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Top 6 Chicago Metal Albums of 2011

So, here it is…My top six Chicago metal albums of 2011.  I’ve been trying to decide what to include for the last few weeks, and how many numbers needed to be on the list.  I settled on six because five seemed too typical, and I really didn’t want to leave one of these six albums off.  Also, there are several other albums I didn’t get a chance to check out, so there’s obviously going to be people with other opinions.

6. Bones – Bones
Former Usurper madmen Jon Necromancer, Carcass Chris and Joe Apocalyptic Warlord return with a band that is what I imagine Motörhead playing death metal would sound like.  Bones’ debut album is straightforward, meat-and-potatoes metal.  ‘Nuff said.

 

 

 


5. Indian – Guiltless
The best thing about Guiltless is that it never lets up.  From the moment the album launches into opening track “No Grace,” it commences a sonic beatdown that takes several listens to fully digest.  In just six tracks, Indian are more brutal than any shitty deathcore band that has thrown that adjective around carelessly in the past several years — and, hey, no cookie cutter breakdowns to suffer through!

 

 

 

 

4. Bloodiest – Descent
This one is probably the wild card of the bunch, as I spent a good week debating whether or not it was metal.  But what the fuck is metal, anyways?  Perhaps that’s a question for another time.  Anyways, Bruce Lamont’s Bloodiest has been in frequent rotation since I picked it up.  Regardless of how different it may be from the rest of the albums on this list, this album is still heavy in its own right.  And it makes great background music for a number of activities I’ll refrain from mentioning at the moment.

 

 



3. Cianide – Gods of Death
As the reigning kings of the Chicago death metal scene — well, there’s also Macabre, but they prefer to be called “murder metal” — Cianide could give a fuck less about living up to anything.  Over two decades in, they’re still sonically worshiping Celtic Frost, and fuck you if you don’t like itAt least you’ll always know what you’re getting into with these dudes.  People outside of Chicago are starting to pay more attention, too.  Finally.

 



2. Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore
Much has been made of the charges leveled against Leviathan mastermind Wrest, AKA Jef Whitehead, earlier this year.  I’m not going to get into what he may or may not have done, because this isn’t the place for it.  The fact of the matter is that the dude has been demonized before he’s even been tried.  Writer Chris Weingarten, for example, Tweeted at the time, “ATTN Metal fans, today is the day you throw your Leviathan and Twilight records in the trash.”  Fuck that, though.  I don’t ever see anyone calling for us to throw Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Gorgoroth, et al. albums in the trash, and members of those bands have actually been convicted of various crimes.  Ultimately, the most beautiful thing about True Traitor, True Whore is that it perfectly reflects the mindset of a man who has been convicted in the court of public opinion before ever being tried in a court of law.  Sure, two of the album’s tracks are new versions of older songs, but they fit perfectly here.  Whether Whitehead is found guilty or not, and I hope he isn’t, this album is a sonic evolution for the one-man black metal band’s catalog and I’m anticipating whatever he comes up with next.

1. The Atlas Moth – An Ache For the Distance
On their sophomore album, The Atlas Moth stepped up their game tremendously.  I’ve been listening to this album at least once a day since I first heard it back in August, and it somehow managed to push Mastodon to the number 2 spot in my mental list of the top albums of the year overall.  The sludge here is sludgier, the psychedelia trippier.  The highs higher and the lows lower.  I don’t even know what I’m saying right now.  Had the recording industry not gone belly up, these guys would be well on their way to being big.  At least that hasn’t stopped them from channeling non-metal influences like the Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle and crafting the eargasm of the year.

