Abbath Credit: Bobby Talamine
King and Abbath Doom Occulta onstage with Abbath at Metro
King and Abbath Doom Occulta onstage with Abbath at MetroCredit: Bobby Talamine

On Friday, Metro hosted the Decibel Magazine Tour, headlined by Abbath—the new group fronted by Abbath Doom Occulta, former front man for iconic Norwegian black-metal band Immortal. The stacked bill also included Oakland barbarian-metal overlords High on Fire, Ohio blackened thrashers Skeletonwitch, and Swedish vampire impersonators Tribulation. Chicago photographer Bobby Talamine shot everybody but openers Green Death, who hail from what they call Death Moines, Iowa.

Coincidentally, I caught the same four bands Talamine photographed. I’ve never seen Immortal, but I still had a pretty good idea about what to expect from Abbath. Even if you’re not a metal fan, you’d probably recognize the man himself—on Ruthless Reviews’ widely circulated 2006 list of the Top 10 Most Ridiculous Black Metal Pics of All Time, he shows up twice. (Three times, if you count the header image where he’s carrying a battle-ax and his fly is open.) Or maybe you saw the goofy photo shoot he did last year during a day trip around London. 

How seriously does Abbath take himself? Well, here's a crappy phone pic I shot of a T-shirt for sale on this tour.
How seriously does Abbath take himself? Well, here’s a crappy phone pic I shot of a T-shirt for sale on this tour.Credit: Philip Montoro

The impression I get from Abbath’s hammy, over-the-top stage presence is that he’s play-acting and knows it—it’s endearing, which isn’t a word I often see used to describe a corpse-painted weirdo decked out head to toe in spiked black leather. Bassist King (known as King ov Hell during his tenure in Gorgoroth) seems dour by comparison, but he’s honestly just acting like a regular rock ‘n’ roller.

High on Fire sounded great, as they have consistently since front man and guitarist Matt Pike got his alcohol intake under control. Friday was probably at least my tenth time seeing them, so I’ve got little to add at this point—except that I could watch Des Kensel play drums all day. Fluid and authoritative, his stampeding style gives the band’s songs their unmistakable, blood-boiling fury.

I’m not the biggest Skeletonwitch fan, but I wanted to see new vocalist Adam Clemans, also of Wolvhammer, who came aboard a few months ago (founding front man Chance Garnette was fired in 2014 for a drinking problem). I’m also not a fan of people who wander around in erupting mosh pits with full drinks in their hands—I missed a couple songs of Skeletonwitch’s set while trying to rinse a spilled whiskey sour out of the sleeve of one of my favorite shirts. Clemans doesn’t have Garnette’s charisma, but the band’s riffs are still teeth-grittingly intense.

Tribulation were the band I really wanted to see, and their half-hour set was entirely too short. I loved the florid, gothic atmosphere in their blackened death metal, and I was into the “androgynous undead waif” look that guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén were working. It made me want to shave my beard, but I suspect I’m not skinny enough anymore to pull off that look. I never imagined I’d enjoy music that leans so heavily on guitar solos, but it helped that their self-indulgence took the form of languid, melancholy melodies rather than warp-speed fiddling. Hultén especially carried himself like a guy from a haunted house whose job it is to lure teenagers to a gory death while persuading them that it’d be a cool way to go. I’m a sucker for anybody who looks like he’s having that much fun onstage.

Talamine’s slideshow is a little short on pictures of High on Fire, but you know what those guys look like by now, right? In case it’s been a few years for you, they’ve all got facial hair now.

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.