I’ve been to many parts of the world, mostly through Europe and Asia, but to my surprise, I’ve never had more difficulty getting by with only the English and Spanish languages than I did in Gdańsk, Poland. This is largely because most cities I’ve visited have been more appealing to tourists, so these areas are frequently fluent in English to financially gain from the tourism market. But Gdańsk isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot – not like Krakow and Warsaw anyway. The characters in the language are consistent with the Latin alphabet, which means I at least succeeded with pattern recognition for things like taking the trains and buses around, but the difficulty comes when realizing that many people here do not speak English, or at least not well enough or with enough confidence to help me figure things out when I had a question. And translating questions to Polish didn’t help me much either since many Polish words have multiple consonants in a row without any vowels between them, and so it is much more difficult to discern how they are pronounced.
In Poland, the currency is the złoty. One złoty is worth about 25 cents. So although Polish money is worth much less than American dollars or English pounds, you’ll find that most things in Poland are inexpensive, even after conversions. People seemed as financially stable as any country in Europe that I have visited, and the buildings, at least in Gdańsk, seemed well-kept and architecturally beautiful. Food in Gdańsk is cheap, as it was similarly priced to England or cheaper, which is already much cheaper than what can be found in the States. Specifically, I’d say that Poland is especially underrated for their incredible pastries and sweet confections.
There were a few other things that were atypical to me which I’ll note, some of which I observed at the venue. First, in the stalls in the bathrooms were signs to explain not to throw pills and other things of the sort down the toilet. This environmental consciousness is consistent with what I experienced across the rest of Gdańsk, as households and public places filter their waste matter into four categories: general waste, organic waste, plastic, and paper. Gdańsk is one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to since it seems pretty consistent throughout all aspects of culture that people are contributing to keeping it clean. Poland also has especially clean tap water. This brings me to my next experience at the venue. I went up to the bartender to get a glass of water, as it was plenty warm on this occasion. Tipping is different in each country, and in general, tipping isn’t a necessity or expected in most of Europe. According to the internet, it is not unusual to round up to the nearest złoty coin increment and then say “dziękuję” (which means “thank you”) after paying a server or bartender to let them know they can keep the change. To my surprise, once I handed her the five złoty coin for a four złoty water, she told me that she would keep the change. This was, of course, no trouble, but I’m not sure how typical it is for someone to volunteer their own tip, rather than having the customer offer it. At restaurants, I left a tip without being prompted to do so.
Now that I’ve given some background on Poland, let’s get on to the main event: the metal show that is the focus of this review that took place on August 30th, 2019. While I was in Poland, I saw that there was an underground metal show taking place. The headliner was the Polish death metal band Trauma, who have been around since 1988, and are legends within the Polish death metal scene, but for some reason have received limited exposure around the rest of the world. The venue, the Klub Metro, was only a quick train ride from where I was staying, and shockingly it cost less than one American dollar for me to get there by train. Entry to the show was similarly cheap, costing less than eight U.S. dollars (or since my money was converted from pounds, it only cost £6). This is easily the least I’ve paid anywhere in the world for a show of this quality.
The Klub Metro is a small, intimate music venue with superb sound quality. To the left side of the stage are a series of tables with seating, with walls depicting outlines of music legends like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. A burning candle sat in the center of each table, which contributed to a comfortable ambiance. As is always the case at metal shows, these tables were also littered with ads for other shows, but what was unusual, was the tiny size of these flyers. I hadn’t previously seen such adorable business-card sized flyers. The area in front of the stage was spacious and flat for a venue this size, with plenty of room for close-quarters moshing.
When I entered the venue, I received a yellow entry wristband, and I walked over to the merch area. I immediately met Trauma’s lead guitarist Jarosław “Mister” Misterkiewicz, who had been with the band since their inception in 1988. I inquired to him about their merchandise, but I suspect he had difficulty understanding my English, so he called over bassist Tomasz Myśliński. Tomasz was fluent in English and very cordial. Trauma had every kind of merch you can imagine, from special edition boxed sets to mugs, shirts, and patches. I bought a shirt and CD, which came to 100 złoty (about $25). Jarosław was also kind enough to consent to me taking a photo with him. I would have requested the same of Tomasz, but I hadn’t realized he was their bass player until later in the night since he isn’t listed as a member of Trauma on Encyclopedia Metallum. I did some deeper digging after the show and found that Tomasz played in three other Polish death metal bands: Excrucio, Ajdath, and Neyra.
