Carcass, The Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts, Noisem, Bastard Feast Live @ The Roseland Theater in Portland, OR [03.30.14]

Carcass1I 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.

Bastard FeastThe 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.

NosiemI 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.

GorgutsCanadian 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.

Black Dahlia MurderUp 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.

Carcass2Carcass 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.

 

Adam Mattson

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Tool & Yob. Live @ The Moda Center in Portland, Oregon [03.06.14]

Tool:Yob 4I don’t think I’ve met a Tool fan that doesn’t hold them in the highest of regards. Virtually every enthusiast of this band that I have met does this, except it sometimes comes off as masturbatory praise.

“They are the best live band I’ve ever seen. The audience joins together as one…. almost as if they are part of a tribe or village. This won’t just be a live show, It’ll be art. So many people don’t get it.  I’ve seen them more than any other band; Maynard James Keenan is a genius. Did you know they wrote a song based on the Fibonacci sequence?”

– Every fan of Tool I know

 

Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the social impact that Tool has had on the musical landscape. Especially in the metal community. I can appreciate it. I actually really enjoy their body of studio work. I feel like Ænema is a nearly flawless album, and is one of the most important metal albums of the ’90s, if not all time. That being said, their live performance was…..different. It was unlike any other I’ve seen.

Eugene, OR doom metal Trio Yob took the stage early. Ten minutes before scheduled curtain. They were a bit hard to read at first. They opened with the drudging “Quantum Mystic” from their 2005 album The Unreal Never Lived. At first I felt they were lacking enthusiasm. As the crowd began to fill out a bit more, Mike Scheidt(vocals/guitar) altered his vocals from a surprisingly raspy black metal-esque shriek, into his deep signature roar. Yob has gotten the opportunity to open for Tool before Although the crowd wasn’t participating, they seemed to be having a decent time bringing their doom to the masses. I’ve seen them before and in my opinion, while they could fill nearly any size venue with their massive sound, they are a band to observe in a more intimate setting.

Tool:Yob 3After a brief sound check, it was time for Tool. They took the stage and opened with “Third Eye”, the closer from their seminal album, Ænima. Immediately, a great deal of things stand out to me. There is no microphone in at the front of the stage. Maynard James Keenan has positioned himself parallel with Danny Carey‘s drum set atop the riser towards the back. He is dressed in head to toe in solid black, with sunglasses and his hair is brightly colored and spiked upward. He essentially looked like a henchman from a cyberpunk gang. It’s an interesting juxtaposition from the other members. Guitarist Adam Jones is also dressed monochromatically, but in a lighter white/tan. Bassist Justin Chancellor dressed very….normal. And drummer Danny Carey was perched behind his kit in a Portland Blazer’s jersey. A strange mishmash for a band that I had always heard was so heavily reliant on visuals.

As they were rounding out the opener, I was very surprised by Adam Jones. All of the players clearly know their part in this band. The rhythm section is unbelievably tight, yet I couldn’t help but get the sensation that they weren’t playing together. It felt like each member of the band was performing separately. When it came time for Jones to spotlight his solo, he played it surprisingly sloppy, and abused his wah pedal more than a drunk Kirk Hammett. A rare low point from a technical performance side. The band then launched into “Vicarious” from their previous studio album, 10,000 Days. It was at this point that I was able to settle in and really absorb the visuals along with the performance.

Tool:Yob 1Behind the band there were three large screens that played clips from their music videos to accompany the tracks they were performing (which in my opinion is sort of lame). The tracks missing music video accompaniment didn’t have a shortage of visuals, however. Guitarist Adam Jones doubles as the band’s visual art director. But as far as I could tell, the visuals were stripped from one of those mid ’90s computer animation odysseys. In my opinion the graphics came off as cheesy. But I don’t discount them. In fact, the nostalgic side of me was thrilled by them. I was definitely watching a band that achieved their peak of relevancy in the ’90s, and I loved that I could see that. To me the visuals harkened back to a time when Marilyn Manson still put on a decent show. Or a time when The Butthole Surfers or White Zombie were still shocking crowds with surgery footage or horror movie clips. The laser lights, the screens filled with bad CGI…. all of it was fun to watch. But it felt absolutely contrary to the band’s live performance, or the overall atmosphere of their music.

Say what you will about the band’s uncompromising practices. It clearly works for them, but it feels cold. It feels pretentious. I understand that is part of how they want to appear, and for a band like Tool, it will  stay that way. It’s worked completely. Maynard James Keenan is a terrific singer and a fantastic lyricist. But he is NOT a frontman. He sticks to the shadows, belting out his vocals in the dark, barely acknowledging the crowd. I wouldn’t change that at all. For such an apocalyptic post metal music project, the idea of a front man would take away from the aesthetic.

Tool:Yob 2I was very surprised at the disconnect there appeared to be between each band member. They were all off on their own section of the stage, not acknowledging each other. Each one playing their part perfectly, but separately. They sounded and looked like a well oiled machine. It was great to see the rhythm section (Chancellor and Carey) show their chops as the virtuosos that they are. However, they definitely seem like the kind of band that emails each other the set list for the upcoming tour and practices at home along with their own records before the tour starts. I have a distinct feeling that the only times these guys play together is when performing live or writing in the studio.

A little over halfway through the set they had a brief intermission, and returned 12 minutes later, clearly going for broke. They upped the visuals by turning on the lasers, and dropping down a screen in front of the stage to display more visuals. They returned with a very impressive drum solo from Carey, and then got down to business. They finished with three crowd favorites: “Forty Six & 2”, “Ænema”, and “Stinkfist”. I was a little disappointed at the crowd, even at this point in the night. Everyone had hyped up to me how the crowd was going to act. How crazy it would be. The crowd seemed fairly tame to be honest. I know I shouldn’t expect it to be like a Slayer show, where everyone goes nuts, but that’s how it was explained to me. Everyone told me how awesome it was gonna be, and it was very “meh”. It felt like I was watching Donnie Darko all over again, and now I get to go tell all my friends that adore it how mediocre it was.

All in all it was a fun night, Tool were very technically proficient, but had no stage presence, and the visuals, while nostalgically pleasing come off a cheesy and forced.