Napalm Death – Voivod- Exhumed- Iron Reagan- Ringworm – BCI: at the Worcester Palladium

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It was the dream lineup you didn’t know you wanted.

You can say it was tailor made for fans of moshing, polyrhythms and just very loud noises. On this frigid snow caked Saturday many made the expedition to get some maximum volume. Some coming as far as from a God forsaken land known as Maine.

The destination was the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts. The event was the “Through Space and Grind” tour co-headlined by Napalm Death and Voivod. This odd bedfellows lineup seemingly straight from 1991 may have been the best unexpected pairing since chicken and waffles. I don’t know who hatched the idea, but I owe him some beer.

All of the Palladium regulars were present. These including corpse paint guy, blonde ponytail dude, the YouTube review types who feel everyone in metal is overrated, the four Latino fans (myself included), older drunk gentleman still stuck in the 80s and 700 kids wearing denim vests (once again, me included). All here for a bill that also featured Exhumed, Iron Reagan, Ringworm and Black Crown Initiate. Virtually ensuring a good night of political dissent, onstage decapitation, blast beats, circle pits, cover songs and a hint of prog. And cheap beer. You can’t go to the Palladium and not get ripped on Narragansett. Or at least have some poured on you by a drunk in the pit.

I was unable to catch the local talent Blacktrip who opened the main stage due to an interview with Exhumed’s Matt Harvey. However I was able to run inside and catch Black Crown Initiate. One of eOne’s latest and most promising signees, Black Crown Initiate hail from Reading Pennsylvania. The same stomping grounds as fellow death metal prospects, Rivers of Nihil. And much like their neighbors, Black Crown Initiate excel at delivering crushing death metal with a bellowing low-end crunch driven forward by endless double kick drumming. However unlike their sometimes counterparts, they also have melodic streak to them and will not hesitate to throw in a Between the Buried and Me style chorus like the one in opening salvo ‘A Great Mistake.’ All of which translated beautifully in terms of live sound. So much so that it was disappointing to only have them play four tracks all from last year’s ripping The Wreckage of Stars. While I wish they had more time they’ll likely roll back into town sooner rather than later. Since the release of The Wreckage of Stars they seem to be on any tour they can get their hands on.

Ringworm stormed the stage to demonstrate their metallic hardcore style. These gentlemen were an aural throwback to the days when splicing metal and hardcore conjured images of Burnt by the Sun and Coalesce, not Falling in Reverse. Thrash tempos collided with concrete with breakdowns as thick as concrete walls on songs like ‘Hellbound’ and ‘Justice Replaced by Revenge.’ And for those in attendance who like to spend most of their time at the second stage during Metal and Hardcore fest, Ringworm made sure pull up some Birth is Pain favorites such as ‘Dollar Whore’ and ‘Madness of War.’ It’s unfortunate that they ran out of time with two songs still left to be played and were hampered by a muddy sound mix. The pits were just beginning to churn.

Keeping affairs fast and loose was (and probably the best band name ever) Iron Reagan. The awesome Richmond Virginia supergroup of sorts (featuring members of Municipal Waste, Cannabis Corpse and Darkest Hour) seemed hell-bent in finding out how many songs they could cram into their set. They even found some time for a nice Boston treat as they covered SS Decontrol’s hardcore classic ‘Glue’ with none other than Barney Greenway on the mic. With regards to Iron Reagan, come for the slashing crossover thrash, but stay for one of the best frontmen in extreme music, Tony Foresta. Foresta with his witty banter and one stage move (awkwardly jumping over Ryan Parrish’s drum kit) kept the momentum going when they weren’t tearing into pit-starters like ‘Miserable Failure’ and ‘Your Kid’s an Asshole.’ One of the more entertaining mouthpieces in a genre that has been known to take itself too seriously.

Exhumed came on right after with a bloody (in more ways than one) fun set. Any death metal act that finishes up with a decapitated head being placed in a microwave is doing God’s work. It is worth noting that Exhumed’s set only featured close to no music from later albums. The focus was placed on Gore Metal, the 1998 Exhumed classic that has been re-recorded and is being reissued. From opening (‘Necromaniac’) to close (‘Open the Abscess’) it was a Gore Metal showcase. If the live energy and response is any indicator then I am liking this re-recording business. Foresta came onstage again for a raucous cover of Negative Approach’s ‘Ready to Fight.’

Not to be outgunned, the elder statesmen of the tour, Voivod, got right after it. Starting with ‘Kluskap O’Kom’ from their 2013 return to form, Target Earth followed up with one of the most underappreciated metal songs ever, ‘Tribal Convictions.’ With vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger and drummer Michel “Away” Langevin being 49 and 51 respectively I wondered if they could perform with the younger and aggressive bands on the bill. But if I learned one thing that night it’s that Voivod’s album art is consistently ugly and they can thrash with the best of them. By feeling the energy and those odd riffs it becomes clear why they are such a respected albeit obscure institution in metal with the likes of Opeth and Neurosis citing them as an influence. Before I could collect my thoughts properly, they were already in the midst of their haunting rendition of ‘Astronomy Domine.’ Voivod’s lack of success wasn’t because they were too weird or Canadian. They were just too ahead of their time.

