Review: Jucifer at the Black Cat

Athens Georgia sludge metal duo Jucifer create a wall of sound at DC's Black Cat. Photo: Jucifer

WASHINGTON, January, 28, 2012 —Any number of clichés and accusations can be leveled towards Jucifer when you see them in a live performance. People like to associate these same clichés with metal bands in general. But often times they fall into the realm of pure hyperbole. The usual clichés are typically deployed to illustrate how tough or intense a given metal band is supposed to be, whether these hackneyed descriptions really apply to them or not. The whole exercise gets a little tiring after you’ve encountered it one too many times. That said, most of those standard clichés actually happened to be true when it came to describing Jucifer, at their show which appeared backstage at the Black Cat Tuesday night.

The first noticeable thing about Jucifer is something the audience sees before the band even appears on stage. The interval between when the band sets up and when the musicians actually take the stage creates considerable anticipation, if for no other reason than the audience is gradually exposed to a literal wall of speakers that hint, not too subtly, at an imminent, full scale aural assault. Once the two piece Jucifer opens into their first song, the audience’s building suspicions  are confirmed: it’s quite obvious the visuals for their sound set up weren’t just for show.

The phrase “wall of sound” gets tossed around a lot and usually refers to a band that can create the sense that the audience is either being surrounded by the band’s sound or getting hit in the face, at least figuratively, with that very same sound. In either case, this leaves the audience in a stunned condition when done correctly. It’s the kind of effect Jucifer hopes to pull off in its set, but to classify it as such would be underselling what the band actually accomplishes.

Merely stating that Jucifer creates a “wall of sound” wouldn’t quite do this band justice, for the full force of this effect punches you like a sonic boom from the very first note in their set. Make no mistake: this band is ear shatteringly loud when they play live. It’s hard to explain this in writing without making it seem like total journalistic hyperbole. But in point of fact, there are very few bands that can compete with the sheer physical intensity of Jucifer’s sound. It soon gets to the point in their performance where stepping away from the acoustic bubble that best describes the “backstage” performance space at the Black Cat for a few moments will actually feel like you’ve just been submerged a few feet underwater.

This intensity of this feeling is heightened by the fact Jucifer was playing in this very backstage, which isn’t the most spacious area in which to play music, let alone put out the kind of sound that might begin to crush structures inside the vastly more spacious Verizon Center. This sheer, overwhelming physicality of sound kicks everything Jucifer does live into overdrive, filling up the room with an aural attack that’s an order of magnitude above anything one’s likely to expect. 

It’s impossible to escape Jucifer’s brutal sonic attack at any point during their performance without actually stepping outside to the bar. At times, such a move takes on the feeling that you’ve not only gone underwater, but have, in fact, been sealed in a decompression chamber where the band’s next move might be an attempt to prepare you and the audience for some kind of out-of-body experience.

It’s important to point out the difference between Jucifer the band on their recordings and Jucifer band that performs live. That’s because, while there’s a little perceptible crossover, each experience feels as if you’re actually dealing with two entirely different bands. Someone who’s only familiar with Jucifer through their albums might attend one of their shows thinking they know exactly what to expect; but there’s a solid chance that this assumption would be astonishingly, mind-blowingly wrong. 

Obviously, the biggest difference between their recorded and live performances is that Jucifer simply isn’t remotely as loud on their albums as they are in a live performance. In fact, it would be impossible to replicate that sound on a recorded album without blowing out your expensive speakers on the first downbeat. In their recordings, the band travels into varied musical territory, picking up on some of the more melodic aspects of their music while combining them with traditional sludge metal. Front woman Gazelle Amber Valentine is quite adept at bringing out some of these softer moments on their album.

But all this is totally irrelevant when it comes to Jucifer’s live set. The duo doesn’t seem to be all that concerned with any of the subtler melodic touches they bring to their albums. Instead, their focus is on bludgeoning the audience with the loudest version of sludge metal they’ve ever experienced. 

It should go without saying that a band like Jucifer isn’t for everyone. Sludge metal in general is a bit of a niche genre, and the way Jucifer performs it live makes even this niche a smaller market. What their show becomes instead is something of an endurance test during which the band performs to challenge the endurance of the audience. But for those willing to stick with it, appreciate, and actually enjoy Jucifer’s unique take on a live show, this band’s nonstop physical assault can eventually seem like a karmic cleansing when you exit the performance space after their show. As the normal sounds of the world gradually return, it’s as if both senses and sensibilities have been completely reset while reality will never again be the same.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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