Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest, 07.26.09

When was the last time you attended a festival where every band you saw seemed like they were at the top of their game? Of course to have this opinion you’d have to pick and choose who it is you want to both see and avoid, so it’s not as random as one might think.

I learned many, many years ago that it is impossible to see everything at these all-day shin digs. Sure you could run around like crazy and try to witness, photograph, absorb all of the bands these things have to offer, but if you do that chances are you’re about 20 years old and from a different planet than I.

I got to the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater at around 3:00 and by the time I got all my crap settled I was in the door about 3:30. I missed Dirge Within, who I wanted to see live. I’ve heard some final mixes of their new album and what can I say? It sounds impressively huge. Several people throughout the day made mention of their brief but effective set.

I made it to one of the side stages to see Poland’s sons of darkness, Behemoth. This is a band that does upwards of 200/250+ gigs a year; their work ethic is simply remarkable. Judging by their performance and the reaction they received today I cannot see anything changing any time soon. Truth be told I’ve lost a few steps with Behemoth. I was fully on board for a lot of years going back to their first post demo stuff up through their first appearances stateside in 2003. Not sure where I lost track of them and that doesn’t mean their new material is anything of lower quality, but I do think they’ve become somewhat one dimensional.

The expansion of their brand seems to come from constant visual upgrades (artwork, live production/props/evolved stage gear/wear) instead of things that will floor you musically where they remain an excellent bastard child of Morbid Angel/Nile. That being said I remain a fan of them where they excel and remain seemingly untouchable, live!
A few highlights ‘ov’ their set were: “Conquer All”, “At The Left Hand Ov God” and definitely the opener “Slaves Shall Serve”.

I’m far from an expert on The Black Dahlia Murder, but I know I buy their albums and I always like what I hear. I don’t think I’ve seen them live in a few years, can’t remember exactly when the last time was, but seeing them on Sunday was like seeing them for the first time, again. I thought they just slayed!

Even with a new guitarist (ex-Arsis man Ryan Knight) in tow the band plowed through their set, composed of material from their ‘Unhallowed’, ‘Miasma’ and ‘Nocturnal’ albums like they’d been playing together since day one.

Tracks like “Everything Went Black”, a new song called “Necropolis” and “What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse” seemed to make the biggest impact. Minimal stage banter aside, the band wasted no time and flattened all in their way.

Their newest, ‘Deflorate’ comes out in mid-September and I firmly believe in the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” way The Black Dahlia Murder seems to operate.

I’ve known this for quite a few years and it hit me again while watching them, Cannibal Corpse is Death Metal!

Take all the bands they came up, and you can include Deicide, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation, Gorguts, Sadus, Immolation, etc. etc. etc. To me they are the quintessential Death Metal band in every way, shape and form…period!

Notice I didn’t say Florida or even Buffalo based Death Metal band, I mean world wide. Show me another band that does it like Cannibal Corpse. They do the ‘write, record, tour’ cycle month after month, year after year, decade after decade and they do it with such motivation, achieving high levels of productivity that they often make the others appear to be lacking something.

I sound like a broken record here, but I wasn’t exactly floored by the latest album, ‘Evisceration Plague’ as a whole. There’s some great songs present, “Scalding Hail” and "Skewered from Ear to Eye" yes but I was wanting to be blown away by the entire thing the same way I was after the release of ‘Kill’ back in 2006. Regardless, as with many, many musical acts the world over they get to a certain point where recordings aren’t the ‘be all, end all’ of their careers but as a means to get back on the road. Now I don’t think this is what’s going on with Cannibal Corpse, it’s just how I think of them 20+ years after they first formed.

When the band takes the stage though, one thing is certain it’s time for battle and it’s on! Their front line simply take their positions then it’s a quick four count on the drums and for the next 45 minutes or so it was nothing but banging heads and the roar of half-human half-beast George Fisher. Speaking of George, no one bangs like this guy! Seriously, have you ever met someone who was really born to do something? Well he was born to sing for Cannibal and bang his head like no other.

