Ballroom venues and similar establishments can either serve as a wonderful complement to a death metal set or create a jarring disparity between the show and its atmosphere. There is, of course, the third option, where you don’t give a shit about how fancy of an environment you’re in and simply watch the show that you paid to see. Still, for those that can’t ignore what’s in their peripheral vision for even a minute, I am happy to report that the Warsaw in Brooklyn, New York has proven itself strangely compatible with old-school death metal. Two massive paintings take up the walls on either side of the stage, providing the venue with the type of classical grandiosity that one should expect from the mysterious and terrifying likes of Incantation and Morbid Angel.
That being said, aside from the decor of the venue that I assume they had nothing to do with, Incantation played as straightforward and no-nonsense of a show that you could expect from a band with titles like “Christening the Afterbirth.” The mix was phenomenal, and that is one thing that nobody should ever take for granted in a live environment, especially given the claustrophobic and delicate nature of the band’s “cavernous” style. It would be far too easy for something like the bass to slip under the radar and become lost in a sea of noise, robbing the blasphemous soundscape of a crucial element. Fortunately, the band and everyone working with them on that unusually warm December night proved competent. The cherry on top was the setlist; technicality and stage presence need to be considered in every live performance, but for a band as old as Incantation, so does the choice of songs. Incantation, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, made the wisest decision possible by including highlights from all across their discography, finishing off with one of the strongest tracks they’ve ever written: “Impending Diabolical Conquest.”
Watain took the opposite approach with their performance and opted for a busy and theatrical set. They came out to the stage with nothing but firelight, carefully igniting a series of candles as they walked out for the audience. There was a lot going on, including a splatter or two of pig’s blood that went all over the mosh pit, but the music was the least interesting part of it all. If the audience’s reactions were anything to go by, though, this type of set is exactly what the fans were hoping for.
But it was Morbid Angel, the headliner of the tour, that struck the best balance between stage presence and musical power. The band only recently began playing songs from their first three albums again (early 2019, as far as I know), which should be a selling point for their future tours all by itself. But beyond that, they had wind blowing their hair back on a stage littered with spooky occult decorations, all the while keeping their focus on the death metal that everyone had gathered to hear in the first place. It was admittedly a little strange to hear Steve Tucker’s voice behind tracks from Altars of Madness, Blessed Are the Sick, and Covenant, but I’d take an alternate version of the classics over their absence on any day. Just like Incantation, Morbid Angel has a long history of albums worth celebrating, and they made sure to craft a setlist showcasing every era (except one, which should be obvious) to the masses.
This tour demonstrated what fans of the bands have known for years: all three of them are experienced and professional entertainers that are more than capable of nailing the high expectations that their legacies come with.