Much like the magazine that spawned this annual trek of the best in metal, The Decibel Tour has officially become an institution for our scene. I look forward to the announcement every year, it’s a given the lineup will rule. This year was stacked as one of the best with Enslaved, Wolves In The Throne Room, Myrkur, and Khemmis. Continue reading →
Fandom is a curious thing. People feel very intense about about a band and sometimes fret when there is a change. Bands change members all the time. That is the nature of people trying to play music for a living under mixed circumstances at the best of times. For thirteen years Skeletonwitch has been one of the most heavy and consistent bands in the American metal scene. They have made some great records, opened tours for major names, and spread their sound around the globe. Fans certainly didn’t want to accept the change when the band suspended and removed former singer Chance Garnette, due to his personal issues, and much chatter on line centered around the future prospects of new music. Cleverly the band didn’t reveal new vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer) until just recently and now have debuted the first new music with Adam, in the form of new single Well of Despair (Prosthetic).
Although this track s but a small taste of what is to be expected later this year in the form of a full EP, ‘Well of Despair’ was recorded at Baltimore’s Developing Nations with Kevin Bernsten (Noisem, Magrudergrind, Mutilation Rites) earlier this year. Musically the track is as much of a declaration of intent as anything else. Galloping drum beats pound from the speakers. All the things that made Skeletonwitch great, this track has it. It’s a quick slab of brutal thrashy black-metal inspired riffage that is sure to make fans headbang like mad and take notice. Clemmons sounds excellent. He has a gnarly growl and a lung power equal to Chance’s. It will be great to hear him tackle the back catalog during the forthcoming Decibel Tour with Abbath, High On Fire, and Tribulation. But ‘Well Of Despair’ is a powerful introduction to the next phase of the band. If you had any doubts about the future of the band, throw them out the window now!
Out of all of the annual big name tours that hit North America, none have been as consistent as The Decibel Magazine Tour. On April 10th at the Royale in Boston, Decibel provided a diverse, yet exciting lineup of newcomers, Vallenfyre, one of rising stars in doom, Pallbearer, metalcore titans Converge, and the legends in the flesh, At The Gates.
Vallenfyre, by Hillarie Jason Photography.
Kicking off the night was Vallenfyre who, even with an early set time starting at 5:30 in the early-evening, was greeted by a generous and excited crowd. With the Royale having a strict cut off time at 9:30 on a Friday night (I know, I know) the supergroup out of the UK only had time for a few quick songs. Having said that, they got in three songs from each of their albums with favorites such as: ‘Bereft’, ‘Cathedrals of Dread’, ‘The Grim Irony’, and ‘Splinters’. I will certainly be looking forward to seeing these guys again and so should you!
Pallbearer, by Hillarie Jason Photography.
Pallbearer hit the stage next to destroy the crowd’s ears and emotions with a wall of sound via doom metal. Obviously in the doom world, songs tend to run a bit longer than your typical song to truly hold atmosphere and provide a mood. Due to this, we only got three songs from the foursome from Little Rock, Arkansas. Boston got to hear ‘Worlds Apart’ and ‘The Ghost I Use to Be’ from the latest release as well as ‘Foreigner’ from Pallbearer’s debut album. Get on the bandwagon for this band as space is limited!
Converge, by Hillarie Jason Photography.
Next up to try and tear down the venue were local heroes, Converge. I will be honest and mention I have never truly been a big fan of these guys, but after seeing them live I think I like the taste of their brand of kool-aid. The adrenaline from the four men on stage had trickled down to the floor as fans started surfing right up and over the barricade to sing their favorite lyrics. The set list was very well constructed to allow for four tracks each from the two latest releases (All We Love We Leave Behind, Axe to Fall) and two tracks each from You Fail Me as well as the classic, Jane Doe. A few favorites heard were: ‘Dark Horse’, ‘Trespasses’, ‘Reap What You Sow’, and the closer, ‘Jane Doe’. I may not have known a single word to any of the songs played, but the sheer energy of this live set by Converge is enough to get me to come back for more.
At The Gates, by Hillarie Jason Photography.
Lastly, the gods themselves, At The Gates, took to the stage. Even given the time constraints, the Swedish legends were able to punch out a set list of 19 tracks! Obviously with a new album out (At War With Reality from Century Media) I expected quite a bit of new tracks. In total, the Boston fans got seven from the new album, 7 from Slaughter of the Soul and a few others sprinkled in. Some favorites/sing-a-longs played were: ‘Death and the Labyrinth’, ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’, ‘Raped by the Light of Christ’, ‘Suicide Nation’, and of course, ‘Blinded by Fear’. Even after being apart for all of those years, At The Gates can still bring it and boy do they bring it all. Easily one of the better shows that will hit the Boston market in 2015!
