October 28, 2013

The High Noon Saloon, Madison, WI

By Dr. Abner Mality

An evening of extreme underground metal on a Monday night in a college town more famous for indie rock and hipster acts would seem to be a risky proposition. Well, thank goodness that High Noon Saloon and promoter Randy Kastner took the gamble, because this show was an unqualified success that did a lot to revive my faith in the scene.

The High Noon Saloon is quite a famous Madison music venue generally known for hosting less volatile acts than what we had tonight, but they have been known to dabble in metal from time to time. This was the first time I visited the establishment and it was pretty much a class act, with a kind of cowboy feel, but a nice stage and a friendly vibe. Just the setting for some good friendly violent fun, as Exodus might say!

You gotta give credit to the headbangers of Wisconsin. We wound up with a crowd of 200 people at least on a Monday night, which is no small achievement, and the crowd was just as enthusiastic at the end as they were at the beginning. It looked like the diehards came out of the woodwork for this one, which was cool, because these bangers were knowledgeable and appreciative of the skull-cracking mayhem they experienced this night.

The band Vermillion have been working the Wisconsin scene hard the last couple of years and really, I gotta believe somebody is gonna sign them soon. Every time I see them, they get tighter and their old school death metal is tailor made to appease grizzled rivet-heads with Sodom and Possessed patches festooning their faded denim vests. Just a cool, creepy death metal band with doomy, grooving riffs that sink right into your bones. Massacre, Six Feet Under and Obituary are some of the bands that come to mind when watching these guys jam...vocalist Kurt Manthe just grinds you to atoms with that perfect guttural growl. The best thing about Vermillion's set is that the fans were into the them right wasn't just the usual bunch of guys hanging at the back of the room or drinking at the bar while a handful stood up front. The crowd was already strong and hung on the massively morbid riffing of the band with enthusiasm. Real nice to see Vermillion escape "opening band" syndrome!

How hard can one man rage? If you want to find out the answer to that question, then check out Putrid Pile aka Shaun Lacanne in action. I've seen this one-man death squad in action many times, particularly at Central Illinois Metalfest and every single time he manages to bring the house down. Tonight was no exception.It's just one average looking guy with short hair, glasses and a baseball cap creating a whirlwind of brutal death metal destruction. I got a very good close up view of how Mr. Pile operates. He hits every guitar pose you can think of, from hunchbacked crab to Eddie VH "axe over the head" and he also uncorks that amazing assortment of growls, squeals and burps. It never fails to get the headbangers going. Tonight, Shaun's drum machine was actually replaced by a smartphone, which I'm sure gave him some hairy moments. I told him, "I hope you got enough minutes on that thing", to which he replied "Yeah, me, too!". Fortunately, the phone was strong and so was Putrid Pile's set. This guy is the absolute exception to the rule of one man DM bands sucking bad.

I managed to touch base with fellow Worm-scribe Thor between sets. Lots of familiar faces in the crowd, including Ear Wax Records owner Rob, who seemed to be royally stewed, and a gal Brandi who I always run into at the ILDM Thanksgiving Bash. Speaking of the ILDM, many vests in attendance tonight. If you took the ILDMers out of tonight's crowd, attendance would have been cut in half, so there's the proof that this concept works.

Rivers of Nihil was one of the up and coming young bands asked to accompany Dying Fetus and Exhumed on the tour. Their debut "The Conscious Seed of Light" is getting good reviews, one of whcih was from Thor himself, and is a kind of modern technical death metal opus that bridges the gap between oldschool stufff like Morbid Angel and newer bands like The Faceless. I liked them on album, but their set ran hot and cold for me. The newer tech-death stuff just doesn't resonate with me like the old. Often River of Nihil's music sounded too busy and too rushed, with the constant bellowing of the bearded frontman wearing very thin. It was tough to pick out good riffs in the first couple of songs. But the band's musical prowess is good and they got a good pit going strong. As their set went on, I felt they picked up steam. "Mechanical Trees" almost sounded like a death metal Rush with some flanged guitar sounds and proggy bits. Best of all was last track "Endless", which sounded really epic and mixed some chunkier Bolt Thrower-style brutality. These guys are young and still learning their craft. They've got a lot of promise. I hope they spend more time coming up with  memorable songs as opposed to hyperspeed wind tunnel blasts and finger exercises.

If Rivers of Nihil was a little tough to get into, then Abiotic was totally impenetrable. I'm just not into this herky-jerky deathcore at all. There's nothing to grasp onto, there's no flow. A killer riff popped up now and then, and their bass player is an absolute spider-fingered prodigy, but I can't relate. You could really tell they caused a schism in the crowd. The veteran DM fans with those Sodom and Possessed backpatches kinda gave up on Abiotic after a while and congregated towards the back of the room to talk or watch the World Series on TV. The younger core kids stayed up front and showed the band enough love to make it worth Abiotic's trouble. Best thing that both Abiotic and Rivers of Nihil can do on a tour like this is hang back and watch how Exhumed and Dying Fetus do things. Not so much in terms of emulating the actual music, but more in showmanship and pacing. The old dogs definitely had a lot to show the new pups tonight!.

Exhumed know how to do it. This is Carcass-inspired death metal with gut level showmanship and a flair for the morbid. Matt Harvey and friends have been spilling blood for a good long time now and they have the combination of musical tightness and on-stage looseness that only comes with a million miles of road. They tore into their set with ease and deftly mixed old favorites like "In the Name of Gore" and "As Hammer to Anvil" with new choices from latest album "Necrocracy" like "Coins upon the Eyes" and "Dysmorphic". Best thing about Exhumed is that there is literally no space between old and new chance for some phony to say "Oh, only the stuff on their first album is any good"...because its obvious they use the same standards for "Necrocracy" as they did for "In the Name of Gore". Speaking of gore, I was happy to see a fellow medical deviant running onto the stage in hospital gear during the show and creating mayhem. Nice that I'm not the only Doctor in the house! Although this guy had a chainsaw and I didn't. His dismembering technique was pretty strong, though.

Exhumed definitely don't take things super seriously...with the exception of their musicianship, which was impeccable. They all played with precision, especially new guitarist Bud Burke, who showed his shredding prowess during a solo segment. Props also go out to Rob Babcock, who does some of the fiercest and most insane "haircopters" in the biz. Exhumed wrapped up a brief but bloody set with "The Matter of Splatter", leaving a ravaged but bloody crowd behind.

I could have went home happy after Exhumed, but nobody was going anywhere. The mighty Dying Fetus put a capper on a mayhemic evening with a textbook example of slamming American death metal. Talk about a death machine, that's what these guys are. Three men who sound like twenty, I don't know how they do it...I would have thought for sure that they would have suffered live after downsizing to a three-piece. If anthing, it made them even more pissed and furious. My buddy Thor was ecstatic with their performance, saying to me "this is the death metal I love the most". With brutal anthems like "From Womb to Waste", "Killing On Adrenaline" and "One Shot, One Kill", I cannot disagree. The crowd was up to the challenge. After a long exhausting show and a great set by Exhumed, they proved they still had what it takes to create a furious moshpit and Dying Fetus gave them every chance to do so. It really makes me feel optimistic about the future of extreme metal when I see a packed crowd going apeshit on a Monday night at the end of a long show.

If you want to see American death metal at its most primal and impactful, look no further than Dying Fetus. They are born to make you slam!

So that's a wrap! Well worth the drive and a good way to recharge the metal batteries. I look it as a relief for Randy having a turnout like this and I hope the High Noon Saloon looks upon this as an endorsement for more metal shows in Madison!