Wolves in the Throne Room / Blackbraid / Gaerea / Hoaxed – October 15, 2023 – The Orpheum, Tampa, FLSaturday, 4th November 2023
Photos by: Brittany Barkasi
Being the astute self-proclaimed black metal aficionado that yours truly aspires to be, the tour package of the seminal mystics Wolves in the Throne Room, Native American atmospheric black metal phenomen Blackbraid, misanthropic post-black metal enigma Gaerea, and the quickly ascending dark rockers Hoaxed was one that literally inspired a jump out of the old Dead Rhetoric office chair. This was going to be a major tour, and one of the best for 2023 for our money.
Wolves in the Throne Room in particular holds an interesting footnote in my show going history. Having only caught them once at Maryland Deathfest 2009, which was over 14 years ago. How can that be? Time is a cruel mistress, and so was the sound person at Sonar in Baltimore that evening. For reasons unknown, the setup time was painfully long, and the sound was really off. One of those “All I can hear is a bass drum” scenarios. By no fault of the band, as many others that played inside Sonar that year had some unbalanced sound, but nevertheless, that show was always a mark of a band not getting the kind of sonic treatment that they fully require to properly present their nuanced and grand style of black metal.
Now, to those who have never been to the new location of The Orpheum in Tampa, there are two stages – a traditional indoor club setting, and a larger outdoor space with tall trees serving as a backdrop. The hope from the beginning was that WIITR would get to play said outdoor stage, as it would be beyond fitting – a wooded setting that gives the feel of an intimate festival. To our elation, that’s exactly what we got, and that choice provided a picturesque setting for all of the bands on this run.
The dark psychedelic rock duo known as Hoaxed quickly rose from being a project formed during the pandemic, releasing a 4 track self-titled EP in 2021, and quickly garnering the attention of Relapse Record, who quickly snapped them up. They dropped their debut full-length in 2022, titled Two Shadows, and really haven’t looked back. Quite a whirlwind, and the hype behind the all-female group is assuredly pronounced. Their set began with the trippy “The Call,” with vocalist/guitarist Kat Keo’s soothing voice draping a relaxing aura over the gathered masses.
Their spell continued with the gothic rock musings of “Guilty Ones,” pushed forward by a ghostly feel and rhythmic drums via Kim Coffel. The hook-laden “For Love” followed, possibly being their catchiest tune, highlighted by mesmeric vocal performance by Keo, and an undeniably moving aura. We can’t forget that incredibly catchy bass solo at the start of the track, to which live bassist April Dimmick plucked forth with gusto.
The beginning of the set was comprised with cuts from Two Shadows, while the latter half mainly constructed from their 2021 EP, starting with gothic meets western-ish vibe of “Riders.” The band’s performance overall is so smooth and inviting, that it’s impossible to not get drawn in. Gongs rang in the groovy drum beats and stinging leads of “Dark Altar Magic,” with the set closing via the brief but punchy “Candle Master.”
Hoaxed absolutely have a classic, yet fresh sound profile of which feels so natural for the band that one can’t easily imagine them doing anything different. They’ve got the songwriting chops, the hooks, catchiness in a positive fashion, and a captivatingly bewitching charm that serves the music so well. The songs come off big and alluring on stage, and Hoaxed is beyond dialed in for this setting.
For the uninitiated, Gaerea is one of the most peculiar, studious, and unrelenting black metal projects ever, really. Bold, sure, but it holds considerable merit – there’s no band out there who sounds quite like their odd combination of gripping black metal and post metal sensibility. Add in their long running narrative world building that continues album to album, and presentation of faceless Asmoday sigil-masked figures cloaked in black that make up their live presentation, and that’s something wholly different.
Opening the ritual with the melodic-yet-pulverizing soundscapes of “Mantle” was a perfect choice to show this crowd what kind of experience they were in for. Foreboding clean guitars are layered with grisly enormous riffs, sickly twisted with the ghastly screams and contortions of their enigmatic vocalist. His stage movements can be likened to a snake slithering about, combined with moments of cathartic posturing and passionate convulsions at the most riveting moments. A sight to behold, and our description does not do justice to the artful performance that Gaerea regularly exhibits.
The Portuguese clan mainly drew the evening’s song selections from their monumental and most recent album Mirage, which was easily one of last year’s best, and proving to be a wise choice. “Salve” engulfed the audience with wails and time changes, while “Deluge” brought a measured and trance-like magnetism, twisted by ardent screams and occasionally soaring guitar passages.