Other 2011 Chicago Albums Worth Checking Out:

Avichi – The Devil’s Fractal (Project of Andrew Marcuszewski of Nachtmystium and Lord Mantis)
Chris Connelly – Artificial Madness (New solo work by former member of Ministry and RevCo from when they were amazing)
Macabre – Grim Scary Tales (Chicago metal pioneers with a penchant for dark humor and serial killer-themed songs)
Wolvhammer – The Obsidian Plains (Blackened sludge metal, formerly from Minnesota)

REVIEW: Cianide, Johnny Vomit, Cardiac Arrest and Bones

WHEN:  November 26, 2011
WHERE:  The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

Cianide

I don’t think you could possibly fit any more people into The Empty Bottle than there were at Saturday night’s show, which had arguably the best line-up of any death metal gig I’ve ever been to.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Chicago death metal veterans Cianide, who are currently waiting for Macabre to split up so they can be the reigning kings of Chicago death metal, played a career-spanning set of skull-crushing death metal, including personal favorite “Forsaken Doom” from this year’s Gods of Death.  Why these guys aren’t better known in the world of death metal is beyond me (Well, I actually have an idea of why that is, but you’ll have to hunt down my A.V. Club piece on Chicago metal for more on that).  They’re at least as good as anything that ever came out of Florida.

My Hand Is Killing Me.  I need to find something better to do than pounding the stage with my fist when I’m up front during a band like this.

  • Johnny Vomit were highly entertaining, to say the least, as they enlightened the crowd on the virtues of eating, drinking, fucking and sleeping — and using Butternut bread bags for condoms.  Every band on this bill moved a ton of air during this show, but when these guys were on stage, you could literally feel the sound hitting you the entire time.

Next Time, Bring Enough For Everyone.  The bread fight that followed the theatrical Mr. Vomit’s throwing of a loaf of bread into the crowd was fun, but it would have been even better with more bread.

  • Cardiac Arrest are highly-regarded in the realm of Midwest death metal, as well.  On a line-up that covered pretty much every stylistic base of death metal, these guys had the horror and gore themes covered.  Opening act Bones, the latest band to feature former Usurper madman Jon Necromancer, covered the crusty, Motörhead-influenced base, throwing in a Devastation cover for good measure.

Cred in Question.  With this many local legends on one bill, where were you?  You should have been there instead of having to read this.

 

REVIEW: Yakuza, Atlas Moth, Batillus and The Swan King

WHEN:  November 23, 2011
WHERE:  Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago

Yakuza

Subterranean was packed Wednesday night as Yakuza, Atlas Moth, Batillus and The Swan King pretty much tore the place apart.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • After wanting to see Yakuza live for the past few years, I can definitely say it was a much more high energy performance than I expected.  Don’t get me wrong — their music is intense.  It’s more or less the idea of what an act that fuses metal and jazz is going to be like live.  Regardless, Bruce Lamont (who is typically a mellow, laid back guy in my experience) is a beast on stage, from punching the ceiling above the stage to his breakneck headbanging.  The rest of the band follow suit, and it’s definitely interesting to see the meshing of high and low culture in person as opposed to just hearing it on an album.  Much of the set consisted of material from 2010’s Of Seismic Consequence.

Triple Penetration:  Because of this show, I now know that three microphones can fit inside of a saxophone.

  • The Atlas Moth played a solid set that, like last time, consisted of material from their new album, An Ache for the Distance, as well as “…Leads to a Lifetime on Mercury.”  Unlike last time, however, drummer Tony Mainiero slipped up during the second song, “Perpetual Generations,” and the guys had to start over.  According to bassist Alex Klein, it’s the first time they’ve botched a song like that.  Shit happens, I guess, but they recovered well and the rest of the set was still better than whatever crap you’re probably listening to right now.

Are You Sure You Know Where You’re At?  For most of the night, there was a kid up front who was dancing like he was in the club and doing some sort of move that looked like he was shooting hoops (Do people still say that?  I never gave much of a fuck about sports…).  It was at its weirdest during Batillus, but nobody pointed it out until the Moth set.  I assume he was on really good drugs, or was hearing different music than I was.

  • I had never heard Brooklyn’s Batillus before Wednesday night, but I’ll definitely be checking them out some more.  Their set was solid, and they had a doomy, sludgy sound with a lot of blackened atmospherics.

Random Observation:  Seriously…What was up with that club-dancing kid?!

  • It was also my first time hearing openers The Swan King.  They sounded not unlike something that might have come out of Seattle in the early ’90s.  That’s not a bad thing, though.  I’ve always been a big fan of diverse bills.

Yeah… I’m out of remarks here.

