I never listen to metal — it’s a bit of a blind spot in the repertoire of music I know. That being said, I surprisingly ended up at the Ottobar on Sunday, Sept. 24 to see four hardcore/metal bands: Zao (the headliner), Atlas Moth, Yashira and Knife Spitter (the opener). The former three bands were all touring together, having already performed in Philadelphia; Hartford, Pa.; and Brooklyn, N.Y. earlier in the week.
I immediately felt out of place. I was the only one there with a white T-shirt while everyone else wore varying shades of grey and black. This was a very different feeling from the last time I had come to see Ex Hex, an all-female rock band. Walking to the back of the stage area, I had wished I had picked one of my black shirts that morning.
The opener was Knife Spitter, a local crew from Manchester, Md. Their genre tags on Bandcamp describe them as “metal,” “hardcore” and “hardcore punk.” Even though they only had four members and only one guitarist and one bassist, their sound was loud and I was glad I brought earplugs.
They started off with a short introduction, which led into their song “Rot.” The singer screamed bleak, spiteful words while the guitarist and bassist hammered meaty staccato riffs. The drum groove was emphatic and relentless, with an emphasis on kick drumming.
The crowd in front of the stage was sparse, with mostly young men and a handful of young women scattered around in the back, politely listening — which didn’t feel like a stereotypical heavy metal crowd (not that I was one to talk).
After Knife Spitter finished, the second band arrived. Yashira is a band from Jacksonville, Fla. Their Bandcamp page categorizes their genre as “doom,” “grind,” “metal,” “post-metal,” “sludge” and “stoner metal.” They played two songs, “Dialysis (Cynosure)” and “Alluvion (Succumb to Cycles),” from their most recent album, We Find Ourselves In The Grief Of Others, released in 2015. Yashira definitely had the most guttural sound that night.
Each song was filled with to-the-floor-heavy riffs from the guitarists and bassist. Each lull between songs was filled with a thick industrial drone that pulsed throughout the venue. Every time the singer growled, his ruddy face reminded me of a lion roaring. The bassist was in the front and middle with a naked five-string electric bass and his long hair hung over his face as he shredded. The drummer was shirtless and the main guitarist had a black cap on and was swinging his axe in a harsh chopping motion.
The next band was an outlier in terms of their performance. During their set up, they installed lights. A machine blasted smoke clouds into the space behind them. Some of the smoke rose into the balcony, until the other side was obscured from my vision. Atlas Moth, formed in 2007, consists of five members including two vocalists/guitarists, a musician on guitar and synth, a bassist and a drummer. They released their newest LP Coma Noir earlier in the year under the record label Prosthetic Records.
The band members asked to dim the lights and then began their set in a blast of alternating lights — blue and white, yellow and pink. Atlas Moth was more melodic and less dark in tone compared to Yashira. The singer had a more nasally tenor scream, like a bobcat roar. The drummer had a shirt on this time, with a full beard and a topknot. His drum lines were fast boom-baps with rapid-fire kicks. “What’s up, Baltimore?” the singer said, after finishing the first song.
As they went into their third and fourth song the group, adorned in graphic tees and arm tats, was sweating hard. I saw several people in front of the stage, rocking their heads vigorously to the rhythm.
The last band was the headliner, Zao, from Parkersburg, W. Va. The band’s history is interesting: It was founded in 1993 as a Christian metalcore band. The roster has changed many times throughout the band’s history, to the point where none of the original founding members are part of the band currently. Christian messaging was prevalent in Zao’s earlier songs, but the band slowly and naturally phased out Christian themes from their music. Currently, only one of the members of the band, bassist Martin Lunn, considers himself a Christian. Zao has released ten LPs, four EPs, a DVD documentary and they have gone on multiple concert tours, playing in locations around the globe.
For this set, people had come forth from all corners of the Ottobar and gathered right in front of the stage; they were definitely most enthusiastic about Zao. The kick drum caught my eye because it was decorated with art from their album, The Well-Intentioned Virus: a skeleton with an elongated jaw and sharp teeth, wearing a robe, looking up at the sky and holding a chalice full of liquid.
Then Zao began their first song; the drumming was aggressive. If you’ve ever swum near a waterfall and felt it beating on the rocks next to you, then you may know what it felt like to feel the rapid-fire kicks and snares vibrating through your body. There was, once again, more screaming. Zao’s rhythms were almost militant with a fast marching beat, heavy guitar crunches and a lead guitar with soaring ambient sounds that was reminiscent of human wailing. On the left side of the stage, the skinny lead guitarist was stumbling around in a baseball tee and dreads. Once in a while he’d lean his head back and bare his full set of teeth in a white grin. Zao was definitely a spectacle.
I wouldn’t say that I completely warmed up to metal that night, but the show was far from boring. A ton of energy went into each set, and as I left the door I knew (nominally) more about what it means to be a metalhead. So why in the world did I go to the Ottobar that night? I had a season pass, and I was running out of options for a News-Letter piece. Did I regret it? No.