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Concert Reviews

Overkill, God Forbid and Suidakra @ Empire 5/11/2012

Blitz rises above it all
Well I must say, it is about time. I have been a big fan of Overkill since the release of their 1987 “Taking Over” album and through all these years I have never managed to catch them live. Now I can finally scratch them off my concert bucket list.

Buke and I were scheduled to do an interview with God Forbid before the show, but I was unable to reach God Forbid guitarist Doc Coyle to confirm a time. Knowing that it could take a little while to get to Springfield, Virginia in Friday-afternoon beltway traffic, we left a little early and just drove down to the show thinking we would figure it out when we got there. Upon arriving I was able to poke my head in the front door as some people were exiting and ask about the interview. In very short order we were being introduced to Byron Davis, the singer for God Forbid.

Byron and Buke
You have got to love Byron. The man was so friendly and easy-going that a lot of the stress (all mine) that comes along with doing interviews just melted away in moments. We decided to put Buke out front (literally) asking the questions so I could focus (literally) on getting the video rolling properly. I think the video side came out pretty well (see the interview post to follow), but I once again had some audio issues. I used a mic mounted on top of the camera rather than a more complicated hand-held two microphone setup, and so a lot of the noise going on around us was picked up. What I would give for a nice, quiet room to do an interview, but that is apparently rarely an option. So I will keep learning and one of these days you will get a perfect interview video. I try to keep the setup simple because so far for every interview we have had to set up the gear with the interviewee standing there waiting on us. The less time I need to take setting up, the less of their time I am wasting, but if I cannot get a decent audio track, I suppose I will just have to take that extra time.

Byron and George
Anyway, Byron was awesome; it was a real pleasure getting to hang out and talk with him. I also spoke to Doc briefly (he apologized for not getting back to me) and then we ran into him again outside after the show. These are some good guys; I wish them all the best and thank them for taking the time to speak with us.

After the interview we ran out to get some food and beer before the show started. We knew there were a couple local openers that we have seen many times before, so we opted to stick around the bar longer before heading back. This led to us missing Diamond Plate. We saw Diamond Plate recently with Warbringer, so we were not too upset. Plus they were playing without their singer, Jon Macak, who had to leave the tour to support his mother, who is apparently seriously ill. Diamond Plate is a talented band, so it is certainly a shame to miss them, even without Jon. Family of course comes first, and we would like to send our best to John, his mother and their family.

We walked into Empire (formerly Jaxx) right as the last few notes of Diamond Plate were echoing in the speakers. I was glad we had not missed Suidakra, as I had not seen them before and wanted to hear them live. After a brief changeover Suidakra came on and played what I thought was a pretty decent set. Buke complained that the sound was terrible, but that was Empire’s fault not the band. Some things never change; you can change the name from Jaxx to Empire, but the sound still sucks.

Next up was the mighty God Forbid. I saw them a few years ago at Mayhemfest and they were great, but in this small venue they tore the roof off. Despite the handicap of everything at Empire sounding horrible, they managed to sound amazing. Of the three bands we heard that night their sound was by far the cleanest and easiest to enjoy. Byron is a presence to behold on stage and I loved every minute of their set. You know how you go to a show, and after seeing a band, you want to go back and listen to their whole catalog? Yeah, God Forbid had one of those kinds of sets for me. Needless to say, my iPhone was stuffed with God Forbid this morning.

God Forbid
Finally, at long last, I was going to see Overkill play live. This was, of course, not the Overkill lineup of my youth; only Blitz and D.D. were original members, but it was enough. I am not sure how God Forbid overcame the terrible sound at Empire, but when Overkill went on the sound was utterly horrible. Again, I do not put the blame for this on the band; the place is small enough that you could tell the band were playing their hearts out, but something about the gear or the sound crew at Empire is just downright awful. The energy was undeniably there, but the ability to translate it into crisp, clean audio was out of reach.

I was awestruck to finally be face to face with the thrash legend Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. I have listened to his music for so many years now that to see him up close was a little surreal. For a man who has been doing this over 30 years, he still looks and sounds phenomenal. They did not end up playing a lot of the songs I wanted to hear, but tracks like “Wrecking Crew” and “Deny the Cross” transported me back to the good old days. Regardless of the venue shortcomings, it was a terrific set. Of all the old thrash bands that are still kicking around, Overkill has got to be one of the most consistently heavy. They probably remain one of the heavier bands from the old school; Slayer is probably the only one to come close to sounding this heavy.

