This past Thursday and Friday I and many others were blessed enough to be witness to several Toronto reunion shows of the legendary sludge three-piece Mare. I attended two of them, there was nothing that was going to keep me from seeing such a rare and visceral performance, and the supporting local bands Titan, Gates, White Ribs and Godstopper helped make the night even more special.
Before continuing with the article, I’d like to make it clear this will be both a review of this bands captivating performance each night (along with that of the supporting groups) as well as a very late but well deserved review of their one and only release from Hydra Head Records in 2004. I’ll mix them together as I run through Mare’s set. I managed to take some photos during Thursday night’s event at Sneaky Dee’s which you can view after the break.
Both Thursday and Friday night had a great turn out while not as tightly packed as I would’ve expected, with a bunch of local musicians attending alongside close friends of the bands that were performing. Being only a recent resident of Toronto, coming from B.C., I felt a little bit like an outsider despite the friendly and good natured atmosphere of each night. That didn’t really disturb my mood at all (it never has) because Mare are one of a handful of extinct bands that I’ve longed to see live but never thought I would get the chance (the others being Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon and Iniquity).
If you’ve ever heard of Mare and know their material, you can imagine how elated I was when I discovered they were reuniting for a few nights only to play their innovative, punishingly heavy and beautiful EP that made such an impact on me the moment I first heard it. That and the fact they were being supported by several bands who I enjoy and have seen live several times in the past made things several nights not to be missed, and certainly never to be forgotten.
Thursday’s show started late around 10 in the evening at Sneaky Dee’s on College and Bathurst, a local room I’ve been to multiple times to see such acts as Russian Circles, Young Widows, Morne, Sights & Sounds, Vilipend, Gates, and Titan. The stage is small and the room is fairly narrow on the second floor of a bar, and the perfect place to create a welcomed intimate atmosphere for such a unique group as Mare.
On late Friday evening the setting was the unique and completely awesome Soybomb HQ further downtown just off of Queen Street West. A third story apartment using a mini half-pipe for a stage, and a place where I’ve seen many bands; the most memorable being Thou and Wolves in the Throne Room, but also Gates, Titan, Æsahættr, Castevet, Thatifaxath, and Sound Asleep. It’s probably my favorite venue to attend, being so cramped as to make the performances that more intimate and intense, putting you right beside whatever group is performing that night. The curator is also a genuinely great guy, and there’s an accessible rooftop with a garden area where you can smoke and take a break from the sounds.
But Tyler Semrick-Palmateer (front-man of Mare, former vocalist of The End and local legend) wasn’t just appearing to bring back Mare and hang out with friends: he was also opening both nights showing off his new enigmatic project titled Barbara, something only recently conceived by him and his brother Raynor. I knew virtually nothing about what the project entailed, but with someone like Tyler behind it I could only assumed it would be out of the ordinary — and man is that putting it lightly.
Barbara are nothing like Mare or any project he’s been a part of as far as I know, in a few words it is confusing, strange, and certainly seemed light-hearted. Both he and his brother wore costumes (the primary aspects being masks and wigs) and used various props for individual songs (coffee beans and cups, hedge clippers, etc.), interacting with each other at various points. I don’t know exactly how I would describe the music — avante-garde performance art? — but it certainly isn’t metal, and makes use of various styles of singing. I can’t say that I enjoyed it outside of being baffled and very amused (as others were) but it definitely provoked a reaction from everyone who witnessed it on both nights.
The first night, after Barbara performed, the two piece White Ribs followed up with a jarring and hyper-speed assault of noisy, effects laden alienesque grindcore. I had never heard them before but I was blown away by the speed and strangeness of their performance, clad in masks, draped in a blinding light and burying everyone in a deafening mix of noise and hardcore, yelled clean vocals from the drummer, and some very haphazard technical guitar work. Each song didn’t last long at all except maybe two or three, but they powered through them so quickly it became a blur; only an occasion pause for samples and ambiance gave any kind of relief to the audience.
On the second night the follow up act to Barbara was Godstopper, another local group I had not encountered before that night. They proceeded to energize the crowd with an interesting mix of sludge and noise-rock, a mix of grooves and more mid paced jams with some clean vocals from the drummer with occasional additions from one of the guitarist and at one point the bassist. I didn’t find them as mesmerizing as I thought I would but it was a great performance regardless with moments of enjoyable heaviness.
