Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity, Moonspell and Omnium Gatherum at The Rock Box, San Antonio, October 2, 2018

This was one hell of a quadruple bill of melodic death metal that rolled into San Antonio this past Tuesday.

Kicking things off in proper fashion were one of my favorite underground bands.  Omnium Gatherum is one of those bands that I just can’t help but root for.  And judging from the crowd’s reaction to their opening slot, I don’t think I’m the only one.  Normally, the first band out of the gate gets a fairly lukewarm response from the folks that bothered to show up early.  But San Antonio did me proud.  Omnium came out swinging and hellbent on making sure the crowd was an Omnium Gatherum crowd by the end of their set.  Lead singer Jukka Pelkonen had the crowd chanting and headbanging while the rest of the band’s energetic stage presence seemed to grab everyone in attendance.  I keep saying that these guys deserve a bigger stage and if they keep putting on performances like this one, I can see it happening soon.

The second slot of the evening went to Portugal’s Moonspell.  These guys were kind of the outlier for the evening in that they were the only band not from Scandinavia and in the fact that they are really more of a goth-influenced band rather than a straight death metal band.  They definitely didn’t lack for stage props and atmosphere.  Singer Fernando Ribeiro came out looking like an old-time town crier holding a lantern which was in line with Moonspell’s latest album 1755.  He even broke out a plague mask for one song.

The last two bands were basically granted dual headlining sets.  Finland’s Amorphis came out first and, in my opinion, really deserved the top billing for this show.  Amorphis has really helped define the entire sub-genre of melodic death metal over the course of their career.  Blending death and clean vocals over grandiose guitar and keyboard driven songs that play heavily into the folklore of their homeland, Amorphis is just one of the standard-bearers for this kind of music.  It’s a moving experience in a live setting.

One of the progenitors of the Gothenburg sound, Dark Tranquillity finished out the evening.  It’s always a little weird when a band comes out of stage and your first thought is, “OK, who the hell are some of these guys?”  Present were mainstays vocalist Mikael Stanne, keyboardist/programmer Martin Brandstrom, drummer Anders Jivarp and new guy bassist Anders Iwers.  But who the hell are these guitarists?  Longtime guitarist Niklas Sundin was not on stage (it turns out that he is currently on hiatus).  In turns out that Dark Tranquility had to hire two touring guitarists to fill out their lineup for this recent tour.  Luckily, one of the replacements was none other the Christopher Amott, co-founder of Arch Enemy with his brother Michael and current guitarist of Armageddon.  The other guy (Johan Reinholdz) I had never heard of before, but he was downright awesome.  As such, the band really didn’t miss a beat live.  This was probably as sharp as I’ve seen these guys in a live setting.  I’m not sure of the liklihood of either of these guitarist joining Dark Tranquillity on a full-time basis, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for the remainder of the band to consider it.

Omnium Gatherum-Over the Battlefield

Moonspell-1755

Amorphis-Bad Blood

Dark Tranquillity-Where Death Is Most Alive

River City Rockfest, parking lot of the AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX 9/22/2018

Well, if you were a 90s kid, this fest was a trip down nostalgia lane.  Nine Inch Nails! Primus! Bush!(Who knew they were still a thing???), Scott-less Stone Temple Pilots! Joan Fucking Jett!(OK, not really 90s)  Clutch! Living Colour!

So, this whole thing seemed doomed earlier in the week.  The weather forecast throughout the week said 100% of thunderstorms in the San Antonio area.  My luck with fests and rain of late is not good.  My little bunch of ruffians and myself had pretty much resigned ourselves to having a cancelled fest and were already coming up with contingency plans to pass the time in our AirBnB (i.e. drinking).  But, lo and behold, the storm front was accommodating to our plans and decided to blow through the area the night before.  The resulting day was perfect for festing.

Out of the gate was our local Austin metal heroes, The Sword.  We were all looking forward to this show in lieu of their recently announced hiatus.  No telling how long we’ll have to wait until out next Sword show or album.  Sadly, even though the band played a decent short 30 minute set, the dude running the sound board absolutely murdered their set.  The sound was absolute mud with the vocals and guitar leads buried under the bass and drums.  It was a damn shame.

Next up was a band that I had never had the opportunity to see perform live before, but had always heard really good things.  Living Colour just absolutely tore it up.  Vernon Reid showed everyone in the crowd why he has such a legendary reputation.  Corey Glover just worked the crowd as well as any frontman I’ve come across.  At one point, he jumped into the crowd and just took a stroll from one side of the pit to the other while his band crushed their biggest hit, Cult of Personality.