A single entry from the second full-length Limbo in “Urge” surfaced, representing one of Gaerea’s most direct tracks, boasting a blackened death metal intensity woven with the band’s introspective vibe. The set highlight for our ears had to be the title track “Mirage” with eerily macabre yet reflective atmosphere amongst memorable riff/lead combinations, as their vocalist extraordinaire pulled and twisted his mask while roaring into the microphone.
He donned a different, silver mask to finish the set with “Laude” and its bombastic nature. The band exited emotionally and physically exhausted from the intensely physical and cathartic performance they gave this now floored audience. How they do it night after night, we don’t know, but we’re sure lucky to have such creative people providing memorable aural and visual extravaganzas such as this.
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Having experienced Sgah’gahsowáh’s project Blackbraid for the first time back in February with Hulder, Aeviterne and Stress Angel is a moment that still feels like it was just yesterday. It was an inspired outing, and having seen Blackbraid one other time since, this would be the third time in nine months. Things have advanced significantly since that chilly New York City evening, seeing Blackbraid II raise the stakes even higher, in turn elevating them to being one of the fastest growing bands in metal. Feels good to see esteemed talent and a strictly DIY attitude get one places, and the reverence is backed up with inspiring nature-centric and Native American themed melodic black metal that’s forward thinking and verbose.
With a slight breeze in the air, the setting was picturesque for “The Spirit Returns” to roar into life. A fine choice to open with, being a pulsating and aggressive piece that showcases both Blackbraid’s fiery and melodic sides. Sgah’gahsowáh’s blackened scream echoed through the now moonlight sky, with the excited audience clearly feeding off of his and the band’s collective energy.
“The Wolf That Guides the Hunters Hand” bears a resemblance to the headlining band’s more fierce moments, and was a fitting inclusion, being one of their more balanced and technically sound pieces. The crowd was in full force at this juncture, not being able to get enough of Blackbraid’s awe inspiring talents.
Arguably the most epic and impressive composition in Sgah’gahsowáh’s still young career is the heartfelt “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon.” With the night sky upon us, hearing this song in this kind of brisk open air stage was a special moment. As special as this show had been to this point, both due to the immeasurable quality of the music/musicians on display and the aura of the locale, the combination of all of these things really conjoined for this piece. Especially when Sgah’gahsowáh arrived at the beautified flute sections.
Harkening to the debut album for the final number, a song that’s become a modern black metal classic to these ears in “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil.” Emitting pain-filled screams of crimes against the beauty that is our natural world, Sgah’gahsowáh and his incredible live band laid their souls bare on the stage for all to see. An inspiring performance, to say the least, Blackbraid keep honing their skills and presentation, while more and more people get to take in this special project. It won’t be soon enough until we cross paths with Blackbraid again.
Wolves in the Throne Room
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The mysterious Weaver brothers project Wolves in the Throne Room has been forging their own standout style of atmospheric black metal for over two decades running, with now six full-lengths and several EPs, including the freshly released Crypt of Ancestral Knowledge that only dropped a few weeks prior. This evening’s show wouldn’t focus on their latest release, however, instead choosing a mix of the band’s most ambitious pieces from their storied history.
Known for an elaborate stage setup, this tour would be no different, featuring many candles, incense, gorgeous wood carvings and deer skulls amongst their naturalistic mood cultivating sensory presence. The band emerged in black, with lead vocalist/guitarist Nathan Weaver emerging in a black cloak to shower the eager crowd with some “Mountain Magick.” The band powerfully traversed through ritualistic screams and chilling guitar tremolos, effectively putting the onlookers into a welcomed trance.
The band progressed to more esoteric pieces with “Spirit of Lightning,” and then further into the depths via the buzzing “Angrboda.” Continuing to go back into their discography with “Prayer of Transformation” representing one of their more impactful releases Celestial Lineage provided an ominous hum from the monitors via steadily building guitar and drum rhythms. This is one of WITTR’s biggest and most emotive songwriting accomplishments, played to full effect of flickering candlelight.
Delving deeper still into Two Hunters territory to complete the set in grand fashion, “Vastness and Sorrow” brought guitar-laden atmospheres and riffs galore, while the gargantuan “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots” being both long in title and in length; a twisted tale to end this evening on high.
Their performance was cathartic, with many onlookers shaking their heads in disbelief of what they just witnessed. There’s truly no band quite like WITTR, leaving their fans with an event not to forget.
There’s something about black metal when done well that can elevate it to proportions that other styles often don’t meet – at least for this writer’s black soul. When four acts of very differing backgrounds and musical styles come together to provide nothing but stellar performances and unbridled passion, a hint of magic is created. Amongst the chaos and unpredictability of life, these are the moments that one needs on occasion to release all of the stressors into the air. Take whatever chance you can to see any of these bands, as regrets will only happen if you miss what they have to offer.