Sept. 15, 2012

The Back Bar, Janesville, WI

By Dr. Abner Mality

The Back Bar has been a staple of the Stateline hard rock scene for decades now, but tonight was the first time the Good Doctor has ever set foot in the place. First thing you notice upon entering the front door is BAM! The stage is right in front of you. It's a big stage, too, with a HUGE lighting rigs and giant cabs on the side. My hometown Rockford has nothing like this...we sure could use it.

The venue manages to get a steady stream of regional and local acts, with some big national touring names popping in regularly. Tonight we got a heavy duty lineup featuring Kill Devil Hill, whom I was lucky enough to interview. You can read that interview elsewhere here at Wormwood Chronicles. I can't believe how smoothly things went and for that, I have to thank tour manager Buck Alman and the staff of the Back Bar. Playing with KDH tonight was a powerful line-up featuring Beyond Threshold (who are on the verge of something big), Kritikal Mass, Convoy and Amor Emarta. Even without KDH, that lineup would have drawn well.

Amor Emarta was up first and within the first two minutes, I knew we had a typical local metalcore band to deal with. This kind of stuff is very 2002. Typical breakdowns, the usual shifts between clean melodic vocals and lung-bursting screams, busy songs with a lot of know the drill. These guys were a wee bit different because keyboards played a pretty strong part in their music, but it was just the typical stuff you'd find in every town in America. The vocalist introduced every song by saying "This song is called...." I will say no more.

Second band Convoy seemed to be really popular at The Back Bar and after seeing them perform, it's easy to understand why. They've got a ton of personality and some talent to go with it. This is beer drinking party metal with a strong Southern touch They operate in a zone somewhere between Pantera and Molly Hatchet and that goes down really well with the hard-boozing working man's crowd at The Back Bar. This kind of music can be tedious if not performed with heart and energy. Konvoy had both of those things in heavy supply. Their drummer...a long-haired, big bearded behemoth of a one happy, enthusiastic character, whooping at the crowd constantly and putting on a show. The scruffy frontman has a hell of a strong melodic voice...probably too melodic for hardcore thrashers/death metallers, but so what? The bald, skeletal guitarist can crank out a solo like a son of a bitch and the hulking, tattooed bassist played the whole set with a cast on his leg and a cap on his head. They were quite a unit and played a fun, tight set that ranged from chugging thrash to swampy sludge to straight up Southern rock n roll. I would sure keep an eye out for this band, they are a cool live band despite not having an original bone in their body.

Kritikal Mass was a completely different kind of beast. I like these kind of shows where bands have visible differences and come from different places. Nothing more boring than a five hour metalcore or goregrind show without any visible signs of uniqueness. That sure wasn't a problem tonight. Kritikal Mass played a kind of progressive semi-thrash that was rather hard to pin down. During the opening cut, there was a kind of Middle Eastern feel to the riffing and the bespectacled, long haired singer cut loose with some of the most ungodly beyond King Diamond falsetto screams I've heard. People in the bar were looking at each other in astonishment after that barrage. The rest of the band's material ranged from heavy classic rock to Queensryche style metal to lite thrash such as Megadeth. There is definitely some potential to this band and it's rather refreshing to see this kind of group in an area saturated by metalcore and "bro-metal". Still, it's obvious they haven't totally gelled yet and set on a direction. If they keep working at it, they can evolve into something unique

Beyond Threshold have reached the level where they can probably pack out venues like the Back Bar by themselves. Their sophomore album "Who We Are" should be out by the time you read this and is capable to stirring up a fuss. Tonight, the guys opened for a band of legendary rockers and they left nothing on the table. They blasted right out of the gate with total aggression in the form of "First Blood" and pretty much proceeded to blow doors right off the venue. This was the most brutal show I have seen from the band in a long, long time. Todd Paluzzi is back on lead guitar and new faces have come in on rhythm and bass guitar. Erik Virgin screamed his lungs out with a frightening performance and seemed visibly exhausted at the conclusion of the set...with good reason. The band had only about five songs tonight and they played all their heaviest stuff. If this show was the only taste you had of Beyond Threshold, you would probably put them in the same bracket as Sworn Enemy, but the truth is, they are much more varied on record and during their headlining gigs. I heard Rex Brown of Kill Devil Hill and of course Pantera and Down was impressed with what he saw of them.

That left Kill Devil Hill themselves. When I heard that a band featuring former members of Black Sabbath, Pantera and WASP would be playing Janesville, I knew I couldn't miss it. By the grace of the almighty Metal Lord, I got to meet them as well, but you can get the details in my interview.

Kill Devll Hill is admittedly a new entity, but given the amazing pedigree of the performers and also the fact there was a strong opening line-up, a sell out crowd for a place like the Back Bar should be a no-brainer, especially on a Saturday night. I'm not saying the crowd was poor...the place was never less than 3/4 full...but come on, it holds less than 200 people. Is live music on the verge of extinction? It seems to be teetering on the abyss...

The band opened the show with the cheery-themed "We're All Gonna Die" from their self-titled debut. I was a bit surprised they started the show with this moody, mid-paced tune that had strong Alice In Chains overtones instead of one of their faster tracks, but so confident and assured was their approach that it made no difference. Tonight happened to be the very last night of the current tour cycle and the gents looked very natural and relaxed on stage. Nobody was trying to show up anybody else, so everybody got their moment to shine.

The X factor of KDH is young singer Dewey Bragg. If you've heard their music, you know this guy is a phenomenal, emotional vocalist. Not only do his tones effortlessly translate to the stage, but he has that elusive "rock star" persona. Not in terms of being an obnoxious braggart, but just a guy who knows how to command the stage. How many guys like this do we have coming up the ranks today? Not enough, that's for fuckin' sure.

Tonight also happened to be Vinnie Appice's birthday as well as the last show of the tour. So I think the band put everything they had into tonight's performance. Vinnie got a drum solo showcase. I've heard crap by long time Sabbath fans saying he is not the equal of Bill Ward. I don't know why either man should be run down, but Vinnie's drum solo tonight in a small club in Janesville, Wisconsin outdid the last one I saw him do in Chicago for Heaven and Hell. The man is an exceptionally hard hitting player, there can be no doubt.

We got treated to just about everything from the KDH debut, including personal favorites like the very metallic "War Machine" as well as the grinding "Old Man". Rex Brown was often an invisible man in Pantera behind Anselmo's big mouth and Dime's pyrotechnics, but not so with Kill Devil Hill. He was front and center for much of the show tonight and was much loved by the fans. As for Mr. Mark Zavon, the guitarist took full advantage of the Back Bar's excellent sound system to demonstrate his prowess. He didn't hog the stage like many axe wizards do, but when he had the spotlight, he made the most of it. I think he is very well suited to the darker, more multi-faceted approach of KDH than the more obvious stylings of his former bands. The whole band FELT like a band, not like something thrown together for a buck or to avoid boredom.

The feeling of seeing a BAND, especially a ROCK BAND, persisted throughout the length of the set, including some nods to Sabbath and Pantera. You got the feeling that you will definitely be seeing Kill Devil Hill again and that they will grow into something even more potent than what they are currently. We can only hope...