REVIEW: Hideout Inn Halloween Hurt 2011: Indian, Rabid Rabbit and Bloodyminded

WHEN:  October 30, 2011
WHERE:  The Hideout Inn, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago

The 2011 Hideout Halloween Hurt was my first time at the Hideout Inn, and it was an interesting evening.  The night’s line-up consisted of Indian, Rabid Rabbit and Bloodyminded.

  • Indian played an ear-splitting set consisting primarily of material from their latest album Guiltless.  (If you’re into a sludgy blackened doom sound and you don’t have it yet, you should definitely pick it up.)  There was a lot of energy during their set despite the limited stage space, and everything sounded pretty much spot on with the studio versions.  The strange thing about this show, especially during Indian’s set, is that the crowd stood still the entire time — something I’ve never seen a crowd do during a band this heavy.If anything, that’s the one thing that threw this show off for me.  The intensity of the crowd just didn’t match the intensity of the music.  The same could potentially be said for the crowd at the Atlas Moth/Wolvhammer show a few weeks ago, but that crowd was a bit more energetic.  Honestly, though, there wouldn’t have been a lot of room for anyone to go crazy in either venues, so it’s ultimately probably a logistics thing…or so I’ll assume.
    Fucking Intense:  Drummer Bill Bumgardner’s wild-eyed stare is matched in strength only by late-90s WWF Superstars.  I’m not fucking kidding.  That dude looked fucking intense.
  • I spent a good deal of Rabid Rabbit’s set trying to figure out who they reminded me of.  Finally, it hit me that I heard a lot of Electric Wizard and Type O Negative in their sound.  I had never heard of them before this show, and they were a welcome surprise.  The surplus of smoke machine fog added even more character to the set.
    Two Beats Per Minute: The band closed their set with a slow-but-still-pummeling cover of the Misfits’ “Angelfuck,” which brought to mind the old Type O cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” — jokingly referred to as having been recorded at two beats-per-minute.
  • I’m not really sure how to explain Bloodyminded.  Basically, three members of the band played with some sort of effects controls (which, from a distance, initially looked like controllers from the original Nintendo system) as the vocalist screamed spoken word into two (and sometimes more) mics.  It was interesting, if not difficult to wrap my head around at first.  But I think I could get into it.
    Random Observation:  There was something surreal about this whole set that made me wonder if I was dreaming.  The whole scene at Hideout Inn around this time reminded me of this dream I’ve had a few times where, for whatever reason, I inexplicably own an opium den (which the Hideout is not) where girls serve cheap beer on fancy trays and the bar is tended by a shriner with a third eye.  In the dream, however, there is a non-existent doom metal cover of “Strawberry Fields Forever” playing on infinite repeat.
    The dream is weak, though.  Bloodyminded are almost the sonic embodiment of what I imagine the bands from Alan Moore’s Neonomicon would sound like.  I half-expected to hear the language of the Old Ones at any minute summoning the Great Lord Cthulu from the depths of…wherever.  I never read Lovecraft.

REVIEW: The Atlas Moth & Wolvhammer Album Release Show

WHEN:  October 16, 2011
WHERE:  Ultra Lounge, 2169 Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

The Atlas Moth and Wolvhammer drew a respectable crowd for their album release show Sunday night at Ultra Lounge.  Since I’m most familiar with Atlas Moth, I’ll keep this post short and sweet and include only the best details.  One of these days, I’ll come up with a clever presentation for this set-up.

  • The Atlas Moth‘s set couldn’t have been tighter.  I caught their soundcheck earlier in the evening and couldn’t believe how good “Perpetual Generations” sounded live.  When their set finally came around earlier in the evening, the 6 songs they played from new album An Ache For The Distance and “…Leads to a Lifetime on Mercury” from 2009’s A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky couldn’t have possibly sounded closer to the studio recordings than they did.

    Best Moment:  Spontaneous crowd interaction at the end of “An Ache for the Distance” with vocalist/guitarists Stavros Giannopoulos and David Kush shared their microphones with a couple of audience members.