Easily the most anticipated tour in the USA this year, practically everyone I know that is a fan of metal was going to attend the 2014 Decibel Magazine sponsored tour to see Carcass. Oddly enough I know people who straight out dislike anything resembling death metal, but were still going to attend on the strength of the Carcass name alone. I know some scoff at the near mythological amount of praise heaped on Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast), even though it was the Ghost Cult 2013 album of the year (*cough cough*). Any way you slice it (bad pun intended), it is good to have them back, kicking ass, and going strong. The Paradise isn’t really a venue fit for metal on so many levels: from the awkward layout of the place, the inexperienced staff more used to indie rock fans, and clearly not ready drunk moshers, and stage divers. Most venues in Boston ignore the city-wide ban on moshing (WTF Boston!?!), but these guards were intimidated, overly cautious, and sometimes hapless. I felt a little bad for them, until they treated my friend and occasional Ghost Cult photog Hillarie Jason, and all the other photogs badly too. Sad that a club with the kind of history it has can’t rise up and better.
Nosiem: holy shit! They opened a can of whoopass on the entire Paradise. I really only listened to their Agony Defined (A389) album once or twice, and boy was I regretting it during their show. They were young and full of energy and immediately had the early crowd feeling wide open and angry. Lead screamer Tyler was mad impressive, running all over the cluttered stage. They were a loud unruly bunch, glorious young noise-makers who totally pumped up the already excited crowd. If I was under 20 again, they would be my favorite band.
Gorguts was up next and the Boston nerd-musician-Jazz hands kids quotient in the room rose significantly while the sperm count dipped to dangerous levels. Luc Lemay’s current incarnation of the band includes Colin Marston and Kevin Hufnagel from Dysrhythmia, with Patrice Hamelin on drums. It’s always like going to guitar school watching Luc play his mighty axe, and he sports his glasses on stage now, rocking a very professor-type feel to his demeanor. They did focus their short set list predominantly on the moody Colored Sands (Season of Mist) material, which left me a little flat. Thankfully they did an encore of their classic ‘Obscura’ which saved the day for me. Enjoyable, sure. But Gorguts is a band I really need to see play a longer, or headline set for me to really sink my teeth into.
Always a fun time, The Black Dahlia Murder, just hit the stage already seemingly full of sweat and smiles. As per usual Trevor Strnad just flew all over the place, raging hard and high—fiving everyone. He is one of my favorite performers to watch. Similar to Gorguts, they were short on time. However they did a nice job touching on some hits and a few cuts from last years’ Everblack (Metal Blade) album. The band sounded as tight as ever, and despite how much TBDM has toured the New England area, the room seemed to be enraptured by their set. They almost have an arena rock bigness to their shows, which seems unbelievable until you see them live. Ryan Knight in particular was amazing on guitar with a few sick solos, but the entire band continues to be exceptional and consistent year after year.
Despite their comeback US tour in 2009, I was surprised at how many people were seeing Carcass for the first time ever. It guess it owes as much to the latest generation of death metal fans coming up of late. There was a weird energy in the room like anything could happen, in a good way. Rather than watch the show from the crowd, I snagged a spot from the balcony so I could soak in the madness. There was already moshing and a few surfers testing the jumpy security before the first note was played. When the lights went down a roar went up like you wouldn’t believe. I will likely never forget the beautiful insanity of this crowd when ‘Buried Dreams’ from Heartwork kicked in. The miniscule Jeff Walker is like a living Chucky doll, since he is so small and evil. I kind of want to scoop him up and give him big a hug. Dan Wilding was immediately impressive at how perectly crushed on the drums. The early set mixed in Surgical Steel tracks with classic ones perfectly. The material certainly meshed well with the oldies, and since everybody and their mother had the new album, it was cool to hear many folks growling along.
Jeff is still quite the showman after 30 years in the business. Hilariously funny, with a wry sense of humor that is just a little too smart for most Americans, if I may disparage my own country for second. Still, everybody laughed when Jeff singled out a super- tall guy for blocking the view of a short-statured girl. Too funny for words. Of course a lot of people still grump about the absence of Michael Amott, who is no longer in the band, but I have to wonder why? Bill Steer was terrific and new guitarist Ben Ash was more than capable of creating the bands’ signature sound. Steer possesses on of the best guitar tones ever in metal. Naturally the band was flawless in its execution of their classic songs, like ‘Reek of Putrefaction’ and ‘Corporeal Jigsaw Quandary’. It was a pretty amazing night and a good time, leaving everyone satisfied and feeling like we just saw the best concert we will see in 2014.
“I saw the Swellers, a melodic punk rock band from Michigan. They’re really cool. I like those guys. I’m pretty not up date on a lot of current music,” admits The Black Dahlia Murder guitarist Ryan Knight, talking about his band’s stint on a Pomona, CA stop on last summer’s Vans Warped Tour.
