Since 2012 (save for a few years due to hiatus), the Decibel Magazine Tour has melted faces on an annual basis with some of the heaviest acts in Metal. This year was to be no exception, as a lineup of Dark Funeral, Cattle Decapitation, 200 Stab Wounds, and Blackbraid descended upon New York’s Irving Plaza for a night of low lights and high volume.
Blackbraid raised the bar high for the evening with a brutal set of black metal inspired by frontman Jon Krieger’s Native American roots. While the content of their lyrics and the elements in their music have a storied history, Blackbraid are still quite new to the scene. Formed just last year, the band made an immediate impact with the release of their first single, “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil” and subsequent album, “Blackbraid I.”
The intensity of the band’s stage presence was matched only by their music as Blackbraid delivered a powerful set filled with raw energy and emotion. The band offered a preview of their forthcoming album, “Blackbraid II,” performing “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon” and their new single “The Spirit Returns,” released mere days prior to the show.
200 Stab Wounds picked up right where Blackbraid’s set left off and kept the intensity flowing and the mosh pit moving. The band’s blistering guitars and thunderous drums were on full display as 200 Stab Wounds plowed through their performance, leaving no question as to why they are one of the most brutal and uncompromising bands in death metal today.
The band’s setlist drew primarily from their 2021 album, “Slave to the Scalpel,” and also included the two tracks that comprised “Masters of Morbidity”, 200 Stab Wound’s first (and most recent) release under the Metal Blade Records umbrella.
I have to admit that the next band of the evening, Cattle Decapitation, was my biggest anticipation of the night. I’ve had their new album, “Terrasite,” on repeat since it came out and have since gone down a rabbit hole exploring their entire discography. This was to be my first time seeing Cattle Decap live and I was more than stoked.
I knew from the moment they started with “The Carbon Stampede” that Cattle Decapitation’s set was going to be every bit as epic as I hoped it would be, if not more. Being in the photo pit for those first three songs was an experience, if not for the need to avoid the constant obstacle of crowd surfer legs than for my attempts to get the photos I needed while also allowing myself to absorb every note in sheer mesmerization of the music being played before me. That mesmerization would remain for the entire duration of the set.
With an impressive career now spanning three decades, headliners Dark Funeral are one of black metal’s most influential bands with good reason. Their live performances are a force to be reckoned with; a demonic spiritual experience soundtracked by soul-shaking metal riffs and blast beats.
The band’s career-spanning setlist featured a number of classic songs such as “My Funeral” and “Unchain My Soul,” as well as tracks from their most recent album, “We Are The Apocalypse.” The sinister intricacies of their music was hypnotic, and Dark Funeral had the crowd in the palm of their hand for the entire performance.
In my last review I talked about the shift in my settings approach, favoring a higher ISO in hopes of minimizing the need for corrections in post. And as I noted, the lighting was doing me all the favors that it possibly could that night, so the true test would be when the light wasn’t so abundant or deliberate. Welp, ask and ye shall receive; the lighting at this show offered plenty of hurdles for me to clear.
Blackbraid, 200 Stab Wounds, and Dark Funeral presented the dilemma where there was plenty of light but it was shining directly at me instead of the band; Cattle Decapitation had a lot of strobes so the light was in the right direction but only available for a split second. The light was either too much, not enough, or misdirected; misdirected, I should say, in terms of the light I needed to get my shot. The band should always be free to utilize lighting however they feel best expresses their intended meaning. Do I want to shoot photos in complete darkness? Of course not. Does it matter what I want? Of course not, nor should it. Let the band be who they are and get what you can get with what light you have. Now with that said, I certainly breathe a lot easier when lighting is not an issue.
Let’s talk about the challenge that we’re trying to overcome in these situations. It’s not about the lighting, or lack thereof, so much as it is the amount of information that you capture and can therefore manipulate in post. If the image is too under or overexposed, anything in those areas of pure black or pure white cannot be recovered. Anything between those extremes has, at the very least, a shot at being recoverable with some adjustments. Your primary goal is (obviously) to shoot an image that is exposed properly and eliminate the need for adjustments. When the lighting is out of your control, and particularly dark a la black metal shows, adjustments are inevitable, so it’s important to expose in such a way that you can get as much information as possible to work with in post.
It is important, however, to not rely too much on Lightroom or whatever your preferred editing application to save you. While exposing in a way that minimizes pure black and pure white gives you more information to work with, this information is not without its limitations, which can present themselves in the forms of banding like in the over-brightened image below:
See that? You don’t want that. You have to be careful with your edits to avoid pushing things too far. What’s more, you have to be aware that sometimes the banding doesn’t present itself until you zoom into the image or, even worse, until you export it and send it to the band only to see the banding when looking at it on your phone. The less you push the image, the less you’ll have to deal with this problem.
When you really need to save a shot, or if you just want some extra editing wiggle room, Noise Reduction technology is ever-evolving and improving. The general Noise Reduction sliders in Lightroom are very effective, and their recent A.I. Denoise tool is pretty decent too:
The brightness still needs adjusting, but the noise is gone. Quite a noticeable difference.
There are a plethora of ways to get to end result of a photo that makes you proud. It could be right out of camera, it could take some editing, or a lot of editing, or the help of A.I.. You could also try every tool that you have at your disposal and find that the image just isn’t salvageable. Every photo, every band, every show and situation is different. But the more work you do up front, the better position you put yourself into when it comes time to edit.