I remember the day I met Downfall of Gaia, it was the best day of my life but I was too drunk to realize it. Somehow within a twenty four hour period I was able to see my favorite bands, drink far too much and solidify lifelong friendships. For the uninitiated, behind the scenes at Hellfest is a gigantic party, they’ve got it all, drinks, drugs, women, anything you could possibly want. In the middle of it all, standing side stage of The Valley at Hellfest were a couple dudes who appeared to be in a band.
“What band are you in?”
“Downfall of Gaia,”
“I work for Hellfest, I need to interview you at some point”
“Cool. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Matt, I’m Mike”
We exchanged a few more words and eventually I sat down with Mike and Paul O’Neil (Then he was still in Conan) and drunkenly tried to reinvent the world of interviews with a double interview, discussing drumming and life in touring bands. Perhaps most notably I drunkenly threatened to rape O’Neil, not my finest moment, yet it speaks to the madness that surrounded the festival. My entire reality was called into question, yet these metal dude seemed to stand eternal.
The next day I saw Mike in the artist area. He squeezed my shoulder as he passed, in the company of two of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. He was kissing one and whispering what I presumed to be sweet nothings in her ear. I was a little bit stunned. Here was a man I wanted to be like. The heart of the party, and yet always sweet and incredibly intelligent, what did this guy have figured out? What strange reality had he been able to crack that gave him this type of profound understanding of others? After hanging out with him for a while now, I still haven’t been able to figure it out.
Perhaps it was fate then that later that night we would learn that he grew up in the town over from my mother and that I would also hit it off with the bands bassist, Tony. It was then that I started to realize the unique set up of this band. Mike Kadnar, lives in New York, yet the rest of the band live in Germany. It’s a strange set up, but it works. Perhaps that’s part of what made their new record Thrones of Decay so god damn fascinating, the sense of opposition gives it a wonderful sense of drama. The drumming is a highlight if nothing else.
As Paul O’Neil said to me that night over a pitcher of cider “Sometimes you meet people on the road you just hit it off with,” and while he is certainly among their number, so is Downfall of Gaia.
Yet all good things come to an end, Hellfest was soon over, I moved to America and Downfall of Gaia continued their tour. I added them on Facebook, got Mikes number, but didn’t know what would happen next. Hell, I barely spun their record, it was damn good, but for some reason it passed largely unnoticed. I knew I really liked these guys, but I had no clue what was to happen with them.
Then they announced a US tour. They would be playing two shows near me and I offered to let them stay at my parents house. What better way to really get inside the hearts and minds of the worlds premier post-metal band? In any case, they were all great guys, what did I have to lose?
In the weeks leading up to their Philly show I had an idea. We booked a show at a punk house with my own band, a few other locals and Downfall of Gaia playing as Thrones of Decay. Their willingness to play showed me how dedicated to the underground these guys are. Sure it was a show in a tiny basement for 30 people but they still gave their all. They were inspiring, powerful and dramatic. There was a sense of bombast here that immediately captured my imagination. While I had caught maybe half a song while drunk off my ass at Hellfest, this was something different, this was transcendent. Downfall of Gaia are turned on to a pure type of misery, a eternal darkness that is in fact rather sublime.
There is a clear sense of romanticism in the bands sound. The music is highly personal and a little bit abstract. Yet within that there is also a clear sense of beauty. Upon listening to them my mother said to me “These guys are really good, I can’t listen to them, but I can tell they’re really good.” Downfall of Gaia don’t need to be embraced by all for their mastery to be apparent. Their unique soundscapes have forged a unique musical path for the band.
After their first real show of the tour that night in Philly we drove for two hours through a snow storm to get to my parents house. Swigging bourbon and trading stories as Michaels brother, Tommy, who was doing merch for the tour, drove the van, it was hard to reconcile this side of the band with what I had just seen. At times these dudes are closed off, rather introverted, and yet also very wise. The dynamic of the friendly and vivacious Kadnar as compared to the quieter Germans was interesting to see and I think it’s part of what gives the group so much flavor.
