At Hamilton’s Doors Pub, the venue itself tells a story. The towering Victorian-era building still wears its history after being updated from a brewery to a taco joint and metal bar. Up a narrow staircase from the dimly lit bar, the second story holds the DIY show space; a 75-cap room fit with creaky wooden floors, lofty ceilings, and band stickers covering virtually every surface – even the ceiling fan. An ornate chandelier hangs above the makeshift stage area, which on Saturday, July 15th illuminated an Absorb banner that overspread the back wall, marking the band’s release show for their colossal new album ROT. Doors Pub is the local haunt to the death doom five-piece as well as to many of the supporting acts which included Loversteeth, Itus, and Greber – all hailing from around Hamilton and Toronto.
The event was organized by two pillars of Ontario’s heavy music scene; Ryan Hilton and Zack Hollow of the show promotion company Pale Horse Productions and the record label Black Throne Productions. With Doors being a DIY venue, Hollow who also did sound for the show, was able to set up his own preferred gear including mixers, speakers, and stage lights.
A quick soundcheck previewed just how thunderous the show’s sound was going to be, as well as how stiflingly hot it would be without air-conditioning as the fans already struggled to cut through the muggy air.
By 8 pm, the doors were open and showgoers filed in, with many greeting each other as old friends, clustering into lively groups, and making it clear just how tight-knit the Hamilton metal community is.
As an hour passed and the number of bodies in the room increased, so did the temperature. A glaze of sweat coated the bands and the crowd as if the show had already happened.
Taking it in stride, Loversteeth opened the night by saying, “Welcome to the sweatiest Saturday of your summer,” before launching the crowd into their fusion of atmosphere and aggression. Only moments into their first song, “Bloom,” and seconds before the first heavy drop, silence and darkness fell over the room as if a parent had come home and cut the power to their kids’ band playing too loud in the basement. Having to pause a show to reset the circuits is no foreign thing at a DIY venue, and Loversteeth was able to find the humour in it as their vocalist Brandon McCabe joked that the show was over, saying, “Thank you, we’ve been Loversteeth,” filling the room with laughter.
With the power back on, “Bloom” could pick up where it left off, and McCabe showed just how well he can engage a crowd, walking right into the swarm of fans and keeping eye contact with them all while performing his effortless transitions between clean vocals and screams. McCabe’s command of the stage is undeniable after his fourteen years as a performing musician as he urged fans to come up close and “get in his personal space.”
Lasting impressions of Loversteeth’s time on stage include the contagious energy of the bassist, dreamy guitar solos, and an impressively wide range of vocal styles. The drums kept the crowd moving as the energy built across the set and steadily got the fans from swaying to headbanging by the end.
Despite having more melodic elements to their music, Loversteeth can still bring force to a metal bill. Later that night, in an interview, they described that it “feels comfortable for them to be the odd ones out,” and in fact, they prefer it. “Maybe we seem like an odd fit,” shared McCabe, “That’s fine with me, and that’s being true to myself. I’m just responding to the music in the way that it evokes me. It’s purely responsive, so there’s a level of sincerity in that which resonates with people when they see that there’s nothing happening just to check a box. It comes from an honest place.”
When asked about the power outage during their set, the band explained that it actually helped to break the tension and calm their nerves. “You learn a lot from playing these sorts of DIY places,” said guitarist Karl Lebel Viens.
A fifteen-minute set change gave just enough time for everyone to wring out their shirts and take a few gulps of fresh air outside before heading back in at 10 pm for Toronto’s Itus and their brutal concoction of sludge, stoner rock, and death metal. The set opened with drum hits so loud they sounded like gunshots which were chased by ultimate stank-face-inducing riffs.
Itus’ performance brought an element of delightful chaos with crowd members climbing up on benches to get a better view, the vocalist’s steady windmill of Chuck Schuldiner-esque curls, a showgoer waving around an umbrella like a sweat shield and an Arby’s burger being flung into the crowd.
Vocalist Reinier Viktor Vandenbosch’s growly cleans and guttural screams were supported by backing vocals from bassist Brandon Aitchison whose grinding bass tone was likened to that of Dopesmoker by Ryan Hilton after the show. Hilton agreed that the bass performance was a definite high point of the set.
After forty-five minutes of monster riffs and oppressive heat, Vandenbosch signed off the stage by urging the audience to drink water and earned laughs by saying, “Thank you for being in a swamp with me.”
By 11 pm, the Cambridge 2-piece Greber came in to kick up the speed with their fevered blend of sludge and grindcore. Using only bass, drums, and vocals, Greber produced a sound that was frenetic and unpredictable while also highly intentional.
With vocalist and bassist Marc Bourgon’s history in the Juno-nominated grindcore band Fuck the Facts and vocalist and drummer Steve Vargas’ experience in the progressive sludge band The Great Sabatini, the pair are able to create a push and pull between the polarity of these two genres.
Greber’s set pushed the tempo and volume to new extremes, giving audience members a full-body bone-rattling experience. The duo pelted us with noise, causing mosh pits to fight for space in the tightly packed room.
Mid-set, the action came to a crashing halt when once again, the power blew and the room went dark. Greber was unphased as this is apparently a common occurrence for the band. Ryan Hilton shared that during the outage, a venue staff member amusedly told him, “This happens every time Greber plays here” due to the extreme volume they play at. Hilton praised the performance saying, “They had the rhythmic groove that a lot of metal bands are lacking. They’ve really honed it in and have a well-rounded mix of sounds.”
By the time midnight rolled around and the stage underwent its final re-set, the crowd was steeped in sweat but ready to lay down all their remaining strength at the Absorb altar.
Cloaked in red light, the Hamilton headliners plunged us into their relentless pummeling of wall-of-sound death doom. Vocalist Erik Thorkildsen’s bellowing screams shook the walls as dual buzzsaw guitars sustained a slow, abyssal drone. Sweat could be seen dripping down the bass as it kept rhythm with the machine-like force of the drums.
With not a still head in the room, Absorb had no need to spur mosh pits as their sound itself commanded them all on its own: a badge they have earned after being a band for almost ten years. The crowd churned into action, at times enveloping one of the guitarists while fans bent to headbang over the pedalboard in his absence as if in worship to the tone.
The ending of each song was met with devoted applause and raised fists, everyone eager to show their support of songs old and new. During such a pause, Loversteeth vocalist Brandon McCabe commented that Absorb’s performance sounded like “What it’s like to split an atom. It’s crushing.”
Absorb showed off their musical endurance by closing with the ten-minute album title track “Rot”. Thorkildsen laughed in an interview after the show, explaining, “Every time we write a new song, Jay, the bass player says, ‘This needs to be longer and slower.’” He credited the Denver doom band Primitive Man as an influence of their affinity for long song lengths.
When asked how he felt the show went, Thorkildsen, who joined the band a year and a half ago, shared that it was a “solid representation of everything that we worked on for this album and I feel great about it.” He revealed that Absorb is currently working on another EP as a follow-up to ROT and that the band aims to continue releasing new material regularly.
After losing multiple Hamilton metal-friendly venues to the pandemic, this show was living proof of how important it is that places like Doors Pub still exist. The grace and grit with which the venue staff, bands, promoters, and fans took on the challenges of a DIY space showed just how committed they are to keeping the local heavy music scene alive. It seems as if the obstacles are a significant part of why shows like this are so great. Beyond just the music and the community, you get to experience the satisfying sense of overcoming. By the end of a DIY show, you feel like you earned it.
Photo courtesy of Marcus Arar