As Saturday night progressed, the gray clouds turned to droplets of rain and the streets of downtown L.A. filled with puddles of water. On North Main Street, just down the road from Chinatown and Dodger Stadium, a warehouse and photography studio called East Dog Town Studio was transformed into a makeshift DIY music venue. It was here that a crowd of just less than 100 witnessed the debut live performance by the underground, oceanic-themed, progressive death-metal band Cetacean.
The L.A.-based band, which has been in existence less than a year, features members well versed in the art of proggy extreme metal and heavily steeped in the sounds of misanthropic yet artistic black metal, grindcore and doom. Vocalist Trae, formerly of Black Sheep Wall, joins guitarist/saxophonist Swansong (Exhausted Prayer) and drummer Daniel Pouliot (Ancestors, Horse the Band), with Stephen Charouhas on bass and additional guitarists Benigno Esaú and David Sais.
The band performed on a low stage against a white wall covered with colorful psychedelic images from a projector screen. Announcers made it clear throughout the whole night that pot smoking was not only allowed, it was encouraged (Trae took to lighting several blunts between his singing parts). Between bands, the typical metal songs usually spun in the background were replaced by a more club-friendly DJ, who played some ambient beats and hip-hop as underground metal heads, thrashers, stoners and hipsters amicably collided in anticipation of the night’s bands, giving the whole event the vibe of a experimental metal rave.
Cetacean's brand of metal is abstract and full of raw, passionate emotion. The music required focus, with its beautiful, slow and dreary melodies interlaced throughout the harsh and pounding sounds. Pouliot's drumming was enchanting and powerful, and the three guitars created an enormous wall of sound for listeners to absorb. Mixing the abruptness of heavy doom along with modern, progressive death-metal and black-metal influences, Cetacean is a band that defies musical classification. There are even hints of hardcore, grind, jazz, world music and classical all woven into their chaotic sound, which sends sonic tidal waves crashing at listeners. The band’s set was just over 35 minutes of some of the most technical music you’ve ever heard played live, and fans clearly took a liking to the group's self-proclaimed style of “depth” metal.
Just before Cetacean, L.A. progressive black-metal band Exhausted Prayer took the stage, giving fans a taste of new songs, which will be featured on a split release with Burials. Exhausted Prayer features drummer Mike Caffell (Terrorizer, Dreaming Dead, House of Rabbits), guitarists Swansong and Chris McCarthy and bassist Richard Vulich. Blending raw black-metal and doom-metal sounds with progressive elements and grindcore, Caffell’s ridiculously sped-up blast beats and Vulich's semi-funky, slightly jazz-inspired bass patterns combine well with the vicious and technical guitar playing of McCarthy and Swansong. Exhausted Prayer is not for the faint of heart, but fans of Enslaved, Opeth, Emperor, Intronaut and Godspeed You Black Emperor will enjoy them.
Opening the show were L.A. underground bands The Elephant Parallax and Black Sheep Wall. Elephant Parallax had heavy undertones and dense songs, with a very intense drummer and unconventional singer, while Black Sheep Wall used melodies and slightly less heavy riffs to bring a more atmospheric and slowed-down approach to doom metal. Both showcased a high level of musicianship in terms of timing, agility, focus and song structures. Fans were both dazed and in vibe with the music all night long.
All in all, this was a great DIY venue in downtown L.A. at which to experience live bands, and a stellar debut performance from Cetacean — fittingly named, given their oceanic sound, after the order of water-dwelling mammals that includes dolphins and whales.