The Empty Bottle hosted a special hometown show from atmospheric sludge metal band Minsk on Saturday night—a one-off concert featuring tons of local talent and one visitor from out-of-state. It was a late night of dark, heavy, powerful music.
Chicago metal mainstay Sanford Parker (formerly of Minsk as well as Nachtmystium, Buried at Sea and Behold! The Living Corpse) kicked things off with his solo darkwave project, Two From the Eye. Under a thick cloud of fog, Parker manipulated his electronics to create some tense, foreboding sounds that set the mood for the rest of the evening. It was powerful in the Empty Bottle’s small space and dingy atmosphere, but it’s still music that’s best suited for listening alone with good headphones on. Some of the mystery is taken away when you see a guy in a hoodie making the music on stage.
Self-described “dirge rock”/“space doom” four-piece Alma Negra came on next, providing a half-hour of catchy riffs to turn up the energy in the room. Frontwoman Erin Page is the clear star of the young band, though unfortunately her vocals were a bit muddled. She made up for it with her and Greg Hamilton’s guitar interplay, continuing a proud tradition of Chicago riffmasters. The band is still unsigned with one full-length under their belt. I can see them continuing to build their fanbase in this city and breaking out in the near future.
The top performers of the night may very well have been the only non-Chicagoans in the bunch, as Tennessee-based Generation of Vipers demolished the crowd in their support set. The trio’s mix of sludge and post-hardcore forces a visceral, physical reaction from the listener, especially with the downright evil tones coming out of Josh Holt’s guitar and Travis Kammeyer’s bass. Their music was straight-up hateful, which made for a jarring contrast when Holt spoke with incredible graciousness and humility before and after the set. He said this was the first Generation of Vipers show in Chicago in the past two or three years, but it was clear that they have a home here if they get out on the road more often in the future.
Finally Minsk took the stage a little before midnight. It’s not obvious on record, but the five-piece band splits vocal duties between the four non-drumming members, which makes for imposing stage presence as all of them stand in a line in front of microphones. When their slow-building metal kicks into high gear, the quad-vocal attack shows its true power, with bellows and screams coming from every direction over the crushing riffs, tribal drums and subtle keys. It’s an awe-inspiring effect.
Minsk took most of their set from last year’s The Crash and the Draw, a beast of an album that takes on new heights on a live setting. Despite the late hour, nobody in the crowd was in danger of nodding off. The music was too vital to allow for tiredness. One couple even found the mood to dance to the band’s performance—even toward the end of the set when they were clearly dealing with technical difficulties and not actually playing a song. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.
The technical issue came at an awkward time, right as Minsk were going into their closer, but they recovered gracefully with a pulverizing performance of “When the Walls Fell.” It was after 1 in the morning at this point, but the ending was enough of a high note that the show seemed like it could’ve gone on until sunrise. Proof positive that Minsk are one of the most important bands in Chicago’s crowded heavy music scene.