By the time the Blackfires took the stage at their most recent New York show, almost two hours past the advertised start time at Slake – the recently expanded space a few blocks south of Madison Square Garden that for many years housed Downtime and then Albion – the overworked smoke machine had pretty much cleared out what was left of the crowd. And then in a second it was as if a flashmob had just arrived. With members from Russia, Spain, Uruguay, England and the US, the world’s arguably most multicultural metal band treated the audience to a volcanic, relentless assault seemingly tailor-made for Ozzfest or Donington. To get to witness this in such a relatively intimate room was a treat. They’ll be doing an even more intimate show at the Mercury on Sept 13 at 10:30; advance tix are $10 and highly recommended.
They got off to a good start with a stomping, stalking update on a classic Texas shuffle with expertly choreographed twin guitar riffage, possibly titled Walking Over You. But the next song built quickly to a florid chorus where frontman Andrey “Cheggi” Chegodaev’s campy falsetto started to sound more like an impersonator like Tammy Faye Starlite than an original artist – but then Gibson Les Paul player Anthony Mullin’s icepick bluesmetal riffage pulled the song away from self-parody. And it was after the next tune that a purist would have been asking himself (or herself), is this where somebody hits the singer with a pickle, and a meme is born? Mullin ended up having to come to the rescue a second time – and then, the band got serious, and stayed that way, and after a tantalizing hour onstage, were rewarded with screams for an encore – which they ended up not getting to play.
Getting to that point was a roller-coaster ride through the inferno. Mullin and Gibson SG player Hector Marin followed with a mashup of psycho Texas blues and Motorhead, Mullin using it as a launching pad for a long barrage of lighting volleys. How he managed to be so precise yet so unhinged was viscerally breathtaking to watch: Jack the Ripper with a guitar. And as the show went on, it turned out that Marin was every bit as fast and intense, with duck-and-cover stage moves to match. Bassist Grasebo Doe anchored the music with his growling lines, snapping at his strings to the point that it sounded like something was about to break, but nothing did. Drummer Joe Mitch held everything together with a surprising but effective, close-to-the-ground four-on-the-floor stomp.
From there the band swayed through an evilly lurid ba-BUMP noir cabaret tune spun through a warped metal prism, the kind of song that Kiss or Alice Cooper would take a shot at back in the 70s but never had the chops to play. Once again, Mullin delivered chills with his bone-shaking vibrato, winding it up with a nasty pickslide. Then he tuned down for a mean Johnny Winter-style slide guitar intro and waves of machinegunning riffage on another Texas shuffle..
Rocker Child, a vintage Judas Priest style anthem from the band’s Live from the Cutting Room album, hit a warp-speed interlude before the band reeled it back in. After a well-intentioned but pretty hopeless cover, the music threatened to drift back toward sludgy powerpop disguised as metal, but Mullin and Marin redeemed it with a furious duel that brought to mind Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith and Dave Murray at their mid-80s peak.