Carcass, The Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts, Noisem, Bastard Feast Live @ The Roseland Theater in Portland, OR [03.30.14]
April 12, 2014 Leave a comment
I love when I get to see a band perform that I never thought I would get to see. Reunion tours. Farewell tours. There are so many bands I love that have a tendency to skip over the Pacific Northwest year after year. I have a bucket list of artists that I’ve never gotten to see. I was able to check Carcass off that list, finally. They split up in 1995, and reunited 12 years later. I have listened to these British goregrind legends and melodic death metal pioneers for years. They are easily one of the most important bands in extreme metal, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to see them perform.
The show opened early with local band Bastard Feast (formerly Elitist). Filling the venue with a robust death metal/doom metal sound (fused with elements of D-Beat and black metal) this group fit the bill better than some of the groups to share the stage later in the night. Their frantic, ugly music caught me off guard in a beautiful way. Vocalist Josh Greene rolled his eyes back in his head and shrieked out unnerving vocals over the sounds of down tempo, lumbering riffs and intense pummeling rhythms. The venue was relatively empty at this point, and the crowd was still small and relatively unresponsive. It was a solid performance of some wonderfully dark and unnerving music. The kind of stuff that can even make the most well versed metal fan uncomfortable.
I hit the merch table and re-positioned myself upstairs for the remainder of the show. Next to take the stage was Baltimore thrashers Noisem. Now, I enjoy this band’s studio work. They released a full length last year that caught my ear for a week or two. Solid old school death metal with a penchant for some late 80’s thrash. Their live performance was much different than their studio experience. I felt like I was watching a grindcore band. The energy was full and frenetic, and vocalist Tyler Carnes barely seemed to spend any time on the stage. He wandered back and forth between the security barrier and the stage most of the set, spewing forth his lyrics, feeding off the growing energy of the crowd. Unfortunately the sound at that point had not been balanced properly, so the guitar leads that occasionally take over as a focal point for the group were lost in a wall of sound. In either case, they were fun to watch and the energy they put into performing live translates very well.
Canadian death metal veterans Gorguts were up next. Gorguts are a mainstay in the death metal scene, releasing a few vital albums in the early to mid nineties that really pushed the boundaries of the genre into a different, more technical territory. However, during this live performance, those tracks seemed to blend together into one solid droning sound of blast beats, chaotic stops and starts, and tremolo riffs. The only parts of their sound that really seemed to stand out was when they were performing more of their recent material. The newer tracks are much more sludgy and dissonant. While the sound is more ambient, it did nothing for the live atmosphere. Vocalist Luc Lemay stood in one spot practically the entire performance, unmoving and looking uninspired. While the technicality shone through, and the drummer Patrice Hamelin (holy double bass!) was fun to watch, the overall performance seemed robotic (which is often the case with tech-death bands) and uninspired.
Up next was a band I’m perhaps all too familiar with, The Black Dahlia Murder. This marked the fifth time I have seen this Detroit based outfit. Heavy hitters in the melodic death metal and metalcore scenes, these guys have been working constantly for years. They have released six albums and toured constantly for the better part of 11 years. These guys were at some point one of my favorite bands, and I will always hold a special place for them in my heart. That being said, I was quite underwhelmed by their live performance this time out. I think the novelty of this band has just worn off a bit for me, personally. I felt like I was watching the same live show I had seen 4 times before. Getting the crowd involved in the same tired chants: check. Singer Trevor Strnad takes off his shirt to reveal his giant tattoo across his stomach that reads “heartburn”: check. Performing the crowd favorites, and having a generally good time on stage is fantastic sometimes translates very well. However this time the mystery and intensity of this death metal five piece was overshadowed but what appeared to be an attempt of trying possibly too hard. They have always come off to me as having more of a punk rock stage ethos, but nothing surprised me with their setlist or their actions onstage. Solid performance from all standpoints. Sound was great. Leads, drums, vocals…. all performed admirably and with enthusiasm. But I’ve seen this exact performance from them many times before. Their vocalist, while all smiles and laughter between screams, needs to re-establish himself as a metal frontman once again before he continues to come off as a pop punk vocalist singing death metal.
The stage crew began setting up for Carcass, brought out two projection screens about 5 feet tall, and set one up on each side of the drum set. This intrigued me, as a heavy part of Carcass’ early work was gore soaked grindcore that relied heavily on medical references and lyrics based on surgical procedures. Their most recent release, Surgical Steel was a vicious return to form, picking up where they left off in the mid nineties with a devastating melodic death metal sound. I was hoping that perhaps the visuals for the show would match that era’s content.
The band took the stage and it became quickly obvious that their set would be relying heavily on songs from their seminal 1993 album Heartwork. Not that there was anything wrong with that. It also became fairly obvious that the only signs of aging that these guys were going to display was their hair graying a bit. They sounded solid. Their new drummer, Daniel Wilding (although definitely no Ken Owen) was spot on. He hit the pocket and it was very gratifying to see the groove of their sound translate so well into a live performance. Jeff Walker not only maintains his signature snarl, but I think it has gotten better with age. Without a visual, I would swear that I was listening to this band perform in the mid nineties.
Carcass played a fairly rounded setlist, touching on every album. Unfortunately, they only played a brief medley of track from my favorite of their albums, Swansong. But I can’t be too greedy. They joked a bit with the crowd, involving them a bit, and their live sound was very tight. Not a whole lot of movement from the Jeff Walker or Bill Steer (remaining original members), as they are getting up there in years. But their enthusiasm seemed very genuine, and their performances were that of a couple seasoned veterans. The visuals that I had hoped for were nothing more than strange art film images and a seemingly random mix of religious symbols. Toward the end they took on a gore oriented visual as they performed the classics “Exhume to Consume” and “Corporal Jigsore Quandary”. It made me feel like I was at a classic goregrind show in 1994. Maybe it was purely my overwhelming nostalgia. I don’t care. It was great.
Overall, a solid performance from Carcass. The Black Dahlia Murder came off as campy. Gorguts were relatively boring. Noisem were fun, even with terrible sound. Bastard Feast made me uncomfortable, and I like it.