The theatre walls trembled to the resounding sound of the Swedish ensemble.
Words by Rohan Abeckett, photos by Heaviest of Art at the Fonda Theatre.
An evening of heavy artistic creativity was on full display on a gloomy Tuesday night in LA, and the crew from Heaviest of Art were on hand to document what went down. Containing an admirably diverse assembly artists, the night was a roller-coaster of styles and sounds. It did not disappoint.
Starting the night off was local heavyweights INTRONAUT, who after having received an incredible reception to their latest album Fluid Existential Inversions (review), had a healthy crowd on hand as soon as they kicked into the jagged intro riffs of album opener Cubensis. The four piece act brought their newest material to the live setting in fine fashion. This may sound like a baseline expectation, but given the complexity of these compositions, the ever shifting time signatures (not just within a song itself, but across each individual band member at times), and the dueling lead vocal harmonies, each cut was executed flawlessly.
Across a brief 30 minute, 4 song set, the band drew entirely from their latest album and admirably managed to hit all the varied stylistic elements that make Fluid Existential Inversions so engaging. At times, every head in the crowd might’ve been moving to a different beat, a nod to both the warm reception of the material and a physical manifestation of the underlying complexity of the band’s sound. Here’s hoping the next time they grace their hometown stage, it is in a headliner capacity with a chance to explore more from both this latest album & their impressive back catalogue. INTRONAUT sounded great and were a perfect way for the evening to commence with the below slideshow to show for it.
Taking the stage next was another hometown local favorite, EMMA RUTH RUNDLE. Anticipation was high for this set, as EMMA has embarked on a solo run across this tour, choosing to give her material a stripped down and reimagined version of her dark, moody compositions. Not one to shy away from a challenge, this was a bold step. Even before taking the stage, one had to admire the courage and vulnerability of an artist choosing to put themselves and their material in such a position of contrast to the other acts performing either side of her. And so it was without backing band, elaborate lighting design or distracting stage props that EMMA graced the stage and slowly strummed her way into Living With The Black Dog, a tale of anguish drenched in reverb.
She stayed with material from her first album, with the powerful Shadows of My Name next. For those in attendance perhaps unfamiliar with EMMA’s work, it was with this track that she quickly demonstrated the power of placement on this bill. From the melodic finger-picking intro verse, she slowly builds tension before powerfully opening her vocal range and with one single line “I lay back in salt” - she completely freezes the room. Her vocal phrasing and tone carry such emotion and intensity that she commanded and held the attention of the building throughout the course of her near 45-minute set. Reaching to material from 2016’s Marked For Death next, including the title track and forceful Protection, EMMA maintained poise & power as she balanced the contrasts between her softer moments and her soaring choruses.
As the set drew to a close, she chose to end with arguably her most emotional & painful piece Real Big Sky, a ballad that is both heartbreaking & healing at once and proves a fitting conclusion to a truly stunning performance that was brave, raw and uplifting. EMMA RUTH RUNDLE is poised to take on a hectic schedule over the next few months with her Roadburn curation, RED SPAROWES (brief??) reunion and finishing work on new material. If tonight’s performance was any indication, she’ll have no trouble meeting these challenges head on.
CULT OF LUNA have been toiling away at their own brand of heavy, slow build, atmospheric post-metal for now almost twenty years and are no strangers to the LA audience. This tour is in support of their 2019 album A Dawn To Fear, the first record under the CULT OF LUNA moniker in 6 years following 2013’s breakthrough Vertikal. The group have remained relentless in their creative pursuits during this time, notably on 2016’s boundary pushing collaboration with Julie Christmas on the highly acclaimed album Mariner. So it was with high anticipation that the assembled Fonda crowd awaited the Swedes to see how the latest material would translate in the live setting. And from the outset, it was immediately clear to visually witness the strides this band has taken.
Outside of their 2017 appearance at the Psycho Las Vegas fest, the last time CoL played an LA club show was at The Roxy in 2015, a shoebox in comparison to the Fonda Theatre. During these past 5 years, the band has impressively evolved its stage production and overall live experience, adding a level of grandiosity and atmosphere that is perfectly aligned with its epic wall of sound. So even as the first opening bars of The Silent Man began to build, it was immediately apparent to all that this performance was going to push creative boundaries visually as much as musically.
For this incarnation of the band in the live arena, CULT OF LUNA have swelled to a monstrous 7-piece, featuring a 3-guitar/dual-drum attack, ably supported by dynamic bass and keys. With the assistance of an incredible mix & booming PA system inside the Fonda (LA’s best perhaps??), the wall of sound emanating from the stage was extraordinary. The presence of the two kits on stage really drove home the pounding rhythms to Finland (from 2006’s Somewhere Along the Highway) and heaving Nightwalkers off their latest release. The band really hit their stride as they launched into The Weapon, which certain members of LA crowded greeted with reciprocal circle-pit enthusiasm. Leave it to the LA faithful to be able open up a circle pit to the light & shade dynamics of a band like CULT OF LUNA!
For the 90-minute plus set, the band explored all the dynamic elements that make their music so powerful, and weren’t afraid to slow things down and reach into their moodiest, quietest moments such as the desolate And With Her Came the Birds. They also ran through the initial elements of Lights on The Hills and then let it all come crashing down in an avalanche of riffs & lush keys. Throughout the entirety of the performance, each member of the band stood artistically poised against a perfectly back-lit stage, appearing mostly as dark, human-shaped silhouettes set against the shifting color palettes from behind. The entire lighting and mood of their show in itself was an immense artistic achievement, and reflected the growth in ambition and creativity that has come to define the group. The set drew largely from their latest release, and finished in epic fashion with the ferocious closing track The Fall, guitars out-stretched and pointing to the heavens, and audience sonically & emotionally drained. Let the below slideshow speak for the absolute powerhouse of a set.
Overall, the night’s bill was a perfect demonstration of creativity, dynamism, raw emotion & power, each expressed across an incredibly diverse range of sonic palettes & styles. For the open minds and ears in the room, this show will hold a special place in our collective memories for years to come. All power to those involved in putting together such a diverse lineup, and the many thousands of people that have supported the tour as it marched its way across North America for the past month.
A Dawn To Fear is available now and you can purchase your copy HERE via Metal Blade.