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The House of Zazz Presents – The State Of The Metal Address

By Sam Hatch

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve thrown down some pop cultural musings in these pages – and it must have been considering said pages are no longer real.  So I welcome you into the digital fold and will hopefully be able to maintain your interest as I ramble incoherently about loud, obnoxious music.

It’s been over a year since I took on the nefarious duty of helming The House of Zazz as part of the Tuesday night Gothic Blimp Works, and I have to say it’s been a great run so far.  The last time I threw down for this guide, I was enthusing about the new Slayer release, but since then there’s been a metric ton of events on the heaviness radar.  So allow me to fire off a volley of verbiage detailing this House’s activities over the past few months.

It’s full-fledged summer now, rife with day-longs festivals (Mayhem, Ozzfest, Uproar etc) and high-profile bills (American Carnage), but back in April the biggest event on the eastern seaboard was undoubtedly the New England Hardcore and Metal Fest up at the Worcester Palladium in Massachussetts.  Celebrating its twelfth year in existence, it was a two day (three if you count the Thursday night pre-show) long steel bacchanal drawing crazed metalheads from all corners of the globe.

Unless they were from Europe, in which case many of the bands were waylaid by the ominous Icelandic volcano.  Eyjafjallajökull (pretty metal, eh?) seemed to have something against black metal in particular, as its eruption grounded performers 1349 and Nachtmystium and forced them off of the bill.  In their stead the main stage was laden with mangy acts dropping plenty of deathcore, thrash and a smattering of folk and Viking metal.

Day one (Friday, April 23rd) was essentially the local appearance of a nationally touring showcase featuring Valient Thorr, Between The Buried And Me, Baroness and Mastodon.  Thorr’s crusty stoner rock was a cheesy Hors d'œuvre with lead singer Valient Himself strutting shirtless around the stage like a drunken biker clone of Mick Jagger – routinely shouting “Do you know what I’m talking ABOWWTT?” even if we sometimes clearly didn’t.

Between the Buried and Me again proved tight in person, showcasing their musical-school nerd tendencies while proving that somehow this kinda stuff can be entertaining in a live setting.  Baroness were an amorphous, caressing ooze – slowly filling the room with monumentally heavy vibes and moving from song to song with nary an interruption.

Mastodon were again showcasing their brilliant album Crack the Skye (I know, it’s not as brutal as Remission, but it was still my number one disc for 2009) in its entirety, followed by some choice numbers from prior discs.  It was essentially the same show I had seen them deliver up at Boston’s House of Blues last fall, and sadly that was the better performance.

Nothing against the band’s capabilities, for they tore through the tracks with an adept fervor, but it was the Palladium’s nasty sound (and the wildly overdriven board mix) that drowned the melodies and rendered the music’s intricacies undetectable without earplugs.  Towards the end of the set, notoriously persnickety guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds’ equipment seemed to fail him, resulting in his sudden walkout for the bulk of the finale.  Still, Mastodon even with technical difficulties is a fearsome beast indeed.

Day two (Saturday, April 24th) started early with pirate metallers Swashbuckle setting the proper mood.  The invariably sardine-packed second stage proved popular with bands such as Arsonists Get All The Girls and The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza drawing in the younger set.  As if to lay waste to any potential scene residue lingering in the room, neo-thrash madmen Municipal Waste closed out the second stage.  I had the chance to interview guitarist Ryan Waste earlier in the day, and he seemed psyched to have the chance to invoke sweaty mania in such a small space.

The main stage started off on schedule, with bands like England’s Malefice showing genuine honor at being asked to deliver their Stateside debut at the festival.  Chelsea Grin, Abacabb, Impending Doom and others presented a steady flow of death and deathcore, with the occasional stylistic break courtesy of groups like the thrash throwback outfit Holy Grail.  Of course, one of the mid-day bands I was amped to see (1349) was one of those stuck in volcanic limbo, so trusty locallers The Red Chord stepped in to fill their shoes, albeit without any black metal stylings.

The evening was a weird balance of American brutality and European tradition, with Tennessee’s Whitechapel and the immaculate live performance of Arizona’s Job For A Cowboy standing horn to horn against much-anticipated sets from Eluveitie and Amon Amarth.  Eluveitie were nothing but pub-styled fun, but unfortunately their expansive instrument requirements (fiddles, flutes and hurdy gurdies – oh my!) caused a lengthy setback in the evening’s punctuality.

