Now in its third year, the unholy conflagration of regional, national and international talent (including many bands that rarely, if ever, play North America) is quickly putting Messe des Morts on the map. While it doesn't yet compare to the scope of Baltimore's Maryland Deathfest, Messe des Morts is rapidly becoming a fest to watch, and the quality of the performances this year proves that making the pilgrimage north is worth it for black metal fans.
The Thursday (November 28) evening performances at Katacombes opened with a set by Quebecois black metallers Incandescence, whose ambient intros belied their black/thrash sound. Next, Fort Worth, IN's foul, blackened Ptahil brought the filth, with a bloated, putrescent guitar tone and wraith-like vocal performance. Vocalist/guitarist Luathca and bassist Mhaghnuis (who switched to drums) pulled double duty for the next set by Demonic Christ, who haven't released a full-length since 1995, and whose most recent activity was a contribution to the Demonic Battle Metal compilation in 1999. Recently reformed, with Dana Duffey once more fronting the project, their performance was stiff, but that couldn't conceal the bleak chill lurking under the years of atrophy. Their forthcoming second full-length, purportedly titled The Great Purge, is keenly anticipated.
Closing out the night was a set by Finnish blasphemers Baptism. Founding member Lord Sargofagian now plays all instruments and performs vocals on their recorded material, but the current live lineup features members of Deathbound, Deathchain, Horna and True Black Dawn. Their set writhed and growled, their guitar tone as thick as the stench of brimstone, but the song structures evoked something more introspective and bleak, unexpectedly cerebral.
The dark celebration of Messe des Morts moved to the larger Théâtre Plaza venue for the Friday night (November 29) performances, kicked off by two newcomers: nihilistic Quebec black metallers Acédia and Montreal two-piece Issfenn. After their exercises in minimalism, fellow Quebecois act Endless Horizon felt positively lush and excessive, with keyboards and chanting. They flirted with classical sounds without moving too deeply into symphonic black metal territory, merging rawness and intricacy. Next, Quebec-based Délétère performed their first-ever live set with confidence and demonic poise.
Things definitely took a turn for the darker after their brooding, blistering performance, as Throne of Katarsis took the stage wearing heavy corpse paint and drenched heavily in blood, which, judging by the smell of copper and meat, was real. Their tone was sumptuous and smouldering, and their circular, almost post-metal song structures extremely compelling, but their set was long — nearly a full hour — and the repetition became strained.
Merry Finnish demons Horna quickly re-established the energy in the room, frontman Shatraug's vocals issuing forth like the roar of a blast furnace. Their set evoked the early moments of a volcanic eruption, the sky raining ash and fire. If Horna were a volcano, then Norway's Taake were an ice storm. Hoest's vocals were gelid, the tone of their relentless riffs like vast sheets of ice, leaving the audience pierced and frozen.
The third and final evening (November 30) of this malevolent gathering again took place at Théâtre Plaza, with experimental act Existe unleashing their post-black metal oddities and Au-delà des Ruines (who recently formed out of the ashes of dissolved project Culte d'Ébola) playing their first set, which was equal parts blasphemy and sorcery. Next, Ontario's Megiddo cast a darkening pall over the venue with a hostile, heretical set. The solo project of Chorazaim, the spell-caster was joined live by members of Sepulchre, Legion666 and Sylvus for a thrash-tinged, throbbing set.
France's Belenos were the dark horses of the entire fest, but delivered the best set, bringing an expected surge of warmth with their Celtic-inspired, pagan black metal. Performing for the first time in North America, they moved from an acerbic intensity, as virulent as acid eating into glass, to winding, winsome passages that positively ached. At a festival defined by violence and battery, their set stood out as genuinely moving. Finland's Sargeist quickly re-established the status quo with a galloping, grinding set — all blistering heat and relentlessness. The jewel of their set was a searing performance of "Black Fucking Murder," which got the crowd screaming along.
Norway's Tsjuder served as the festival's capstone, with a churning maelstrom of a set that sucked down and washed away all the destruction preceding it. With wallowing song structures and infectious, diseased riffs, their command of the stage and ballistic energy made for an ideal closing set. For those who have slept on Messe des Morts in the past, this year proved the festival is only gaining momentum.