Union Pool is a short train ride from my spot in Brooklyn, but admittedly I don’t get there often. I am not super cool and Ghost Cult is not “hipster important” enough in the Brooklyn music scene to have any kind of clout to get us invited to stuff there. Still, when a band as important as Immortal Bird comes through town, I get my ass to the place on time. Not only that the band is touring behind their amazing recent album Thrive On Neglect, out now on one of the premier labels in 2019, 20 Buck Spin. Coupled with the strong openers Glorious Depravity and Concussion, it meant it was going to be a sick time in an intimate venue.
I haven’t actually been to this venue in a while since I saw High Reeper shred the place earlier in 2018. An innocuous entrance to the dark bar a block off the main bustling strip beckons you in with some signage and little else. In between the bar and the room with the stage, there is an outdoor lounge/smoking area that is really fresh. The performance space is small, but not too small. Solid sounds and stage lights framing the stage like an old-fashioned vaudeville theater. This immediately reminded me for some reason of the opening of The Muppet Show, which I never missed as a kid. Tonight there was no Statler and Waldorf harshing the talent on stage, just supportive fans.
Crust laden death metallers Concussion opened things up and have been around for ages. They were always a strong band on the scene, and they were particularly “on” tonight. I felt definite old-school grooves and occasional gritty riffs vibes from their tunes. Glorious Depravity played next and I know them by rep, but this was my first time seeing them and they were great. They were really strong and tight live and thus made them a band I am going to pay closer attention to going forward.
Immortal Bird set up pretty quick and leader Rae Amitay greeted and thanked the crowd for coming out. After mentioning they would play all of Thrive on Neglect, you can hear an audible chatter filled with glee. The album has been embraced by both fans of the group and the press as a natural progression from their previous album, Empress/Abscess, and so we were in for a treat.
As the first notes of opening track ‘Anger Breeds Contempt’ the sound emanating from the stage with were anything but a throwback. Modern, technical, and heavy but not for the sake of heaviness, but purposeful. The track ebbed and flowed, echoing Rae’s harrowed shrieks and deep gutturals. The song sets the tone for the entire album to come, and makes for a kickass opener. A “kitchen sink” approach of prog, grindcore, Technical Death Metal, and even a momentary Primus-like part that made me smile. Rather than Frankenstein together parts as other bands do, these flowed seamlessly one to the next and made sense.
‘House of Anhedonia’ has one of my favorite musical passages of all of 2019, as the impossibly fast Blackened Death Metal blastbeats spit lava levels of intensity at you while a slickly textured guitar part runs counterpoint. Rae just wails vocally, at one point contorting her body in pained movements along with her words and phrasing. None of the songs feels too long or repetitive. The band just pummeled the crowd sonically the entire set, and looking around everyone was entranced by the performance. Other than another brief word of thanks before the final song, there were no real pauses or explanations of song meanings. The band lets the music speak through them. This album and the tracks contained are beautiful and haunting, an example of master musicians performing a masterclass at how to lay down grooves, odd time signatures, how to build drama with few dynamics, and the concussive force of music as a way to expel personal shit. It’s even more powerful live than on the album, and if you saw this tour, consider yourself lucky since the band is not one to repeat steps.
Having followed Immortal Bird from their earliest days with the Akrasia EP over six years ago, it was been a joy to watch as this group, and especially its leader continues to evolve.
WORDS BY KEITH CHAHCKES
PHOTOS BY DANTE TORRIERI OF USELESS REBEL IMAGING