In the latest of what are assured to be profitable sporting events, Metallica will perform their 4th “Metallica Night” at AT&T Park on May 6th, 2016, alongside a baseball game featuring the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies. This ungainly combination of baseball and metal music is sure to make a lot of money. Now, stadium performances are a pretty common choice for bands of Metallica’s commercial stature, but they’re usually not interleaved between innings of baseball like this. Furthermore, the Giants host an enormous amount of special events to liven up their seasons, so maybe their acquisition of Metallica’s services isn’t so out of the ordinary. In the end, an opportunity for those who like both (they of exquisite taste), and the punchline of a joke that’s yet to be written for everyone on DMU.
A swirling miasma of ethanol greeted us upon the last Black Flames of Blasphemy, a festival held this past November in the picture perfect setting of Helsinki. The night before the scheduled Warmup event, I flew into town and made a beeline for Bar PRKL, a space named for the Finnish profanity likely exposed to most readers of this site from the comedy album released by the quirky Impaled Nazarene.
Those of us who live in less utopian societies than Finland often wonder why the idyllic nations in this area are able to produce such incredible music. “Finnish people can’t admit that they have goodness,” chuckled ApeX lead guitarist Arttu, an incredibly young thrash band who were in the process of violating the few revelers in attendance at PRKL that night. Indeed, as such documentaries as Until the Light Takes Us strove to illustrate, perfection has cast a pall on everything in much of the remaining non-disintegrating portions of the globe. It is almost as if the human condition is predisposed to strife, and that ostensibly perfect societies lead the average citizen to turn to perversion to bring balance into life – thus possibly explaining why places like Germany and Japan end up with penchants for coprophilia and bestiality.
Also present at PRKL were two members of Sammath, who descended upon Helsinki specifically for a dose of damage to tympanic membranes and liver. Hundreds of euros worth of alcohol consumed before the festival even started explains the reduced quality of the writing herein. Any complaints may be directed towards those two for rendering me quasi-unable to write let alone think. The fact that the screed was written on a tortured local keyboard and the reviewer is used to a U.S. issued one didn’t help a whit either.
We older, more cynical types were delighted to find youth as enthusiastic about all things metal as ApeX, and though 17 year olds themselves were unusual in their devotion, Helsinki was remarkable for having metal and punk culture literally everywhere one went. Taxis, restaurants, public toilets, airport shuttles and hotels all had a notably worthwhile theme of fine harder music. This trend did display its cellulitic underbelly in billboards featuring nerdwank outfit, Nightwish, hawking air-brushed, wet-dream-inducing Caucasian female thighs and an exorbitantly expensive line of bling suitable for teenagers in wealthy northern countries with too much pocket money for their age.
But I digress. Our focus should be on the festival, and that was one thing that the festival organizers seemed to have done quite well over the years. Black Flames of Blasphemy has been a fairly well attended sub-underground festival, running on and off for the last six years. The early years were vomited forth in a now rededicated cathedral in central Helsinki, and whilst the festival has moved on to less atmospheric surrounds, the organizers’ devotion to only the most rabidly necrotic bands is no small feat. Originally launched by Kold Reso Kult, the festival seems to have taken on a raison d’etre of its own over the years and drawn numerous acts known for playing a very limited number of shows such as Antaeus and Blasphemy. The scarcity of many of the acts led to a non-trite sense of novelty that led to a triangulated feeling somewhere between reverence, arrogance and pride for having been one of the few to have seen such veritable narwhals of the musical world.
This year was allegedly the last, and whilst threats of this sort are often made in the world of underground metal (only 120 copies to be made in hymen blood, and then no more ever again NO CORE, NO TRENDS, . . . until we release it in vinyl again in a few months on an even more ridiculously limited run), there seemed to be little threat that the crowd did not lend it a credence as evidenced by the flagrant hedonism on display at virtually every level of the setting. Nosturi, as the venue was called, must have some connection to vile ‘rhoidrock band HIM, as their logo appears in the lighting-rig and several other locations in the building; but detestable associations aside, the venue was actually quite accommodating.
The staff at Nosturi were kind and courteous, putting up with the sort of reprehensible behavior that one would expect from a down syndrome five-year-old on amphetamines. Indeed, this seemed to be true for most Helsinkians, who were never seen to act heavy-handedly despite the questionable behavior of many of our associates. The drinks were of course ridiculously expensive, as are all things in Finland, (3 euro for the coatroom, 1 euro to retrieve said coat!?!?) but that did not stop the cohort from literally drinking the place into oblivion every single bloody evening.
Black Flames of Blasphemy VI should be noted to have featured the most solid lineup in the history of the festival. Indeed, more than a few have been solidly praised on this site amongst others for their solid contributions to the overall gestalt of extreme metal achievement in the prime years of the scene. Still, it was uneven. As has been reiterated time and again on this site, 99% of metal is absolute shit, and bands like Blackwinged embodied the nadir of human endeavor. The silver lining to this is that more time was made for sightseeing / mind abusing opportunities.
On then to the reviews as they were penned by this reviewer in the classic manner: via sweat, ink and beer soaked notebook clutched between pumping fists, and the contributions of the stalwart brood of iniquitous, abusive pundits who wandered in and out of the fuzzy borders of the violence ringing in his ears.
DAY 1: WARMUP – Grunt / Bizarre Uproar / Ride for Revenge / Obscure Burial / Deströyer 666
Grunt: Said to be a side project of Clandestine Blaze / Northern Heritage sociopath, Mikko Aspa, Grunt kicked off the “Warmup” to the festival by doing quite the opposite. Monotonous, repetitive pulses punctuated by amateur feedback made me wonder why people are still drawn to artrock. Images of highly disturbing matter lent the show a more tolerable air, but pudgy white guys in bondage masks barking at random made me conscious of guarding my asshole too much to enjoy the show. Over all, Grunt in concert were a bit like listening to your fey roommate having an orgy whilst listening to Godflesh on a broken turntable next door. The playing of the belt sander on the thunder machine was an interesting flare, but with all due respect, Mr. Aspa should keep his day job.
Bizarre Uproar: Seems like Grunt just changed into their street clothes and got fatter. A Dutchman near me noted that this band gave him earAIDS. This drove us back to the bar as it wasn’t nearly so interesting as twenty well executed shots of salmiakki licorice alcohol. Cirrhosis is always preferable to aural loss. Look not for the successors to the great Throbbing Gristle here.
Ride For Revenge: Repetitive, sludgy, and coming off like Goatlord, but not quite as inspired, RfR still brought the focus of the show more firmly in a metal direction. The band’s stage presence was directionless, and at times reminiscent of one of those hunting dioramas at a second rate sporting goods store.
Obscure Burial: The writing in my notebook point is smeared by unknown fluids for this act. What is legible bleeds through as follows: “A triple barbed fishhook – much more focused than any other band thus far. An Australian nearby wrote this:
“We walked up to the upstairs area and there were cocks everywhere. It was gay as shit! It was like listening to Kreator in 99! Fuck that shit.”
This was followed by multiple images of genitalia with wings.
Deströyer 666: Maligned in some quadrants for playing in a thrashy, hook-flaying style that may have contributed to the formation of “war metal,” and in others for K.K. Warslut’s obnoxious attitude, Deströyer 666 were a true joy to behold. Filled out by an entirely new band, K.K. and the boys managed to finally shake the torpid audience out of their inertia. Tracks such as the shocking “Raped” gave the listener the same queasy pleasure that one derives from listening to the Fearless Iranians from Hell’s “Blow up the Embassy.” “I am the Wargod,” and “Black City,” were played with more chin-jutted pride and beauty than on the vinyl, whilst the ethereal “Trialed by Fire” raised the hair on necks and the spirits of the dejected. Deströyer even launched a kerosene-soaked rendition of Motörhead’s “Iron Fist,” tipping their chrome-studded hats to Phil “Philthy” Taylor’s passing earlier in the day. All in all, Deströyer 666 certainly made showing up to the festival a night early well worth it, purging our ears of much of the fluff which preceded them.