Wasting little time following up Voivod’s avant-garde assault, Napalm Death didn’t even bother with a stage banner. The lights went dark and we were treated to ominous and punishing combination of ‘Discordance’ and ‘I Abstain’ off of 1992s Utopia Banished. Napalm Death led by the angriest sounding man in the world, Greenway was backed by drummer Danny Herrera, bassist Shane Embury and filling in for guitarist Mitch Harris was Erik Burke of Brutal Truth fame. When they weren’t blasting out tracks from their new and excellent Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media), Napalm Death dished out punishment in the form of ‘Vision Conquest,’ ‘From Enslavement to Obliteration,” and ‘Suffer the Children.” I’ve seen a lot death, thrash and hardcore bands, but nothing was quite like watching Napalm Death. How they just sounded faster, harsher and angrier than any band I’ve been in the presence of. It was less concert and more like religious experience. I felt like I wanted to call my parent’s and let them know I had found direction and purpose. “Mom. Dad. I’m going to start a grindcore band. I need it. It makes the edge go away.” While it may sound cliché to some, Greenway went into explanations for many of the night’s songs. Whether they be about not letting institutions dictate your sexuality, capitalism, free market economics or religion, it became clear that he’s not just sloganeering; Greenway believes in his art and convictions. This machine kills ignorance.

What started out as a great night of music was elevated to unforgettable. Without a doubt in my mind, Napalm Death is the most important force in extreme music.

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WORDS BY HANSEL LOPEZ

PHOTOS BY HILLARIE JASON PHOTOGRAPHY

X Japan: Live at Madison Square Garden, New York City

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X Japan are, without a doubt, Japan’s most enduring and influential rock band. And yes, even though they are, by the by, a Metal band, their sound, their aura, and their tendency to do it big and loud, is very much based in the kind of spectacle rock at its finest is supposed to create. Taking on Madison Square Garden was the band’s dream concert since they began to see their dedication turn into liquid success shortly before the untimely death of guitarist Hide, who is, in spirit, still considered by fans and the band to be part of the action.

Untold amounts of anticipation could be sensed around the venue, sitting atop the historic Penn Station in the center of New York. Fans milled around, periodically erupting into the signature call-and-response warcry of “We Are! X!”, and judging by how much X Japan merch and hide/80s Toshi cosplay was to be seen, nobody cared about being ‘that guy’. To date, Iron Maiden or Kiss can get away with that, is how huge X Japan is as a force of rock history. With every minute that wasn’t 8:00 pm Eastern time, I swear my heart crept closer to my throat as the symphonic rendition of ‘Amethyst’ played over the speaker. Upon the fateful hour’s arrival, the grandfathers of J-Rock themselves stepped onstage, glorious as they ever have been, kicking off with a one-two hit of ‘Jade’ and ‘Rusty Nail’, pyrotechnics included, mercilessly hooking the already engaged audience with the mighty power metal number ‘Silent Jealousy’, which certainly got heads banging vigorously as Madison Square Garden has probably never seen.

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Following a new song entitled ‘Beneath The Skin’ from an upcoming album -which I’m sure will be off the charts- entertaining guitar/bass duel where Pata and Heath demonstrated the chemistry that enables them to time and time again wow the general populace of the world with both spur-of-the-moment innovation and precision mastery. Loosing the more standard hard rock number ‘Drain’ before an epic violin solo by Sugizo, the time was ripe for ‘Kurenai’, a piece as invigoratingly metal as it is tastefully composed. Another new song, ‘Hero’, had Toshi inviting the audience -and Yoshiki too, but he said “No fuckin’ way”- to sing along with the chorus, complete with words on the screen. The guys in X Japan are nothing if not interactive. After the appropriately titled ‘Born to be Free’, the band takes a well-earned intermission while Yoshiki, composer extraordinaire, took the stage hitoride to grace us with a piano solo featuring Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, and even ‘Star Spangled Banner’ made an appearance at one point too. So meaningful was this concert to the band, and just being able to finally give American fans the show they were waiting for, it was impossible to see this as hackneyed in the slightest, and I’m unpatriotic almost to the point of treason sometimes.

Yoshiki’s mindblowing drum solo, complete with symphonic backing, was a whole show in and of itself. Reaching and maintaining heights of climactic power I could have never imagined while his drumset hovered about on a glittering platform, and select wristbands throughout the audience did the same, it was a testament to the amount of time the band has spent in perfecting their art. Speaking of art, I cried at last when, after a moment to let Yoshiki cool down after his time as a comet, the band played ‘Forever Love’, displaying images of old concerts, them just hanging out, and enjoying all that rock allowed them to as the massively creative individuals they are. The real tearjerker was arguably Yoshiki’s telling the story of the band’s trials and struggles over the years, of his and Toshi’s nearly half-century of friendship, and their gratitude for having fans and professionals that cared enough to bring to life the event of which I type. Restarting the rock with their comeback song, ‘I.V.’, followed by the endlessly anthemic rager ‘X’, and plenty of throat-rending shouts of “We Are!” by Yoshiki, always to a louder and more impassioned response of “X!” from the crowd, they took leave of the stage once again, but no one was fooled. They still hadn’t played ‘Endless Rain’ or ‘Art of Life’ yet.

I’m sure you can fill in the blanks from here.

Ending with an acoustic version of ‘Forever Love’ over the speakers as the band pelted the audience with roses -to say nothing of the confetti, streamers, and fireworks- and Yoshiki’s body itself -they weren’t ready for that stagedive-, I was left in emotional rapture. I’d laughed, I’d cried, I’d screamed like a barbarian, I’d cried more, and I sure as hell cried a little more. Literally a once in a lifetime concert, among the best live music events I’ve witnessed, and, come to think of it, the only concert I feel funny about calling a ‘show’; it would seem blasphemous to ever think of X Japan as a gig I decided to see. It was more of a spiritual obligation. After all:

We are X.

Sean Pierre-Antoine with XJapanMSG cosplayer

Sean Pierre-Antoine with XJapanMSG cosplayer

X Japan on Facebook

SEAN PIERRE-ANTOINE