I managed to buy just one CD while on tour recently and it was the new live album from Michigan instrumental destroyers Beast in the Field. Recorded in 2012 as an in-studio performance at the Kalamazoo-based radio station WIDR, it’s been given the cumbersome title The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne and coupled with a sans-dialogue comic book featuring the band’s two members, guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr. At first I thought I might’ve had it wrong it and it was a DVD because of the case, but no, it’s a CD. After seeing even half of the band’s amplifier stack in Lansing, it became quickly apparent they don’t do anything small.
Like their five studio albums, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne is out on Saw Her Ghost Records, which has overseen everything the two-piece has done since their 2007 debut, Goat Isle Seance. That record is represented here by “Deep in the Caves,” which follows a noisy solo by Pries, and is preceded by “The Destroying Angel” and followed by closer “Through the Fires in all of Hell,” both of which come from 2011’s Lucifer, Bearer of Light. That would’ve been Beast in the Field‘s newest album at the time, though interestingly, the first three cuts they played at WIDR were “Hollow Horn,” “Altar Made of Red Earth” and “Wakan Tanka,” which also appear in that order following the intro “Great Watcher of the Sky” on 2013’s stellar The Sacred above, the Sacred Below (review here, stream here). Whether Pries and Jahr had recorded by then or were hammering out the flow of the album in a live setting, I don’t really know, but in hindsight it makes for some sound continuity from the record to the live outing and gives some sense of how the duo relate shows and studio work.
Unsurprisingly, they kill it. I’d be interested to know how many cabinets they didn’t bring to the radio station that day, but whatever balance they found, the audio is clear on both guitar and drums — or at least no more blown out than sounds cool — and the sheer density of their tone and impact of their crash are both captured. Speaking of “captured,” that’s pretty much the plot of the comic book as well. Pries and Jahr load up their gear and are in their van headed to, wouldn’t you know it, Kalamazoo, when all of a sudden they’re kidnapped by naked-lady demons and taken to some approximation of an underworld where they’re torn apart and fed to a skeletal version of a four-horned goat beast. I won’t spoil the ending, if they get out of it or not. With art by Mark Rudolph, it’s an engaging complement to the recording itself, and puts The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne in different category of releases than it might otherwise reside in were it just a live album. It may still be a stopgap en route to whatever Beast in the Field do next, but there’s enough presence and force behind the band’s sound that whatever they’ve got, it’s bound to turn a few heads. Just far enough to hear a pop.
With bonus points earned for the smiling cartoon depictions of Pries and Jahr, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne is further proof of how ready Beast in the Field are for recognition outside regional borders. For now, they remain a secret kept all too well.