  • Wolvhammer delivered a pummeling set of blackened sludge metal that definitely placed their new album, The Obsidian Plains, on the must-check-out-as-soon-as-fucking-possible list.  Former Nachtmystium guitarist Jeff Wilson is counted among their ranks now, which should merit further interests from fans of that band.
    Haven’t heard them yet?  
    Their 2009 demo, Rich With Bloodfuel, is available HERE.  What the fuck are you waiting for?  Check it out NOW.
  • With their spastic blend of metal, hardcore and noise rock, KEN mode are probably the best thing to come from Canada since Terrence and Philip, which is definitely an improvement from the Great White North’s more well-known musical offerings.  (Seriously, Canada…You should expatriate Nickelback to some third world shithole and save yourselves the humiliation-by-association.)
    Random Observation:  
    Vocalist/guitarist Jesse Matthewson spits more on stage than anyone I’ve ever seen.  Bring a fucking poncho and one of those SWAT visor things if you’re squeamish.
  • Opening band Jar’d Loose were, if I heard correctly, playing their first show this night.  If that was the case, they’ve busted their asses rehearsing because they played like a band who’ve been doing this for a bit.  Their vocalist could maybe work on his stage banter a little, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again.
    Keep an Eye Out:  
    They’re playing a Halloween show on Oct. 29 at Panchos as White Zombie.  I guess I can see that working.

REVIEW: Riot Fest 2011: Danzig Legacy w/ Youth of Today, Macabre, Nachtmystium & The Infected

[NOTE:  This show had a no camera policy, and I was pretty sure someone working security at Congress Theater was about to go home with a brand new camera that night -- the one in my pocket.  Thanks to Sanford Parker, however, I was able to get the photos you see here.  Thanks again for hanging onto my camera, dude!]

WHEN:  Friday, October 7
WHERE:  Congress Theater, Chicago

It is the third night of the 2011 Red Bull Riot Fest in Chicago, and arguably the most notable.  It is on this night that planets and stars have aligned with the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, harkening forth long-dormant beasts to ravage the Earth for the first time in two score and several fortnights.

Alright, that’s admittedly a bit over-dramatic, but the October 7 date of the Riot Fest was indeed special in that it played host to one of only four planned Danzig Legacy shows — shows that feature “Evil Elvis” performing not only his solo material, but two additional sets that unleash his early horror punk work with Samhain and the Misfits.

As fans began trickling into the Congress Theater, opening act The Infected blasted through a set of loose, free-flowing punk that, energetic as it may have been, didn’t really get the crowd moving.  It’s tough being the first band on a line-up this solid, though, especially when it has such a heavyweight headliner.  That said, I’d have to see these guys again to make any sort of fair assessment.

Ever since releasing 2008’s psychedelia-tinged black metal opus Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1, Nachtmystium have become the Chicago metal act of note.  Their set further solidified that status as they rolled through an opening salvo of “Assassins” and the title track from last year’s Addicts: Black Meddle Part 2 before taking their sonic blitzkrieg through pre-Meddle tracks like “A Seed for Suffering” and “Ashes to Ashes.”  It’s probably been said at least a dozen times by now, but Sanford Parker’s presence as full-time keyboardist has really taken the band’s live show to another level, allowing the songs to more closely resemble their studio recordings.  The band as a whole were tighter than I’ve seen them before, going out with a roar with “Hellish Overdose.”

If one were to compare Chicago death metal veterans Macabre to anything, the best description would probably be GWAR without the costumes and fake bodily fluids.  With their over-the-top introductions to songs with titles like “Albert Was Worse Than Any Fish In The Sea” and “McMassacre” — which, I shit you not, is about a murderous rampage in the magical and imaginary world of McDonaldland — it’s hard to take these guys too seriously, and a ton of fun if you appreciate tongue-in-cheek dark humor and theatrics.  Of particular note, their set featured one of the night’s first cameos, as Bruce Lamont of Yakuza and Bloodiest was pulled out to the stage and “shot” by a masked gunman.

By this time, much of the audience was restless for Danzig.  One sympathizes with weathered New York hardcore punks Youth of Today for having a tough crowd to work.  It’s likely their straight edge, pro-positive outlook message probably had open ears in a small fraction of the audience.  Regardless, they worked their asses off to try to win over those in the crowd who had never heard of them before, with vocalist Ray Cappo nearly pulling the rope ladder to the lighting rig down at one point.  Even if it’s not what you’re into, the amount of passion they have for what they do is admirable.