Day 2: FRIDAY 13th – Blackwinged / Vampire / Hell Militia / Xibalba / Mayhemic Truth / Midnight / Blasphemy
Blackwinged: Guest reviewer – Vlad, Russian virus and vodka enthusiast, and general psychopath: “Blackwinged? FUCK THEM ALL! Suck my fucking wrinkled dick.” It may be said that they weren’t a favorite amongst the crowd.
Vampire: Concho belted, pretty boy Aerosmith antics of the lead vocalist Command aside, it has to be said that Vampire were one of the big surprises of the show. With an approach akin to Kreator’s “Extreme Aggression,” Vampire managed to transcend the Italian horror-film shtick of their stage set, album art and, yes, band name to actually convey the attraction of mortification. Although I was unfamiliar with the tracks, the music whelmed in a not untasteful rock format that seared themes presumably of the undead into the conscious. Channeling Riccardo Freda in the best ways possible, Vampire delivered an entertaining show that was only slightly marred by the less-cocksure presence of the string section.
Hell Militia: 666 – no report – 666
Xibalba: Undeniably shitty drum solos and crude corpse-paint aside, Xibalba stood as one of the zeniths of the festival. These heroes of the second wave of black metal came on with a garage band sincerity that outshone the more highly polished acts throughout the rest of the evening. Thank Satan for this eager aural feast! Tracks like “Sign of Eastern War” and “Sac Ibteeloob Cab” were executed with a grim clarity that were occasionally missed on the original disc. Young new band members injected an off-kilter virility into the music that is essential for such an ambitious project.
Mayhemic Truth: Best known for changing monikers as often as John “Cougar” Mellancamp, and for many of the same shitty dishonest reasons, Morrigan were cut from the same overrated Kraut-tripe, kvlt-as-fvck cheesecloth as their vacuous countrymen Moonblood. In the 90s before MP3s made the obscure-kvlt fad obsolete, I was of the brood vainly attempting to find releases by this act . . . only to be astonished by how over-hyped they were when I finally heard them. Jeffemic Truthship did not fail to disappoint by disappointing with hackneyed black metal cliché after hackneyed black metal cliché. Stay obscure, White Stripes of kvltmetal, so that the rest of us don’t have to hear your sorry excuse for music.
Midnight: This reviewer was looking forward to some sort of decent blackened speed akin to Sodom, and was bouncing off the walls for some old school headbanging. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much impressed, so gave the job of review again to the ruthless peanut gallery around me: “nice thrash. ßit’s not, so fk off! Cheap ass trash. Fucking bollocks!!! Boring. It’s not even midnight assholes. They started at 11:45 – midnight my arse!! Midshite!!”
Blasphemy: Blasphemy’s terrifying Cro-Magnon antics delineated why the genre of black metal flourished for one brief, outstanding moment back at the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Canadian masters of knuckle-dragging avant-garde horror imprecisely dissected the audience as a claw hammer muddles and pulverizes the veiny membranes of a victim’s genitals. While the Ross Bay maniacs may never have quite reached the spacey brilliance of their Finnish protégés, Beherit, the “organized chaos” of their technique was matched that night only by the gunfire lighting up stadiums in Paris 2,000 kms away. Tracks such as “Goddess of Perversity” were executed with an intensity reminiscent of some of the more hyperactive Discharge tracks, and intros were faithfully inserted without a hint of humor. Photos attempted at short range during this show mostly consisted of purple blurs and the back of brutarian ham-hock elbows. The show also illustrated again why Blasphemy have only ever put out two real efforts (yes, I know that there are technically three, but come on – they’re basically fifteen minute punk affairs). The band made their contracted dynamo statement of grunted, jack-booted hate in a blood-clot of chains, crudely applied paint and beer-gutted belches. After forty insanely punishing minutes, the Helsinki authorities carted them off to their respective cells in solitary confinement where they belong.
DAY 3: Satanic Warmaster / Infernal War / Irkallian Oracle / Funeral Winds / Goat Semen / Varathron / Mysticum
Satanic Warmaster: Written by a drunk Finn: HAISTA VITTU VITUN HUORA KUSIPĀĀ, IME MUNAA JA KUOLE! SAATANA LLINEN SOTA HERRA NY LOPPU SAHTI. PRIEKĀ, NO LATVIHAE. LAI TEV LABA DZIVE PRIEKS TEVI SATIKT. Actually, those last couple of phrases might be in Latvian.
Infernal War: 666 – No report – 666
Irkallian Oracle: I really wanted to hate this band. They are so phenomenally over the top. A bunch of ring-wraiths holding sparkly tambourines and bells. Faces masked by silver sheets. The kind of accouterments and flashy hocus-pocus that one would expect from a second-rate Ed Wood movie. And yet, the band was enigmatic. Themes held together throughout the whole concept of a track, cycling back from start to finish to start again, alpha and omega encompassing a solid core. The mystery behind the act was far more compelling than with more gimmicky acts that have been abused on these pages. This band is what GHOST wishes it was. I will be interested to pick up the album to see whether the whole disc sounds as good as it did live.
Funeral Winds: See: Mayhemic Truth. Or just about any Xerox copy black metal.
Goat Semen: Came off as a kind of second rate bully boy Blasphemy. Sure, they have cleaner riffs from time to time, but do they convey the same core of absolute spinning disgust and pummeling loathing? Perhaps it’s just that Blasphemy are so much more familiar from having been played time and again . . . or that they developed this genre, and that anything else emulating it is just that: a plastic reproduction, no matter how faithfully copied.
Varathron: For almost three decades these innovative masters of crawling necrotic horror have forged timeless odes to their Hellenic ancestors. Rivaled in their excellence and originality in Greece perhaps only by the great Necromantia, Varathron have been criminally overlooked by basement-dwelling pseudonymed fanboys more interested in the likes of obscure releases by Moëvöt than incredibly well developed music that perfectly emotes the Dionysian strophe and anti-strophe of ancient cultic form. Varathron took the stage with more presence than could have been imagined from some of the cheesier rock mantras that they fell prey to in the early 2000s, and launched into a barrage of tracks from across their storied career. Recent(ish) drummer Haris is an amazing addition to the band, and one that this reviewer wishes had been present on classics such as “His Majesty at the Swamp,” which suffered from drummachineitis. Guitarist Achilleas decimated the audience much like his warrior-hero namesake, along with twin slayer in savagery Sotiris and recently added bassist, Stratos. Varathron reached their climax with the amazing “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon,” where band high priest Necroabyssius read from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in a huge tome edition, green lights all ablaze, magnificence all ablaze. Incidentally, the entire band are really nice blokes too.
Toxicology report: Mysticum: *Journalist’s disclaimer – order of events may have played out slightly differently than reported – notes were not taken during the actual performance, but recalled from cottony memory* Twin streams of quicksilver lashed the crowd as the techno triumvirate of Cerastes, Prime Evil, and Dr. Best took to the stage. Nineteen years elapsed since this dystopian nightmare last synthesized an audience into freebased crystallized human waste. I had grave doubts about whether this band would be anything interesting live. Idols are often deflating in situ, and although their demos and first album were good, the production levels often made the backtrack sound like bubble paper being stomped on by Japanese girls in platforms. All fears were allayed as the thumping horror of “Black Magic Mushrooms” battered the audience and surreal monochromatic strobewar of lights blistered our retinas. The light show and visuals were truly unique throughout a performance interestingly heavy on tracks from the new “Planet Satan” release, including “Lucifer in the Sky with Demons,” “All Must End,” and my personal favorite, “The Ether.” On the screen, forms morphed from chemical compounds of LSD and other intoxicants, to Nazi soldiers, to skulls and swirling maelstroms of insanity. A paralyzing early intermezzo left the crowd confused and disoriented, after which “Crypt of Fear’s” ominous intro shook them into hysteria. Mysticum left no room for error: they are back to stay, and dominate. 100% pure satanic peyote!
