Covenant Festival 2016 Review

Author: Crono

 

From June 16 to 19th, over 20 bands descended upon Vancouver, Canada to participate in the second Covenant Festival, a black and death metal festival that was sorely needed in Vancouver. I went last year and was extremely excited for this year. I’m going to run through every band that I saw and highlight the amazing moments of the fest.  

 

Covenant Festival Day 1:

Bands: Garroting Deep, Shataan, Sheol, Bell Witch

 

Garroting Deep, a very late addition to the bill, played fast and furious and got the festival off to a good start. Their guest vocalist was Sebastian from Mitochrondrion and Auroch, so he was in good form as always. My favourite part of their extremely brief set was their closing song, a cover of a Dead Can Dance song.

The next band was Shataan, one that I confess I was not excited to see. One of the three Black Twilight Circle bands I listened to what I could find of them and found it off-putting. The vocals were strange yelps and the whole thing was very poorly produced. However, to my surprise, they sounded great live. The vocals came through much better, although they were still strange.

Sheol was amazing; their black/death sound was perfect that night. They played heavy slower riffs most of the time, but switched it up often, having a big dynamic range of speeds and flavours. There were occasional bursts of furious speed that blew me away. The vocalist did a fantastic job and filled the venue with dread. This would have been my favourite act of the night if it weren’t for their follow-up.

Bell Witch was the last act of the night, and damn they were great. The entire band was two people, the bassist, with a very sexy bass, and the drummer. Both provided vocals, the bassist surprisingly being the clean, chanted vocals. The drummer was a beast on vocals. He sounded so huge and his screams and growls were very powerful and long. For most of the time I watched the bassist, whose ability with that instrument was extremely impressive. Most bassists value speed above all, and pile notes on top of notes; this wasn’t like that. Most of the time, he played a handful of notes to provide the melody, while at the exact same time, he continuously thumbed the widest string to provide a very heavy backdrop to his melodies. They also played a new song, which sounded great, so I am very excited for their next album.

The first night ended on a really high note, and the second night featured a band that everyone was really stoked for: Taake!

 

Day 2:

Bands: Dire Omen, Sempiturnal Dusk, Arizmenda, Funeral Throne, Weregoat, Taake

 

Second night of the festival proved to be the craziest night, with excess from both the crowd and the bands alike. Dire Omen opened things up with their speedy death metal. It was enjoyable, but near the end I was getting fatigued by how similar most of their songs sounded.

However, immediately after was Sempiternal Dusk, a fantastic blend of death and doom. Their long songs were not only heavy and imposing, but they also managed to remain coherent for their entire length, with each section slowly blending into the next in a smooth way, rather than the jarring stop/start style of so many death metal bands I saw on the festival. Once again, and this became a recurring thing, their vocalist was the drummer, and he also did an amazing job. Maybe I’m just easily impressed, but to be able to play drums while booming with intense vocals is a feat.

There was a brief interlude, and then the second Black Twilight Circle band, Arizmenda played. Now, I didn’t realize, but all the bands in this group share members. The previous night, Shataan, was led by the bassist who provided vocals. Arizmenda saw one of the guitarists leave his behind to be purely vocals, and his performance was just amazing. If you are familiar with their song titles and lyrics, you can get an idea of the theme the band is going for. The vocalist was shirtless, showing off impressive scars all over his body. His performance was one of debasement, where he would actively injure himself. Bashing his head into things, throwing himself on the ground and rolling around, he even staged dived twice into the crowd, both times so unexpectedly that people basically just dropped him on his face. There were confrontations between the vocalist and fans, including one particularly enthusiastic fan who twisted a beer can and slashed the sharp edges against the back of the singer. He spent the rest of the set with blood streaming down his back. While the performance was very powerful, I felt like it pushed the instrumentals quite far back, and they felt a little light considering the intensity of the vocalist.

At this point in the night, I guess things started going off the rails a bit. Arizmenda really made everything feel a bit crazier. Funeral Throne played next, coming all the way from England. It sounds funny, but I am entirely serious here: they were the first band to actually talk to the crowd, both nights included. I suppose that says a lot about the tone difference between Funeral Throne and all of the other bands. The band had quite high energy, and there were occasional moments of brilliance. But, overall, it was just fairly standard black metal. The crowd loved it though, and rowdiness was increasing.

The next band was, as far as I can recall, the only repeat from the first Covenant, the amazing Weregoat. Last year they blew me away with their extremely riffy and satisfying death metal, and once again they did not disappoint. Shirtless and snarling, the bassist and guitarist provided dual death metal vocals that played off each other as they wove meaty hooks that kept me headbanging for their entire set. Of course, this shouldn’t be unexpected, since Weregoat is made up of members from bands such as Sempiternal Dusk, Ritual Necromancy, and Nightfell.  I honestly cannot wait for a proper full length from Weregoat, and they deserve much more attention.

Finally we come to the moment that many people had been waiting for the entire night, the final act, Taake. Unfortunately, something must have happened to delay them. The crowd waited, mostly patiently, for an extra half an hour past their original start time. When Taake finally took the stage, the crowd was at a fever pitch. I’m happy to say that Taake sounded amazing, Hoest providing pitch-perfect vocals. As I said, things had gotten a little crazy that night, and the second sighting of blood was provided by a drunken idiot attempting to crowd surf his way to the stage. Unsurprisingly, the small stage was not the ideal place to land, and he ended up getting hit in the head. Blood poured down his face as people tried to lead him away and the crowd continued to thrash. It was a great performance, the few hiccups unable to sway the band or the crowd from fully enjoying Taake’s first appearance in Vancouver.