Not a lot of mothers would be okay with a bunch of smelly metal dudes showing up at their homes at two in the morning, but my mother is not most mothers. It was strange to see this band I loved so much eating soup served by my doting mother in my family’s dining room. I haven’t lived with my parents for months so this was a fairly strange environment for me as well. Once more though I could see the strange relationship between the Germans and the Kadnars, while Dom, Tony, and Peter are vegetarians, the Kadnars seem to be anything but. Yet, despite silly little dualities like these (and some more apparent ones) there is no tension, instead there is a sense of balance that gives the band a peaceful vibe. As we sat drinking tea I reflected upon this, and so the my first day with Downfall of Gaia came to an end.
There’s nothing quite like waking up to the drummer of one of our favorite bands cooking toast with your mother. There’s also nothing quite like a band you love planning their next few tours in your kitchen over cinnamon rolls. In other words, the entire day passed quickly and was more than a little surreal. I talked with Tony about German black metal, the man is something of a freak. He is incredibly sweet, huggable even, and yet his obsession with the music borders on insane, I love it. He is a truly fascinating figure and I get the sense that there is far more to him than meets the eye.
After spending most of the day in my house, hanging out and playing metal-themed Flash games (namely Zombie Grinder 60000 and Flap Kvlt Fenriz) it was time to go out to the next show, this time in Wilmington. We all loaded into the van and arrived at the venue nearly three hours before the doors opened to the public. Much of the night was spent waiting, be it for the show to even start (Although I did get to meet a stripper in the interim) but later on just to get through the four fucking opening bands, all of whom played 30-45 minute sets. This is the kind of thing that makes me hate extreme metal. When triumphant headliners are forced to go on after midnight because mediocre locals took too long to perform. Nights like this you have to just say fuck it, at least we got to play pool.
I also had a chance to really get to talking with Dom, the bands singer, and Peter the lead guitarist. Dom seemed frustrated by the limitations he felt in America, be it with the language, or with his minor mistakes he made live. He seems to be ever the perfectionist pushing the band to new heights, in a way I shouldn’t be surprised that the foundation of this band started with projects he and Tony had formed as youths. Peter is a singularly interesting human being.. At times aloof he seems almost to smart for this world. His interactions seem kindhearted but also strangely reserved. Perhaps it is the German ethos, yet there is a sense of something else, something that clearly inspires the music and helps to make it so cerebral and engaging. It’s through conversations like these though that you start to see the cogs behind a band and understand how the magic of these acts come together to evidence a more profound reality.
When Downfall of Gaia took the stage it was the first time I would ever see them with a real soundman and also completely sober. Suffice to say I was blown away. These guys have a sound that is in many ways cosmic. Every layer is perfectly set up to create the ultimate sonic experience, to capture the listener and guide them to the freedom of better days. There is a sense of golden triumph in these songs, in the way they blend together and in how their samples wash over us, it functions as proof of the stunning beauty of the band. The atmospheric guitars and strangely comforting shrieks come forth to provide a bleak reprieve from the struggles of daily life. As the band moves towards the triumphant conclusion of their set you get a sense for the inherent drama of the music. The romanticism of Downfall of Gaia is hard to describe, it speaks to a much more poignant truth and quintessentially human values.
As the night wound down and we loaded out I realized that along with that intimate crowd (who bout a shocking amount of merch) I had gotten to see something truly special, a band who opened their hearts to the trials and tribulations of our age showing us the glorious might that black metal can have. The guys in Downfall of Gaia are turned on to a much more profound layer of reality and they will charm you with their frankly magical sound. Downfall of Gaia get the eternal power of metal music, yet what they do seems to transcend even that. As they left my parents house the next day, full of smiles, handshakes and hugs, I realized that I had been exposed to something far greater than myself, a sort of profound new world where metal rules, but also the beauty of duality, opposition, and romanticism are honored. Downfall of Gaia are looking to a brave new future confident and bold, with a sound that could change the world.