Next up for us was the inimitable Clutch from Maryland.  Beginning their touring cycle for new album, Book of Bad Decisions, the band hit the new material hard.  Luckily for the band and for the audience, the sound dude got his shit together (or replaced by someone competent) and the sound issues seemed much better.  The crowd was treated to one of those cool fest-only type things when Les Claypool joined the band for a rendition of Earth Rocker.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was another one of the bands that I had never seen in person before.  The 60-year-old Jett prowled the stage like the touring pro that she is while rolling out all of her hits from The Runaways’ Cherry Bomb to I Love Rock n’ Roll.  Shit, I remember jamming out to these songs when I was in elementary school.  I can’t say that I’m the biggest Joan Jett fan, but dammit, this was a treat getting to see her tear up a stage at this point in her career.

I didn’t bother to make it over to the secondary stage at all during the fest.  It just seemed like they had a sad mixture of metalcore and 90s stalwarts trying to relive some of their past glories.  I saw a few of the performances on the video screen at the main stage and things just looked kind of sad over there.  Bush is still a thing apparently.  I think the only real positive thing that can be said about them is that Gavin is still apparently hunky.  So, there’s that.  Stone Temple Pilots are trying to keep things floating in the wake of the deaths of Scott Wieland and his replacement Chester Bennington.  They managed to pull some random dude off of The Voice and he seems to be trying to do some sort of Scott Weiland imitation.  It really came off as sad.  This is one of those bands that should probably just stop before and further damage can be done.

On the main stage, weirdo metalfunk outfit Primus delivered their trademark infectious thing.  They brought out a wide selection of songs throughout their career.  The musicianship of these guys just has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve seen these guys a ton of times over the years and they just never disappoint.

Headlining the evening was Trent Reznor (and his big beefy right arm, as Punk Rock Fiance likes to call it) and his merry band of black clad industrial mayhem makers.  NIN brought out around an hour and a half set headlined by the performance of The Perfect Drug for the first time.  I’m guessing that because this was a fest set and not a regular tour date, the stage set was extremely stripped down to the basics than your normal NIN stage setup.  Lots of smoke.  Lots of strobes.  Lots of angst.

All in all.  Not the best fest I’ve ever been to, but still a really enjoyable day

The Sword-Tres Brujas

Clutch-In Walks Barbarella

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts-Bad Reputation

Primus-Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers

Nine Inch Nails-Less Than

Neurosis and Converge at Emo’s, Austin, TX 7/21/2018

This bill was a contrast of both musical styles and performance, but for some reason it ended up blending really well.  On the one hand, you had the hyperkinetic in-you-face bashings of hard core Converge to get the evening off to a bang.  And on the other, you had the slow-building dirge of Neurosis’ sludge to send the evening off into a wash of despair.  The whole evening just reminded me of my dog Ruby getting a case of the zoomies and going apeshit for 20 or so minutes and then just passing out for the rest of the evening.  To fully illustrate the styles of the two bands:  Converge played a total of 20 songs over an hour long set.  Neurosis played a total of nine songs over an hour and a half long set.  Hardcore vs. Metal in a nutshell.

So, Converge started the evening off.  I have to admit that I’m kind of a lukewarm fan of Converge overall.  I understand the appeal, but their brand of hardcore isn’t firmly in my wheelhouse.  However, their live show is something to see.  It’s all frenetic energy and cathartic exorcising of demons.  Vocalist Jacob Bannon’s screaming style is just painful to watch.  It really hurts to hear the rage and disillusion coming through his incomprehensible shrieks.  At one point, he doubled-over near to the side of the drum kit and looked as if he was going to vomit.  To counter Bannon’s painful performance, you’ve got a near manic, almost Robin Williams-esque performance out of drummer, Ben Koller.  Dude has got some of the tightest drumming chops going today and he just couples it with some of the goofiest facial expressions.  I don’t think there is anyone in the metal world today having as much fun as Koller is.

After having Converge whip everyone into a frenzy, everyone was able to take a breath, grab a drink and exhale while waiting for Neurosis.  For many years, Neurosis was known for bringing an immersive visual stage show with them.  However, this has been dropped by the band in recent years and the band simply come out to a no-frills stage.  No backdrop.  No fancy light displays.  No stage props.  Just the band with minimal lighting.  It’s a live performance in its basic element.  Neurosis is not a band that is going to make you jump or dance.  It’s hypnotic.  They are one of those band in which you really have to leave all of your personal shit at the door and just allow yourself to get sucked in by the music.  Honestly, it’s not the most pleasant experience.  This isn’t Van Halen.  It’s dark and murky.  It’s pain and not much salvation.  But, it is powerful.  Not for the faint of heart these guys are.