All in all it was a pretty enjoyable evening. We heard some good music and saw some good performances; we met some good people. Thanks to everyone that made it a pleasurable outing. For the rest of you, here are a couple YouTube tracks:

Last Updated on May 15, 2012

Hits: 328

Opeth, Mastodon and Ghost @ Fillmore Silver Spring 5/9/2012

I am getting too old for this shit. Sorry, I just had to quote one of Danny Glover’s “Lethal Weapon” lines after waking up to pain this morning. Not too old for metal of course, just too old for the pit. My shoulder and elbow are pretty stiff and I have a bit of trouble bending my arm. Think I might have hyperextended the elbow. In all sports you eventually have to bow to age and throw in the towel, and I think my time has come. No more pit action for me. More on that later, let’s talk about the show.

Buke and I had been trying to catch Ghost for many months now, and have missed them on several occasions when they ventured into the D.C. area. We were finally able to see them last night at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, and not only were they incredible, but they were the highlight of the evening.

Ghost’s “Eponymous” album, with its retro 80s Mercyful Fate-like sound, clean, melodic vocals, and Satanic lyrics and imagery has (re)breathed new life into the current metal scene. While their sound is far from original, at the time the album was released there was not much metal being produced in that style (at least not on a global scale) and so it stood out from all the death and black metal. I, along with hordes of others, quickly latched onto the band and sang their praise (see the RMC review.) Inevitably the success of the album spawned a new trend and now retro doomlike metal bands are popping up left and right. Some of them are capable, but so far no one is on the same level as Ghost.

Part of the mystique of Ghost is that they hide their identities behind stage costumes. Singer, Papa Emeritus, dresses like a Satanic pope and wears a mask to make him look like an old man while the rest of the band dress in dark hooded robes with their faces covered and are known by the title of Nameless Ghouls. The band looked phenomenal on stage (the churchlike backdrop did a marvellous job of setting the mood) though I could not help thinking the Nameless Ghouls looked like Dethklok henchmen. Which is not a terrible thing in my opinion, I love me some Dethklok, but just something I noted.

The album has a very 80s production sound, which adds great atmosphere, but does not provide a thunderous listening experience. Live, however, the music was much heavier and sounded positively brilliant. The sound had a lot more low-end and in general the sound was much fuller. Ghost was what brought me to the show, Ghost was the highlight of the show, and everything went downhill after Ghost.

I will limit myself to one paragraph about Mastodon. I have never been a Mastodon fan, and their set last night did nothing to change that for me. They sounded technically proficient, but the sound was terrible, the songs uninteresting (“Curl of the Burl” is the most ridiculous song to be considered metal) and they played for way too long. They sure are popular though. It was during their set that I sustained my injuries while fending off over-zealous Mastodon fans. I honestly do not understand why so many people like this band, but whatever. Their set would have been more tolerable had it been about half as long as it was. Without a doubt they played longer than Opeth.

When I said it went downhill after Ghost, it was not meant to be a slight toward the awesomeness that is Opeth. I love Opeth; they are brilliant. The thing is though, that I just saw Opeth a few months ago at Rams Head Live and they played longer and sounded better at that show. Since this was my first time seeing Ghost (and fourth time seeing Opeth), and Ghost had such a theatrical show, you cannot blame me for feeling Opeth was upstaged by their opener. It is always a pleasure to see the Opeth crew, but this evening was all about Ghost.

Last Updated on May 10, 2012

Hits: 302

Machine Head, Suicide Silence, Darkest Hour @ Rams Head Live 2/1/2012

Ever since “Unto the Locust” came out last year I’ve been waiting for Machine Head to come to town. I’d seen them three times previously, but never as a headliner. For years I was disappointed by the fact that Machine Head doesn’t seem to get the respect they deserve. Things started to change in the right direction after “The Blackening” and “Unto the Locust” is an even bigger step forward. Yet I still can’t help but feel that Machine Head is under-rated by the metal community. At least there was no shortage of people at Wednesday’s show who feel the same way I do about the band.

Buke and I were expecting the show to open with Rise to Remain featuring Austin Dickinson, the son of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. We did not know at the time they had to drop off the tour because they lost their bass player and drummer. When we arrived at the show a band was already onstage and we thought it was Rise to Remain. But it quickly became apparent that it was actually D.C.s own Darkest Hour. We only caught part of the set, but they sounded pretty good and got the crowd pretty riled up considering how early it was in the show.

