So it was with great portent that night fell upon Reginald’s Emporium of the Fine Arts, cloaking Chicago in a sickly sodium glow. Just on the edge of Chinatown, next to a bombed-out taco joint under the Green Line, brutality was brewing, summoned in darkness from the ragged edges of the Earth. And as the sun set, the the venue was assailed by… no one at all. Because the sun sets at like four in the afternoon now. I hate this latitude.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Chicago where live music is easy to come by anytime, there’s probably one venue above all others that you think of as your place. For me, that’s Reggies. It’s a quick bus and train ride away from home, and they book more metal than anyone else in town. The atmosphere is friendly, the place is plastered in stickers all the way down to the urinals, and there’s a pretty kickass record store upstairs that’s open if you want to miss a band. I’ve been to who knows how many shows there in the past few years and have never found much to fault the place. Never change, Reggies.
Doors were at seven, and I showed up a little before 8 to a mysteriously empty space. This would change. Vukari eventually took the stage and set to work on carving their name into my memory. The local band’s well-paced and dramatic atmospheric black metal was an instant success, and they carried my attention across a set that was crammed with quality offerings. Having not heard them before, I was happily surprised, and I have to say that they were well-matched with the trio of bands that would follow. Kvlt but classy, Vukari entered and exited without so much as speaking their name, and played without any kind of stage lighting — they didn’t need any to get their point across.
Phobocosm were light on the chatter as well, but heavy on, well, everything else. The three-piece put out some seriously massive and hideous noise, alternating between songs from Deprived and this year’s Bringer of Drought. Not being as familiar with Deprived, I got the most out of the cavernous death-doom of “Tidal Scourge,” but I was constantly impressed by just how fucking heavy the band was. Well, that and how much the spotlights seemed to love this can of PBR sitting in the center of the stage. The tree of a man a few feet to my right that showed up in a trench coat and Bringer of Drought t-shirt had the time of his life, though.
The real surprise of the night for me was Zhrine. Yes, I listened to Unortheta when it came out, and I liked it quite a bit, but it’s been a busy year and my death metal focused one-track mind left it by the wayside. The atmosphere they created was electric, equal parts unforgiving and beautiful. Seeing the album played live, witnessing the ebb and flow, and the sudden shifts between melancholy and ferocity were really something else. Their subtly unorthodox techniques and instrumentation — an electric upright bass, played with both bow and fingers, and frequent use of bowed guitar in their ambient passages — brought a whole new dimension to their music that I really appreciated. I’ll definitely be listening to the album more in the future, intermittently with Vukari‘s Divination.
I was pressed up against the stage from the first moments of Vukari, and by the time I thought to turn around and check how many people showed up for the headliner, Reggie’s was packed. And how could it not be? I’ve been hoping to catch Ulcerate in my hemisphere for about half a decade, and no force on Earth was going to remove me from the front row. As the crew assembled Jamie St. Merat’s behemoth of a drum kit, the tension began to build, and the band released all of it with the jarring first notes of “Abrogation.” Speaking of three-pieces that produce a whole lot of sound, Ulcerate just about eroded my scalp off with the kick drums alone, and watching the trio tear through a thousand contortions in service of absolute, hopeless devastation was a true privilege. They followed up with “Await Rescission” and the greatly impactful “Extinguished Light,” and I thought I’d never witness something like it again. I was wrong. They were working their way back through the Ulcerate canon between each new song, and their pick for The Destroyers of All was none other than “Cold Becoming.” If I had a soul, it would have left my body four and a half minutes in.
The band finished up with “Shrines of Paralysis,” “Everything is Fire,” and “End the Hope,” and I left Reggies deeply satisfied. Since buses only run about every half an hour or something crazy late at night, I walked home from the train and ran into the single largest opossum I’ve ever seen sauntering its way through Washington Park. In my contented stupor, I tried to catch it, but the poor little marsupial was so tragically sluggish that I didn’t bother harassing it past the first bush it scurried into. Besides, this was their time. I was trespassing, pulled back to my reality after slipping out of it for a few brief hours to contemplate its powerful pointlessness. After all the despair and nihilism of the night, the fat didelphid was a welcome reassurance. There is life here, even between the cold, interminable twilight of street lamps and the rain percolating through barren trees.