Neurosis-The Last You’ll Know

Converge-Arkhipov Calm

Insomnium and Oceans of Slumber at The Scout Bar, Houston, TX 6/12/2018

insomnium

This show was a long time coming for me.  Insomnium is one of those little bands that I latched onto with the release of their debut album back in 2002.  I’ve been a big fan of their melodic and progressive style of death metal since my first listen.  For whatever reason, I had never had the chance to see them perform live.  There have been a couple of tours roll through Texas where they had an opening slot and I just wasn’t able to make it work.  However, it all worked out this past Tuesday when they came to Houston as a part of their first headlining tour of the U.S.  I’m really glad I waited to witness a full set rather than an abbreviated opening set.

The showcase of this tour is Insomium’s latest album, Winter’s Gate.  This album is composed of one song that last a little over 40 minutes.  So, obviously, they open the set by playing the whole damn thing all the way through.  And it was awesome.  The second half of the set was a good seven or eight additional songs from throughout their catalog.

So, I drove to Houston the afternoon of this show and then drove back to Austin immediately following the show.  So, I had a lot of time to reflect during the drive (and also lots of time to realize that I may be getting a little old to pull a three-hour drive from midnight to 3am).  Music is just amazing.  Let me explain why.  So, you have this group of hairy dudes (OK, one of them is bald) growing up in Finland.  They get into metal.  They learn how to play instruments.  They all run into each other at some point and realize they all like the same kind of music and they decide to start a band.  They start to gel and they get good enough to start composing their own songs.  They start playing gigs and eventually get noticed by a record company who signs them to a contract.  They release an album.  This album is featured is some random metal magazine that a dorky metalhead in Texas reads.  He thinks the album and band sound like something he would enjoy.  He goes out and buys the record and becomes an immediate fan.  16 years later, this group of Finnish dudes have the opportunity to tour the U.S. and on a random Tuesday night in Texas, the dorky metalhead sees this band of Finnish dudes play an awesome set of their music.  The lead guitarist for said band even fist bumps said dorky metalhead Texan while making his way on stage.  It is a cool moment in time between people who have never met and grew up on different sides of the planet that is made entirely possible by the music being played.  Metal brought us all together.  It almost makes me want to tear up a bit.

Like I said, it was a long drive home.

Also, opening this show was Houston’s own, Oceans of Slumber.  This is the third time I’ve seen these guys perform live.  They have been in the midst of doing a lot of touring in Europe in support of their latest album and the touring is paying off.  Their live set is getting more and more confident in its performance.  It’s really cool to see this band starting to come into their own as a live entity.  Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Insomnium-The Primeval Dark

Insomnium-Winter’s Gate

Insomnium-While We Sleep

Oceans of Slumber-The Decay of Disregard

Power Trip at Mohawk, Austin, TX 6/7/2018

Well, this show was downright nuts.  I’ve been through quite a few pits over my years of going to shows and this was right up there as being one of the more intense ones I’ve ever experienced.  I really hope you people sincerely appreciate the sacrifice to life and limb I go through to bring you these first hand accounts.  Let’s face it.  Not only am I middle age, I’m very feeble and a tad on the dainty side.  And I wear flip flops.  I’m not exactly cut out for a mass of humanity slamming into one another.  But, I do it for you, dear reader.  I do it for you because I care.

OK, I do actually really enjoy this shit.  It’s where I feel at home.  You haven’t really lived until you’ve had a hairy dude who probably tips the scales at 250 pounds unintentionally bring his combat boot straight down onto your exposed toes.  Woooo!  It will make you feel alive!  The pit is cathartic.  It’s a release.  It’s fun to be in a controlled environment of aggression where it’s OK, even welcomed, to slam into your fellow concertgoers and, in turn, be slammed back with equal fervor and zeal.

Oh, and did I mention the smell.  Every pit has its own distinct fragrance, but underlying them all is a bouquet of B.O., cheap beer, weed and frustration.  Man, if Chanel could ever find a way bottle that smell, they’d really be on to something.  Eau de Moshpit, if you will.

OK, enough on the scene setting.  Power Trip is nuts.  They are a high energy crossover thrash metal/punk band out of Dallas.  Heavily influenced by the mid-80s thrash scene, their guitar sound is the epitome of metal.  It is that perfect pitch of crunch that is my reason for being.  This is a live band through and through and last night showcased them in top form.  You could tell that they really fed off of the energy of the crowd.  This was a really fun one and they are a band that should get you off of your couch next time they roll through your town.

I can’t recommend enough that you watch the limited video I was able to capture.  It was a struggle to stay in place and not drop my phone.  Video is not the greatest quality, but it should give you some sense of the sheer mass of chaos that reigned at the Mohawk last night.