As the time grew closer for Danzig’s set, the amount of pent-up energy in the room was palpable.  As the lights dimmed and the opening riffs of “Skin Carver” cut through the theater, the audience exploded into an undulating mass.  Danzig led his solo band (guitarist Tommy Victor, bassist Steve Zing and drummer Johnny Kelly) through thunderous renditions of “Hammer of the Gods” and “Rebel Spirits” before taking Congress Theater back with classic cuts like “Twist of Cain,” “Her Black Wings,” “Devil’s Plaything,” “How the Gods Kill,” and “Dirty Black Summer.”

As the final notes of “It’s Coming Down” rang across the room, the lights dimmed and a backdrop bearing the cover of Samhain’s November Coming Fire rose at the back of the stage.  Danzig returned to the stage wearing a black leather mask somewhat resembling a cross between the Gimp and Marvel’s Daredevil with Samhain members London May and Steve Zing.  Congress Theater went apeshit for staples like “All Murder, All Guts, All Fun,” “Horror Biz,” “Unholy Passion,” and “To Walk the Night.”  One of the most unexpected moments of the night occurred as Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe joined the band during “Mother of Mercy.”  (I honestly thought I was seeing things until I saw Blythe’s Twitter account the following morning.)

The lights again darkened momentarily as yet another backdrop was raised — this one featuring the familiar “Crimson Ghost” logo of horror punk godfathers the Misfits.  Original Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein lurched across the stage, barreling through “Death Comes Ripping” as the crowd somehow managed to become even crazier.

As far as comparative experiences goes, it felt the same as seeing Black Sabbath in 2004 or Motörhead earlier this year.  Thanks to the week’s rising temperatures, the theater had become a sauna by this point, prompting Danzig to question whether he was in “Hell or Auschwitz.”  Always with the subtlety, Glenn.  Bodies whipped across the arena and sweat blanketed the floor as Danzig and Doyle torpedoed through “Vampira,” “Bullet,” “I Turned Into a Martian,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “Halloween,” and “Last Caress.”

Returning to his solo material, Evil Elvis delivered “Bringer of Death” and “Not of This World” before leading Riot Fest in an ear-splitting sing-along of “Mother.”  Not sated of their thirst for the short, dark and sideburned one, demands for more were answered with an encore of the Misfits’ “Skulls.”

It would be easy to nitpick and say that the show could have been best if original Misfits bassist Jerry Only had been involved — or if original Danzig members John Christ, Eerie Von and Chuck Biscuits had returned for an evening — but doing so would take away from the magic the evening possessed regardless.  That cool, black hearse with the velvet interior, skull speed shift and coffin that unfolds into a bed is still the same hearse, regardless of what tires are on it.

The Atlas Moth emerge from their cocoon with an insatiable case of wanderlust

The February snowstorm that buried Chicago under several feet of snow – and carried a number of idiotic nicknames like snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, blizzaster and super snow-va – gave many Chicagoans an excuse to take at least a day off from work.  For the Windy City’s blues- and psychedelia-infused sludge metal quintet The Atlas Moth, however, taking a few days off due to a record-breaking blizzard was never an option.

Such is the way of life when you’re snowed into Highland Park’s remote Phase Recording Studios with 15 days of studio time booked.  “Luckily we didn’t lose power the entire time, but we didn’t leave for like two or three days,” says guitarist/vocalist Stavros Giannopoulos.  “The studio was up north in the suburbs and it was in like an industrial area, so it’s not like snowplows are really coming through there.”

The band – rounded out by David Kush (guitar/vocals), Alex Klein (bass), Tony Mainiero (drums) and Andrew Ragin (synths/guitar) – loaded their gear into the studio the night before the storm, ready to get started on An Ache for the Distance, the follow-up to 2009’s A Glorified Piece of Blue-Sky and their first release for Profound Lore Records.

“We started setting stuff up with the intentions of recording in the morning, and then we woke up to 6 feet of snow outside the door,” says Giannopoulos.  “We couldn’t leave, so that was probably like a pretty big catalyst for how things worked out.”

