Saturday, June 20, 2009

Punk's not dead: Bone Awl and friends at Fontana's

[Bone Awl frontman He Who Gnashes Teeth; photo by Laal Shams.]

As you can read over at the Volume, I was mightily impressed by Bone Awl's set at Fontana's tonight. Grim, driving and exceedingly creepy, without even a hint of tedious theatrics. Having only heard a few of the records (and having generally been way more impressed by the song titles--"Meaningless Leaning Mess," "Tollund Man," "Pentagram Clitoris," etc.--and lyrics than by the actual music), I was previously at a loss re: this band's gargantuan cachet within the metal blogosphere. It made sense tonight: This stuff may be rudimentary as hell, but these guys really, really mean it. I got a very passionate and sincere vibe from them.

One thing Bone Awl drives home is that black metal at its essence isn't really metal: It's punk. Obviously Darkthrone has made that notion very explicit on several of its recent albums. But seeing Bone Awl live really made me realize what a huge gulf there is between this sort of primitive black metal and other styles of extreme metal, namely death metal. In the popular imagination, the two styles are linked via satanic imagery and the like, and they did both come into their own right around the same time (late '80s/early '90s), but black metal is ALL mood while death metal is about half mood and half chops (or in Morbid Angel's case, ALL mood and ALL chops, simultaneously).

Chopswise, these Bone Awl guys would barely be able to hold their own in a middle-school hardcore band let alone a big-league death-metal outfit. In particular, I was struck by how unpolished the drummer was. He utterly lacked the economy of motion that even the most minimally trained player would exhibit. Just pure, awkward energy, muscling through these caveman oompah punk beats. No blasting, just midtempo chug. And yet, virtuosity is a dumb measuring stick in the face of something as evil and vibe-heavy as Bone Awl.

Can't wait to re-spin my "Undying Glare" 7", or the "All Has Red" cassette I picked up at the show, the latter of which features tonight's awesome closing number, entitled--wait for it--"I Feel Tension."

P.S. Didn't have much room to mention the other bands on the bill at the Volume, so I thought I'd at least name-check them here. Ashdautas sported some very garish corpsepaint and tapped into a respectably raw and evocative atmospheric-black-metal vibe--at times it reminded me of a more primitive-sounding Krallice. (Check out the oft-aforementioned Volume review for a pic of Naeth, the amiable Ashdautas frontman, showing off his spiked armband.) While Canada's Akitsa just kind of sounded like a cross between Ashdautas and Bone Awl, but less convincing than either. Re: the latter band, I'm afraid I was more interested in the members' uniformly short and angular haircuts than by their music. I'd like to hear more on record, though, because I know many folks dig 'em.


Anonymous said...

Bone Awl don't have the aptitude to tackle "high school hardcore," Ashdautas sounds like Krallice, and Akitsa sounds like a mix of Bone Awl and Ashdautas? Giant yikes on this whole review. Might want to establish a rudimentary knowledge of the genre before writing another review like this.

Hank said...

To the commenter above, I'd be curious to hear your specific impressions of the bands in question, and to address your criticisms in greater detail. If you happen to read this, drop me a line at

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