Epilogue: Starting at a flat line
The shuttle bus at the airport is rooted to the ground. Won’t move anywhere. The heater is up way too high. I’m roasting in morkkis, a Finnish term for a kind of hideous hangover defined by creeping dread and a sense of, well, mortification. One poor soul we interviewed might best sum up the atmosphere of the entire festival. He was hobbling around on crutches. When asked what transpired, he confided that early on in the show, he and some colleagues had taken a few doses of LSD. Having come down into a troubled, drug addled sleep he was jolted awake by a fellow reveler, who had hallucinated that the police were raiding their dwelling. His immediate reaction was to jump from the upper story window down to a painful and humiliating full stop below. Morkkis. The human condition is low indeed. Yet I am buoyed by the knowledge that even if most of what moved this reporter was music penned two decades ago, it was a zenith of human achievement, and which could have only been commemorated by the bacchanalian Black Flames of Blasphemy.
Any metal fan should hang their head in shame for missing out on Promotorheads ”Slayer Day”. Pissing down rain, a two hour train ride, followed by a 20 minute bus trip, set the afternoon in motion (no pun intended).
Arriving at the Bald Faced stag for my first time, I must say it wasn’t as pretty as I’d imagined it to be, BUT Damn, what an AWESOME $10 lunch. 3.30pm usually my time to be getting washing off the line, feed our mini zoo, and hear all about the days events in the primary school yard .
First to grace the stage was Billabong of Blood. Their mixture of soft/hard vocals had some boots stomping.
Next was War of Attrition, and holy shit did they have my camera shaking. Vocals to make your ears bleed, and have any good Christian running for their crucifix. I must admit my favourite of the night, and still have me rambling on .
What was to follow, could not be described by mere words. My pen surely is not mightier than the sword. I still can’t believe it myself, the sheer talent, out of this world sound and the stage presence. You’d be thinking “why the hell aren’t we in some big arena worthy of such a musical encounter?” However, looking at the crowd, seeing patch work denim, black leather jackets and more hair than all of Dolly Parton’s wigs put together, made me proud to be a metal head from the 80’s.
Strangers lined the front of the stage, arms over shoulders of strangers banging heads, timing to perfection. As the line moved, knocking an older head banger to the ground, everyone stopped & offered assistance, picked him up and then returned to their original position. Proving yet again, never Judge a book by their tattoos ,long hair or the strange clothes they wear.
Of course no Slayer Day would ever be complete without some actual Slayer being played. That my friends, was where Murder-World would have left Gordon Ramsey speechless. You’d be hard pressed to find any more “”metal horns”” raised by a whole room full of people. Two fingers have never meant so much, nor held so high, as they were during one of the most outstanding kick in the guts covers of Slayer, I’ve ever seen, let alone heard .
Now, no review would ever be complete without a word or two about the Promoter, Promotorhead Bookings . Firstly, Trudy, your knowledge of metal, your way with words, passion, hard work and dedication, holds you at the top of your field. Slayer Day has set the bar so high, others will need a javelin stick just to see what you did. Forget inviting bands to play at your next gig I’m sure they are already calling you.
A short clip of Murder World at the show can be watched here.
Maryland Deathfest VII
May 23, 24 and 25, 2009
Sonar, Baltimore, Maryland
The summer metal festival — Europe has a number of them: Obscene Extreme Fest, Party San, Wacken. Seemingly long gone are the days when North Americans had their own Milwaukee Metalfest to make pilgrimage to at the end of every summer. Fortunately, after several years of festival lull, two metal fans decided to put on a show that featured “real” metal bands again.
The Maryland Deathfest is now an annual event that takes place for three days near the end of May. This past year featured an impeccable lineup, perhaps the very best seen at MDF thus far, a strong hint that quality and old-school death metal and grindcore remain vital forces in the greater metal world.
After making the trip down the coast to Baltimore a day early, my cohorts and I decided to attend the pre-show for a mere ten dollars. Not much was of note during this “pre-fest”. Czech grindcore band Jig-Ai showed themselves as instrumentally competent, and able to cook up a good riff, but a lack of dynamics and irritating pig squeals prevented their music from being enjoyed further. Following Jig-Ai came a few more bands that were not significant, so relaxing outside in the cool spring night was much preferred.
It was not until Lethal Aggression that the pre-fest picked up. This reviewer had never heard said band before, but they presented a charming fusion of crossover thrash, early grindcore, and the best of hardcore punk. It could be likened to Cryptic Slaughter mixed with Siege and a hint of speed metal. Their performance was quite spirited, and the band ripped through an assortment of songs with professionalism and an impermeable cohesiveness as a group.
The headliner of the night was Ghoul, a “supergroup” of sorts made up of members from Exhumed, Impaled, and Dystopia, among others. Musically, this outfit melds together speed metal, hints of death metal riffing, and a surface aesthetic very much like Danzig-era Misfits. From their ridicule of the new, ridiculous “retro-thrash” trend to their spraying of liquid all over the audience in a bottle labeled “swine flu,” their performance did not disappoint for pure satirical entertainment.
Despite the “deathfest” name, grindcore has always figured prominently into Maryland Deathfest’s festival repertoire. The grindcore scene, as with death and black metal, has come upon hard times, with very little of excitement being generated. Still, this general trend was not enough to prevent several fantastic grindcore bands (as well as a few merely good ones) from appearing on the Friday bill.
Following a good night’s sleep, my cohorts and I met with up with other friends from around the city and trekked back to the venue. It became readily apparent that Sweden’s blast-and-forget black metal crew Marduk would not be playing, due to troubles concerning their visas, which was of little loss to festival quality as a whole.
Instead, the outdoor stage schedule was modified to include Cephalic Carnage, and the indoor show would end earlier than planned. The first band of my day was Sayyadina, who sounded much like a more aggressive Nasum. The Swedegrind sound has never been terribly interesting, as most bands who are involved with it are wont to make it much too technical and polished. This contrasts readily with the unrefined edge required of grindcore; instead the entire experience is spoiled with a big budget and nice, “clean,” rock-n-roll production. Fortunately, based on their live performance, Sayyadina seem to integrate much of the early 1990s American grindcore style into their take on the genre. The downside would be their insistence on blasting — way too much of it — and not enough variation in rhythm. Further investigation will be needed to determine this band’s ultimate listenability.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most anticipated band of the night was Mayhem. The band took the stage and opened with “Pagan Fears.” What was immediately apparent were two things: the first being how truly inhuman Attila Csihar’s voice is, and the second being that the sound engineers had absolutely no idea how to mix black metal in a live setting. The guitars were so unbelievably screechy that I had to move back from the stage in order to prevent my eardrums from imploding. Apart from this problem (which was only partly fixed roughly halfway into the set), Mayhem delivered a commendable performance, with plenty of highlights (“Deathcrush”; “Freezing Moon”), and even a very surprising presentation of the title track off De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Atilla’s presence was undeniable, almost messianic, as he warped his vocal chords into his own plaything: screeching, bellowing, chanting, and growling to great effect. The two new guitarists had a decent understanding of Mayhem’s material, apparent despite the detriment of the horrific sound.
One strange thing to see was how many people turned up for Mayhem, and how about half of them looked like they had never heard the band in their life. Given Mayhem’s controversial past, one might be inclined to believe that half of the people there were just turning up in the hopes of seeing some immature novelty act. Further proof that in the underground metal world, hipsters unfortunately abound.
Up next was the legendary Dutch death metal group Asphyx, playing their first-ever American show, which was accompanied by a unanimously great reception by the large crowd. For the occasion, they were given the honor of wrapping up the first day of the outdoor stage. Vocalist Martin Van Drunen, though becoming a death metal gray-hair, was easily one of the most engaging and sincere frontmen this reviewer has had the pleasure to see live. His banter with the audience and habit of high-fiving crowd surfers contributed to the sense of fun that permeated Asphyx’s performance. In blazing through several tracks from a variety of studio albums (save for the embarrassing God Cries), Asphyx even managed to play “Abomination Echoes” from the Crush the Cenotaph demo. Unfortunately, Mayhem’s longer-than-anticipated set forced Asphyx to cut theirs short in accordance with the ludicrously early outdoor sound curfew of 11 pm. Ending with the massive title track offThe Rack, the sound engineers axed the power to the amps with only about a minute left in the song. Coincidentally, the original recording ends by fading out, so in essence the audience was able to experience a full studio version of it. Asphyx bowed off the stage to massive applause.