Back to Thursday: the mighty Titan were the final band before Mare. What can I say that I haven’t already said about this crushing sludgy-hardcore group? I’ve seen them at least five times in the past year. They once again played flawlessly from their album Burn (ending with the opener from their EP Colossus, “The Glory of the Fleet”), James’ vocals were as potent as ever and the same can be said of the thick guitar riffs as they ran through some of my favorites.
On the Friday show the last act supporting Mare was the mysterious Gates, a drone outfit which James from Titan is a part of but on guitar this time. I’ve seen Gates quite a few times in the past and they always put on a memorable show, and this night was no different. Usually they do interesting renditions of their album work (which is often a live recording too) but this time they were displaying their new record Eintraum; I have this sitting in front of me but as I do not have a tape deck handy I haven’t had the chance to listen to it yet.
So this was my first taste of the new material, and to set the mood a generous amount of billowing smoke and lighting was used as the opening ambient track played before the members made their way to the half-pipe. Once there, it was a huge wall of extremely loud, heavy, and noisy drone from both guitars and the bass, punctuated midway through by James’ throaty rasps. As always it was a hypnotizing performance, near the end as the waves of effects and tremolo attacks wore down it was more doomy, with Bryan laying down drawn-out chunks of powerchords before letting the feedback loops take the show to the conclusion.
You can see Gates’ first performance of a rendition of their new record Eintraum below, and head over to Land of Decay Records to grab a copy on cassette. The set was so loud and noisy the audio is kind of blown out, so my apologies for not better representing such a heavy drone performance a head of time.
And now we come to the end of both nights, the zenith of anticipation for me and certainly others as the three piece Mare made themselves comfortable on the stage. Mare is a unique creature, only in active existence for barely a year before calling it quits. There are mixed feelings about this with most people who have encountered their music: everyone at least on the surface wanted to see more after hearing the ground-breaking, genre blending, passionate music created on their only EP; how could anyone say otherwise?
It is indisputable that this short record is truly innovative, a supremely intense experience. I’ve heard it called the biggest musical cliffhanger ever, and if the guys over at Hydra Head Records are telling the truth then there was definitely plans for a full length two years after it’s debut. But as an outsider I can imagine that there’s always that sliver of nagging fear or doubt (whether it be from fans or the musicians involved) that, after having achieved something as monumental, as powerful, creative, and visceral as the material on that single five track EP, there may only be no where left to go but down from that point. Once you’ve conceived music that incredible on a debut sometimes (at least to this lowly listener) it seems that it would be difficult to top it or be satisfied with what comes next.
I don’t doubt the guys could’ve done it, it’s not an impossibility. Neurosis, Ulcerate, Thou and Amenra have maintained that peak of brilliance over many years as have many others. I’m also not necessarily arguing that it couldn’t be improved on (although if pressed I would argue that would be quite an achievement). John Gossard of Weakling (as well as The Gault, Dispirit, The Fucking Champs, and Dispirit) disbanded that group due to feeling detached from it but even he has said in interviews that he believed if continued it could’ve only been better proceeding from Dead As Dreams.
I don’t know what Tyler, Caleb and Scott felt, I don’t presume to know anything about the process at this point in my life — and when you create music you love it really shouldn’t (and often doesn’t) matter whether consumers or fans or labels believe you’ve achieved something worthy to follow up your last effort. According to the bands myspace page on February of 2007, Tyler stated that Mare was over “due to a lack of motivation to write and record more material for the project.” It’s unfortunate and slightly frustrating for those of us who were hoping it would last long enough to see a full length. But in the end it doesn’t really matter. What is important is that Mare existed and blessed the industry with what can only be called as a true gem amongst heaps of rust and coal, generously pouring an endless abyss of passion and thoughtfulness into a project that personally effected me greatly, and I’m confident this is the case for anyone who encountered it.
So from the many years of having spun this record and the impression it has left on me, having the opportunity to see Mare twice in two days was truly a dream come true for me. Both nights they played their entire EP with just as much ferocity and passion as is heard on the studio versions of the songs, with a few alterations and some instrumental and ambient fun in between. Tyler on guitar and vocals with Caleb on drums, both original members, while filling in for the bass and doing an phenomenal job at that was Matt; all of them very humble, friendly and light-hearted between songs, as well as before and after the sets. Their performance was deeply pleasurable and euphoric for me.