Amon Amarth strode onto stage as if Worcester was being conquered by recently unfrozen Viking badasses.  They played all of their great, singalong-inducing epics, but by the end of their set fatigue had largely overtaken the bulk of the crowd.  This inspired a pretty massive walkout despite the fact that festival mainstays Cannibal Corpse had yet to begin.

Once their sparse, blood-drenched banner was hoisted up into the rafters, a second wave hit me so that I was able to scream (until I lost my voice, that is) and headbang along to family tunes such as Priests of Sodom and Hammer Smashed Face.  It was worth all of the verbal abuse we had to endure from monolithic frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, who displayed his inhuman hair windmill headbanging techniques up until their 1:15am finish time.

It was clearly the show to beat this year, but I also happened to remotely attend another monumental event via satellite last week in a movie theater of all places.  It was a four hour simulcast from Sofia, Bulgaria’s branch of the Sonisphere Festival, showcasing the groundbreaking appearance of all four bands from thrash metals vaulted “Big Four” – Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica, in that order of appearance.

It was a very cool idea, and despite a lack of promotion and a relatively underwhelming turnout, it was a great way to rock out in a nice air-conditioned room and meet other likeminded psychos.  Anthrax were again featuring Joey Belladonna and concentrated on material from their mid-80s heyday.  Joey also delivered an impressive rendition of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell in honor of the late Ronnie James Dio.

Megadeth were assailed by driving rain, but it didn’t stop them from throwing down a technically proficient set, in spite of leader Dave Mustaine’s half-hearted vocal attempts.  Slayer strangely failed to create a full-blown mosh pit in the theater aisles, but their hour of big hitters (of course they played Angel of Death and Raining Blood) entertained without throwing any curve balls.

Metallica again proved to be the biggest, most accessible act of the bunch, and delivered a tighter set than when I caught them at Boston back in 2009.  Drummer Lars Ulrich still seems to have trouble delivering the complexity of their earlier songs, but he did his best to keep up.  Lead singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield’s penchant for rockabilly cool showed in his odd choice of pseudo-vintage condenser microphones.

Clearly the biggest moment of the night was when Hetfield invited members of all the bands (minus most of Slayer for some reason) to join him on stage for a pounding rendition of Diamond Head’s Am I Evil?  For fans, this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” event, as James and Megadeth’s Mustaine played together on stage for the first time in decades.  The latter was booted from Metallica back in 1983, and Am I Evil was one of the songs that early incarnation of Metallica consistently jammed on and bonded over.

Eventually a DVD/Blu-ray of the event will be available (and internet pirates can handily find hi-def rips of the event even now if they look carefully – ARRRRR!), but it was a blast being able to say I watched a thrash metal concert in a movie theater megaplex, something I never would have dreamed possible back in the day.

Speaking of DVDs, there have been a number of great releases lately, starting with some output from German label Nuclear Blast.  Classic thrash bangers Exodus’ Shovel Headed Tour Machine triple-disc set is an amazing value – delivering a stunningly good quality video of their 2008 performance at Wacken Open Air.  There’s also an impressively long documentary (with some fun bonus nuggets) on Disc 2, and the entire Wacken show also appears on a third compact disc.

Swedish progressive, tech-metallers Meshuggah also have a nice video/CD compilation out entitled Alive, and while their nerdy math-metal may be an acquired taste for many, fans of the band should definitely seek it out.  Unfortunately, there’s not as much in terms of behind the scenes footage or interviews. 

But for quality documentaries, At The Gates’ The Flames of the End is a mind-bogglingly dense triple-disc set filled with microscopic detail encompassing the Swedish band’s inception, brief flourish to popularity and subsequent genre-influencing impact.  It’s as impressive and sprawling as Cannibal Corpse’s Centuries of Torment DVD (a benchmark for epic metal journalism), and comes with a number of extra features, videos and live performances.

I was going to run down a list of recent discs and rate them, but I’m running out of time (and room), so I’ll just say that this year has found me grooving to new music from Valkyrja, Darkthrone, Burzum, High on Fire, Exodus, Overkill, Danzig, The Vision Bleak, Witchery and Nachtmystium – if any of that nonsense sounds compelling to you, do tune in to my weekly show and I’ll promise to assail your ears with those and plenty of other, similar sonic entities.

And in closing, I’d like to pay homage to those who have recently passed into Heaviness Heaven, most notably Peter Steele of Type O Negative, Paul Grey of Slipknot and the one and only Ronnie James Dio of Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and of course Dio.  Hails and horns, fellas!  \m/