Live: Mares Of Thrace Pulverize The Crowd At St. Vitus

maresofthrace_may15.jpg
Mares Of Thrace w/Batillus, Sky Burial, Mortals
St. Vitus
Tuesday, May 15

Better than: Sitting home and reading tweets about the Beach House show.

First things first: in Greek mythology, the Mares of Thrace were four man-eating horses Hercules had to capture for his eighth labor, a feat he accomplished by getting the horses to eat their own master, which sedated them enough for him to steal them. It's a good story and a better band name, and the Mares of Thrace that played St. Vitus on Tuesday would not be subdued quite so easily, though they certainly arrived in a slightly weakened state.

The thrash/doom/noise/you-name-it duo's drummer and co-founder Stef MacKichan was gone ("The amount of stuff that's going on is conflicting with her educational goals" is how frontwoman Therese Lanz diplomatically put it), replaced by drummer Scott Shellhamer of the very-good quasi-hardcore band American Heritage. The loss of MacKichan is significant. She and Lanz have been playing together for more than a decade, and their wild, combustible chemistry is one of the things that makes Mares of Thrace so alluring.

While her loss robs the band of a bit of Mares' distinct personality, if Tuesday's show is any indication, they've managed to maintain most of their seething ire. They stampeded through a brisk, methodical and generally pulverizing 30-minute set drawn largely from the just-released The Pilgrimage (Sonic Unyon); it emphasized the duo's ability to cram six different kinds of songs into the space of one. Lanz, who plays a custom-designed baritone guitar, alternates long, tarry lead guitar lines with short, sudden bursts of sound. In "Act I: David Glimpses Bathsheba," a low, galumphing bottom-heavy riff got pummeled by furious percussion; in "The Perpetrator," tight clusters of sound alternated with deft, divebombing fretwork. Lanz went about her work brutally but efficiently, executing dizzying, finger-bending runs like she was merely practicing scales. Her voice rocketed without warning from seismic rumble to earsplitting shriek, giving the songs a kind of furious velocity. At her most panicked, it sounded like someone shooting an arrow through a crow. And while there was the occasional moment when it felt like the two principals were operating in two different circles of hell, the moments when they fully connected—like set closer "The Pragmatist," which roared forward like a comet from a slingshot—were fantastically threatening.

Opening act Batillus preferred to take things more slowly. They deliver big, unwieldy blocks of sound, dropping them like anvils from an airplane. There's something almost prehistoric about their songs—all of them feel smoke-clogged and overcast, lumbering forward brawny and beastlike. Singer Faid Kainer delivers his lyrics in an echo-drenched, inhuman shriek (with the long, knotty dreadlocks hanging down his back, it's tempting to invoke Predator), wrenching his body from side to side as if he swallowed a live animal that was also on fire. On Tuesday, they played on a stage that was backlit only by an eerie green light, making it feel like a starship in some science fiction film—one dreamed up not by James Cameron but by Ridley Scott, where every surface is covered in slime and the machinery looks awfully primitive and no one can seem to find a working lightbulb despite the fact that it's the 30th century. Their songs slithered and groaned, delivering malice by morphine drip.

Critical bias: St. Vitus is one of my secret favorite places to see a show.

Overheard: "Who's this dude on drums?"

Random notebook dump: Therese from Mares of Thrace looks about 350 times tougher in person than she does in those publicity stills.

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