My feeling is the band is not there change the opinions of people who missed the Death Metal boat or have many misconceptions about the music or the lifestyle. I don’t think they juggle their set-lists with the intention of converting the daisy-duke wearing Killswitch Engage fan, they simply go for the jugular with precision and they do it well. They opened with the title track of their new album and went right into “The Time to Kill is Now” and shut it down with “Stripped, Raped and Strangled”, like the band itself the set was brutal and efficient.

I missed the following bands around this time. Job For A Cowboy, All That Remains, Trivium the aforementioned Killswitch Engage and Bullet For My Valentine.

I don’t have much to say about JFAC, other than to say what I’ve heard from them I’ve heard a million times before, better and more original of course. All That Remains must be doing something right, I’ll give em that. Trivium probably killed it. Say what you will about the band, they can play and of all the times I saw them on tours I was on, they put 110% into their show and that’s something I don’t ever see changing.

Killswitch I saw at Ozzfest 2005. I think I was more impressed with the crowd reaction and devotion on display than I was with the band them selves. I know their singer can sing between screaming, but they seem to have cornered the market on the sensitive yet aggressive color-by-numbers thing that drives me nuts. BFMV? Howzabout you FOAD?

I did some work and killed some time and brain cells with a cast of characters from both near and far throughout the day and it was around this time everyone kicked it into high gear. It was time for something no other band on the day could deliver…

Now similar to my other favorite bands, there are times you go through a love/hate thing with them. Slayer is no stranger to my feelings of both joy and disgust, although as I age I know I appreciate them more and more. I went through a disgust stage with the band around the 'Diabolus In Musica' era, 1998/1999 and even blew off seeing a few of their shows around this time, I know Fear Factory was supporting them at one such instance. No need to do that to myself now is there?

So all bullshit aside, I was ready. Yeah I had fun waiting for the band and I of course wasn’t going to subject myself to the utter gayness that is Killswitch Engage, but as the stage was being prepped for their arrival I definitely had a “about fucking time” feeling going on. I was done with the bullshit music (of the bands I didn’t see) and was chomping at the bit for something bigger, better, more powerful and definitely something I could sink my teeth into…and it was time.

Kick starting the campaign for the upcoming release of ‘World Painted Blood’, the fearsome foursome known as Slayer were finally back. Not that they were gone for an extended period, but it’s been almost two years since their last Chicago show August 2007- (also with Mrs. Manson) and the crowd most definitely welcomed them back. The intro and opener was the time tested “Darkness of Christ/Disciple” which works rather nicely, it definitely sets the tone for what lay ahead.

During the first few songs I noticed a few changes in the show since the last time through. Gone were the projection screens they’d utilized since around the time of Dave Lombardo’s return (2002). I always thought they could’ve been used a little better instead of the cheezy graphics and logos, however it wasn’t until they were gone that I noticed it as much, go figure.

The backdrop was replaced with a cool looking metal eagle logo with a never ending amount of fire! I cannot recall Slayer ever having the amount of pyro, flames, flashpots etc. than they did tonight and what can I say? It was fucking awesome! The production value of their set was a welcome surprise and definitely enhanced the “show” aspect of Slayer’s performance.

Not only the visuals, but the sound from where I was both early in the photo pit and then to my seat, was beyond excellent. The band, Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo were also admittedly beyond excellent. The start of a tour and somewhere in the half way point is the time to see Slayer truly pushing the boundaries and that’s the way I felt tonight. All four were super into it and the songs performed benefited greatly.

A few personal highlights of the set, “Chemical Warfare” back-to-back with “Ghosts of War”, “Born of Fire”, the return of “Dead Skin Mask”, the mini drum solo during the double bass breakdown in “Angel of Death” and the still very new to me “Psychopathy Red”. Slayer nailed it, just how I hoped they would, just how I knew they could.