And thus ended night two, a little more blood-soaked than the previous.

 

Day 3:

Bands: Temple of Abandonment, Auroch, Hissing, Spectral Voice / Blood Incantation, Ascended Dead, Drawn & Quartered, John Haughm, Volahn

 

The third and final night of Covenant turned out to be a typically dreary Vancouver day, with raining pouring down on everything. It didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits though, and the venue was already full of people by the time I showed up to just catch the first act, Temple of Abandonment. A very new band, they have to their name a single-song EP. They played that EP to open the show; a funeral doom song about 30 minutes long. What more is there to say? The song was long, hypnotic, excessively heavy, and epic. Well-executed funeral doom.

Following this up was local heroes, Auroch. You know, I have never gotten into Auroch too much, and this didn’t change my mind. Unfortunately, I felt like there could have been some early-evening sound issues, because I couldn’t make out a damn riff in the whole thing. Was it heavy as fuck? Yes. Was it blazing fast? Hell yes. But it was also just a wall of sound that was impenetrable to my ears. Maybe that’s just how Auroch sounds, I don’t know. I’m willing to pass it off as issues with the sound engineering though, especially because of the next band.

Hissing immediately followed Auroch, and once again, I found myself unable to enjoy the performance. Something about the way the guitar sounded, it was just a noisy drone. At first I thought it was just how the first song sounded, but as the set progressed, I watched the guitarist very closely. His fingers were moving all over the frets, very frenetic, and he was strumming away very quickly, but damned if all I could hear was one unchanging noisy drone. It was unfortunate, I thought the band could have had some potential, but I just couldn’t hear it. Like I said, I think there may have been some sound issues. There was a longer break in between sets before the next band played, and I think they may have worked it out, because damn were the next two bands amazing!

Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation, they were both amazing. I want to tackle them in the same section, because they actually share members aside from the drummer. Two very different takes on death metal, two very talented bands. Spectral Voice was on first and featured yet another amazing vocalist on drums. They played death metal that often slowed down to a crawl, similar to Sempiternal Dusk. Those dirges provided some really amazing atmosphere, and the band killed it during the heavier and faster parts. I also appreciated that they played at several varying speeds; they were not a band that could only play fast and slow. Very good performance. Immediately following was Blood Incantation, where one of the guitarists took up vocals. This guy was hilarious. He addressed the crowd and would explain the story behind the song, mentioning portals, deep space, and similar subjects. He always had this amazing little line before each song started that really set the theme, which is of course how fucking cool space is. They played this amazing little blend of OSDM combined with technical riffs and solos. The best part about them was how they managed to sound very technical while not falling into the realm of tech death. I instantly thought to myself that Blood Incantation was the Vektor of death metal. They were really great and I’m really looking forward to their debut full length, out in August from Dark Descent Records.

The next band up was Ascended Dead, a death metal band from California. They were especially fast, which caused the sound to be a bit muddy to me. However, the vocalist was a great frontman and put on a great show. Also, I was watching the drummer, who was playing ridiculously fast, and he had this hilarious look of shock on his face the whole time. I couldn’t look away from his face, it was just too perfect. He did a great job though, considering just how fast he was playing.

Drawn & Quartered came next, and let me tell you, they were old school. I didn’t much care for it, because it was extremely standard death metal, the kind where the band grabs a classic sound and sticks with it. I’ve heard people call this “Immolation-worship”, and I expect that’s quite accurate. The guys put on a good show, the guitars sounded crisp and the vocals had a good tone to them, it just felt very run-of-the-mill. The crowd really liked them though, so they must have been good.

Next up, the penultimate act, was a real treat. John Haughm, Agalloch frontman (and only remaining member now) came in to play a section of his ambient music. Basically, it was his guitar and a bunch of pedals and dials. It was really quite something. He played for about 25 minutes straight, creating this soundscape with his guitar, constantly layering riffs over others. The whole tune had a very sorrowful undertone, and it reminded me of some of the stuff you hear on the odd Agalloch EP, like “The Lodge (Dismantled)”. He used some really neat techniques, such as touching a rib bone to the strings to create this echoing harmonics, as well as using some kind of tool that he pressed to the strings making these vibrating notes. It was very cool and I don’t think I’ll get to see a performance like that any time soon.

Finally, at the very end of the night, the last act and the last of the Black Twilight Circle bands played. Volahn featured the vocals of the other guitarist, and he also played at the same time. I have to say, Volahn was my favourite of the three. Their style of black metal is lengthy songs with a great ear for creating immense passages of vocals and guitar that kind of blast you for minutes on end. It also featured some really awesome lead guitar passages that were a little progressive and really brought something else to the table. Along with this was the odd song that had a more “galloping” beat to it, almost like a cowboy kind of theme. It was really different, but the crowd loved it. The pit really got started as soon as those galloping riffs came on. Volahn is great live and if you can catch them you definitely should.

 

There we have it, three dirty, sweat-soaked nights of black and death metal in Vancouver for only the second year. All I can say is that it’s fantastic to have a festival that is purely oriented towards smaller bands and subgenres of metal. It’s the perfect show for my tastes and I really hope the organizers can continue getting the bands and support that they need to put it on for many years to come!

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