric. So, we arrive at 2019 with Walk Beyond the Dark. This last album is different, superior in my modest opinion. It’s less raving and more thoughtful. With that mixture of density and speed, the audience captured it little by little. The songs passed and the crowd remained with the same posture all the time; they were deciphering the music’s complexity and enjoying the musicianship. But there was nothing more than that; they played almost the entire album Walk Beyond the Dark, and I confess that I really liked their music.
The rodies were uncovering the drum set that would be used by the heavyweights BORKNAGAR and ROTTING CHRIST. Also, the stage staff were removing the tour banner to make way for the Norwegians’ logo. The excitement of seeing BORKNAGAR again on an American stage was palpable; it was noticeable that the audience was waiting for them, because despite it being a Monday, the White Oak indoor stage area was showing quite an attendance.
As the Norwegians came on stage, the exaltation grew. They were touring as a five-piece: Oystein on guitar, ICS Vortex on lead vocals, Lars "Lazare" Nedland on keyboards and clean backing vocals, Jostein Thomassen on guitar, and Bjorn Dugstad on drums. They opened the set with "The Fire that Burns," and the repressed fury began to be unleashed. Movement in the first rows increased and I even saw a mosh pit with "Up North" and "The Rhymes of the Mountain," but it did not reach the Capoeira level. With the viking oriented "Voices," I noticed that more than one fan chanted it from beginning to end, and already at this point in the show, BORKNAGAR outshined the previous three bands. However, I think there would have been more interaction if Vortex had been more involved with the audience. But the Norwegians were impeccable in terms of musical performance. The vocal duets between Vortex and Lazare are impressive and the instrumentation seamless, as if you were listening to a recording.
There is an old saying in popular slang that reads: “The Devil knows more by being old than by being evil,” and this applies to ROTTING CHRIST that night. They were officially formed 1987, although Sakis (vocals) and Themis (drums) came along since BLACK CHURCH in 1984. They were accompanied by Kostas on bass and backing vocals and Kostis, second guitar and backing vocals on the tour. As a curious fact, I must tell you that the show at the White Oak was being broadcast live, but I hope that the sound checks did not come out in the stream. I don't know if one day I'm going to get used to the bands levelling their instruments with the audience watching, as if they didn't do a sound check when they arrived at the venue.
But let's go to our own thing because here nobody seems to care about that. Everyone did a sound check except Sakis, and everything was ready at around 11. And guess which word Sakis growled in the middle of the first song? Houston! And from that moment on, the audience was in ROTTING CHRIST's pocket the whole time. Sakis demonstrated that despite his age, he is not only a good vocalist but also an excellent front man. They broke the ice with "666" from Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy from 2013, and it caught my attention that they took more songs from this album than from "The Heretics", which is the most recent recording they have been promoting. The Greek quartet’s live performance was marked by an incredible cohesion; it is as if they had coordinated every note, every break, and every scenic movement seemed to be rehearsed theatrically, all in perfect harmony with the music. A special moment was when they played the legendary "King of a Stellar War" from the 1997 album Triarchy of the Lost Lovers and my personal disappointment was that they did not play anything from Theogonia. The frantic crowd were thankful for the "Gradis Spiritus Diavolos," catchiness, but the Greeks left three old-school jewels for the end. From the 1993 debut album Thy Mighty Contract, they played "Fgmenth, Thy Gift" and "The Sign of Evil Existence," and they concluded the setlist that way and went backstage. However, they knew that the audience was going to ask them for one last song. They grabbed their instruments again and gave us the well-known "Non Serviam" from the homonymous album that made them world famous in 1994.
Devastation on the Nation 2002 ended its time in Houston, the Space City, with that great song. It was a good lineup because BORKNAGAR and ROTTING CHRIST are two bands with a great trajectory and a must for any metalhead, no matter what genre of metal music you like. The other bands performed good shows, albeit a bit cold and without communication, although I also include BORKNAGAR in this description. Vortex did not show me much as a front man, but musically everything was very well executed. We can only await the next Devastation and hope that it will be equal to or greater than this one.
Pictures: Michel Sanchez
Text: Alex Sanchez