After you walk into Saint Vitus, a bar located in the northernmost part of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, it doesn’t take long to register the overarching theme of the place. Beer-and-shot combinations are named for members of the clergy; a space between the bar and the performance space houses rows of votive candles; and beside the stand where a guy sells buns loaded with toppings from tofu to pulled pork, a small altar has been erected. The bar’s distinctive logo — a skull housing a single, all-seeing eye, looks out from a position behind the stage; it is, dare I say, iconic. That motif extends as far as the bar’s website, where section headings point visitors to pages with titles like “Offerings,” “Penance,” and “Sacraments.”
Sacrament is also the name of the record label started by bar co-owner Arty Shepherd and David Castillo, who directs events for the bar. (Castillo and Shepherd also play in the group Primitive Weapons, whose second album will be Sacrament’s next release.) Their debut release? Known Flood, the first full-length album from the instrumental metal trio Sannhet. (Their name is pronounced “sonnet,” more or less.) The four bands that played to a packed house at Saint Vitus on Friday night, for the Known Flood release party, delivered a strong summary of the current state of metal in New York, from riffs that evoked ghosts of long-defunct cult labels to boundary-pushing fusions of sounds and images.
Theologian took to the stage first, standing before racks and consoles of electronic equipment. Visually, they could just as easily have stood in a guitar/bass/drums configuration — and there were, in fact, some drums on stage that played a role later in their set. But their sound went in a different direction: though a microphone was sometimes picked up and screamed into, the tone was far more meditative. Over the course of two long pieces, the trio took anticipated ideas of musical aggression and twisted them, stretching them into unexpected configurations, some bliss-inducing, others more nerve-wracking. Scattershot programmed beats in the first half of the set gave way to steady, relentless drumming in the second. Behind the trio, a video projection evoked generative art over the course of the first half and a slow disintegration into static for the second. It was an all-encompassing experience, and it served as a notice that some of the night’s visceral charge would come from unexpected places.
After Cleanteeth set up their equipment, there was a moment where things seemed about to happen — yet no music was played. One member noted that “we’re waiting for our guitar player.” He paused, in a kind of verbal nod. “We’ve got another one,” he said. By my count, there were four on stage, creating a harsh, technically proficient, and sludgy sound. Of the five members on stage, three contributed vocals — an approach that was sometimes (intentionally) cacophonous, and sometimes jarringly melodic. Partway through their set, the club’s air conditioning kicked in; by the time Sannhet took the stage, the club was experiencing basement-show levels of humidity.
The three members of Sannhet played in a relatively straight line, at the edge of the stage. They opened with a dirty-sounding riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on an Amphetamine Reptile release in the early ’90s; before long, it had given way to sheets of noise and a pounding rhythm — at one point, I heard someone standing behind me exclaim, “Holy shit!” Video projections of flickering and flight obscured the group; the clarity that would emerge over the course of their set did so from the music that they played, rather than a visual aspect. Their set was a taut one, occasionally playing with false endings, and pushing their drums into a relentlessly visceral place.
San Francisco’s Deafheaven closed out the night. Vocalist George Clarke, who seemed equally willing to glower menacingly as he was to hand the mic into the crowd, resembled no one quite so much as the Grant Morrison-created comic-book antihero Quentin Quire. His presence, half kiss-off and half embrace, seemed as much derived from hardcore’s antisocial aspects as it was from its humanistic one. Behind him, the remaining four members of the band calmly got to work making intensely powerful music; the set encompassed music from their 2011 album Roads to Judah as well as their cover of Mogwai’s “Punk Rock/Cody,” which is relatively faithful in its music but placed Clarke’s aggrieved scream in place of the original’s intimate whisper.
Deafheaven’s set closed with a new song, a relatively triumphant number titled “Dream House.” Was the title (and the relative beauty of the song), perhaps, a nod to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s installation of the same name? It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that this was the case. The night was characterized by the breakdown of musical parameters — both within bands’ sets and from artist to artist. If this night’s bill was indicative of Sacrament’s overall aesthetic, it suggests a promising start to this new label.