Staghorn, Smokefall, Liv Carrow, Dendrons, Systems., and Special Guest
Saturday, February 25
The Raccoon Motel, 315 East Second Street, Davenport IA
6 p.m. doors / 7 p.m. show
$10/18+ before 10 p.m. / 21+ after 10 p.m.
Three decades have passed since the emergence of black metal as a distinct subgenre of heavy metal. If the general public is aware of it at all, it is likely through the 2018 film Lords of Chaos, which dramatized (poorly) certain of the outrageous, violent, and destructive exploits of the Scandinavian teenagers who “founded” the style in the late '80s. The string of murders, arson, blasphemy, and questionable behavior committed by the members of Mayhem, Emperor, Burzum, and others can be seen as a product of the nihilistic worldview shared by many of the early black metal pioneers, but ultimately has proven to be a regrettable sideshow as what was originally a shared sound evolved and codified into a style in its own right.
Thirty years on, black metal has come to be about more than lo-fi recording, buzzsaw guitars, and hatred for Christianity. Even in its tumultuous infancy, reverence for and celebration of nature was an inspiration for many bands, tying in with their pagan leanings. Following close behind was a folk music influence, with or without the use of acoustic instruments. These influences caught on like a forest fire, and in 2023 are commonplace. In context, then, the show at the Raccoon Motel in Davenport on Saturday, February 25 is not quite as outlandish as it may appear on the surface.
Sharing this particular bill are Staghorn and Smokefall, two heavy bands with a pronounced folk influence. Smokefall are a fairly traditional black metal band, whose use of keys is decidedly non-traditional, especially in its role in the band: to imitate acoustic instruments, with the lute springing most quickly to mind. While mainly falling into the somewhat nebulous “post-rock” category (heavy on the atmosphere, slow-build crescendos and loud-quiet/clean-distorted dynamics), Staghorn have a strong black metal influence and reliance on harsh vocals; they're heavy enough to play well with capital-M Metal bands, and light enough in their quiet moments to distinguish themselves.
Both bands are a continuation of the sonic template set by the early black metal bands, but the presence of an ideology (especially in Staghorn's explicitly political mission statement “Music. Thought. Action. Solidarity.”) is far removed from the first wave of black metal, which was apolitical at best, and nihilistic and openly fascist and racist at its worst. Those tendencies are still alive and well in today's extreme metal world, but a growing number of bands have managed to take the sounds made by frequently sketchy people and meld them with a consciousness and a social conscience, and even do it well. Staghorn and Smokefall fall in this category.
The other two performers represent two extremes that each share their own kinship with the night's metal core. Systems. is a QC-based noise project, one man and a set of devices calibrated to generate a forbidding wall of digital racket woven into austere soundscapes. Noise and metal bands sharing shows is nothing new; even to an untrained observer, the common abrasiveness unites the disparate styles. But even with the explicit folk-and-nature influence of the heavier bands, the presence of local folk singer Liv Carrow is surprising to say the least.
Carrow's tuneful songs are far removed from the dramatic atmospherics of the rest of the night. Her voice falls well within the familiar timbre of modern indie/folk music, yet has a timeless quality, exemplified on her version of the Child Ballad “The Blacksmith.” There is a heaviness to her music, generally adorned only by her clear, understated voice and deft fingerpicking. Her songs touch on environmental degradation, dread, loneliness, and domestic violence; she's wired straight into the same sort of misty Old English darkness as Fairport Convention, the Louvin Brothers, or a fair score of metal bands. Liv Carrow's voice is lace on a lead coffin. Even if you're not a metalhead, it's worth the price of admission just to hear her play.
At press time, Chicago post-punk band Dendrons had been added to the bill, mixing things up just a little bit more. If the variety of music presented on the 25th is not enough enticement, there's a bonus: “There’s a secret band and a secret event right after the gig.” Additional entertainment that will further bridge the gap between folk and metal is coming in from across the seas. The nature and identity of the performer(s) will remain a sea-cret. Organizers Safe Harbor Records have will also be collecting clothing and school supplies for redistribution, something Mayhem would never have been caught Dead doing.