Working under extreme weather conditions is nothing new for the Moth men.  Their first EP, Pray For Tides, was also recorded during a snowstorm.  A Glorified Piece of Blue-Sky was recorded amidst torrential downpours.  They played Kuma’s Doom Fest during one of the coldest days in the city’s history and, according to Ragin, the band has almost always left for tour during a storm.

“We have had an almost eerie history of needing to do things during nasty weather conditions, so the storm actually kind of felt like a sign that we were supposed to be making a record,” says Ragin, who also serves as the band’s producer.

Following the release of A Glorified Piece of Blue-Sky, The Atlas Moth suddenly found themselves on the road touring with some of their favorite bands.   If the title didn’t give it away already, their experiences on these tours largely affected the writing and recording of An Ache for the Distance.  “The one thing that’s always tricky, I think, about writing music and recording music is you don’t know how it’s going to work live,” says Giannopoulos.  “Some things honestly do work better in the studio than they work live.  It’s just fact.”

With that in mind, the band set out to refine their sound.  Gone were the extraneous, spacey and experimental noise interludes that drug several of Blue-Sky’s cuts out to lengths over six minutes.  In was a conscious effort to concentrate on songwriting and thematic depth, keeping all but two songs below the seven-minute mark

As a result, the difference in the writing and recording processes were night and day.  Where the songs on Blue-Sky had been written and played long before they were ever recorded, back when the band was still trying to land opening slots on local shows, Ache was mostly written in the studio as the band was recording it.

“We’d all been listening to stuff like The Cure and Failure and the 90s-esque rock bands a lot – Whatever label works for that,” says Giannopoulos.  “That kind of comes across huge in this one.”

That’s not to say the album doesn’t still pack the same punch as its predecessor.  Album opener “Coffin Varnish” is a grade-A kick in the balls, utilizing the band’s three guitarists to full potential in an immediate bombast that slows down to a more sludge-oriented march.

“Oddly enough, ‘Coffin Varnish’ was like the last thing we did.  Before we went in the studio, I think Tony and I had played it like once,” says Giannopoulos.  “I was just like ‘There it is, figure it out.’  I went and did something and came back a day or two later, and it was just solid.”

The second track, “Perpetual Generations,” is hinged on an easy-flowing stoner metal riff, making use of primarily clean vocals.  “Holes in the Desert” opens with a catchy wall-of-sound bass-and-drum line, wailing guitar and moaning vocal combo that sounds like it could have come from any one of Maynard James Keenan’s bands.  “Courage” almost has a ballad-like quality to it and “Horse Thieves” features a guest appearance by Chicago trumpeter Jaimie Branch.

Simply put, An Ache for the Distance retains the band’s eclectic combination of New Orleans sludge, 60s psychedelics, blues and adds in more of a pop aesthetic, reminiscent of seminal NOLA sludge lords Acid Bath.

“Atlas Moth has so many influences that range far beyond the metal world that are very noticeable in their music, and that’s part of what I enjoy about it,” says Nachtmystium frontman Blake Judd.  “It’s a little different.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have former Death, Testament and Obituary axe man James Murphy mastering your album, either.  “It’s crazy.  I mean, he’s a fucking legend,” says Giannopoulos.

Following the album’s release in late September, The Atlas Moth will be soothing their ache for the distance when they hit the road with KEN Mode.  There, they’ll find out firsthand whether their album influenced by their experiences on the road works on the road.

“There is a continuing theme [on the album] of how this entire thing’s always built up to be something so extravagant and here we are not showering for two weeks and barely eating and just doing it because we want to do it,” says Giannopoulos.  “Doing it because we love it, not because there’s any grand outcome at this point, because we don’t see that in our future.  You can’t.”

And it’s that sense of wanderlust that keeps The Atlas Moth doing what they do.  Despite the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the road and regardless of how many cold cans of Spaghetti-Os they eat at 3 a.m.

“Those are the moments, man,” says Giannopoulos.  “I’d rather be cramped in a fucking van with five of my best friends, fucking doing what we do and not thinking about all this bullshit I have at home, whether it’s any responsibility or ‘I need to cut my fucking lawn!’  Bullshit like that.  I don’t even wanna think about that, you know?”