Upon heading inside, I caught the set of crossover/hardcore “supergroup” Venomous Concept. Made up of half of Napalm Death and half of Brutal Truth, this quartet retains interest through their exploration of embryonic extreme metal and hardcore styles. A very energetic and very intoxicated Kevin Sharpe kept the crowd on their toes, even cutting his forehead open after smashing it with the microphone. After pummeling their way through a half-hour set, Venomous Concept left the stage, and this reviewer hiked back to his hotel room.
The next day, feeling energized and with ears freshly ringing, my group headed down to Sonar for day two of the festival. After skipping over the many bands of no interest, the first band of day two we encountered was P.L.F. (formerly known as Pretty Little Flower, now apparently going by the name Pulverizing Lethal Force). This Texas grindcore trio was highly impressive with their regressive style, revealing influences from the best of the genre, chiefly Assuck andTerrorizer. The singer/guitarist joked that their merch was available in the back room, and that they brought plenty of long-sleeved shirts, as only true Hessians wear them in such obscenely hot weather. Despite a very short set time, P.L.F. managed to rumble through their setlist with a few minutes to spare, and received mostly positive reactions from the audience.
Since the next batch of bands was not of interest in any way, my friends and I skipped them in favor of finding some food, after which we returned to catch Sweden’s Rotten Sound. Although one may look upon them unfavorably because of their association with the Nasum/groovy-grindcore scene, Rotten Sound are not, sonically at least, deserving of such condemnation. Their music is like Dead Infection or Sweden’s Dawn: wholly unoriginal, but executed in such a manner that one cannot find much fault in what they do. Their brand of grindcore is much more “British” (for lack of a better description), in that it takes more influence from early crust and hardcore than it does groove metal.
Following Rotten Sound, this reviewer chose to relax in the shade with a cool water and rest while Hail Of Bullets played on stage. Their album was not impressive in the slightest, and neither was their performance, despite the ever-present charm of the previous night’s star vocalist Martin Van Drunen. It is quite probable that if the lineup did not include such prominent members of the death metal scene, the album would not have received a second thought or listen by anyone.
Thankfully, Brutal Truth took to the stage next, alleviating the crushing boredom wrought by Hail of Bullets, immediately stirring me from my needed respite. Bassist Dan Lilker commented that his throat was hoarse, and he would be unable to do backup vocals; luckily, their performance was not hindered by this revelation in any way. Frontman Kevin Sharpe, sporting a nice cut in the middle of his forehead from the previous night’s on-stage chaos, was as engaging as ever as the band merged classic and new in a seamless display of veteran competency.
After a short stint of watching Misery Index (who were capable, though nearly totally unfamiliar to this reviewer,), the ever-anticipated Immolation was up next on the outside stage. Baffling is the fact that Immolation is not a more recognized band in the death metal community; they have been together for over two decades, and have received a good deal of praise and notoriety, but when the heavy hitters of the genre are mentioned, Immolation is rarely on the list — modern audiences seem, unfortunately, to be fixated on flashy technicality, blast beats and other novelties rather than on songwriting, one of the talents at which Immolation has always excelled.
A highlight of Immolation’s set was a favorite off of Dawn of Possession, “Into Everlasting Fire.” Unfortunately for them, equipment problems at the beginning of their set forced the band to shorten their playing time. Nonetheless, their performance was top-notch, and those who have not witnessed them in a live setting are truly missing out on one of death metal’s legendary acts.
Atheist was poised to perform shortly thereafter on the outside stage. The long-awaited return of Atheist was most certainly a reason for many who attended MDF. Before their initial arrival, the feeling that one was about to hear such classics as “Mother Man” and “Piece of Time” in a live setting seemed almost unreal. Despite this overwhelming anticipation, it seemed almost immediately that their performance that night would be good, but not great, as might be expected on such a fortunate occasion from these exemplary musicians. Vocalist Kelly Shaffer (who, thanks to his well-known tendonitis affliction, was not playing any instruments) apparently smokes a lot of cigarettes, and it showed in his strained performance almost as if it hurt him intensely to do his characteristic snarl. Despite the slight disappointments, it was a welcome sight to see Atheist performing together again, and musically there were few real mishaps.
Up next outdoors was one of the bands that I specifically wished to see: Napalm Death. Their material from 1985 to 1992 is some of my favorite music from any genre. After that period, a lot of mediocrity and occasional awfulness plagued the band. More recently,The Code is Red had enough fire in it to be a moderately enjoyable album — a breath of fresh air for old time fans. Despite their last two albums feeling more like a band having totally given up, rather than one whose enthusiasm and creative drive are intact, I was still eager to see them perform. All-time classic tracks — “It’s A! M.A.N.S. World,” “Deciever,” “Life?,” “Scum,” “The Kill,” and of course, “You Suffer” — were battered through with the confidence and poise of professionals clearly beyond comfortable with their abilities, inducing the crowd (including myself) to a violent moshing melee. With luck, this confidence will shine through in future recordings to provide the element of desire that has been conspicuously absent in their latest works.
The final performer on the outside stage at MDF was none other than England’s Bolt Thrower. After years of prodding by the event organizers, Bolt Thrower was finally convinced to cross the pond to headline Saturday’s show. A quick glance around the concert area told me that Bolt Thrower had quite possibly drawn the largest crowd of the fest thus far — with good reason, as this would be Bolt Thrower’s first show in the USA in 14 years. A thunderous ovation erupted as the band took the stage. It was a welcome return for some of the older spectators; for most on their first time through, it was a near-magical experience to see one of death metal’s stalwarts performing their numerous classics in the flesh. As expected, Bolt Thrower unleashed an audio barrage upon the helpless audience, the sound rolling over the crowd like an armored division. Particular highlights were “The IVth Crusade,” “Cenotaph,” and “For Victory,” though every song, old to new, was performed flawlessly. The fervent feedback from the audience fed the band members, who thrived off the positive energy.
Day three began like the other two days: with a bunch of bands no one gave a shit about. Apart from Magrudergrind’s violent intensity, there wasn’t much to see until Absu took the stage outside.
When Absu did finally take the stage, they began playing immediately. After a short ambient intro piece, Proscriptor greeted the rather large turnout. Strangely, Proscriptor mostly stuck to drumming, providing backup vocals through parts of the set, but only leading on a few songs. This choice proved to be a bit disheartening, as the new guitarist/singer is comparatively timid = vocally. Absu soldiered onward regardless, doing what they manage given their criminally short set time. With their latest album being a mishmash between excellent instrumental performance and less than stellar songwriting, it wise probably wise that only one song from the album was played.
After Abscess and Aura Noir, who were both competent (especially the latter), Destroyer 666 took the stage to end the final night of outdoor performances. The Australian quartet was greeted with an enthusiasm that was transferred directly to their fiery presentation. Like the other major acts present, D666 were tight instrumentally, and frontman KK Warslut was able to whip the crowd into a demonic frenzy. The booming choruses of “I Am The Wargod” and “Black City – Black Fire” were particularly memorable. All in all, an appropriate high point to conclude the outdoor stage.
Pestilence had apparently run into visa issues, and like Marduk, were not able to enter the USA. To compensate for this, the outdoor stage bands were given slightly longer set times, and it was announced that a surprise performer would take Pestilence’s time slot on the inside stage. Rumors abounded as to who this surprise would be, and it turned out to be Bolt Thrower, who had stayed behind to tear through a second set in top-notch fashion and enthusiasm, which will only further cement their weekend appearance as one of latter-day death metal legend.
