[FOREST METAL] The first words out of Oakhelm vocalist Pete Jay's mouth were, "This song is about witches…hot witches." The remark—referring to "Of Wood and Blood"—introduced the winning paradox of the evening: Black metal bands with fantasy leanings aren't known for being especially lighthearted. But last Friday at Kelly's Olympian, which recently opened a new live-music space, Oakhelm proved to be not only dark and epic, but also fun .
Between raised-glass cheers celebrating the merits of beer, Jay impressively sang both the clean and distorted vocal parts pretty much flawlessly. He sold the performance, too. Free from feigned grimaces, he bounced from one microphone to the other (using two so each could have different effects settings), seeming more buoyant than pretentious. But pretentiousness could be hard to pull off while donning a somewhat awkward five or six inches' worth of angle-cut skater hair.
Guitarists Donald Stanley and Kody Keyworth flanked Jay as two long-haired, thrashing blurs—more often than not locked in harmonies that were also impressively executed, especially considering it was the newly local four-piece's second hometown show ever. Of course, Keyworth and Stanley were able to carry over chemistry from their work together in Fall of the Bastards a few years back, which also included Oakhelm drummer Elias Bloch. Bloch largely remained hidden behind his massive, umpteen-piece kit—which he amazingly used every piece of without ever showing off.
Within the red walls of a room that, no doubt, will soon be known as one of Portland's best, a mosh pit stirred among a tightly packed couple-hundred people, and shards of glass and crushed cans scarred the brand-new hardwood floors. But the fast-moving pit seemed more like something out of a punk show than a frosty, corpse-painted Scandinavian metal club. A spontaneous, fist-pumping chant of "Hey!" even erupted during a particularly driving moment of "These Boundaries Crossed," and the punklike, audience-provided backing vocals fit right into the song. Continuing to be a very down-to-Earth frontman for a very brutal band, Jay applauded the rowdiness with a decidedly un-metal statement: "Thanks," he said earnestly. "You guys are sweethearts." The response was numerous metal horns and pentagram hand signs.