Some changes…

To all of the 5 people who ever actually read anything on here, I’m sure your lives were utterly disrupted by the fact that I’ve done nothing with this blog in almost a year.  Basically, I moved to Chicago and got sidetracked by grad school…blah, blah, blah.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking of what to do with this blog and I’ve decided that I’m going to refocus it primarily on the Chicago metal scene.  If all goes well with this, you’ll get to read stuff about Chicago bands on here for free instead of reading it for free in the magazines you don’t actually buy at the bookstore.

In a few minutes, you’ll see the first new post on here — a profile on The Atlas Moth centered around their new album, An Ache for the Distance, which is out this Tuesday on Profound Lore Records.  You should buy it.  It’s pretty fuckin’ phenomenal.

The Blackest of the Black Tour 2010 in Louisville, KY – 11/3/10

Last week, I saw the 2010 installment of Danzig’s Blackest of the Black Tour at my favorite giant, overturned Pringles can, Louisville’s Expo Five.  Just like the last show I attended at this venue — October’s Black Label Society show — this one had a strict anti-camera policy, so I unfortunately am unable to provide video or photos.  Brooding over this for the past several days is the primary reason this post has been delayed.

The first band to hit the stage was Withered, whose sound was a combination of black, death, and doom metal.  If that description doesn’t mean anything to you, let me put it this way:  Imagine the biggest, meanest, burliest dude you’ve ever seen.  Now imagine that dude giving you the most brutal beating imaginable in slow motion.  Now hear the sound that would emanate from said brutal, slow motion beating in your head and you have the sound of Withered.

What sticks out in my memory about Withered’s set more than anything is that their positions on stage were somewhat confusing.  The band’s two guitarist-vocalists, Mike Thompson and Dylan Kilgore, were on either side of the stage with bassist Mike Longoria standing center stage.  I kept wanting a microphone to appear in front of Longoria because of this, especially when he was mouthing the words to the songs.  Not that this was necessarily a bad thing — it made them stand out, after all.

Following Withered were Toxic Holocaust.  Prior to this show, I had seen Toxic Holocaust open for GWAR in October 2008.  On both occasions, their most notable trait was that each of the speed metal trio’s members look like they should be in a different band.  Guitarist-vocalist Joel Grind looks like he just walked off of the Sunset Strip circa-1982, bassist Phil Zeller could be a long-lost member of Pearl Jam, and drummer Nick Bellmore would look right at home in any number of hardcore bands.  This clusterfuck of image is deceiving, though, as this Portland, OR act packs a tight speed metal punch with songs like “I Am Disease” and “War is Hell.”  Word of advice, though, Joel… You don’t have to let us know that a song called “666” is about Satan.  We know.

Next up were Swedish black metal battalion Marduk.  I imagine I would have enjoyed their set much more if I hadn’t had some random jackass standing off to my left ceaselessly yelling “MARDOOOOOOOOK!” every 5 seconds between the band’s songs.  Other than that, I don’t remember much about their set other than being pleasantly surprised by the amount of melody present in their brand of black metal.

The best surprise of the evening was, hands down, San Francisco death metal legends Possessed.  I’ve known of them by name for several years, but I have no idea why I had never heard their music prior to the Blackest of the Black Tour.  In spite of vocalist Jeff Becerra being confined to a wheelchair for the duration of the set (supposedly due to severely spraining an ankle a few nights before this show), Possessed had the crowd in the palm of their hands for the duration of their performance.

By the time Danzig took the stage, the crowd was worked into a frenzy.  He launched into a career-spanning set with “Skin Carver” before taking the crowd back to his band’s early days with “Twist of Cain.”  New cuts like “On A Wicked Night” and “Hammer of the Gods” blended almost seamlessly with the bluesy goth metal of his early solo material.  There are few bands I have seen who live up to expectations, but this was one of those much rarer occasions where a band surpasses expectations.