Power Trip-Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Ax)

Obituary, Pallbearer, Skeletonwitch and Dust Bolt at Barracuda, Austin, TX 5/29/2018

So, the roaring redneck death metal show from Florida rolled into town last night.  These guys are one of the stalwarts of the swampy Florida death metal scene and one of the prominent purveyors of gore with brethren Cannibal Corpse and Carcass.  Whereas those other two bands are straight up blistering, Obituary comes at their gore-laden tunes from a little different direction.  Imagine Molly Hatchet breeding with Cannibal Corpse and it will give you a decent idea of their sound.  You’ve got all of the putrefaction with an added dose of southern groove.  It’s gross and you can dance to it!  Win-win.  It’s an interesting combo and it plays well in a live setting.  It was a set list that represented a good cross-section of tunes from throughout their career.  The crowd went absolutely nuts with the largest circle pit I’ve ever witnessed at Barracuda and even had a couple of knucklehead clamber up into the overhead rafters during the encore.  It’s amazing I didn’t have a second straight concert flip flop blowout.

The rest of the bill for this show was widely varied.  Most touring bills usually throw bands within the same sub-genre together, but this one tried to add a little more diversity to the proceedings.  First out of the gate and playing while the sun was still up was Germany’s Dust Bolt.  This was my first experience with them and they brought a high energy straight up old school thrash aesthetic to set the tone for the night.  They were the most original of bands, but they more than made up for it with their enthusiasm.  Definitely a band to keep an eye on in the future.

Second on the bill was Skeletonwitch.  These guys have been around for some time now and are a seasoned death metal crew.  I always feel like I should really like Skeletonwitch, but they just never end up finding that sweet spot for me.  They seem like fun guys.  They have a great name.  Metal loves skeletons and witches.  You’d think that by combining the two would be even more awesome, but there is just something that is holding them back.  I’m not even sure what it is.

Coming out before Obituary were doom merchants and the pride of Arkansas, Pallbearer.  They are still touring on last year’s Heartless album and you can really tell that all of their relentless touring over the past year is starting to pay off.  I believe this is the fourth time that I’ve seen these guys play live and every time it feels like their performance gets a little tighter.  It’s like they are getting more and more comfortable in their own skin as a band.  Highlights of this set were their newly release single, Dropout, and an unreleased song from the first demo they ever put out.  I really hope they put this latter song out as a proper release because it was really strong.

Obituary-Visions In My Head

Obituary-I’m In Pain

Pallbearer-Thorns

Babymetal at The Moody Theater at ACL Live, Austin, TX, 5/10/2018

Yep, I went to see Babymetal last night.  And you know what?  If you’ve got a problem with Babymetal, you’ve honestly have a problem with life.  It’s silly.  It’s goofy.  It’s unique.  It’s catchy as all hell.  And above all, it’s a lot of fucking fun.

For the uninitiated, Babymetal is a Japanese group that combines a heavy metal band with the vocal stylings and dance moves of a J-Pop group.  This group is basically the personification of the collective musical fascinations of the punk rock fiancée and myself (me bringing the metal obsession to her fascination with everything Japanese anime, J-Pop and other weird Japanese cultural shit).  As she observed later, knowing Babymetal exists makes her soul happy.

You had a bit of controversy coming into this show as one of the original three vocalists, Yuimetal, hadn’t performed with the band since December and wasn’t a part of the opening night show of the tour in Kansas City.  There was no official word from the band’s handlers as to whether she was no longer in the band or if she was just ill.  For our show, two of the original vocalists, Su-metal and Moametal, were joined by two unnamed dancers.  To be perfectly honest, had I not read about this stuff on the internet prior to the show, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the difference.

At any rate, you had an over-the-top spectacle.  The backing band is nothing to scoff at.  These guys have some serious metal chops and the music they bring isn’t your average cheesy pop metal drivel.  You’ve got double bass out the ass and down-tuned guitar riffs all over the place.  Over the top of it all, you’ve got these adorable J-Pop girls dancing their asses off in synchronized routines.  Most of the songs are in Japanese, but it doesn’t really matter.  You’ll find yourself just humming along to these melodies all day.

I was skeptical about this group when they first came out, but I get it.  It’s fun and I had a really good time.  And seeing the number of young girls in the crowd, I can only hope that this opens a door for a whole new section of metal fans.  Start with Babymetal and end up becoming a fan of Anthrax or Immortal.  I’m honestly for anything that can act as a gateway drug for bringing new people into the metal community.

Karate

Gimme Chocolate!

GJ!