CARCASS, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, GORGUTS, NOISEM, MURMUR
House of Blues, Chicago
April 5, 2014
By Dr. Abner Mality
Before we go any further, I want to express extra-large Worm-thanks to Mr. Mark Griffin (aka Griff Mark) of Arkazum for his kind generosity in helping me get in to this show. My undying gratitude, sir!
It is always an adventure seeing a concert in Chicago, particularly at the House of Blues. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about my latest experience there...
The aforementioned Mr. Griffin (a roadie for Carcass and one-time member of Cathedral) helped secure a place for me at this show. How could I pass up a chance to see the mighty Carcass? Easy answer is, I couldn't, so I was glad to grab my lab coat and head on in to downtown Chicago to the infamous House of Blues, which I hadn't been to in a few years now. I took off early from the Labs and I needed every second of the extra time, because it wasn't long before I ran into traffic jams that an atomic warhead couldn't have cleared. Anybody familiar with the area around Chicago knows what this is like.
Parking in one of the towering metro decks is a terrifying experience for the uninitiated. Driving hairpin turns floor after floor looking for an open spot, usually with some mouth-breathing mutant tailgating you and hitting the horn is nerve-racking to say the least. I considered myself lucky to get a spot on the seventh floor a little more than a quarter mile from the House of Blues. If you think getting in a parking deck like this is something, try leaving it in the dead of night...
Managed to get in the line of headbangers waiting to go into the show just before doors opened at 6:00 PM. Went to the will-call booth where the usual ritual began..."we don't see your name on the guest list, Dr. Mality. The band doesn't know who you are." This after more than a month of careful planning. I dashed over to the nearby luxury hotel to use their free internet to see if I could get a hold of a PR person. Well, fortune smiled on me...a real cutie pie named Miss Cole came all the way across the street to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I didn't have to bother, the band had called back and gotten me through. That was awfully nice of her and I actually told her a little about WC on the way back to HOB. A new fan, perhaps? I hope so...
Opening the show was a band I was hitherto unfamiliar with, Murmur. To be the opening act on a mult-band tour is to play the part of sacrificial lamb, but remember, this is a Chicago crowd we are talking about. At the earliest part of the show, there was already a sizable, curious crowd ready to hear the newcomers and give their judgement. As for Murmur themselves, well, they are different...PLENTY different! They specialize in long, LONG songs full of varying feels and styles. For all I know, maybe their entire set was one massive epic, I'm not sure. To come up with the closest analogy, they sounded like a head-on collision between Opeth and Meshuggah, veering from quiet, gloomy passages like Porcupine Tree to immense bone-shaking blasts of polyrhythmic thrash.
It was a bit too much for me. The slower parts wandered too much and the insane blasting burned out my synapses. But boy, these guys could really play. The drummer had more in common with Krupa or Buddy Rich than the usual long-haired skin-beater. As allways, the sound at HOB was absolutely pristine, allowing the crowd to hear the extreme virtuosity of Murmur's playing. The end result? A lot of polite and appreciative applause for a band few knew and who probably got soundly ignored at many other stops on the tour. That's Chi-town for you.
Baltimore's Noisem I was familiar with due to their punishing debut album "Agony Defined". I was hoping their live show would capture the rawness and fury of that album. I was not disappointed. This like watching the Ukrainian Revolution unfold on stage more than a musical experience. Where Murmur was rather introspective, Noisem was rabidly violent and churned forth an unending froth of super brutal thrash verging on death metal with no let up. They were sloppy and loose and the vocals of the maniacal frontman were often lost as he spent much of the set running like a lunatic in front of the security barrier. Where old Slayer and Napalm Death intersect, you will find Noisem staring back at you with a blood-shot, violent gaze. This was the rawest performance of the evening and also started the first real mosh pit.
The godfathers of technical, dissonant death metal Gorguts were next on the agenda. I have a confession to make...I have very little familiarity with Luc Lemay's cult band. Somehow, I always passed them by. But I know they have a fanatic cult following that believes them to be the next best thing to a naked 17 year old Jennifer Connelly riding a hobby horse. That worship includes their latest album "Colored Sands". So I was very intrigued to see what they brought to the table.
Gorguts is a wave of controlled sonic violence that overwhelms your mind. I don't know how I'd react to most of these songs on record, but live they exert a magnetic fascination....huge monolithic chunks of what sounds like noise are sculpted into form by a talented and very intensely focused group of musicians. I think it almost might be better if you are NOT familiar with the tunes. That way you can be surprised by the numerous shifts and twists they take. Luc Lemay himself is kind of the Jerry Garcia of the death metal set, looking like an aging hippie uncle, but cutting loose with guitar distortions to warp the mind. The young dudes in Gorguts more than match him...the drum/bass interplay is incredible. For their last song, they played some "old shit"...the title track to "Obscura". The guitar work here was just jaw-dropping. Gorguts live is definitely a must-see band!