Next up was Suicide Silence I’m a more recent fan of Suicide Silence; I reviewed their latest album “The Black Crown” last year and liked it a lot. I was expecting a pretty wild set from these guys and I was not disappointed. I couldn’t find an accurate height online for singer Mitch Lucker, but the guy has to be at least 6’4” and rail skinny. He made an imposing figure as he prowled and slunk around that stage like a large predatory cat letting you know that this was his territory. And woe to the poor bastards in the pit; he owned them like a metal drill sergeant running his troops through their paces in boot camp with his constant demands for circle pits. He also did something I’ve been seeing more lately where he divided the crowd and had them waiting on his command to rush together at each other in what I’ve started calling the “Braveheart maneuver” which ultimately results in a giant writhing pit that looks much like troops crashing together in hand to hand combat. Suicide Silence brought a great deal of energy to the room and had an amazing stage presence. About this time I realized it was going to be a special evening.

Machine HeadRams Head Live had been getting more and more crowded as the night went on, and by the time the lights went out heralding the imminent arrival of Machine Head the place was packed. The band hit the stage amid chants of “Machine-Fucking-Head” and right away launched into “Unto the Locust” album opener “I Am Hell.” I was now a great big bundle of happy.)

Machine Head played almost the entire “Unto the Locust” album (all except “Pearls Before the Swine”) as well as a selection of past material. One of the songs I was waiting to hear was “Aesthetics of Hate” which was Robb Flynn’s response to the article by the same name written by William Grim shortly after the murder of Pantera/Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrel Abbott. (Get ready, I’m about to take an extended aside from the review to rant here.)

While I was aware of William Grim’s article and that it was insulting and disrespectful towards Dime, I did not read the actual article itself until just now while checking some facts and I cannot begin to express with words how furious I have become. Machine Head I write this with tears of rage welling in my eyes and a strong urge to do very bad things to one of the most ignorant and self-righteous egotists I’ve ever heard. I haven’t seen this kind of bullshit in print since the PMRC in the 80s. I thought this guy was some music writer that didn’t like Dime for some unfathomable reason, but no he is a real piece of work. He is a self-admitted elitist who says that heavy metal is not music, heavy metal fans are “semi-human barbarians” and that Haydn and Beethoven were further along the evolutionary trail than Dime. He basically blames Dime for his own death because it was inevitable that someone like him would end up that way. This is not so much an article as it is a manifesto. The first crazy bastard that springs to mind is Hitler. Grim dislikes many things about the world today and would be perfectly happy to see these things all wiped off the face of the planet. Please tell me this guy never runs for public office. I’ve uploaded a copy of the article text, I encourage you to read it.

While listening to Machine Head perform “Aesthetics of Hate” I thought to myself I would spit in this guys face (something that has never occurred to me to do to a person before), but now I’m inspired to so much more. If I may quote the song, “I hope you burn in hell” you son of a bitch. In reference to Dime, “his honor we’ll always uphold.” Towards the end of the song a giant silhouette of Dime leaning back far with his signature guitar in the air appeared on the screen behind the stage. I’m proud of Robb Flynn for not only defending his friend but for continuing to honor him years later. We could all use friends like that.

Other highlights of the set included “Darkness Within”, which began with Robb alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, and one of my personal favorites “Who We Are” which closed out the main set. They finished with a two song encore of “Halo” and “Davidian.” I cannot praise this set enough. Machine Head recordings are amazing but live the energy is doubled. Robb really seemed to make a personal connection with the crowd and we loved him for it. They played for a good long while yet it seemed far too short.

After exiting the building Buke and I went next door to one of the bars in the area to grab a drink. We were sitting outside (unseasonably warm weather this week) and Buke noticed someone walk by and into the bar that looked like Mitch Lucker from Suicide Silence (hard to miss that neck tattoo). We hung around trying to slyly watch what was going on in the bar (karaoke) and see whether there would be a chance to talk to him. Buke saw an opening and did a walk-by. I waited outside to see what would happen. They chatted briefly and then both headed outside. Mitch was very nice and took pictures with both of us. This is where I realized just how tall he is; I look at the picture and feel like a Hobbit standing next to him. Anyway, thanks to Mitch for taking the time to talk to us. It was a great ending to a great night. If you get the chance to catch this tour I highly recommend that you check it out.

