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Sonic Boom: Ear-plugged In At The Immortal Show

Mike is old! He now must wear ear protection to black metal concerts! Sigh.

Mike used his mobile phone to snap this picture of Immortal bassist Apollyon while standing at the base of the stage, in front of a wall of speakers.

Last night, I went to Brooklyn to see a concert by the band Immortal. Do you know that band? Immortal? I dunno anymore—I write about all these bands, but I have no idea if you know who they are. There are so many bands in the world. It can be hard to keep up. Believe me, I know how it goes. No judgment here; if you don’t know the band, that’s cool. Knowing bands is, like, who cares, right? I mean, I care. But nobody else does. Anyway, Immortal are a black metal band from Norway. They wear stupid KISS makeup and have been around forever and make awesome music. If you want to check them out, their last record, All Shall Fall, which came out last year, is amazing, as are several of their other records.

So I bought a ticket to this concert like the second tickets went on sale—on Dec. 31, 2009—because that’s what I do: I buy concert tickets months in advance. Because I’m a little obsessive about these things. I bought a ticket—one ticket, because none of my friends go to these heavy metal concerts with me; I am a Lone Wolf, in this regard—and then thought about the show intermittently, throughout winter, as I attended other shows and listened to other records and lived my life.


Then, two days ago, I got an e-mail from Blackened Music, the promoters of the concert, reminding me, I guess, of the event, and giving me directions to the venue, and so on. And in the e-mail was the following caveat:

“Note we have spared no expense in enhancing the venue’s sound system to IMMORTAL’s exact specifications. The concert will be loud. Please fortify yourself accordingly.”

That’s a heck of a warning, is it not? There’s a severity that I appreciate, as a fan of heavy metal. There’s a sense of fun, but also one of foreboding. And, of course, the message is quite clear: If you have any concerns for such things, you would do well to wear earplugs to this event. If not? Suffer in silence (so to speak).

I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life—many more than I can remember, many more than I can count—but until 2008, I had never worn earplugs to any of them. Not one. None. Like, I stood in the front row, pressed against the stage, against Marshall stacks, for performances by some of the loudest bands in the world, and I had no protection from the assault being committed upon my eardrums. I wanted no protection. Frankly, I would have considered protection to be wimpy, soft and antithetical to the purpose—the purpose being the total obliteration of all senses by art (and, occasionally, soft drugs).

But in 2008, I attended a concert by the Irish rock band My Bloody Valentine, at which earplugs were being handed out at the door. I saw this, considered it for a moment, and finally accepted it as a sign: a mandate from some divine entity. “Wear these,” the entity seemed to be saying. “Because look around you. You appear to be older than everyone else here, huh? Maybe not everyone, but most of these people? These are college kids. And you, my man, you are many years out of college. Like closer to the grave at this point than you are to college. And maybe you got away with this foolishness back when The Jesus Lizard was headlining The Academy or whatever”—here, the entity was referring to a band that broke up in 1999 playing a once-thriving/now-shuttered NYC club—“but you cannot get away with it now. Don’t test me on this one. WEAR THE EARPLUGS.”

So I wore the earplugs.

It was a wise decision.

My Bloody Valentine were not just loud; they were a merciless aural punishment—a sonic destruction not unlike a nuclear meltdown. Or, as I wrote at the time:

“It was terrifying and magnificent and like nothing I have ever heard before. It felt like what I imagine it might feel like to stand directly beneath a space shuttle during liftoff—or what it might feel like at the exact epicenter of an earthquake, six miles or so beneath the surface of the planet. I could physically feel the sound in my bones; it made the hair on my arms stand on end; the floor was shaking and there was a breeze coming from the amps.”

Again, that was with the earplugs firmly inserted in ears. Jenn also attended, and she chose not to wear them, and she says today, two years later, that the experience permanently damaged her hearing. And I believe it.

So now, someone tells me to wear earplugs, I wear earplugs. It goes without saying that they make me feel perfectly old and uncool. Or, alternately, they make me feel like an overprotected child, scooting up and down a driveway on a skateboard, wearing a helmet and elbow pads. But they don’t really affect my enjoyment of the music in any negative way. Quite the opposite! If anything, they provide me with a sense of invincibility in the face of the music. These days, I will walk right up to the speaker, defying all good sense and logic, and stand there, absorbing wave after wave of sound.

That’s what I did at the Immortal concert, anyway. I stood there at the stage—as I did when I was 18 or 22 or whatever, when I was in fact invincible—and let myself feel it.

And from my place at the front of the room, I looked behind me, looked around at the crowd, looked up to the balcony and saw there a middle-aged father with two boys at his side—his son and the son’s friend, I presumed, maybe 14 years old or so. And I wondered if the dad had, like me, heeded the warning, if he too was wearing earplugs. And I wondered if he had forced his boys to do the same. And then I wondered when I got the point of thinking about these things, and why I cared anyway. And with that I let myself go—padded and protected as I was by my earplugs—let myself get pummeled by the music, the crowd, the tangy haze of beer and pot smoke and sweat and sweet alcoholic perfume, let myself be crushed by it all. Invincible is right. Immortal, indeed.

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