For those interested, Danzig’s set list consisted of the following:

- Skin Carver

- Twist of Cain

- Hammer of the Gods

- Deth Red Moon

- Tired of Being Alive

- Her Black Wings

- How The Gods Kill

- On A Wicked Night

- Ju Ju Bone

- Thirteen

- Bringer of Death

- Black Angel

- Mother

- She Rides (encore)

- Dirty Black Summer (encore)

The American Carnage Tour in Louisville, KY – 10/12/10

It’s been just a little over 19 years since the thrash metal trifecta of Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax stormed the Louisville Gardens on the Clash of the Titans tour.  Seeing the size — or lack thereof — of the crowd gathered tonight at Freedom Hall for the Clash of the Titans “reunion” tour, aptly dubbed the American Carnage Tour, one has to wonder if perhaps the bands would have been better off celebrating their collective return in the same venue that played host to their siege nearly two decades ago.

It doesn’t take more than a look around Freedom Hall to see that ticket sales were less than stellar (one number I’ve heard placed them at around 2,700 tickets sold), and at one point during Megadeth’s set, frontman Dave Mustaine even mentions to the crowd that it was suggested to the bands the previous week that the show be canceled.  One attendee seated behind me laments that the show would have sold out had the tour been a package that featured the “Big Four” thrash bands (Metallica being the fourth band in the pantheon).  He makes a good point, but it’s a double-edged sword — Metallica’s popularity can fill an arena, but tickets would have likely cost at least twice as much with their inclusion.

All attendance woes aside, all three bands were on top of their game.  Anthrax opened the show with a solid set that included classics like “Caught In A Mosh” and “Madhouse.”  Classic Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna, who recently returned to the band after his second hiatus, stalked about the stage like a man possessed, at one point donning a Native American headdress for a stunning rendition of “Indians.”  Before ending their set, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian promised the crowd the band would be back next year with a new album.

(For live clips of “Caught in a Mosh” and “Madhouse,” click here and here.)

Following the return of original bassist Dave Ellefson earlier this year, Megadeth began playing their 1990 classic Rust in Peace live in its entirety to celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary.  Tonight was no different, and the band hit the ground running with “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due.”  They continued their sonic assault through to album closer “Rust In Peace…Polaris” before launching into the career-spanning latter half of their symphony of destruction, which included new tracks “Headcrusher” and “How the Story Ends” alongside hits like “Trust” and “Peace Sells.”

(For live clip of “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” click here.)

At the conclusion of Megadeth’s set, a large curtain is raised in front of the stage as the crew prepares for Slayer.  There is no crowd that can compare in intensity to a Slayer crowd, and this becomes more evident as the minutes progress closer to the band’s timeslot.  Furious cries of “SLAYER” ring out across the arena, growing impossibly louder when the house lights finally dim and the curtain drops to the opening riffs of “World Painted Blood.”  Not to be outdone by Megadeth, the San Francisco thrash legends keep the fists on the arena floor flying as they launch into another new track, “Hate Worldwide,” before performing a marathon run through 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss.

(For live clips of “World Painted Blood” and “War Ensemble,” click here and here.)

“Are you ready?” frontman/bassist Tom Araya inquires of the audience before the band dives into Abyss with “War Ensemble.”  Araya’s performance tonight is uncharacteristically calm.  Following a neck surgery to repair damage done by several decades of wild headbanging — an operation which caused the original February date of this show, and the tour at large, to be postponed — the wild-haired frontman has received a cease and desist from doctors as it pertains to the thrashing of his epic mane.  It’s all a give and take, though, guitarist Kerry King has said in recent interviews, as Araya is now able to concentrate on his bass-playing that much more during the band’s performance.  He makes a good point — there is no discernible decrease of intensity in the band’s music as it bombards the audience from the ridiculous wall of Marshall stacks at the back of the stage.

Slayer conclude their set with a number of fan-favorite staples, including “South of Heaven” and “Raining Blood,” before bidding the audience a safe farewell.  As the house lights come back on and i take one last glance around the arena’s nearly-bare upper levels, I’m left to wonder about what the show might have been with a packed house, or even in the venue that hosted it two decades ago.  Those who passed, or were just unable to afford the tickets, missed out on what was, without a doubt, one of the best concerts I’ve seen.

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