“May your reign of terror last a thousand more years” — YOB, Voivod, Amenra at Union Transfer, Philadelphia (April 5)
Music and Society Editor
Every genre of music has stereotypes about its fans. For country, it’s cowboy hats and an affinity for tractors; for hip-hop, it’s gaudy jewelry and sagged pants; and for electronic, it’s neon-clad bros yelling for “the drop.”
Metal is no exception, stereotyped by unshaven, overweight, middle-aged men dressed in black jeans and denim vests. On Friday, April 5, at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, it seemed as if every member of the audience at the YOB, Voivod and Amenra show got this memo except for me.
At 19 years old and in good shape with a closely shaved beard, baggy sweater and hiking boots, I felt like an alien from another planet in the audience that appeared to be caricatures of themselves. Within an hour, the testosterone was flowing at concerning levels; this, paired with the heavy consumption of alcohol, led to the at first humorous, but then annoying result of many of the drunken men morphing into “boomers.” Throwing up their “devil horns,” yelling at every conceivable pause or rest and adding their seemingly funny commentary, the audience got rowdy in only a way that plastered metalheads can.
Taking the stage first, Amenra, the Belgium doom metal band was utterly captivating. Lead singer, Colin H. van Eeckhout, hit together two metal rods for several minutes with his back turned to the audience, setting an ominous mood for what was to come. Exploding into sound, Amenra made my jaw drop with their ability to transition from gorgeous post-rock to horrifying metal beaconing the end of the world seamlessly.
They performed in front of projections of black-and-white horror films that were frankly terrifying, working perfectly with the tone of their set. Eeckhout kept his back to the audience almost the entire time, hypnotically convulsing and showing off his massive back tattoo of a gallow. When he did turn around, visible scratch marks dripping with blood ran along his ribs and he gave a chilling look of intensity in a magical moment only a metal show could provide.
Completely changing pace, Voivod, the Canadian thrash metal band that’s been active since the 1980s, gave the audience a genuinely good time. Obviously thrilled to be playing and loving every second of it, the entire band was all smiles and interacted with the audience, giving fist bumps and high-fives constantly. Even though they weren’t necessarily my cup of tea musically, their energy was infectious and was a lot of fun to experience. Many audience members were clearly devoted fans and screamed along to the words. Seeing a band that satisfied with their music and that ecstatic to be playing was nothing short of heartwarming.
When YOB finally took the stage after over two hours of opening acts, a drunken audience member yelled, “May your reign of terror last a thousand more years,” just about summing up the overall climate of the performance. Mike Scheidt, the lead singer and guitarist, nearly died in 2017 as a result of acute diverticulitis, so his return to recording and touring has been viewed as a triumph. The band’s 2018 album, “Our Raw Heart,” deals with these heavy themes and was one of the best metal releases of that year. Scheidt’s singing and songwriting, obviously impacted by his harrowing experiences, are moving in an intensely powerful way.
Aaron Rieseberg on bass and Travis Foster on drums fill out the doom metal three-piece that is YOB, notable for their incorporation of sludge, stoner and space metal as well as psychedelic rock elements into their unique sound. I’ve frankly never heard a three-piece band as loud or cohesive as them. Rieseberg’s bass tone was crushing to the point that I felt it in my jaw, Foster’s drumming was animalistic and bombastic and Scheidt’s guitar sounded like a growling dog mixed with a chainsaw. (That’s a compliment in metal terms.) His vocals were highly melodic, too, and held their own in the bombast of the sonic assault.
YOB clocked in with a set of nearly two hours and seven songs (sludge metal takes its time) spanning the entirety of their career. By the time I left Union Transfer, I had sore feet and a smile on my face. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had witnessed a notable performance due to its grandiosity and monumental power. While sludge and doom metal are not my primary genres, I was thankful to experience them in a live setting at the proper volume. Loud, terrifying and brooding are all requirements for the genre, which now has one more fan.