When it comes to metal shows in Des Moines, it’s either feast or famine. The month of April is proving to be quite the feast, boasting tour stops from genre luminaries such as Broken Hope, The Lurking Corpses and Embryonic Devourment. But the show I’ve probably been looking forward to the most was a three-headed beast; a headlining set from legendary German thrashers Destruction, supported by Brazilian brutal death metal trio Krisiun and SoCal up-and-comers Exmortus.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to finally check a few bands off my old school death metal bucket list. The likes of Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Grave (I sadly missed Deicide and Suffocation when they were here :( ) have violated the asshole of the Midwest with their unholy presence, and it’s always gratifying to finally experience these bands in the live setting after having coveted their studio albums for all this time. On a cold, rainy Thursday night in Des Moines, I was happy to add Chicago’s original overlords of brutal death metal Broken Hope to that list, and goddamn if they didn’t deliver the goods and then some.
Jonas Renkse is a difficult man to photograph. For the entirety of Katatonia’s set Wednesday night at Wooly’s, the singer kept his face deliberately obscured behind a mass of hair; as if not wanting to face the crowd. But his jovial between-song demeanor and powerful performance spoke otherwise; his exquisite vocals the undeniable focal point of the Swedish quartet’s excellent hour long set opening for prog metal grand poobahs Opeth. In some ways, Herr Renkse’s locks could be a metaphor for Katatonia’s music; their underlying metal-ness often obscured by heaps of beautifully dark, multi-textured melancholia.
First thing’s first; yes, Skeletonwitch did headline this show. However, I opted not to cover them in this review for a variety of reasons. First and foremost because I’ve been following the band since 2007’s Beyond the Permafrost and wanted to enjoy them as a fan rather than a “journalist;” snapping photos, taking notes and trying to remember setlists often feels a lot like “work,” and no matter how enjoyable that work may be, it isn’t the same as just watching and enjoying a band for no other reason than pure entertainment. Secondly, does Skeletonwitch really need another live review, considering the heights they’ve achieved within the metal underground in terms of popularity (especially when their current tour is almost over with)? I’m thinking the answer is “no,” so I decided it might be more rewarding from the “journalist” perspective to focus on Mutilation Rites and Havok, the young and hungry opening bands who might have a bit more use for the exposure.
The last time I wrote about Early Graves, it was with a heavy heart. A planned review of their 2010 album Goner became a lamentation of vocalist Makh Daniels, whose life had been taken in a van accident while the band was out on tour. I assumed it was to be the first and last time I would write about the devastating young quintet who had shown so much promise. However, the remaining members of Early Graves regrouped, making the undoubtedly difficult decision to soldier on with new screamer John Strachan (also of The Funeral Pyre) at the helm, proving the old cliche that you just can’t keep a good band down. The result is Red Horse, a snorting, stomping, snarling beast of a recording that’s beyond a shadow of a doubt the San Franciscans’ most potent statement to date. The album isn’t out until October 30th, but Early Graves are already hitting the road hard, bringing their patented brand of pure Hell to the stage.
Morbid Angel, Dark Funeral, Grave; listening to metal in my early teens and twenties, I never imagined such an excellent lineup would roll through my hometown of Des Moines, IA. When this tour was announced, I found myself checking the dates on several websites just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things and that there really was a Des Moines stop scheduled. This would be my first time seeing all three bands, and being that all three bands are legendary (at least as far as my own personal metal pantheon is concerned), I was just as giddy at 33 as I would’ve been at 18 had this lineup desecrated Des Moines back then.
The last time Exhumed played in Des Moines, it was the middle of July. If you’ve never been to Iowa in mid-Summer, imagine being trapped in a giant pair of sweatpants and forced to walk through someone’s sweaty, overheated crotch; now you’ve got a pretty good idea of what humidity in the Midwest is like. It’s the kind of heat that causes old people and animals to spontaneously drop dead. Now, imagine a tiny venue with no air conditioning smack dab in the middle of that nasty-ass environment. These were the conditions Exhumed were forced to weather their first time playing our little one-horse town, so it’s something of a small miracle that they actually agreed to come back. Granted, they’re in the midst of a high-profile tour with death metal kingpins Cannibal Corpse (for more on them, wait for my upcoming review of their new album, Torture), but still, I can’t imagine that initial encounter made a very good impression.