power of the riff

As a so-called “fresh off the ship” arrival to LA, I must admit there are a lot of venues I have not yet visited, the Fonda Theatre being one such example prior to Thursday night’s Power of the Riff event. I was extremely saddened that I missed the first artist on the bill — Attila Csihar, performing for his solo vocal project, Void Ov Voices — an unfortunate mistake that occurred mostly due to my misconception that the concert begin at 7:00 when Attila had actually gone on the stage at 6:30. Nonetheless, walking into the Fonda Theatre Thursday really offered me a fresh space to experience new music.

With a meager crowd gathering, the curtain went up to reveal the savage, stuttering technicality of Loincloth, a progressive metal outfit currently signed under Southern Lord Records, home to most of the artists at Power of the Riff and controversial for its transmutation from doom label to featuring more eclectic tastes in the metal world. What a remarkable and TIGHT performance this was. Unfortunately, Loincloth is not as well known as they should be. With disfiguring surgical accuracy, Loincloth offers a sweltering, musically inventive instrumental onslaught dripping with new and intriguing compositional thoughts from start to finish. Steve Sheldon, who is behind the drum assault of Loincloth, stood out to me as he presented a hard-hitting and  intense cacophony of slick fills and changing rhythms.

loincloth
Loincloth (all photos by Keegan O’Reilly)

Dead in the Dirt mounted the stage next with seasoned ferocity. The Southern outfit tore and burrowed with their blistering disruptive grind. Hailing from Georgia, the band plans to launch a new LP this spring. As it stands, these Southern boys only have two EPs to their name, the most recent being Fear, which was released last year. As one who is admittedly “straight as an arrow” myself, I appreciate the simple, straight-edged promotion they put fourth. Hail Southern grind!

deadinthedirttrue
Bo Orr of Dead in the Dirt

Everyone knows who Corrosion of Conformity is nowadays. Signed to Candlelight Records, the band’s original members got back together in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. Watching them on stage now, one can understand how these three friends who formed the group in 1982 could still play together. The chemistry is unrivaled and contagious. Mike Dean, contributor of vocals, shredding basslines, and crazy, mad scientist hair, knows how to keep the energy up, and from close enough to get spit on (literally), I watched in awe as he ripped on the bass and stalked back and fourth.

deadinthedirt
Corrosion of Conformity

Black Breath decidedly tore up the Fonda as well.

"Fuck Mormonism! Fuck Catholicism! Fuck Islam!" - Neil
“Fuck Mormonism! Fuck Catholicism! Fuck Islam!” – Neil of Black Breath

Black Breath presents a heretical splattering of anger and heaviness. The five piece from Seattle has been on constant move the last few months, annihilating much of Europe and, prior to that, shaking up Japan and Mexico as well. Their last LP, Sentenced to Life, dropped earlier this year. All of the members of the blackened thrash group were on their game as expected.

High on Fire
High On Fire

High On Fire has long been compared to Motörhead, and while one can definitely hear said influences, that does not mean the three piece isn’t doing anything new and interesting. Their live performance was bludgeoning and epic with a shirtless Matt Pike strutting around unabashed. Of course I can’t help but dig High On Fire regardless of how they sound — after all, Matt Pike was behind Sleep! — but they make it easy. By this time of night, I had begun to wonder, “Do people not mosh in Los Angeles?” but as it turns out, all Angelenos need is good encouragement to do so. Soon the circle pit formed, and all was right.

Attila Csihar heads up Sunn O)))
Attila Csihar heads up Sunn O)))

Let me begin this by saying Sunn O))) is a notoriously difficult band to photograph. I learned this myself when the clocks struck midnight, ringing in the day the world was to end. Fog was already rolling out from around the iconic Fonda curtain when it raised. I was poised to get photos of the band, but instead peered into an abyss so deep and deluded with fog that I made out no figures at all. Finally, 15 minutes after the thundering and suffocating frequency of Sunn erupted, I made out a figure approaching us: the man who I had so jackassly not seen perform for Void Ov Voices at 6:30, Attila Csihar. Most black metal fans should recognize the singer as he recently headed up cornerstone second wave black metal band Mayhem, and also worthy of mention is his role as the vocalist for legendary Hungarian band Tormentor.

Guiding us into the occult abyss that engulfed and surrounded him, Attila took the audience that night into the esoteric and unrecognizable depths of dimensions unknown. Pushed on by the thundering heart of  Sunn O))) (members Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Mally), Attila is as much a performance artist as a vocalist. Commanding admiration as he spoke haunting chants and foreign tongues, he eventually underwent some sort of transformation halfway through the ritual. Behind his mask, bright red eyes (presumably LEDs?) shown through. He burned into my psychosis the permanent image of said robed figure, standing in that fog with heretical hellfire coals burning in his face. Though I think most of the audience was hip to what Sunn is about, I did have the pleasure of seeing more than a few taken aback by the ferocity of the performance. Yes, folks, this is fucking darkness.

Sunn O)))
Sunn O)))

As the fog wavered momentarily and I was able to see all the robed followers, Attila turned and seemed to bestow an unholy blessing on each of them. He brought his hand down diagonally, cutting to their souls whatever unholy secrets he garnered. Resuming his place, he again spoke unto us the mystifications of the universe.

Sunn O)))
Sunn O)))

When the curtains began to close, the core members of Sunn rushed to push them back up. Lining up, they all took a solemn bow to the gracious audience. Seeing Sunn O))) is like going to an occult ceremony, a theatrical play, a concert, and your own funeral at the same time. So the performers ended the ritual.

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