The last time I saw The Black Dahlia Murder, it was at this very same venue, opening up for King Diamond. Back then, they got a rather poor reception from the oldschool metalheads who had gathered to commune with the King and had no time for a band of young upstarts. Now, though, BDM are a very well known commodity with their own fanbase. The perception still exists that they are a "kid" band of metalcore guys instead of a serious metal band. I'll tell you this...they are far from my favorite band, but to slander them with the "kiddiecore" description is badly off the mark. They seem to me to be a hard-working bunch that strives to put on an entertaining show. The style I would describe as melodic death metal in the truest sense of the word, following in the footsteps of the Swedish masters. There were a couple of cheesy breakdowns, but not many.
The thing that kills their performance for me is the canned and triggered to death drum sound. It is so obviously computer-assisted that they might as well have had a laptop sitting where the drummer is. I can't stand drumming when it sounds like its coming from a typewriter. It does a disservice to the other guys that are busting their ass on stage and it harms otherwise strong songs like "Statutory Ape" and "Phantom Limb Masturbation". The drum performance from Carcass' Daniel Wilding was a stark contrast and shows how it should be done.
Singer Trevor Strnad kept the cliches coming during the BDM set but lacked no enthusiasm. The Black Dahlia Murder had quite a few fans in the audience and kept a blazing pit going. I'm still not a huge fan of the band, but they did me no harm and I will offer no further criticism. Except maybe get a drummer who can keep up with the rest of you.
Then it was time for Carcass. I first saw them at Baltimore Deathfest in 2014, in front of a humongous crowd and in less than ideal conditions...i.e,, I had been awake more than 48 hours and was in a state approximating a nervous breakdown. Tonight I was a lot closer to the band and the sound system at HOB delivered every note in pristine condition. This was a much better situation all around and the band made the most of it.
I noticed at Deathfest how effortlessly the band played their complex tunes live and the same thing was apparent tonight. People will always wax nostalgic about Ken Owen and Michael Amott, but honestly, Daniel Wilding and Ben Ash fit into the Carcass mold just as smoothly as they did. As mentioned above, Wilding's organic and natural sounding drumming was a real tonic after the artificial stuff from Black Dahlia Murder. And although nobody doubts Bill Steer's position in the band, Bill allowed Mr Ash ample time to demonstrate his own guitar wizardry. No egos involved here! And although I don't need to say, I will anyway...Carcass has always been one of the best guitar-oriented bands in ANY form of music.
It's impossible to fit all the band's high points into one show, but they did a pretty admirable job of hitting quite a few them. To my surprise and enjoyment, they did play some pure grind from their first two albums, including "Genital Grinder" and even "Reek of Putrefaction". That was something they didn't do in Baltimore. They also played a fair amount of tracks from their new masterpiece "Surgical Steel", such as "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System", "Unfit For Human Consumption" and my personal favorite, "Noncompliance to ASTM F-899 12 Standard". For those who liked the more melodic stuff from "Heartwork" and even "Swansong", there were also some juicy morsels like "No Love Lost", "Buried Dreams" and the almost rock and roll "Keep On Rotting In the Free World".
For me, though, it's always the "Necroticism" material that blows my mind. They could have played that entire album and I wouldn't have complained. They did manage to touch on "Incarnated Solvent Abuse" and "Corporal Jigsore Quandary". I sure wish we could have got "Inpropogation", though!!!
Jeff Walker proved to be quite the entertaining frontman with a very droll British sense of humor. At one point, he compared Bill Steer to Dorian Gray and said that while Bill never aged, Jeff was kind of like the picture in the attic...rotting and aging for him! And it is true, Steer looks pretty much the same he did in the early 90's. Jeff also reminded us that it had been 20 years since a very important musical figure had passed away on the very same day. A man that we all owed so much to, a man who died for our sins! A man named....Cozy Powell! Yep, it was 20 years ago this night that Cozy died. Him and another guy named Cobain. Half the crowd got it, half didn't.
Jeff's best remarks of the evening came when he told us he had to apologize for not having a ton of ProTools, click tracks and triggered drums on the stage. The band just couldn't help it, they like to do something called "live music", if anybody remembers what that was? Yeah, some of us do remember....the few, the proud! Who will carry on when we are gone?
Carcass was the only band of the evening to have an actual encore and they combined both grind and melodic death with a perfect mash-up of "Ruptured In Purulence" and "Heartwork". That brought the evening to a close and left many in attendance very happy that they had seen what a lot of them thought they never would...Carcass live, in full flight and on top of their game. It was indeed a privilege.
My trek home would make another hair raising story, but enough of that. I made it, I got home alive, I saw a great show and I thank you all for coming!
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