Black Dahlia Murder released their most recent album Everblack (Metal Blade) during that tour and it helped put the band out in front of a new audience they had previously not played in front of. A crowd largely made up of fans of Black Veil Brides, Goldfinger and lots of electro and alternative rap audiences is hardly a crowd who would listen to them. Or was it?
“It’s actually been pretty good. It hasn’t been as weird as thought it would be. We’re definitely making some new fans, and have some of our old fans here too. It’s been pretty good.”
Unlike previous stints on Rockstar Mayhem Tour and other metal oriented festival shows, the Warped Tour is a completely new experience for them. Playing largely to pop punk, screamo or ska fans, death metal is very foreign to many fans but somehow they won over the crowd.
“Sometimes you look out into the crowd and people seemed a little puzzled,” he said. “There are some people who seemed interested. But I noticed there aren’t people who are leaving. It’s not like they’re coming over and then they’re walking away. Hopefully it’s opening up people into us and to people who wouldn’t normally come and see us.”
The band is touring behind Everblack, their sixth album. Despite having to pick from six different albums worth of songs, building a set list has become a creative challenge for The Black Dahlia Murder, but something they couldn’t avoid.
“I think for this we’re playing three new songs because we put out a new album. The other ones we try to pick songs…for this tour a little more groove oriented. We try to pick stuff we think would go over easy. It’s not too hard to grasp.”
The album was produced by Jason Suecof and Mark Lewis at Audiohammer Studios in Orlando, FL.
“On this one we took a new ritual – we took different instruments and choir sounds and basically things to make the songs more dynamic. We were pretty much doing that. Again on this album, some of the songs are longer. Some of the arrangements are a little bit different than what we do, but at the same time still trying to keep the band’s style the same. I would say it’s a continuation of Ritual – take what we did on there and take it to the next level. We’re changing little bits at a time instead of completely sounding different.”
“We know what we want to sound like. We’re not trying to redefine the genre. I think we’re trying to find what we do and keep expanding on it in ways we’d want to do so.”
The members are heavily influenced by metal, but their variety of artists they listen to keeps their ideas fresh.
“I don’t know about metal necessarily. I don’t listen to that much metal anyways. I do but it’s the old stuff I was always into. For me, I listen to a lot of stuff from a lead guitars standpoint. Most of the stuff I’m into now is a lot of instrumental fusion stuff and country/surf/blues stuff. Not necessarily saying I’m implementing all of that stuff but…I can’t speak for everyone else but I know the biggest influences are Darkane, Cannibal Corpse, At the Gates, Dissection, Carcass and stuff like that.”
Front man Trevor Strnad is well known to be a Dissection freak and isn’t shy about it either. “He’s like a death metal encyclopedia. I literally don’t know anyone who knows any more about metal. I’ve seen this guy converse people all over the world. All over the world people go ‘this guy knows his shit.’ Trevor is definitely the encyclopedia of the band.”
The rest of the band also shares their likes. “We all like all styles of music. I would say the majority of is still keep metal as number one. A lot of us are into melodic punk rock like Bad Religion and Propaghandi. I’m into a lot of instrumental music.”
While they found their sound, one thing they can’t seem to hold down would be drummers. Shannon Lucas departed and they found Alan Cassidy is the new drummer.
“Our old drummer Shannon [Lucas] got married and just got tired of touring. It’s understandable. Shannon decided to leave. We got Alan Cassidy. Alan was playing with Abigail Williams at the time. He’s also playing in the Breathing Process. The way that we recruited him was I was in Chicago and I went to an Abigail Williams’ last show. I knew Ken [Begeron]. I was watching them and I was like ‘whoever is on drums is really good.’ I could tell they were playing to a click track live. Ken said we should hit him up.”
Despite the band’s popularity, drummers couldn’t keep up with the demand of the music. Being a hard job is an understatement, but Black Dahlia Murder moves on.
“I think in this genre of death metal it’s a trying, physical thing for drummers. To be able to do that every day is very tiring on the body and plus all the touring. I think a combination between the two over a six or seven year span. I think Shannon likes metal but doesn’t want to play it. He’s been doing it seven years straight, 16 songs a night.”
“Shannon’s playing in some hardcore bands now. Totally different world from what he was doing.”
As comes with growing popularity, opportunities abound for the crowned princes of the death metal fraternity. Lastly, Strnad had guested on a Broken Hope track, as well as a few other appearances on records. Knight shared what he has worked on.
“I actually did some guest solos. I did some guest leads on the new Arsis record, which is the band I came from. I did some guest leads on the Mors Principium Est record. I did some new stuff on the Hatesphere record. Those are the most notable ones.”