Tyler’s vocals are some of the most intense, jarring and soul-wrenching I’ve ever heard — this is amplified exponentially in a live setting which I was in awe of. Caleb’s percussive skill and performance was precise and ardent, the style from each track changing but always impressive and draws you in. Matt did such a great job on bass, the presence of the thunderous and gritty bass riffs was far more pronounced on stage then in the record and it made it all the more heavy; he was enthusiastic and focused. All three musicians seemed to be connected in an innate fashion while performing. After the final song, the closer for the album “Sun For Miles“, on both nights there was a ritualistic celebration with audience participation where members from Gates and Titan and all who came indulged in. It was something that put a smile on everyone’s face and the friendly atmosphere was most clear at those points.
Below is Mare’s entire live set from the final show Friday night at the Soybomb HQ, so enjoy a final glimpse into the impressive genre-rending style of Mare in this raw performance.
Before this article ends, I want to spend a little time on the record itself. Over the course of the five tracks on this self-titled EP Mare blends an eclectic mix of atmospheric sludge and doom, jazzy lounge, melodic and ethereal gospel or choir-like textures. As a whole it could be classified as sludge or doom, but realistically it is a collection of sounds that defies easy categorization while being cohesive, focused, tightly written and has undying replay value. Lyrically the album is cryptic and yet in some ways able to be understood on an intrinsic level. To me they’re some of the more impressive and haunting lyrics I’ve ever read, and add so much to the music itself rather than being mere filler. It’s a challenging record to say the least, unafraid of exploring unknown territory and bringing it into a fold of powerful doom foundations.
The opening track “Anisette” has a perfect example of this, while also being my favorite track on the record (which for me is a tough choice to make considering everything laid down here is gold) and the most easy to describe genre-wise as atmospheric sludge. Don’t let this throw you though, it is not post-metal or post-rock, and while this could be the most “normal” of all the songs here it avoids tropes and crutches by carving a deeply satisfying path between desperate heaviness, alluring beauty and jarring angularity. The opening moments are subtle, quiet and elegant; a sad set of notes and chords that do not prepare you for when the pace quickens. At first clean, Caleb kicks in with drums announcing a shift towards the heavy. This continues for a full minute almost, slow and ominous. And then we hear from Tyler when the pace ramps up slightly.
What grabs me every time — aside from the spellbinding, expertly crafted riffs that melt into satisfying chords, and the intelligent and busy but not flashy drumming — is Tyler’s vocal style. It’s far beyond anything I’ve heard anywhere before or since. The opening lines are screamed, screeched with so much consuming devotion it kills me every time, and in every moment he’s locked into this style it floors me. Despite this the lyrics are easily decipherable.
The riffs during these first four lines are still melancholic, but sharp and bone crushingly heavy with a slight addition of discordance. The percussion is clear as day and soak into you. Once that fourth line diminishes, a clang and a brief silence before a tremendous riff stomps on you, jarring at first. Suddenly it morphs into a sad chord and Tyler shows off his versatility as a vocalist: beautiful, haunting clean melodies float from him for a single line, escalating and sustained until once again unleashed into that violent screech for the rest of the track. It slows down from this point, continuously heavy and for a moment more dissonant before rolling back into grooves. The final moment soars with a powerful scream as the chords hang there and the cymbals shudder.
This was the third track played live and aside from “Tropics” was the one I was dying to hear the most. It was something like a cathartic experience for me when Tyler started screaming, screeching, when the bass kicked in after the clean opening. It was flawlessly performed, and had everyone attending fixated and moving with the sheer weight of the song. Those first four lines had an added intensity those two nights.
