To say that Echtra is somewhat of an obscurity outside of the Pacific Northwest might be an accurate description, but this sense of anonymity is self-imposed and by no means carries a negative tone.
I hadn't heard any music of Echtra when I was invited to film the show at the infamous warehouse space in Oakland called Orbis Nex. I had an idea of what I might expect, having attended my first Fauna performance just a few months prior and was blown out of the water by what I witnessed (Echtra is half of equally obscure black metal band, Fauna).
I feel it is important to note — (because I feel that it parallels the theme of the performance) that Echtra, by definition is a subcategory of old Irish literature. Echtra deals mainly with the Hero's venturesome experiences in the Otherworld.
Other than my past experience with Fauna, and an inkling that the show might touch on the themes within it's name, I really had no idea what to expect from this event. Echtra himself shared my curiosity as to how the night would transpire, as he was performing in this space for the first time with friend and fellow Olympian, Heron. My guess from having seen the Fauna performance that these shows have a life of their own, once the inherent spirit within Echtra is evoked there is no predicting where it will lead.
The folks who attended the show, myself included, were unbelievably lucky to partake in the journey with Echtra. I do not know what percentage of the audience was there for Echtra, as the venue struck me as catering more to the clubbing goth types rather than any sort of ambient black metal fanatics. But that aside the show was really more of a ritual performance than a concert—they chose to perform at ground level with the audience, rather than on the elevated stage. A wall of driftwood, various animal hides, other anonymous ritualistic items and a single microphone adorned the performance area.
Before the show began the lights were all extinguished from the performance hall of Orbis Nex. The DJ abruptly shut off the dancey EBM music, surely leaving patrons to wonder if the power had gone out. Not long after this, two robe- and mask-clad figures entered from behind the audience carrying wonderfully smelling beeswax candles as a drone began to emanate from the sound system followed by a gently and cleanly plucked acoustic guitar which turned into the musical spine of the show.
The performance had a very strong narrative, and was extremely dark in both luminosity and in subject. Throughout the show, we saw the transformation of the two players from builders to a destructive force. From light-bringers, literally as they created fire utilizing archaic friction techniques, to the very essence of darkness. From fully clothed in dark robes and masks, to a haunting spectral like cheesecloth drapes (which was at times partially scorched by flame), to a Paleolithic-like loincloth, and then finally bearing themselves naked covered only by white clay.
The two created a ritualistic circle surrounded by candles and incense and then proceeded to built a mountain out of the drift wood, all done as if it were a perfectly executed choreographed dance. During this time we were given a few small glimpse into a darker world featuring hard percussion and harsh and heavy guitars on the background track, reflecting a deep ambient black metal sound. During these sonic outbursts, Echtra would deliver his message in screams that rasped my voice just hearing it.
After these foreshadowings of what was to come, the audience was taken back into a state of relaxation as they continued to watch the narrative unfold. Just at the height of creativity, as all the candles were aflame, as the wooden mountain stood built, the music started to turn to a mystical ambient soundscape that induced a serene trance in the audience. The players too took on the mood that this atmospheric droning created and began to sink lower towards the earth. Soon near-complete stillness was reached within the warehouse space; the only movement was the flicker of the beeswax candle's fire. Along with this stillness came an eerie calm, perhaps a sense of ataraxia that can be compared to the stillness of the Midwestern air before a tornado rips through the countryside leaving a path of destructiveness in its wake.
In an instant the walls came crashing down, rather were torn down as the audience was ripped away from their comfort and thrown into a state of awe-like-terror. They were assaulted by an unforeseen change from the beautiful sounds to the harsh, abrasive and classically fast blackened metal that cut through the still air with furor and a frenzied violent force. Simultaneously as the music changed, the players ripped through the warehouse like a storm, destroying the wooden mountain they had built, and tackling the audience head-on. They tore through the surprised witnesses screaming, jumping and pulling. Once the terror had been unleashed upon the crowd, they returned to the destroyed performing area, drift wood broken and scattered about. They took to the splintered wood, running and rolling on it, almost like an act of penitence, for surely contact with the broken and splintered wood must have been painful to their near-bare bodies. After this cataclysm nearly all the candles were extinguished, but the scent of incense and beeswax still wafted through the air as yet again a stillness set on the audience as they were left in shock, the two figures disappeared.
After a few minutes to allow the audience to recover to the sound of humming distorted drones and the reoccurring serene acoustic guitar, the two figures reappeared bare. Echtra, covered in whitewash raised a basin above his head and poured a reddish black liquid down upon himself. The blackening liquid dripped down his body for a moment until he effectively painted himself completely invisible in the extremely dark room. His partner then took up another basin, filled with white watery clay, followed Echtra's lead and doused himself from head to toe. Lightness and darkness now stood naked before us. The performance ended with both of them facing one-another in silence holding the last lit candle between them high above their heads. Slowly they lowered the candle until one of them brought the flame to extinction.
This is how performances should be. A dance that engages your senses, sight and sound, smell and touch. This was a dance that evoked pure visceral emotion. This was a journey that brought the viewer from the temporal world to a primordial consciousness within their self-being. It was an honor to be present at this event, and I know that we who were present for this event shall never fully recover from what we experienced.
Note from the Author: Due to an oversight and miscommunication on the part of this author a previous edit, one that was not meant to be published, was posted on Heathen Harvest. I extend my sincere apologies to Echtra and Heathen Harvest for this blunder as a mistake such as this can compromise the journalistic integrity of not only myself, but also Heathen Harvest.