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The Beauty in Black: A Symphonic Metal Epiphany

March 20, 2012

Here I was in Sao Paulo yesterday doing the work that most romanticize, some demonize, and the reality of which few would recognize.  I was in a taxi returning from a failed quest to find cheddar cheese when I looked out the window and what did I see?  Brilliant black and white posters shouting “Therion – Outubro 26.”

An immediate aside:  Roughly one month ago, I happened upon a new music option of which I had previously been completely unaware.  Variously called “romantic death metal,” “melodic doom,” and “symphonic black metal,” the sub-genre mixes crunching heavy metal bass, guitar, and drums with operatic vocals, pseudo-classical piano, violin, cello, and even, at times, oboe.  It differentiates itself from mainstream death metal – for which I have little-to-no fondness – partly by replacing the shouted, gruff, satanic vocal style with angelic, choral, and often female beautifulness.  The violin/cello interludes – especially those coupled with a background of grinding industrial rhythms – also add to its attraction.  Via some internet sampling, I had been dabbling of late with – and treadmill walking to – the sounds of three bands in particular: Haggard, My Dying Bride, and Therion(!).

So, in what seemed to me to be an incredible twist of fate, I was amazed to learn that Swedish rockers Therion were not only in Brazil, but were to perform in Sao Paulo that very evening.  Of course, being a risk averse old geezer, thoughts of actually seeking out and attending the concert were quickly overwhelmed by laziness – the posters didn’t actually say where the concert would be; how was I to find it? – wussiness – maybe it would be far away in a bad neighborhood and I’d be assaulted, or worse – and insecurity – I’m a pathetic old fart, young Brazilian rockers would laugh at me.  I returned to my solitary hotel room for a late afternoon of room service and old movies (The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel ).

But wait, as long as I have my computer in front of me, why not check the internet to see if I can find out where exactly the concert will be held.  What the hell?!  The venue is only FIVE BLOCKS from my hotel.  That changes things.  No longer do I face concern about finding a late night taxi to return home.  If victimized by crime and left naked in the street, I would only have to streak a few blocks to return to the clothes, cash, and tranquility left behind in the room.  Moreover, if the crowd were to prove hostile to an aging gringo rocker or if tickets were no longer available, there would be little lost by just walking the five minutes back home.  I’m going for it!

In what true believers might view as divine intervention, I happened to pack a black Utah Jazz t-shirt for use in the hotel exercise room.  First time in months that I had not opted for the usual gray DC United shirt.  I found that by turning the Jazz shirt inside out and pulling off the tag, it passed for simple black “goth.”  Unfortunately, tan dockers and white Nike sneakers were the only options for the rest of the outfit, but hey, the point was solely to avoid standing out vice the more difficult – and likely impossible – fitting in.  I dumped all credit cards, extra cash, and most ID into the in-room safe, uncombed my dork hair, and set out.

Five blocks and 16 dollars later, I found myself standing near the back of the chairless 1000-person venue doing some people-watching in between glances at the two video screens alongside the stage that were showing TV commercials for everything from airlines to cell phones to DirecTV.  All my fellow humans – I loved and felt one with all of them by now – were dressed in black.  A small few went all out with the white vampire goth makeup, lacy black garments, black leather pants, long coats, and, of course, tall black leather boots.  Most however sported the same black T-shirts and normal dude pants that I had chosen for the evening.  While clearly beyond the median age, I was most certainly not the oldest.  A few retired-looking attendees created within me fond memories of my own grandma taking my sister to an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert way back when.  I was clearly entering a happiness zone.

The band took the stage on time at 2200 hours.  Two guitars, bass, and drums were accompanied by three vocalists; female soprano, female contralto(?), and a male baritone – but not gruff – voice.  Band leader Mr. Johnsson seemed sincerely happy to find me and my roughly 700 friends in attendance and welcomed us enthusiastically to the show.  The loud, two-hour set, including two encores, was just plain excellent.  Piano and organ sounds appeared to be all on tape – which was a bummer – but the guitars did a surprisingly good job of mimicking the original violins and cellos, as I could personally judge from the two Therion songs I had heard before.  I floated into the heavens on the wings of sound created by our two female death mongers dressed in their long black gowns; their voices were damn hell gorgeous.  I banged my head.

As the concert ended and I made my way the hell out of Dodge, I dropped the equivalent of 7 dollars on a Therion South America Tour 2001 black (obviously) t-shirt.  While working my way back to my lodging through empty, semi-residential streets, I smiled.  I had seized the day.  I had gotten off my butt.  I had sought life.  I had rocked.

Next morning as I sit contemplating last night’s events, I glance out onto the balcony to see my clothes blowing in the breeze in a likely futile attempt to remove the cigarrette stink.  I am at peace.  I miss my kids and wife.  I await the moment of my return flight to Brasilia and home.  I look forward to in-depth discussion of Dragonball Z and Harry Potter with my boy.  I pine to listen to my daughter read Dr. Seuss aloud.  I wish to hug long my postal service spouse.  I am happy.

And so, the year 2001…  Among the various monumental and fleeting experiences so far this year, two stand out for me at the moment of this typing.  While they may seem total opposites when viewed from outside, the inner peace they brought are the same.  The temporary connections with the universe these two days in the life spawned cannot be differentiated.  These outwardly incompatible moments of internal calm and understanding were: (1) sitting on a lonesome windblown high-altitude hillside outside Huancavelica, Peru, contemplating some Andean folk pasturing their sheep, and (2) closing my eyes and being sucked into heavy metal Valhalla by the roaring guitars and vampire angels of Therion on a Sao Paulo Friday night.

– Sao Paulo, 27 October 2001

From → Music

  1. Reblogged this on msamba.

  2. Great story, well told. Don’t know how I missed this one, Vic. Just lovely.

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