The music business and the magazine business have had a rough go of it in the 21st century, and music journalism has felt its attendant industries’ fortunes acutely. But Decibel, the Philadelphia-produced monthly that focuses on acts at the fringes of the fastest and the loudest, has survived in a brutal landscape thanks to its laser focus on acts that inspire deep devotion. Its namesake tour, which pulled into Royale on Friday, was headlined by the Swedish pioneers At the Gates; it also showcased brief, yet searing sets by the Salem-borne punk metallurgists Converge, the bleak Arkansas outfit Pallbearer, and the gloomy supergroup Vallenfyre (which includes At the Gates drummer Adrian Erlandsson).
The show’s rush-hour start time and traffic-choked Theatre District location meant that Royale was still filling up during Pallbearer’s mournful set. The quartet’s tension resides in the way its bone-rattling riffs, deliberately unfolding drumming, and thick lead guitar lines play off frontman and guitarist Brett Campbell’s vocals, which provide an aching, soaring counterpoint to the depths being plumbed around them. Live, that feeling bloomed and twisted, providing uneasy listening that was startling in its beauty.
Converge was next, and to say the crowd was primed for the band’s speedier fusion of hardcore’s agitation is to understate the case; as soon as lead singer Jacob Bannon yelped, “Here we go!” the dance floor at Royale parted to clear space for moshers, who thrilled in the band’s complex time-signature shifts, even when they made enough musical room for gorgeous melodies to bloom; an even more frenzied response came at the set’s end, when Converge played two knotty, intense tracks from its storied 2001 album, “Jane Doe.”
At the Gates, which formed in 1990, are at the forefront of “melodic death metal,” which brings together the precision of thrash and the grandiosity of the genre’s more orchestrally minded acts. Erlandsson’s drumming helped set the pace, shifting intricate rhythms into double-time in a manner that was so elegant as to be almost imperceptible at first — and that only added to the unnerving feeling of the band’s overwhelming sonic assault. Frontman Tomas Lindberg’s hoarse growls were matched in enthusiasm by his glee at leading the crowd in cheers and shouts (at one point he noted that Friday’s show was his band’s first in the area in about 19 years), and the old-home-week feel somehow felt right in line with his band’s tireless playing and arresting lyrical imagery.
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Maura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.