Last Updated on February 28, 2012

Hits: 610

Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel @ The Fillmore Silver Spring 11/6/2011

I was very excited by the return of Joey Belladonna to Anthrax and the release of “Worship Music” a few months ago. So when I heard that Anthrax, Testament and Death Angel were coming to the brand new Fillmore that recently opened in Silver Spring, Maryland, I knew we had to go. Not only was this a killer lineup with some of the greatest thrash bands of all time, but it was also an excellent opportunity to educate Buke on what it was like going to an 80s thrash show.

Allow me to make a rambling aside for a moment and mention how I think the “Big Four” should really be the “Big Eight”. You’ll get no argument from me that Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer deserve the title they’ve collectively been given, but I would like to put forth that thrash would not have been thrash as we know it without the contributions made by Testament, Exodus, Overkill and Death Angel. Just saying.

We were excited to see our first show in a brand new venue. The Fillmore looks big and flashy on the outside, and inside everything is nice and new. It’s like the 9:30 Club only bigger, newer and way nicer. No offense to 9:30, but damn, this place is nice. We headed up to the second level and grabbed a railing overlooking the left side of the stage. They even have two tiered railings so more people have something to lean on. Very cool.

One thing we couldn’t help but notice was that the best area in the house, the upper level dead center, was roped off and had tables and chairs. No one was in there and we wondered how one gets those seats, as gen admin was all that was offered online. Buke went over to ask someone, and it turned out this was the VIP lounge that you could upgrade to on the spot. I was having some wicked back trouble and was pretty tired too, so I immediately shelled out the extra cash to upgrade us. Next thing we know we are seated dead center in a cushy chair with a table, food and drink menu and someone to serve us. Each table had a little red light you could turn on when you wanted something and the waitress would come get your order. Now this was how you see a show. I ordered an IPA and told her to keep ‘em coming.

Death Angel was up first. This was my third time seeing them – the first time was in 1990 on the “Act III” tour and the second time was ten years ago at Jaxx on their comeback tour after a ten-year break. This third time was rather surprising for me because all of a sudden there were all these strange white guys in the band. What the hell? No offense to said white guys; this just was not the classic lineup I was used to seeing. They sure sounded good though. Death Angel has always been a killer live band and this show was no exception.

Next up was the mighty Testament. With four of the five long-time members present, and rounded out by the amazing Gene Hoglan on drums, it was a real treat to see Testament again. Unless I’m forgetting, and after all these years I wouldn’t be surprised, the last time I’d seen Testament was in 89/90 for the “Practice What You Preach” tour. It seems strange that it has been so long, but I guess it’s true. It was cool to see Alex Skolnick on board, I didn’t think he liked playing metal anymore. I saw him a year or two ago when he was on tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which was also very cool.

Testament played a good mix of classics, even some of the real old stuff. Some of my favorites included “Disciples of the Watch”, “Over the Wall”, “Envy Life” and “The New Order.” Chuck Billy’s voice still sounds amazing. I had several beers by this point and was having a great time. I think Buke’s mind was blown by how awesome these guys were.

As great as the first two bands were, the best was yet to come. I’m not ashamed to admit I got a little teary-eyed when Anthrax took the stage with Joey Belladonna out front. I was lucky enough to see Anthrax on both their “State of Euphoria” and “Persistence of Time” tours and this was like hopping in a hot tub time machine for me. Joey and the rest of the band still sound incredible; it was like they’d been together this whole time.

They played a nice mix of material from the new album as well as the earlier Joey albums. New songs included “Earth on Hell”, “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t”, “The Devil You Know”, “I’m Alive” and “In the End.” I tend to like older material when it comes to bands like these, but the new Anthrax material is just phenomenal. Classic tunes included “Among the Living”, “Caught In A Mosh”, “Madhouse”, and “N.F.L.” They also did their cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” and a sadly headdress-free version of “Indians.” When they got to the “war dance” part of “Indians” Scott stopped the show and let the crowd know that the “war dance” part cannot have less moshing than the beginning of the song. Suitably chastised, when the song started up again the floor went fucking crazy. I’ve seen many a pit in my day, but I cannot recall a show in a venue like this where the entire floor, from one side to another, was one teeming writhing pit. I was impressed.

During the encore they also did a quick cover of the Sepultura classic “Refuse/Resist” with Scott on vocals. That was an unexpected treat. Not surprisingly the closing number was “I Am The Law” and they tore it up. The show ended and sadly it was time to leave. But what a night it was; three great bands, great seats, tasty beer and my good friend Buke to share it with. I really hope more metal bands will add the Fillmore to their list of stops because I would really like to go back soon.

