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.
To say that I was highly anticipating seeing Ghost in the flesh would probably be the understatement of the year. Their 2010 debut full length Opus Eponymous has been in near constant rotation since its release, and this year’s Infestissumam already has a place in my year-end top five all but locked up. There is something about their combination of Luciferian lyrics, infectious yet hard-rocking pop hooks and outlandish visuals that’s incredibly appealing to this old fan of KISS, Alice Cooper and King Diamond, artists with which Ghost clearly shares a lineage.
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.
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.
I’ve often remarked that when the Halloween season rolls around, all I want to listen to is Misfits and Type O Negative. It seems I’ve been a bit remiss with that statement, because there is another very special band that needs to be added to that list. The band is Fort Wayne, Indiana’s The Lurking Corpses, who proved themselves worthy and then some of being mentioned in the same breath as those (un)hallowed bands with their all-too-brief but highly enjoyable set late Friday night (Saturday morning?) at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Clive, Iowa.
My wife is a fucking trooper. A day before we were set to leave for Minnesota to take in the American Carnage Tour, she threw her back out while doing housework. I was ready to cancel our excursion altogether, but the lady of the house advised me that we were going “come hell or high water” (it should be noted that Megadeth is her favorite band), in spite of her extremely limited mobility. A visit to the chiropractor (several inflamed discs is the diagnosis at this point) and some hefty painkiller and muscle relaxer prescriptions later, we were on the road headed north to the Twin Cities with Grandma’s spare wheelchair (graciously on loan) in the back of the car.
I got back to my seat from buying ridiculously overpriced but awesome Slayer and Megadeth tour shirts just as Testament were launching into “More Than Meets the Eye”. I had been expecting the band to rely on older material given the nostalgic theme of the tour (Slayer playing Seasons in the Abyss in its entirety and Megadeth playing Rust in Peace), but they surprised me with a set that spanned from The New Order to The Formation of Damnation. Although they were only alloted a meager eight songs, Testament sounded great and nicely summarized their career. I was slightly bummed that they didn’t play “The Haunting”, but tracks like “DNR” and the crushing “The Formation of Damnation” were a great kickoff to the night.
Up next was Megadeth. Although I’m not quite the Mustaine-obsessive that my wife is, I nonetheless count them among my favorite bands and was excited to be seeing them for the first time. Megadeth did not screw around once they hit the stage, immediately launching into “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” and preceding to rip through all forty-odd minutes of Rust in Peace with the precision of a well-oiled machine. Personal highlights were “Hangar 18″, “Five Magics” and the mind-boggling “Lucretia” (possibly my favorite Megadeth song ever). My only gripe was that there seemed to be problems with Mustaine’s vox during the set. I’m not sure if it was the microphone/PA or an issue with his voice itself, but it didn’t deter from my enjoyment, since everyone knows Megadeth is all about the riffage.
There was a triumphant feeling in the air throughout Megadeth’s performance and Mustaine seemed to be truly enjoying himself. It appears that he has finally put his many well-publicized demons to rest and can fully bask in the glow of his status as a goddamn heavy metal icon. Few can argue with the status of Rust in Peace as a quintessential thrash album, and the celebratory vibe emanating from the band was utterly infectious. After completing the Rust… portion of the set, the band aired some gems from their back catalogue such as “Trust”, “Symphony of Destruction” and “A Tout Le Monde” before closing with a devastating rendition of “Peace Sells” which climaxed with a reprise of “Holy Wars…”. Indeed, with the newfound camaraderie amongst “The Big Four” these days, it feels like everything has come full circle for Mustaine, and Megadeth’s set reflected this in spades.
After an intro complete with multiple logos and pentagrams projected on a large curtain, the men of Slayer appeared. The band bulldozed through “Hate Worldwide” and the title track from World Painted Blood before kicking things into high gear with “War Ensemble”, signaling the beginning of Seasons in the Abyss. Seasons… was the first Slayer album I ever bought, so it was interesting to hear tracks like “Expendable Youth” and “Hallowed Point” in a live setting, especially since the last time I saw Slayer was around 2002 and the set back then focused heavily on God Hates Us All and more of a “greatest hits” type performance. I wondered how long it had been since Slayer played some of those Seasons… tracks and how much time they spent re-learning and rehearsing them (I suppose the same could be said about Megadeth and Rust in Peace, at least from Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson’s perspectives).
We were on Kerry King’s side of the stage, which is rather ironic considering how much my wife hates Kerry King’s guitar solos. I don’t think the guy is a virtuoso by any means, but I do think his solos reflect the intensity and frenzy of Slayer’s musical and lyrical approach, while not being conventionally “musical”. They don’t necessarily compliment the song, they’re more like a sonic carpet-bombing in the middle of the song that adds another highly visceral texture or facet to Slayer’s attack. Of course, the fact that he looks like a professional wrestler grappling with the instrument doesn’t hurt things either. I enjoyed watching him do his thing.
The rest of the band was in fine form… is there a better thrash drummer than Dave Lombardo?! Tom Araya sounded great with no evidence of the medical problems that seem to have plagued him over last few years (aside from a lack of headbanging) and Jeff Hanneman brought the riffs, albeit in a slightly more demure fashion than King. Although the band members have visibly aged, Slayer’s sound is frozen in time, the cryogenically preserved lifeblood from which today’s thrash is forged. I’d imagine you could compare Saturday’s performance to one from 1990 and find that they are nearly identical in intensity and sonics.
Metalheads are nothing if not nostalgic (sometimes to a fault), and this night was all about “back in the day”. It showed that great metal albums can endure and stand the test of time, even in this age of music as a disposable commodity. It was a celebration and a history lesson, an exemplification of some of the very best American metal has to offer. Why bother with all the nu jack thrash out there when the guys that invented that shit are still out there killing it?
[note: Sorry for the crappy iPhone pics, but to be honest I wasn't sure whether I was going to do a write-up on the show or not and therefore neglected to bring a "real" camera. We were actually a lot closer than it looks.]