Maryland Deathfest, while somewhat choked with vagabonds and hipsters — an inevitable side-effect of the longevity of the festivals themselves and urban environments in which they are nearly always held — was well-attended and exceptionally well-organized. Coupled with the amicable staff, this made for a superbly positive experience often lacking in metal gatherings at this scale. Besides the superb planning and execution in the background, the line-up was likely one of the best of any fest of recent vintage, including several notable reformed death metal acts and a number of rare appearances in the same three-day span.
Refreshing was the fact that the more hipster-oriented bands did not receive nearly the reception of the respectable and established bands; more refreshing still was the welcome that awaited the old guard death metal/grindcore bands — the likes of Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Brutal Truth, Immolation and Atheist — who after years of struggling against the “deaths” of their respective genres and the attendant mediocre aftermath are finally again reaping the rewards of writing and performing music that embraces original ideals. Perhaps this is just a part of a potential rebirth of metal, hopefully one that MDF will continue to foster by providing sanctuary to the bands of quality that have made these genres exciting to listen to since the beginning.
– Written by deadite
Hail of Bullets
Wolves in the Throne Room
The Red Chord
Kill the Client
Lair of the Minotaur
Pretty Little Flower
The Endless Blockade
Agenda of Swine
Drugs of Faith
Amebix, Severed Head of State, Deskonocidos and Mammoth Grinder
January 24, 2009
Emo’s, Austin, TX
Musical movements can only exist for so long. They birth themselves, flower, and then having said what they needed to, imitate themselves until so self-parodic they bore, they vanish into assimilation by other genres. Amebix remain one of the few punk or hardcore-related bands to preserve the germinal force that made the genre such a powerful cleaver of dead iconography, and they arrived in Austin for the beginning of their world tour.
As cities go, Austin seems a good choice for the godfathers of crust punk, a type of punk hardcore typified by howling vocals, melodic playing, and a tendency to live in squats and not bathe. Back in 1983, this seemed revolutionary; in 2009, it’s either necessity or an artifice, like wealthy tourists buying authentic peasant clothing to store in their overflowing cabinets at home. Two decades of crust punk bands have brought us greater diversity of music but fewer standout acts, although the population of “crusties” who live the crustcore lifestyle has burgeoned in Austin since about 1997.
At Emo’s, whose open-air second stage is the designated ground zero, crusties fill the courtyard wearing tshirts from punk and metal bands, spikes, leather, and boots. The name of the game is to become a self-aware iconoclast and to combine different influences in some ironic or unique way, and this audience tries hard. Someone with hair spiked by cold scalp grease and not hair care products passed; another appears to have literally defecated in his pants and even at a grungy show, keeps a wide circle of stench guaranteeing him personal space.
We arrived after Mammoth Grinder, who left no impression on those in the audience not acquainted with them personally. In overflowing scenes, the name of the game is keeping a circle of friends who will support you, because only then can you distinguish yourself from similar acts. No one knew what we were talking about when we asked about Mammoth Grinder. After that, Deskonocidos took the stage and pumped forth the prototypical punk hybrid: oi choruses, pop-punk hooks, d-beat drums, classic The Exploited-style riffs and lots of yeahyeahyeahs. People seemed to enjoy it but when it ended blank expressions returned.
Severed Head of State
Severed Head of State came well-spoken of, at least among the people present. When they took the stage, a clamor followed as people pushed into the covered area to hear them. To this reviewer’s ear, they sounded afraid: afraid to leave any dynamic spaces of silence in their songs, afraid to break pace, afraid to not use dogmatically punkish riffs. The constant wall of sound hybridized the last thirty years of hardcore into something insistent, loud, invariant and quite frankly, boring.
Luckily the crowd seemed content with a beat and the hurling shout of the sweaty, shaven-headed vocalist whose eyes betrayed a nervousness his elbow gestures attempted to erase. It reminded this reviewer of all of the angry, disturbed music made by Nazi lunatics and religious fanatics, a burst of explosiveness and discordance whose goal is not to use those extreme states as a contrast by which a point can be made, but to make them the norm so the shocking is the mundane. It depleted energy, not transferred it.
At this point, it was past midnight. Someone had chalked “Crush the System” on the brick wall, near grafiti for blow jobs and the ubiquitous Austin rockabilly bands. The pizza stand just inside the gate of the club was doing a brisk business selling the pizza that arrived in battered cardboard boxes and was then heated to apocalyptic temperatures and sold for five bucks a slice. A crowd of crusties stood outside the entrance, talking loudly about how they needed to borrow money — “anything you got, I’ve got five, I need fifteen to get in” — and then, when the crowd surge left them alone, extracting iPhones to call friends, dealers, cabs.
Amebix did not seize the stage. They did not announce themselves. Their presence and aura did not alter the chemistry of the room or the weather. Instead, they walked out. Set up some instruments. Tuned up, did a soundcheck. Then let the feedback melt into the night until enough people got curious, and then crashed into their set. Unlike the previous bands, they did not watch the audience.
A threepiece — the Baron on bass/vocals, Stig on guitar, and a gent whose name no one caught on drums — the Amebix distinguished themselves by absence. There was no self-importance or manipulation of others with pandering. There was no recognition of event, or the people buzzing around including at least two people filming what are going to be the world’s shakiest concert videos, or even of their own status. With a grim set to the jaw, and a playful but professional mien, they played their songs with focus on details but little neurosis. The crowd could have evaporated in fire and the band would have continued amongst the ashes because their mission was both an end and the means to that end in itself.
The Baron maintains a low profile for a vocalist, with his microphone extended above his head and pointing downward in homage to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister, an Explorer-body bass with what looks like either a German war cross or an outlined plus sign on it under a strap with a single red star and white cross on it. Like the rest of the band, he wears a button-down black shirt and black slacks. His face, slightly lined, looks weatherbeaten like that of a coastal fisherman, but his hair is thick and shaggy and his muscles rangy and accustomed to use. Stig looks more like he stepped out of Saint Vitus, with the lidded eyes of a stoner and longer hair and beard, but diligently played his guitar while periodically flickering eyes over the Baron to make sure they were in time. The Baron on the other hand appeared to check up on no one.
True to form for a punk and/or Amebix show, chaos reigned. Several members of the crowd got thrown out for doing something so stupid security laughed nervously as the new outsiders sprawled on the pavement, the guitar sound kept fragmenting in staccato fuzz, and the CD player which served as a keyboard/samples track plikking and gleeping on a sure path to failure.
The band repeatedly apologized for these glitches but among those paying attention, they passed quickly and without consequence. What was admirable about the handling of these “the show must go on” errors is that the band would quit the song, restart and apply it again so the audience got the full effect. We are deliberate, their actions seemed to say, and we will not just settle like drifting modern people picking DVD players or girlfriends.
After a seven-song set, the Amebix departed; two tracks were an encore of sorts, but then with a quick thank you to the crowd, they were gone back into that space between legendhood and alienation where they have been dwelling these past two decades. The crowd, most of whom paid secondary attention to the band and primary attention to being noticed by others, making endless calls on their cell phones, shuttling between pizza and beer and the leaking groaning porta-potties set up near the far fence, provided a monotone contrast. Unlike the band, they had nothing to call their direction in life, other than spending trust funds or working in video stores.
Unlike the band, they adorned themselves externally to be different but when seen together, appeared to be a crowd of generic indeliberate actions. Unlike the band, they showed no attention span and during a historic event acted as if it were about them, personally, and had no relation to these musicians who traveled over sea and land to be here. It was all about them, and this tendency made them fade into the background when in the presence of not just grizzled veterans but people who lived deliberate, purposeful, fulfilling lives that do not admit a need for external affirmation, although they are geared toward external manifestation.
It was embarrassing to see that the best Austin could offer were adult children who dedicated their lives to distraction. The intentional freakishness got shallower as the show went on and finally the word “pathetic” rose in the mind as these people did everything to bring attention to themselves but what would matter: serving some function in reality that made them live up to the contrived and dramatic self-promoting speech they made so abundant. The callowness of crowds at metal shows does not even approach the level of base disconnection, and almost outright scorn for the band, exhibited by this group of crusties.