Last Updated on February 28, 2012

Hits: 387

Opeth & Katatonia @ Rams Head Live 11-1-2011

I’ve seen Opeth live several times, and each time it has been completely different. The first time was at Jaxx, and it was a technical death metal set with a mix of clean and harsh vocals. The second time was at the 9:30 Club on the “Damnation” tour where there was no death metal and all clean vocals. Now, the third time, at Rams Head Live, it was all clean vocals with a mix of musical styles ranging from heavy to acoustic. Each time was great, but I think this latest was probably the best of the three.

Buke and I arrived around 3:30 as we were set up to do an Opeth interview at 4. We originally wrote questions that were geared toward Mikael, but several days before the show I found out we would be interviewing Opeth drummer Martin Axenrot. So we frantically wrote a new set of questions that would be more appropriate for Martin. We arrived and got in touch with the tour manager, who informed me that Martin was still asleep and asked if we wanted to interview someone else in the band. Luckily, I had the Mikael questions on my phone, so we asked for him and he was available.

I was hoping to have some time to get set up ahead of time, but as soon as we started setting up Mikael came in and sat down. We were told we had ten minutes. So Buke engaged Mikael in conversation while we frantically set up the video gear. Because I was trying to hurry I made a few set up mistakes and the camera wouldn’t turn on. It only took a minute to find and fix the problem, but I was embarrassed and felt the clock ticking as well.

I feel like I rushed through the questions hoping to get in as many as I could. I skipped a few lesser questions because I wanted to get in some of the later questions on the list. Buke added some improv questions as well. We ended up with about thirteen minutes of usable footage.

I’d like to thank Mikael for being a total gentleman and enduring with a smile what seemed to me like a bit of a Keystone Cops interview. He was very polite and friendly and talked with us more after the camera was off. He took a picture with us and then went on his way.

We couldn’t hang around in the venue so we left to take gear back to the car and go get something to eat before the show. We had purchased early entry tickets before the interview was scheduled, so we were able to get in and pick our spot for the show without issue. We took up residence on the upper level on the balcony nearest the stage. I regretted that I wouldn’t be able to get photos from different angles (because I’d never get the spot back once I left it) so we picked the best spot and stayed there. Our friend Greg arrived shortly before the show and hung out with us until the end of the show.

Katatonia was up first, and I was very excited to see them for the first time. They sounded great and played a great set. It was nice to go to a show that didn’t have five or more bands playing, just two good ones.

There’s been a lot of online complaining about this tour because Opeth haven’t been playing any of the old material that involves growling . And I’m sure a lot has been said about it in the Blabbermouth comments section. But like I said above, I think this was probably the best Opeth show I’ve ever seen. So quit your whining.

On “Heritage” the songs have a vintage sound quality to them, but they are still “heavy”, just not death metal heavy. Well, live the songs ran the gamut from being very heavy (with clean vocals of course) to clean songs and even acoustic. Whatever they played sounded amazing, and say what you will, but I still felt like I was at a metal show.

During the interview I asked Mikael about whether his not doing harsh vocals meant he wouldn’t be doing Bloodbath anymore. He gave a rather noncommittal response, saying Opeth is what he does creatively while Bloodbath is just something for fun. I hadn’t really expected to get a firm response to the question, but I was curious. So you can imagine how surprised we all were, when on this, the last show of the American tour, it wasn’t Opeth that came back out for the encore, but Bloodbath! I knew that Bloodbath contained members of both Opeth and Katatonia, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that the entire band is in either one or the other band. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it ahead of time.

The lights were off and the crowd was chanting “Opeth! Opeth!” Under cover of the dark, people came back on stage, but when the lights went back on, it was Bloodbath, not Opeth who stood before us. Let me just tell you, I got goosebumps. The crowd went absolutely ape-shit knowing what was about to happen. Mikael explained that since it was the last show of the tour they wanted to do something special for us. They proceeded to play “Soul Evisceration” and “Eaten.”

There had been some mosh pit action during both the Katatonia and Opeth sets, but now the floor became a swirling sea of bodies. Mikael’s clean voice is beautiful and amazing, but to be surprised with some full-on Bloodbath death vox at the end of the night was pure bliss. Up until that point I had been starting to tire from a long day, but I was suddenly pumped full of energy, which took quite awhile to come down.

What can I say? It was simply an incredible evening. Great music, friends, an interview, it was perfect.

Check out photos from the show using the link below: Opeth & Katatonia photos

Last Updated on February 28, 2012

Hits: 378





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