There were three bands, each of which I’ll describe in the order they played. It was an eclectic show, as each group played a different subgenre of metal, this was reflected in the audience, which wore a mix of shirts including Voivod, Pestilence, Vader, and Doom. Some people present weren’t wearing metal attire at all. While there was much diversity in the metal crowd, what wasn’t diverse was the ethnic background of participants, as my Mexican American girlfriend seemed to be the only person of color in attendance (although this was consistent with what I saw across the rest of Gdańsk). There were, however, plenty of women in attendance, so I can confirm that their scene isn’t entirely male-dominated.
I didn’t know anything about Earthfall as I entered into the concert, other than that they identify themselves as a “metal” band. This, combined with the fact that frontman Tomasz Kulewicz was wearing a Korn shirt, made me apprehensive about what I was about to hear. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t know why they don’t pick a more accurate description for their band’s sound since “metal” doesn’t describe them well. The sound often felt like something out of the Swedish Gothenburg scene, with many riffs sounding like they could have been pulled directly off of some classic Dark Tranquility tracks. Besides that, they had more movements in their music than the aforementioned act and even incorporated some breakdowns into their melodic structures. They had a lot of emphasis on chugging in an almost djent-like way underneath their melodies, but it all came together in a much more cohesive structure than it sounds on paper. This was made all the better by the precision battery of drummer Szymon Wyrwicz. The vocal approach is varied, incorporating a wide range of guttural approaches, but I admittedly enjoyed them more live than on the recordings I checked out after the show.
The second band identify as somewhere between crust punk and grindcore. It was clear to me that they had a distinct fanbase that didn’t have a lot of overlap with the other metal bands performing, which was illustrated well by a man I saw in a hoodie that curmudgeonly sat in his hoodie in the back during Earthfall’s performance, only to strip off all his shirts and wildly flail in the pit during Death Crusade. It was clear to me that Death Crusade had a strong and dedicated fanbase here, so if you like crust punk/grind, you should check them out. They had a much more punk aesthetic, with frontman Kalka shirtless for most of the set, spewing out guttural vocals while his black skirt fluttered about. The band had a number of sound issues, which I believe Kalka made jokes about, but I can’t be sure since I couldn’t understand a word of the Polish stage banter all night. This band certainly wasn’t as precise as Earthfall or Trauma, but of course, this style of music should have a focus on energy over precision. It honestly wasn’t quite my thing, as each riff was one measure played exactly the same for four to twelve total measures consecutively before moving onto the next riff. And these were all very simple riffs, with only a handful of notes at maximum. The drums also maintained a steady pace, never quite getting as fast as I’d expect, and always feeling really loose. It might be that I just didn’t “get” the band, so check them out if this is your style of jam. I did enjoy their recordings more when I listened after the show, which are a lot tighter than the live performance I saw.
Last but not least, were local legends Trauma, who’ve been playing death metal together for more than thirty years (part of which they did under the name ‘Thanatos’). Their passion for death metal was clear, not only from their performance but from their merchandise too, as much of it had the words “Death Metal Forever” incorporated into the designs. After a meticulous soundcheck, the audience was treated to ten tracks of intense death metal music. Drummer Arkadiusz Sinica had been in the band since the beginning, and he was no worse for wear. He was tight and intense and easily treated us to the fastest and most technical drum barrage of the night. The other major highlight was watching the guitar playing of founding member Jarosław Misterkiewicz, who incorporates melody into his brutal onslaught of riffs. What really sets Trauma apart from other death metal bands is Misterkiewicz’s solos, which show no similarity to the quick divebombs of someone like Kerry King. Rather, these are longer, more expressive solos, not unlike what you would expect from King Diamond’s Andy LaRocque. Longer solos are such a rarity in death metal, so it was great fun watching Jarosław play through them each with a theatrical joy. At times he’d throw his guitar above his head, he’d play parts with one hand while he threw up the horns with the other, or at one point, he called over the cameraman so they could grab some shots of the upcoming tapping part. Trauma are a cohesive unit, that clearly share a passion for death metal even three decades in. Even new live members, like bassist Tomasz Myśliński, masterfully wielded their instruments. If he is to become a recording member on the next Trauma release, I hope they let his bass playing have some moments to shine (but as a bass player, I’ve always been a fan of the occasional bass solo and lead).
My favorite types of shows are small, intimate underground shows, and that’s what I got with this show at Klub Metro. I got a vibe for several metal scenes here, and although not cohesive, it was clear that fans are supporting the bands that they enjoy here. The show was well attended, and the fans were passionate in their displays of frantic headbanging and moshing. Poland might be a long way from the United States, but I would highly recommend incorporating some Trauma into your death metal mix. And certainly, if they ever grace out shores, go out and see these veterans of Polish death metal.