“Saved by last night
When we lived
All I know is last night
We almost lost you for good
Let’s hear what she has to say
It’s an intricate fold
It’s the cure
For us trying to speak
And it works
Look at the overcast people
Then look at their overcast sons”
Mare – Anisette
Suddenly you step into something the complete opposite of the previous track with “They Sent You“, the track they opened both nights with. Synths behind Tylers soft, celestial choral procession, drawing out the words and letting them waver. It’s soothing and a bit eerie when a sharp horn raises at points. It’s truly impressive how versatile he is from one moment to the next. Just over a minute in the tone switches back to a wicked sludgy groove with a great percussive rhythm underneath, becoming progressively more busy as the track moves along. The way Mare treads the line between so many different tones and textures and genres is nothing short of inspiring, as seen at the halfway mark when things become more ominous, slow and dark. The song drops out for a moment, replaced by a stinging row of notes, only for the heaviness to come back even slower. It only becomes more harsh as this track reaches the end which is punctuated by a quick and quirky clean moment.
Now we move into an even stranger track: “Tropics“. I read a review a while back which put it better then I could ever do on my own when describing what this track is, and that is “lounge doom”. And it is both creepy and massive at the same time. The drumming is a slow jazzy style, while the bass and guitar slither at first with what one would first assume is a bow on guitar strings. In both live performances of this song, it was clear Tyler was just using an effect on his board to create the sound (whether in studio he used something like a bow I don’t know); they slowed it down a notch as well. The effect creates a lumbering, expansive atmosphere in between Tyler’s subdued vocals, just as slow and ethereal as the cryptic lyrics flow outward. It’s the shortest track and the most entrancing, a low and quiet reverberating atmosphere that slinks along lazily.
The end drifts straight into the next track “Palaces” which begins at first with a set of oddly timed notes with an almost tropic air to them. But it quickly returns to a style heard at the end of “They Sent You“. Twisted and agonizing as the vocals take on a tortured rasp, plinking notes and a doomy rhythm stabilizing the entire song. The pace switches three minutes in when the guitars go clean and melodic with some complex percussion, and this continues to ascend, spiraling and meandering before a chaotic and noisy break. Then it plunges back into the same set of riffs in the opening progression but slightly faster. The spurts of dissonance throughout this song add so much to the massive feeling that has been established. Both nights this was performed it was done without alteration and as in the recording bled right into the finale: “Sun For Miles“.
What a finale it is. Almost entirely choral, harmonized singing from Tyler without any instruments to back him up. Heavenly and blissful would be the perfect description, the layered vocals creating a meditative trace in the listener. It’s just one final example of how far above the rest of bands that touch on this genre Mare are, and again stressing the versatility of Tyler’s vocal abilities. During the live incarnation of this song, the harmonized parts were played through the PA while Tyler did his best to supplement them at key moments, as Caleb and Matt took a much needed break.
At the climax of his utterances, feedback shines through and the last minute is some of the heaviest rhythm on the record — all the while he returns to his agonizing, throat-rending screams to bolster that unearthly dirge. It was this moment in the performance where everyone in the crowd lifted their limbs and swayed with the waves of sound projected from the band. Matt’s bass was so thick, while Caleb screamed as he pounded his kit, and Tyler’s screams were even more grating and bold then at any point in the set. It was perfect both nights, but even more so on Friday as the added emphasis of it being the last of the reunion shows ratcheted up the intensity to untold heights.
After this, on both nights, was that ritualistic celebration I mentioned earlier. Tambourines and maracas and similar instruments were given out and it was time for some fun farewells after an intense and long set of nights. Caleb played on and Tyler sung wordlessly along with the crowd, and this carried on for about four or five minutes.
When it comes to Mare’s record, I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who wants to experience something truly unique and creative, even challenging. It’s one of the few records that effected me on a cellular level, changed my perspective on underground music and through that my tastes. I realize I’m 8 years late in saying this at this point, but I feel it is and may forever be one of those lost gems of the underground that does not get appreciated to the level it deserves.
I would say go see them live if you want be blown away but the chances of anyone getting that opportunity are practically zero now. The vinyl version has been long sold out (there are some still floating around on eBay I’m sure) and the CD is still available out there; I know the band had at least 30 copies at each show. It’s not available at Hydra Head Records as far as I know, I’ve seen it on Amazon, even HMV and iTunes, but you should scour your local record store to find a copy as well. It’s easily worth the $10 it goes for out there.
Overall I was so happy to be able to attend these two shows and witness a legend perform one last time with friends and great bands. Much like when I’ve seen Thou in the past, and when I attended the Gilead Media Festival, this was a succession of shows I will never forget.