Even the teenage scrawl of “Crush the System” rang hollow, since it was clear no one was here to crush the system because no one here wanted to even analyze or change their own behavior, only to justify an ethic of convenience with broad dogma boxing them into a position of no hope, from which their careless lifestyles then seemed apt. A skinhead openly walked around with suspenders and white laces, wondering if anyone would notice and stop him. They noticed, but turned their heads. Conversation was afoot, and an ethic of convenience does not permit confrontation. Oddly, that created a more tolerant atmosphere where anarchist crusty and fascist skinhead could rub shoulders in harmony.
On the other hand, Amebix exhibited a subtlety born of having escaped this theatrical cycle. They did not blow away their opening bands, but quietly put on a show that fit their material and personalities; it was just of another level. Their actions did not draw attention to themselves but put the attention on the material stretched between band and audience, even though fewer than one in ten had a chance of understanding it. Their energy was not demonstrated, like in gestures designed to be seen through a movie camera, but emanated from thousands of factors at once, harmonized across the frigid air as a vision coalesced. As much as ugly music can be beautiful, it was, and sustaining in that it affirmed the power of will in a world of the willless, which like an afterimage haunted both those with souls and those who lived without purpose as they escaped into the night.
Watain, Withered, Ritual Killer and Sarcolytic
October 25, 2008
611 E. 7th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
Austin has come by its current status as Texas’ metal capital somewhat disingenuously; San Antonio, once a world-famous metal mecca, has continued to fail the genre with a dearth of viable venues or solid attendance. The irony is that most notable Austin shows have an audience with San Antonians comprising nearly one-half, along with a considerable supplement of Houston visitors. Nevertheless, Austin has the advantage with an endless supply of mediocre but metal-receptive venues combined with its centralized location, so legitimate or not it is now the city for Texas hessians to go for shows. Red 7 itself is at least spacious with a semi-decent PA, though its current lack of air conditioning made the room sticky and uncomfortable. Vex was the first act but this reviewer chose to stand out on the street due to the aforementioned conditions, but also because the band itself is so stylistically confused they are virtually unlistenable. Local death metal stalwarts Sacrolytic came next and delivered a solid set that was sadly compromised by its muddy sound. The band presents as a convincing Suffocation variant complete with BC Rich guitars and a storm of hair from the front line, but their live shows would definitely benefit from a personal sound engineer.
Ritual Killer is a side project of Goatwhore axeman Sammy Duet, though few people are aware of this so the band was obligated to stand on its own merits. They attacked a set of songs that were one part Hellhammer and two parts Blasphemy, and while the band delivered a competent show (the dreadlocked and visibly disturbed vocalist added an enigmatic touch to the proceedings) the songs quickly ran together and monotony set in. However, they seemed aware of the limited range of their material and the thirty minute set prevented them from overstaying their welcome. They were not bad by any means, but also not nuanced enough to make any lasting impact. If the band ever moves out of side project status they may end up with more to offer. Once again this reviewer stepped outside to breathe dry air and to avoid Book of Black Earth, a band who describes themselves as “death grunge” and may quickly realize that this label reads to most people as, “ignore us, we’re not credible”. This is precisely what happened; there was no reason for this band to be on the tour.
Withered came next and drew most everyone back into the room in the process. They play a brand of driving Swedish-style death metal that invokes early Amon Amarth but with an injected dissonance and feedback manipulation that recalls “Souls at Zero”-era Neurosis. This hybridization is more effective than it may sound, as Withered succeeded in creating atmosphere with a well-rehearsed application of various effects pedals and thoughtful interchanges between guitar, bass, and drums. Vocals were standard variations of screams and growls, but the vocalists proved to be savvy in knowing when to back off and let the music speak for itself. Even more impressive was the performance of the unit’s powerhouse drummer who displayed flair and blinding velocity on a very minimal kit; his triplet blast-beats with no sign of cheating or fatigue garnered many cheers throughout the set. The band as a whole executed their songs in a manner that reflected intelligence, conviction, and an almost idealistic brightness rarely seen in the metal underground circa 2007, and for that they should be commended.
Watain was preceded by the orange funk of carrion that was hung on iron poles around the stage like some kind of perverse holiday display. A synth-orchestrated introduction brought them to an enthusiastic crowd, and then the band voraciously tore into their set. The sound was a bit anemic and the band’s musical dynamic was stripped down due to their regular second guitarist being barred from entering the US, but it was a solid execution of material predominantly from “Sworn to the Dark” with tracks from “Casus Luciferi” and a single number from “Rabid Death’s Curse” to mollify the purists. Vocalist and de facto bassist E. Watain was appropriately the center of attention with his deranged and snake-eyed countenance that is just as charismatic as it is confrontational. He is not a large man so it is always impressive to hear a such gigantic voice rising out of him. He also seemed to be speaking in tongues or perhaps reciting incantations while not on the microphone, and it helped further the sense of madness on the stage. Watain’s latest album has been derided by some as too polished and too accessible, and while these charges aren’t wholly unfair it should be noted that the band has refused to give way to brevity in their compositions; most of the songs clock in at around six minutes and as such they are allowed to build and breathe to greater effect. One of the highlights was their rendition of “I Am the Earth”, which best summarizes Watain as a whole. Grandeur, violence, and passion are all equally present in this song, and the only thing that comes close to touching it is the current album’s “Stellarvore”, which also made its massive presence known this night. Ultimately, the Swedish quartet succeeded in their mission by living up to their infamous reputation along with creating many new converts to their cause. Music aside, they deliver some of the most dangerous showmanship since an odd young man named Per Ohlin took up with a death metal band from Oslo.
– Written by David Anzalone
Nodens, Hod and Averse Sefira
October 11, 2008
710 Red River Street
Austin, Texas 78701
The phrase “welcome to hell” would be a sentiment fitting for the night in two ways- one positive and one negative. The negative, of course, was the journey to every scenester weekend hippie’s favorite city – that pit of insincerity and neurotic dysfunction known as Austin, Texas. The positive meaning was the sets conjured up by Averse Sefira and, to a lesser extent, Nodens, who brought a much less earthly hell to Austin that night, a Hell of black and true evil, an evil of passion ferocity, as opposed to the grey, human hell that was the surroundings of the club.
When this reviewer entered the venue, some death/grind abortion known as Self Inflicted was playing. The fact that as this reviewer was walking by the club, he heard them and thought that he was passing a biker club with rhythmic motorcycle noises passing for music probably tells everything that needs to be said about this band; and if it doesn’t, it’ll have to do, as they were as uninteresting to pay attention to as the white paint on the walls of an average apartment. This reviewer did not catch much of their set anyways, as after a few minutes they tore down, and Nodens took the stage.
Nodens, a three-piece from Houston, TX, played a good set of anthemic death/black metal. This band incorporates tremolo-picked black metal style sections and Slayer-inspired dissonant lead riffs with Swedish-style slower, melodic riffs, but manages to hold the whole thing together with obviously veteran songwriting, and an instinct for which two riffs will work well together, even if they are radically different. The band’s weakness, however, likely springs from this style of composition- frequently, songs fail to differentiate themselves significantly from others; rather than having an identity of their own, they simply become “another Nodens song”. It’s no surprise that the set’s highlights, “The Shadowmancer” and “Doctrina Evangelica”, were the songs that had the strongest identity as individual songs, the former being an anthem that managed to simultaneously be moving and catchy, and the latter being the most “focused” song in the set with the fewest digressions into other ideas. However, despite this weakness, the set, taken in its gestalt, was an energetic call to war that was appreciated by this reviewer.
Hod, a five-piece death metal band from San Antonio, was up next. The band’s music seemed seemed to lack any higher thinking functions at all, relying purely on aggression, instinct, and energy to carry the crowd. This very nearly worked, for two reasons. The band’s technical skills are undeniably strong- when needed, they can tear through technical material at high speed with ease. In addition, they have an absolutely amazing stage presence, with the entire band in constant motion, and their vocalist constantly gesturing madly and using his microphone stand as a penile extension. However, ultimately, the lack of intelligence was this band’s death- the vocalist, frustrated with the lack of response his inane between-song banter about alcohol and sex was getting, finally threw a temper-tantrum on stage, which lead to audience members yelling “fuck you” and “get off the stage”, which caused Hod to cut their set short and end it in ignominy.
After some tear-down and set up, the lights dimmed, an ambient piece began to play, and the most anticipated band of the night took the stage, adorned in corpse paint and spikes. The ambient intro faded, and Averse Sefira wasted no time in tearing into what is likely going to be their signature song in a year or two, “Vomitorium Angelis”. The band proceeded to play an eight-song set culled from their most recent two albums, that showcased the violent and intolerant as well as the triumphant and joyful, and even the radiantly beautiful through use of high-speed dissonant melodic riffing over a pounding and precise percussion which was contrasted with the more playful right-hand rhythms provided by Sanguine Mapsama on guitar. Rather than enslaving himself to the “on the beat” tremolo-pick like many black metal guitarists do, Sanguine approached rhythm, with the touch of a jazz musician, using the beat as a guideline that could be deviated from when needed to give his riffs much more life- the best example of this came in the build down before the explosion in “Detonation”, which showed him lightly and sensitively playing at low volume, with little distortion, throwing in improvised arpeggios and improvising the details of the rhythm in the larger framework, making this passage far more effective than it is on album. Smaller examples of this rhythmic freedom were found throughout the night, and made this performance far more effective than the album versions of the songs. The glue that held the freedom of Sanguine’s guitar and the oppression of The Carcass’s battery together was Wrath’s bass, which followed The Carcass’s rhythm, but Sanguine’s melodies, thus creating a unifying factor between the two otherwise seemingly disparate elements.
This style of playing their material made their transitions between moods much more dramatic and marked, and it allowed them, in a manner reminiscent of Atheist’s “Unquestionable Presence” or Demilich’s “Nespithe”, to be simultaneously child-like and playful, and aggressive. They waged war against the forces of light, but they did it as a child would, with joy and affirmation of combat rather than anger. They summoned death, and they smiled as they did so. In the manner of all great metal, their performance was “dark”, but it wasn’t a mourning darkness that amounts to an emo’s whining about how life sucks, but rather was a celebration of the liveliness inherent to the feral and vicious. If you were in Texas and missed this, what were you thinking?
Averse Sefira setlist:
A Shower of Idols
Helix in Audience
Room 710, Austin Texas
Insecticide, Temple of Wrath, Last Rosary, Deadpool and Opia
September 27, 2008
Walters on Washington
4215 Washington Ave.
Houston, Texas 77007
Insecticide crafted thrash when it was a current item, and have not only not given up but have returned to reclaim the void left by metalcore and deathcore, which prove even to diehards to be as insubstantial as sugar-free, salt-free, oil-free donuts. Since they were playing in our favorite blazing moist flat wasteland of an industrial city, Houston, I leapt in my urban transport and hit the road.
Coya was billed on the flier for this show, but were replaced by Opia, who were already on stage at 9 pm when I arrived. They consisted of a drummer/vocalist and a guitarist. I quite admired this, because it is not easy to get up in front of a mostly empty room to play with such a sparse line up. I’ve also always been impressed with drummers who managed to be a main vocalist. They played solid, minimalist speed metal. After a couple songs, the guitarist took the microphone from the drummer and performed the vocals for the next song. For the following song, they switched instruments completely, with the drummer resuming vocals while taking on guitar duties, and the guitarist taking on the drums. This rare display of musicianship reinforced the raging wall of sound they were producing.
As one might imagine with such a lineup, their performance focused heavily on rhythm, with riffs that captured the dynamic space of time in which hardcore punk, speed metal, thrash and nascent death metal merged in the imaginations of those brave enough to explore such uncharted waters. Opia showed a lot of potential, and I believe they can continue to put on interesting shows if they do not resort to bringing in people who are going to divert them from their current course. Only time can tell. A valiant early effort on their part, and I applaud them greatly for their risk taking.
Next came Deadpool from San Antonio. They played standard Texas “hardcore” metal in the vein of Pantera. They had a song named after themselves called “Deadpool Society.” With them came the obligatory 24 people who follow any band in Texas, and show up only when that band is playing, enforcing a kind of tax on all underground bands that requires they include others, or be excluded themselves. Unfortunately, this leads to completely mixed up line-ups like this current show, which combines radio speed metal (Pantera, Deadpool) with bands closer to hardcore or death metal.
The third act of the evening was Last Rosary from Houston. They tout themselves as being “Progressive / Grindcore / Death Metal.” I did not hear this in their sound at all. Their frontman was a runt with glasses and an emo haircut who screamed the entire time in the screamo style, while their riffs and songwriting technique were of the metalcore “throw everything in a blender, and be as random as you can” style. The result is not only songs that are not memorable, but a lack of any articulation but confusion, which I can get for free outside.
Temple of Wrath
Houston band Temple of Wrath followed. I noticed that they have the same drummer as Last Rosary, David Ramirez. The crowd peaked for this band. Clearly they had their group of friends and people who thought they were quite good. They inundated us with more generic Pantera-inspired Texas metal. It is unclear if they will make the transition from the local scene to the outside world; when you are selecting within a set of numbers, you can pick the highest one there, but it may not be high enough to be significant outside that limited set. I think it is this way with many local scenes, but it is hard to say that Temple of Wrath were unmotivated or unprofessional. On the contrary, they did their best.
Finally, Insecticide emerged, and all hell broke loose. Playing classic crossover thrash reminiscent of later COC colliding with Dead Brain Cells with Cryptic Slaughter on retainer, Insecticide incited the crowd into a frenzy. The crowd changed completely in the 15 minutes between Temple of Wrath leaving the stage and Insecticide taking it. Although fewer people were present, this was a different audience that was left over, a more deliberate and experienced cross-section of the metal crowd. There was more movement for this band alone than all four preceding bands combined.
Comedy broke out in the pit. Children’s inner tubes were being thrown chaotically. A luchador mask was passed around the crowd, ending up on the drummer for one song. The only real pit of the night broke out. Everyone was running around the stage. Sherman Jones, the bassist/vocalist, was running off the stage and twirling around in the crowd while he played. Random audience members would rush the stage and scream vocals into the microphones or just reach up from the floor and grab the microphone from there.
Drumming was active and rushed the music, pushing it to the edge of control. The drummer on the first Insecticide demo from 1987 is not the same one they have now. The following year, Rich Rowen played drums for them, laying the groundwork of their present style. Current drummer Alex Ron joined in 2007, which accounts for the discrepancy between the monotonous simplicity of the first demo vs their live performance.
At one point, three different audience members were screaming into the two microphones. Sherman almost fell over someone who was crawling behind him on the stage. Chaos ensued during their entire performance, and it was enjoyably hilarious. The music motivated the crowd toward energy and the drumming was especially ferocious. Insecticide concluded the night with a review of their classic songs and a powerful live performance which I was glad to witness.
Walters on Washington
Obscurity, Tyrant and At the Gates
September 3, 2008
After a round of alcohol to suppress the academic background noise from that same day, we took the bus to the shit hole of the south of Sweden, Malmö. Once a great cultural market city, today a polarized ghetto, famous for its sky rocketing crime rates and ethnic segregation. Despite the social decay, Malmö has got a fascinating city life and impresses with its architecture, public events, and first class symphony orchestra. Likewise it’s the center of many metal and electronic acts, and tonight it was none other than At the Gates who would enter the stage at Kulturbolaget. A small, compact club greeted us once we stepped in, while the black/thrash metal band Obscurity was playing uninspiring satanic hymns in the old Bathory vein. The monotonous noise melted in with the screams and laughter from the nearby bar, setting me in a state of mind where the outside world seemed to be just another peripherical dream.
Observing the surroundings, one thing struck me immediately: a small portion of the audience seemed to be old veterans who’d obviously come only for listening to At the Gates, but the rest consisted of the typical Gothenburg crowd, which you’d expect for an In Flames show. Even fat kids with hip hop pants and Slipknot shirts showed up and were more concerned of acting hip and talking in their cell phones, than to pay attention to the music. It gave an unserious impression and made it clear that metal today has become more of a social thing for confused teenagers than being about art, ideals and principles. The next thrash band took the stage one hour late and crossed an abundance of pointless bridges with speed metal riffs and beer drinking. It was hard to take the music seriously, but the nature of these sloppy Bathory-clones made it seem like it was some form of tribute to the early Swedish metal scene, although the quality of the music said otherwise. When the concert was over, I chatted up with some of the people by the bar, most of whom were post-black metal fans, meaning they understood death metal as the aesthetic template found in “Slaughter of the Soul,” but didn’t understand the older material and couldn’t grasp the architectural differences in song writing between death and speed metal.
The people who came for the music were easy to spot, because they spent less time socializing and more time contemplating the musical experience. When At the Gates finally took the stage, the atmosphere in the club changed. The band began playing songs from later albums, and it was clear that Tomas Lindberg was in top shape. Although missing their old guitarist Alf Svensson, Tomas’ desperate screams from the red album, and the fact that the acoustics in the club compressed the sound of the riffs, this was At the Gates with full energy and expression. The feral, creative spirit of the band impressed me, and technically the performance was flawless. Tomas got almost nostalgic over the fact that they’d played in Malmö back in ’96, and now they were here again for the last time. The tour was obviously a dedication to the fans and to the music, revealed by the fact that they’d chosen to play songs from every album released. Songs that made a special impression on me were “Windows” from the red album and several classics from “With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness” and their first EP. It was a fresh experience, like a brutal realist nightmare, containing mental states of insanity:
Windows, sharp, cold
Wrap your psyche in blankets of pain
No more light of day
We’re the windows to your insanity
And the mandatory blasphemy of religious dogmatism:
The beauty in twisted darkness
Raped by the light of Christ
We were not born to follow
We don’t need your guiding light
This is the essence of death metal: a rejection of a morally principal approach to life, and the celebration of the raw, physical nature of mankind. The wild, dissonant power chords perfectly layered like a mental journey, backed by the typical death metal percussive rhythms and bridges, launched a macabre symphony together with the painful vocals, and stirred the crowd into unisonal head banging. Few things offer you the experience of feral freedom, like banging your head in rhythm to the sound of death metal, and feeling that the rest of the social world suddenly is reduced to noise. At the Gates provoked us into such a mood through its atonal riff patterns and ascending harmony, proving that they were still masters of the genre. The band was right in avoiding a sell-out by only playing later songs, but naturally, the crowd liked performances like “Under a Serpent Sun” best.
The reason to why people will always praise “Slaughter of the Soul” as the best ATG album is for the same reason that black metal bands like Dark Funeral, Xasthur, Drudkh and Blut aus Nord today obscure the great classics: it’s a musically shallow template that distils 3-5 years of death metal aesthetics into a neat package, kind of like how The Abyss created the musical template for 98% of all third wave black metal bands to come. We think it’s death metal, until we pay attention to the song writing, which is basically speed metal impregnated with the harmonic riffing and technical percussion that mark the band’s musical legacy. The mainstream appeal of the album makes it easy to understand and grasp, but doesn’t contribute anything outside of its technical concept. “Slaughter of the Soul” is a merchandise product, and the audience clearly enjoyed it. Although my best moments of the concert were performances from the two first albums, possibly something from “Terminal Spirit Disease” as well, the band was energetic and keen on playing later material for the new generation of death metal fans, and in a sense you could feel that what At the Gates was doing with this tour was to prove that the spirit of Swedish death metal was still alive and causing havoc.
The whole performance gave a very respectable, professional and worthy impression, and the band received admirable appreciation from the audience after the finale. When the concert was over, the Gothenburg crowd slowly descended out on the streets, among traffic lights, illegal taxis, and the enormous, clear night sky. The rush of energy, passion and alcohol still boiled in my blood, as I contemplated a new perspective on a band, whose music I’d otherwise reserved to lonely nights when the world had seemed more insane than usual. Death metal, not only as music, but also as an existential passion, was pointing my life in a new direction. Through this concert, At the Gates had proved that Swedish death metal is not a legacy, but an ongoing strife to deal with life intimately and choosing endurance as value in a world reduced to hollow social values. Despite the downfall of the genre and much of its audience, the music continues to emphasize the heavy in life, and the presence of death in our immediate everyday life. “Kingdom Gone” is the scream of mankind out into black space, without response, yet with the certainty that life needs to go on.
– Written by Alexis of SNUS
Possessed and Sadistic Intent
June 29, 2008
622 E. 7th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
Sadistic Intent played their first-ever show in Austin last night, which was ostensibly more auspicious in that they were also serving as Jeff Becerra’s backing band in the current incarnation of Possessed. The band came out to a well-attended room and delivered a set of now time-worn but authentic tracks taken from the series of EPs they released in the mid-90’s. A distinct sense of “Abominations of Desolation” permeated the set in their favor, as few bands of the current era are able to draw upon their predecessors in such a convincing manner. Momentum was lost as one of the two guitarists suddenly had string problems and appeared to be unable to resolve it without consultation from both of his axe-mates. The unit left the stage after three songs but then returned to complete the set about ten minutes later. The audience reacted appropriately with multiple phalanxes of whirling hair and horns held high, and ultimately Sadistic Intent proved why their name continues to endure despite a spare discography.
Following another more prolonged intermission, the band retook the stage again with Jeff Becerra in tow. There was much curiosity leading up to this performance because save for the notorious vocalist this was effectively a Possessed cover band. Compounding this was Becerra’s confinement to a wheelchair since 1989 after being shot in a drug deal gone bad (these circumstances have since been obscured through revisionism and the fact that the event occurred before the advent of the internet), so expectations among the assembled faithful were punctuated with question marks and guarded commentary.
It takes courage to carry on after such a devastating blow to one’s health and mobility, and if Becerra had presented with conviction and dignity he would have easily overcome his perceived limitations. In this venue, unfortunately, he wore his handicap and a still-apparent substance abuse problem around his neck like an anvil and proceeded to turn the event into a spectacle. The man is admittedly scary in a way that transcends metal; mad-eyed and clearly unstable, he wheeled around the stage and spent most of the time crowding or hitting the dutiful members of his backing band or gesticulating to his handlers for more beer (which, once received, he continuously poured over his head). Sadistic Intent, to their massive credit, lashed convincingly through a set of tunes comprised of the proto-death classic “Seven Churches”, and seemed they focused on working as a unit in spite of the dubious situation. It was no surprise that they seemed divorced from the vocalist, given his complete lack of poise. Becerra rasped and yelled his way through the songs in a fashion that made it seem more like he was interrupting rather than contributing. There were a few glimmers of the hellish voice that made him famous, but it was hardly a showing that would have resurrected any former glories. The set’s highlight was the modern classic, “The Exorcist”, which led to several subsequent injuries in the pit and further acquitted the band’s efforts. The end of the show was marked by Becerra’s leap from the stage, wheelchair and all, face-first into the middle of the floor. For a moment it looked as though he had managed to finish himself off but his attendants managed to scrape him up and carry him past many bemused onlookers.
In this reviewer’s opinion, the legacy of Possessed is in terrible danger of being further maligned and invalidated through appearances such as this. It was an experience to be sure, but more befitting of a rodeo or a circus than the revival of a seminal metal act. Even a top-flight backing band cannot account for the psychotic and counterproductive behavior of its frontman, and ultimately it is Mr. Becerra whose reputation is at stake. For now it seems like he is a full-time resident of a truly dark and painful place, and if he does not find a way to surface then he will likely consumed by the very demons he invoked on his albums so many years ago.
– Written by David Anzalone