The accounting of Mayan astronomers aside, there can be no doubt that 2012 is an apocalyptic year. The news was filled with disasters both natural and human-made, and the sense that the current cultural empire is crumbling was never felt more keenly. While some might respond to this state with either eschatological philosophy or more practical apocalypse-planning (bunkers, shotguns and canned food), the three bands on this particular tour have chosen to channel their interpretations of Ragnarok into music. Gaza, Code Orange Kids, Full of Hell and Toronto support Vilipend each presented a different interpretation of this world-ending kind of energy, a different Horseman of the Apocalypse, and taken together, the results were positively biblical.
Toronto harbingers of doom Vilipend opened the night with a set that served to represent the aspect of Pestilence. Their set, drawn primarily from their debut full-length, Inamorata, was a tribute to all things lovesick and pill-sick, sweat-soaked and shaking. The vocal performance by Christopher Gramlich was characteristically feverish and anguished, and drummer Adam “Skeletor” McGillvray turned in an extraordinary performance, battering away like an arrhythmic heart. The set was a sour, puckered, breathless affair that combined longing and disgust in equal measures. **
The first of the touring bands, Full of Hell, whose members hail from Pennsylvania and Maryland, represented Famine. They play a lean, starved type of hardcore, all protruding ribs and drool. Their tone conveys a deep, primordial itch, an unsatisfied discomfort that is at once dry and greasy. They twist and writhe on stage as if in anguish, bodies mimicking hunger pangs as each squalling guitar tone becomes a cry. Their sounds combine some of the violence of Napalm Death with the twisted despair of Eyehategod, but pulled tight and taut. They played material from last year’s excellent Roots of Earth Are Consuming My Home, as well as their more recent split with tour-mates Code Orange Kids. They had to contend with some sound issues, but the acrid sense of frustration this added to their set, bubbling and acidic, almost seemed to aid them in the tone of their performance.
Pittsburgh’s Code Orange Kids made it clear from the opening notes of their cataclysmic set that they were there to represent War. Both guitarists, Eric and Reba, as well as drummer Jami perform vocals, which produces a wounded choral effect, a sense of amorphousness that recalls the poem “The Second Coming” by Yeats: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” There is a great deal of noise and chaos in their sound, but at its core there is something more awful and organized, an almost military precision. Their set, which drew heavily from their debut full-length, Love is Love // Return To Dust, was ballistic in its intensity, but not in the way a random spray of bullets can be. Instead, it was the type of violence and chaos that can only be incited by a hidden sniper: a roiling sea of panic caused by a very precise, hidden and clear attack. Code Orange Kids are nothing short of hardcore prodigies.
Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, headliners Gaza unquestionably filled the role of Death at this concert. They embody multiple aspects of this concept in their music: rot and decay, in the texture of their music, violence, in its deliver, and mourning, in the lyrical content. Gaza also reach for the tarot card interpretation of the idea of death: that of drastic and calamitous change. Their lyrics are overtly political, calling out the evilest and most corrupt aspects of the world and demanding by unveiling these horrors that the world move to change.
Vocalist Jon Parkin performed with a sense of wild despair, covering his face with his hands, his long body bent nearly double under some imaginary weight. At other moments, he roamed into the audience, pacing restlessly, as though driven by some deep inner discomfort. At one point, he announced that the Pope was a criminal and should be persecuted as such for saying that condoms were sinful in the midst of an AIDS epidemic; later he stated America had many gods, such as Clairol, Lexus and Walmart (though Hostess was dead). As they played a set that drew heavily from their cataclysmic No Absolutes In Human Suffering, it was increasingly difficult to make eye contact with the band, so consumed with disgust for the world were they. Their entire set was an argument for burning the whole damn thing down and starting over.
Most of the audience left the Hard Luck Bar entirely wrecked, and not just for the violent catharsis of the pit. This was one of the most challenging and well-executed aggressive music shows of the year in Toronto, and it left us all raw and wrung out. No matter the calluses that might have been on our minds and eardrums, this show left us torn open and bleeding. If the end is indeed nigh, you can’t say that Gaza, Code Orange Kids and Full of Hell didn’t warn you.
** Note: The vocalist/lyricist for Vilipend, Christopher J. Gramlich, is my partner. I intended to refrain from reviewing their set, as it represented a conflict of interest; however, the Four Horseman metaphor would have therefore been incomplete. I included a review of their set for the sake of completeness and balance, but be aware: I am biased.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a poet and music writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press this spring. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieZed.