Wildernessking are Cape Town’s criminally underrated and unrivalled black-metal foursome, consisting of Keenan Nathan…
Wildernessking are Cape Town’s criminally underrated and unrivalled black-metal foursome, consisting of Keenan Nathan Oaks (Vocals, Bass) (Sakawa Boys), Dylan Viljoen (Guitars), Jesse Navarre Vos (Guitars) and Jason Jardim (Drums). On Sunday the 27th April, The Straight No Chaser on Buitenkant Street hosted the launch of the band’s third release, The Devil Within. PLATFORM retells the sights, sounds and anecdotes of the spectacle with unshakeable fondness.
A crowd spilled out of Straight No Chaser and onto Buitenkant Street. The scene was floodlit by streetlights and brighter than it ought to have been at 9:00pm. Wildernessking’s decidedly intimate launch of their The Devil Within EP had been on the calendar of Cape Town’s metal scene for some time, and the still night seemed poised to take it on. Winter showed itself in the steamy puffs exhaled at random throughout the jacketed crowd. The gathering – growing in twos and threes – consisted mostly of Wildernessking’s friends and devout followers, but was peppered by the faces of obvious newcomers to both the band and black-metal. I belonged to the latter of these two groups; any pretentious high school dabbling in Enslaved and Slayer discographies notwithstanding.
Alongside the single doorway entrance, a ticket-booth-cum-merch-stand stood overflowing with Wildernessking paraphernalia and Roastin’ Records sweatshirts. Having found deserved label-backed success both overseas and in South Africa, Wildernessking sport a well-marketed and definable image as musicians, and Roastin’ Records seemed to have brought it all to the ticket table. A liquid glow backlit the crowded bar counter inside and a metal and rock-infused playlist blended in with the chatter, each song crackling with the familiar honestly of vinyl as it played from turntable that was perched bar-side.
At 9:25pm the Wildernessking members were still sharing a joke somewhere outside in the cold. The band and their admirers were infectiously calm, and the timeophillic impatience that often pervades of live shows was lost in their laughter. Some time later the crowd was sucked willingly from Buitenkant Street and huddled shoulder-to-shoulder inside. “Okay cool. Hey guys,” said Keenan by way of introduction. “I’m just going to tell you, like, how tonight’s going to work” he continued, as if needing to explain his inimitable presence on stage. The band then strapped on, plugged in and tuned up. Wildernessking challenge the archetypical Judas-Priest-derivative appearance that prejudices paint as ‘metal band.Indeed, neither of the four men on stage would have their image ignorantly subverted as the backdrop for a heavy metal meme. Similar remarks have been made in respect of San Francisco’s Deafheaven, and the comparison is more than trivial as both bands exploit the sonorous qualities of black-metal, shoegaze and progressive rock without being either or at once.
Keenan explained that the band would play two sets of half an hour each with an unspecified break in between – for drinking and chatting, no doubt. The first set comprised of Wildernessking’s new material, the second set of the three songs on The Devil Within. Opener, ‘If You Leave’, was a potion of beauty and aggression. From the first chord that sounded the band was engrossed in conjuring and sustaining their perfervidly harrowing ambience. The band members took on a new and unitary form, and Jason in particular destroyed any mildness in his off-stage demeanour with a veritably athletic performance on drums. ‘I Will Go To Your Tomb’ went on in sonic chaos, and possessed a strangely cathartic quality. It perfectly exhibited Wildernessking’s seemingly innate ability to synthesise progressive rock and black metal without compromising the core tenets of either influence. What resulted was an intoxicated submission by listeners to the romantic intensity of their pandemonium. Any musical-cultural prejudices, both mine and the other newcomers, were exorcised and duly escorted out the doorway behind us as the soothing discipline of Keenan’s guttural cries furthered this quality with skill, delicacy and control.
During the interval the Wildernessking members trickled back into the crowd of friends, resuming the conversations that were shared before the set. After drinks were replenished and conversations died out it seemed appropriate to begin the second set. The band slashed open the expectant silence of the crowd with ‘Lurker’, the first track on The Devil Within. It gradually engulfed the venue in thick, hazy layers of distortion. Melodious and somewhat foreboding, the track burst open halfway through with a piercing shriek emanating from far beyond anything human on stage. Second was ‘Flesh’, the most centre-field, upbeat offering of the night. Jesse and Dylan’s churning guitar work created a Japandroids-esque build up, pierced intermittently by Keenan’s dense and scathing screams.
The night ended with a 10-minute finale in the form of the last song, ‘The Devil Within’. It stirred every thought, emotion and half-formed feeling amongst the crowed into a volatile hurricane of sounds. The band drew out the break 6 minutes in and Keenan amicably incited applause for the individual band members, addressing each as his best friend. This sullenness preceded a climactic downpour of cymbals crashes, devilish wrenching and screeching chord work that saw Wildernessking at their most powerful. The tempest halted suddenly, and that was that. Popping applause came from their aurally-soothed and spiritually tainted audience.
Metal, more often than not, ostensibly connotes an exclusionary and anti-eclectic rejection of genre diversity. These prejudices contain no kernel of truth in Wildernessking. The band evidences an array of influences, and brought each one to the fall at different times throughout the night. After the set the peacefulness resumed as before and the crowd stayed, surely to gush over the prospect of a second Wildernessking LP in the pipeline.