High on Fire, Kvelertak, Pack of Wolves House of Blues November 25, 2013
As rain drizzled and temperatures plunged on Monday night (by Houston standards, anyway), the brave few of us who ventured out into the cold found comfort by clustering around the fire. High on Fire, to be exact -- the Oakland stoner-metal trio led by Matt Pike, a man who looks like he's sweated through icier winters than this.
Naturally, they weren't traveling alone on their trek south. Norwegian rock and roll animals Kvelertak were along for the ride as well, probably wondering what the big deal was about a little rain and temps in the high 30s. Before their shirtless insanity could begin, however, the tough task of warming up the shivering crowd fell to Austin's Pack of Wolves.
The band certainly brought enough equipment to handle to job, packing three guitars and two basses onto the suddenly crowded House of Blues stage. Pack of Wolves quickly put all those strings in motion churning out evil harmonies in service to their blackened thrash sound. The crowd was just beginning to fill in during their set, but the sextet won over the early arrivals with heavy grooves and scattered blast beats.
Hell, I counted myself among the converted. As singer Trey Ramirez rasped out hideous blasphemies, I felt my neck warming up rapidly for the headbanging to come. With Pack of Wolves' hunting grounds lying a mere 160 miles northwest, here's hoping they roam into our territory again soon.
Despite the large number of headstocks onstage for Pack of Wolves, Kvelertak gave up little, if anything, in electrified power. The band's arrival was announced by the appearance of front man Erlend Hjelvik wearing a terrifying, taxidermied owl mask (with glowing eyes, duh!) over his whole head. That was something I can safely say I'd not yet seen before at a heavy-metal concert, and I'd prefer not to experience it again. It was creepier than it sounds.
Fortunately, the mask was taken away early and never reappeared. Kvelertak opened with "Apenbaring" and "Spring Fra Livet," the first two tracks from their outstanding new album Meir, released this year. The latter of the two was a particularly sterling example of the band's polyglot approach to heavy rock, swirling poppy, harmonized riffs that would make Thin Lizzy blush together with black-metal shrieking and blast-beating.
There were even a couple of Southern-rock flourishes toward the end, providing a little something for longhairs of every stripe.
Throughout Kvelertak's long and energetic set, Hjelvik remained in constant motion, tearing around the stage with no shirt while many in the audience preferred to keep their leather jackets zipped all the way up. No doubt bemused by our shivering, the singer politely declined to give us as much shit for it as he might've.
"It's good to see that everyone in Texas isn't afraid of the weather," Hjelvik said. "Thank you so much for coming out!"
As the band bashed through uptempo epic after epic, I began to feel a little sorry for the metalheads who remained huddled in their homes on Monday night. Kvelertak is one of the most exciting acts on tour at the moment, and they had no trouble at all filling up the large House of Blues stage with their thunderous drum fills and triple-guitar berserker attack. The harmonized crunch blasting out of their Orange amplifier stacks made it difficult, if not impossible, to refrain from headbanging.
As the band swung their guitars around like battleaxes on their last song of the night, the all-too-appropriate "Kvelertak," I found myself already getting anxious to see them the next time.
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First, though, I'd have to survive the aural assault planned by High on Fire, a band that never met a guitar tone they couldn't distort into an unholy mutant terror begging for death.
The hirsute power trio looked tiny up there on the suddenly cavernous stage, but their massive backline proved more than capable of matching the cacophonous output of the larger bands that preceded them on the bill. Increasingly burly front man Matt Pike, stripped to the waist as usual, wrung teeth-shattering riffs and solos out of his guitar to batter the growing crowd with waves of dangerous volume.
"Thanks for coming out," said the singer as he watched the audience begin to sweat a bit at last. "I know it's a Monday, but there's a lot of you."
The metal veterans merged into a multi-ton triptych on the thrashing opener "Fertile Green" and never looked back, except for Pike to take a toke or two from a vaporizer on top of his amp between songs. The guitarist worked his axe over good to produce the totemic riffs of "Rumors of War" and "Fireface" as ugly, low-end distortion billowed out of bassist Jeff Matz's rig.
Pike's white Gibson would remain in constant distress throughout the band's long and grueling set. Fans clapped, stomped and screamed along to every downstroke. It was a Monday night, sure, and it was cold as hell, to boot. But High on Fire's smogged-out sound cherried up beautifully like the warm embers in a glass pipe, drawing everybody in before blasting them straight into the troposphere.
I was sweating a bit myself as I headed back to my car after the show. Come back soon, High on Fire. It's chilly out there!
Personal Bias: Beardless.
The Crowd: Heavy metal on a Monday. Need I say more?
Overheard In the Crowd: "I thought Pack of Wolves broke up." "Didn't sound like it."
Random Notebook Dump: House of Blues feels impossibly huge during smaller shows like this one. There was no line at the bar!
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