Saturday, 3 February 2018

Live Review: Amenra: "A Post-Metal Ritual" @ Doornroosje, Nijmegen (NL 20/01/2018)

By: Victor Van Ommen


At three o’clock in the afternoon, I rolled into the parking lot of Doornroosje in Nijmegen. Nestled up against the German border, folks like me, coming out of Amsterdam, consider Nijmegen to be pretty far away. Yeah, we don’t get out much. But for bands like Amenra, who were scheduled to close out the day's program, we make the sacrifice to travel from the comfort of our own home.

A different vibe was felt at the Doornroosje. In my neck of the woods, a concert is a place to go and get tanked while you catch up with friends. I'm genralizing, of course, but in Amsterdam and surrounding cities, little attention is paid to the band. Here in Nijmegen, it seems the crowd is more laid back, friendlier and actually shows respect to the bands that perform. Drunken banter? That’s what you do in the restaurant outside of the venue. The venue proper is where one goes to be consumed by the music. This is my type of crowd.

My first band of the day was Throane. For the most part, Throane’s sound is pretty raw. One guitarist handled the slower riffing, the other powered through as fast as he could. Bass and drums kept the pace slow, and the band’s intensity came from their singer, whose screams set the mood not only for Throane’s set, but also the rest of the day. This cold, rainy January day never saw the sun rise outside and that might have had something to do with what was going on inside Doornroosje.

After Throane, Sembler Deah filled the venue with their bass heavy drone. Man, the venue was so dark, the only thing that lit the way was the fire on stage. And I mean that quite literally, Sembler Deah had a fire pit on stage, flames about two meters high. The three- piece situated themselves around the flames in a semi-circle as they made their way through a piece of music – this was not a song – that was tonally deep and incredibly textured. The guitar was played with a bow and the singer – who I believe might have been Colin himself, from Amenra – remained subdued in his delivery, projecting vocal drones from deep within. This set was consuming, it froze me right where I stood. The visuals behind the band matched the drones perfectly. For music that isn’t necessarily exciting, there sure was a lot going on. So much so, in fact, that by the time the band finished playing it felt like they had only just started.

Please forgive me when I say that the next band, VVOVNDS, didn’t do a thing for me. Certainly not after Sembler Deah’s powerful performance. That was fine by me, though, time to grab some grub.

An hour later, I returned to Doornroosje for yet another unique performance. Aluk Todolo is a three-piece that started their set without any introduction. They got up and played, and played, and played and played. They reminded me of Earthless in a way; but darker, heavier and certainly more European. Their drummer played with the precision of a jazz drummer, but much harder. The bassist looped around the drummer’s rhythms, together playing circular rhythms that never ended. The guitarist knew not only how to riff like his life depended on it but was also able to use his effect board as an instrument. So much so, in fact, that at one point, he put down his guitar and picked up his effect board, held it like he held his guitar, and twisted knobs, banged on pedals and whatever else was necessary to fill the Doornroosje with all kinds of heavily distorted sounds.
And then, Amenra.

Amenra brought a show with them. With nothing more than a spotlight shining down on singer Colin van Eeckhout - who sat on his haunches, back to the audience - Amenra’s set began. Colin clanged two metal bars together to mark the start of "Boden." Then the band made their entrance, playing in complete darkness. This ritualistic, post-metal onslaught that Amenra presented did nothing to lighten the mood. Behind the band were visuals of sparse landscapes, castles and other rock formations, which always matched exactly the mood of the music.

Now, I can’t claim to be a connoisseur when it comes to Amenra. I’m new to Amenra for the most part. "Mass VI" was my starting point, and since then I’ve checked out a random song here and there. The one thing that I’ve learned from my exposure to Amenra is that they are one helluva powerful band. Their show only further confirmed what I have learned.

Compared to the confines of the Compact Disc, live, Amenra’s sound is thicker. Their performance spot on, and the emotion is palpable. Colin’s screams pierce through the darkness even though his back is turned to the audience for the entirety of the set. I stood in the back, next to the soundboard, and even there I was reached by the sonic emersion that is Amenra. I can only imagine how it would have been had I stood all the way up front.

Amenra is no stranger to tempo changes as well as shifts from hard to soft. They do these shifts impeccably and play everything with the same conviction. As a result, Amenra demands attention. The crowd gave them this attention. The crowd was quiet, listening attentively and gave the band the space to do their thing. Almost two hours after the initial calling of "Boden," the set ended with the drop of the microphone. Colin stormed off the stage, the band followed. Not a word was muttered, the lights in the venue came up, and everyone kind of looked lost.

For me, there was no way I was going straight to the car and hit the highway. I had to hit the bar and take a seat. Come down. Calm down. My friends and I chatted for a few hours, about this and that, and every so often someone would say, "man, Amenra was incredible." Everyone would nod in approval, another round of drinks would come by, and the conversation continued. One thing was clear, Amenra left their mark on us.