By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Tampa Senior Correspondent
Venue: The Orpheum, Ybor City/Tampa, Florida–May 9th, 2022
Bands/Websites or Facebook/Social Links:
Thanks to Ybor’s PITA parking, I missed Stormruler, which from what I’ve heard, is a shame. Wasted time hunting for parking where I wouldn’t get gouged. Getting harder to find all the time, apparently they are doing too much business!
But enough about that, let’s talk about VALE OF PNATH! The first band I saw hit the stage running – and began the biggest mystery of the night! More on that later, VALE OF PNATH (pronounced “Noth”) “…is a vast pit in H.P. Lovecraft’s underworld. The vale is filled with a mountain-sized heap of bones and Night-gaunts often carry helpless victims to the vale, where they are left to die.” (from Encyclopaedia Metallum)
Well, the only pit I saw was the mosh pit, but the Ken Sorceron-led vocals meshed well with Vance Valenzuela’s guitar riffs and Andy Torres’ bass lines, pounded together by Eric W. Brown’s drumbeats. Purveyors of technical and melodic death-metal from Denver, CO, they energized the crowd in preparation for their Ghost Bath. I’ll have more to say about Vale of Pnath‘s mystery later.
Ghost Bath self-describes as “depressive suicidal black metal on Nuclear Blast,” and are easily identified by their blackened eyes. Although the band originally claimed that they were from Chongqing, China, it has been revealed in a 2015 interview with Noisey that they’re actually an American band based in Minot, North Dakota. According to the band, “Ghost Bath” refers to “the act of committing suicide by submerging in a body of water.” Current lineup includes Nameless: Vocals (lead), Guitars, Piano (2012-present); Josh Jaye: Bass (2016-present); Jason Hirt: Drums (2016-present) (I wonder if he’s related to famous trumpeter Al Hirt?); Tim Church: Guitars (2016-present); and John Olivier: Guitars (2016-present). Formed in 2012, Ghost Bath didn’t kill the mood, but kept the flow going for Abigail Williams!
Now we get to the legendary bands, starting with Borknagar. Founded in 1995, the band never even recorded a demo; they simply asked for a record contract on Malicious Records and were granted their request based on the strength of their lineup, an all-star group of black metal musicians. Borknagar‘s music instantly gained fans and received positive press attention. Their first album’s lyrics were in Norwegian, but consequent album lyrics are almost exclusively in English. Current lineup includes original founder Øystein G. Brun: rhythm and lead guitar (1995–present), ICS Vortex (Simen Hestnæs): lead and backing vocals (1997–2000, 2010–present), bass (1998–2000, 2010–present); Lazare (Lars A. Nedland): keyboard, backing and lead vocals (1999–present); Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow: drums (2018–present); and Jostein Thomassen: lead and rhythm guitar (2019–present). They’ve recorded 11 albums to date. Their musical style has been described as progressive metal, black metal, folk metal, Viking metal, and avant-garde metal.
Finally, we heard the headliners: Rotting Christ, a Greek black metal band formed in 1987. They are noted for being one of the first black metal bands within this region, as well as a premier act within the European underground metal scene. They are also responsible for creating the signature Greek black metal sound prevalent in the early 1990s. Rotting Christ was founded as a grindcore act. They released a series of demos and splits with local bands during their rehearsal era. During this period, the group gradually altered their sound with influence from proto-black metal bands, and in the process became one of the inaugurators of black metal. Their 1989 demo, Satanas Tedeum, presented a crossover between black metal and grindcore. In 1991, the band released Passage to Arcturo, their career-breaking EP. Following were 13 full-length albums, several singles, videos, and innumerable concert and festival appearances. Rotting Christ was one of the first bands announced to perform the Barge to Hell festival, which is a metal-themed cruise organized by Ultimate Metal Cruises. As of 2022, Rotting Christ has been around for 35 years and is one of the longest-running bands within the black metal genre.
Over the years, the group has faced controversy due to their name and gained international media attention in November 1999 during the 2000 United States Presidential Primaries for Republican Nomination, when candidate/Christian conservative Gary Bauer accused the band of being “anti-Catholic”, among other things. In response to Bauer’s criticism, Sakis Tolis wrote: “Living in (so-called) democratic societies, I think everyone should have the right to call religions as he/she wants. We in fact simply believe they are “rotting”! We are not a “satanic-crusader” type of band but rather one of the many bands that represent the dark side in nowadays Metal music.”
They also have had to cancel some shows; once in May 2005, when Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine threatened to refuse to play at a Greek concert if Rotting Christ were on the bill. In response to their forced cancellation, Tolis noted: “I didn’t expect something like that from Dave Mustaine, because, you know, he’s supposed to be metal — you know, ‘metal band,’ all metal … I just feel sorry for him and for every new Christian with new ideas, because we think Christianity is the worst thing to happen in human history. This is a well-organized trick in order to control society, so when I see someone that’s very much Christian, that’s full of the system, I feel very sorry for him because he’s not free.” Nuclear Assault and former Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker defended Rotting Christ and criticized Dave Mustaine’s actions, as did Nevermore‘s Warrel Dane, whose bands appeared on Mustaine’s “Gigantour” in 2005. Dane added: “Everybody is free to believe anything he wants to; I just think that Dave misunderstood the whole subject. I have met the guys from Rotting Christ and I don’t think that they are Satanists or something. I think that Dave overreacted on this.” When playing in Malta, a country which in its constitution declares itself as Roman Catholic, trouble from the Church and other Catholic groups ensued when an unknown person stuck a Rotting Christ flyer to a church door. The band was allowed to play eventually even though they had to change venue.
In April 2018, Rotting Christ were scheduled to play in Georgia (the country, not the state). Upon arriving in Tbilisi, founding members Sakis and Themis Tolis were arrested by Georgian authorities under suspicion of terrorism due to their band name, as reported by an announcement from the band’s label, Season of Mist. They had their passports and cell phones confiscated and were detained in prison, without being permitted legal representation or contact with the Greek Embassy for 12 hours. Afterwards, they were informed by their lawyers that the two were included in a “list of unwanted people for reasons of national security” that labeled them as “Satanists” and “suspects of terrorism”. The two were eventually released, after arrangements made by the band’s other members in collaboration with the local promoter, “who involved legal experts, journalists and activists in Georgia”. The band was allowed to perform their scheduled concert and left for their next destination, Armenia, without hassle.
And people wonder why non-believers oppose religion, especially involving government! Fortunately, they haven’t been subjected to any death penalties! Founding members and brothers Sakis Tolis: lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, bass (studio only) (1987–present); and Themis Tolis: drums (1987–present) are still kicking ass as the front and backbone of the band, while Kostas “Spades” Heliotis: bass, backing vocals (2019–present) and Kostis Foukarakis: lead guitar, backing vocals (2019–present) are keeping the legacy alive, interacting with the crowd and keeping everyone hyped!