Photos by Alan Hunter
I remember the first time I heard Addaura, almost three years ago. It was probably about one in the morning and I was up late listening to Seek and Destroy, Seattle’s local metal broadcast. “City Light (In Still Dark Forenoon Silence)” from their debut album Burning for the Ancient came on and blew my mind; for someone who at that time had only dabbled in Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room, and to whom “Cascadian” was still a foreign term, Addaura’s style and unique approach to atmospheric black metal piqued my interest. I didn’t have the money to buy the full-length, though, and around that time, in trve black metal fashion, Addaura seemingly began to fade off into the ether.
But evidently, the band was still festering under the radar. Despite their long silence they rose again with a new record at the beginning of this year, ...and the lamps expire., and when I heard the news that their live rebirth was scheduled at the Black Lodge, I knew it was time to revisit their old material. Listening back to “City Light…” after all those years was a crazy experience, and the sheer feeling summoned by the first three chords of that track alone was as potent as ever. There’s nothing I like more than that rare moment when a metal song can floor you with sorrowful, beautiful emotion (besides “City Light…”, the only track that’s ever done it for me is Age of Collapse’s “Hands That Take”), and finally getting into this killer band and working with Alan, Addaura’s primary photographer, to put this piece together has been a case of things coming full circle in the best way.
Last November, Isenordal digitally released their first demo IMBOLC MMXIV and swiftly established themselves as one of the most promising bands in the Northwest. Imbolc showcases a shocking degree of songwriting prowess (especially for a debut release), and the forging of an entirely unique style of blackened doom. Each of the three tracks is heavy, catchy, and beautifully orchestrated, especially with the elements added by cellist Jeff King. This event served as Imbolc’s long-awaited cassette release show, and if their live performance was any indication, Isenordal is in the process of climbing even further upward, if such a thing were possible, from the footholds they cemented on that release.
A candelabra at center stage and votives in front of each PA cast the only light on Isenordal’s set, save for a single lamp which hung over drummer Eric Jelsing. In the tiny, darkened space that is the Black Lodge, there was a palpable sense of ritual as frontman Kerry Hall introduced the band and struck the first clean, melancholy chord of a new track. King’s cello swelled into being before the rest of the band dropped together into a sinister, crawling riff, like some giant creature waking from slumber. Isenordal played live becomes an all-enveloping monolith, a wall of noise that seems to be coming from one single instrument, with Jelsing’s gunshot drum fills punctuating the pace of advance. As fantastic as the demo sounds, it pales in comparison to the live experience that is Hall’s thrashing mess of dreads illuminated by flickering light, and the ability of the band to meld together and fill up a room. There was a newfound ferocity in the opening track, and more than ever before, Isenordal sounded and felt like they were going into battle.
The set continued with “Hymn of Immortal Grace,” the rest of Imbolc to follow. Between the conceptual veins that run through the album and the ebb-and-flow nature of the band’s songwriting, the whole performance comes off as a single epic saga. Hall somehow managed to transcend his own humanity, switching back and forth at will between vulnerable clean vocals and otherworldly screams that howled like wind over the peaks of each track, almost drowning in the chaos his band created. It’s clear Isenordal take their craft incredibly seriously: in the few sections where King’s drones cut out, he leaned on his cello, head bowed, remaining immersed in the collective worship. The set ended with rager “Requiem for the Dying God,” our final horns were raised, and in the throbbing lull that followed there was nothing but the calm of darkness and the smell of candle smoke.
I. (New track)
II. Hymn of Immortal Grace
III. Orpheus’ Lament
IV. Requiem for the Dying God
Addaura’s 2012 full-length Burning for the Ancient, which holds a space on my list of quintessential Cascadian black metal albums, was going to be a very hard record to top. Through simple, repetitive riffs with just enough variation to keep things interesting, the band showed again and again that the fabled “catchy ten-minute track” was a reality, and one well within their reach. Burning effortlessly sinks its teeth into your consciousness and holds on long after the record stops spinning, and if anything, this pattern only amplifies on …and the lamps expire. Sporting a clean new logo and artistic package, Addaura served us another immensely well-executed collection of atmospherics, one even more accessible than the last. The most striking feature of the record, however, is its optimism: the new songwriting style the band exhibits and the depressive rock keyboard hooks (as well as the sublime stomp/clap section of “The sun shines to-day also.”) make for an album that, despite its lingering black metal elements, sounds triumphant more than anything else.
All in all, Addaura’s long hiatus seems to have left them refreshed and vital, and this carries over seamlessly into their live performance. Quite a few of us were taken by surprise, as the band’s drum kit (gong and all) had been set up in what seemed like a matter of minutes and I witnessed a horde of fans literally running towards the showroom as Addaura tore through a brief soundcheck into their set. With the sparse lineup of two guitars and drums, every extraneous element was thrown to the wind, resulting in raw, stripped-down versions of every track. The band opened with “The sun shines to-day also (on the oaks of That Bird Hill),” and hearing a song with so many effects and elements pared down to a skeleton of punishing riffs was a brutal experience unlike any you’d get from the studio version. Frontman Ryan Patterson plays guitar like he’s dealing blows, recoiling after each hit, every muscle clenched. Addaura are alive and kicking, and they do not fuck around.
The statements above are not to say that the emotional torture contained on Burning for the Ancient has been lost. As the band blasted into City Light, Patterson grimaced and convulsed in pain with each lyric, screaming bloody murder at no one and nowhere near the mic, stumbling back and forth like a marionette tossed around by some unseen force. Between tracks he let his guitar hang limp, wailing with feedback, as drummer Brandon Reese sounded the gong behind him and drank from a canteen. Then the both of them snapped back to abusing their respective instruments as the whole building resonated with shamanistic fervor. If Isenordal summoned something dark during their set, Addaura were the ones who were possessed, and they, in turn, possessed every one of us as we stood there. As he battled for control of his body, seeming to conjure every riff spontaneously from the air, Patterson’s voice cracked, his face contorting into expressions as innocent, vulnerable, and curious as they were hateful. Right before the band kicked into closing track Solace Beneath A Greying Sky, he looked almost scared.
“Solace” is one of those songs that builds perfectly, and the clean breaks kept us all waiting until that exact moment, just before the repetition descended into a lull, where Addaura opened a final riff that sent the track soaring with new wind under its wings. Two guest vocalists, Bree and Lexi from Witch Bottle, took the stage and added their ethereal, angelic voices to the cacophony. Just as the band hit their highest point, the most stunning peak yet reached, the track closed out, the shrieks and clamor gradually fading to silence. For the first time, the three broke trance and smiled at each other. Someone who doesn’t understand the nature of their art might call it abrupt, but this band has never been one to overstay their welcome. Just like the close of both records, they make the wise choice to leave us wanting more.
Addaura, it’s good to have you back.
I. The sun shines to-day also. (on the oaks of That Bird Hill)
II. City Light (In Still Dark Forenoon Silence)
III. amid the tumult and clamor (I look for the light through the pouring rain.)
IV. Solace Beneath A Greying Sky