August 21, 2011

Bar 3, Rockford, Illinois

by Dr. Abner Mality

Needless to say, quality metal shows that are real HEAVY are hard to find here in the city where it is perpetually 1998 and nu-metal is still nu. It seems that the likes of Dope, Soil, Taproot, ad nauseum find easy purchase in Rockford earth while actual metal like Overkill, Nile, Exodus, Obituary, etc falls on deaf ears.

However, once in a while, something different makes its way in and tonight was a good example. The Canadian band of hellcats Kittie are not quite as high profile as they were in the early 2000's but their heaviness and perseverence has never been questioned. They were a real refreshing treat and they brought along some interesting bands to jam with on a pleasant Sunday evening in August.

I was pleased to see a nice turnout for the show...exceptional, considering it was Sunday. It wasn't a sell-out and Bar 3 was not the biggest venue in the world, but the crowd was large and enthusiastic from the get-go...a nice contrast to the show with Wretched and Havok back in November last year.

First band was Reckless Redemption, whose name was misspelled "Reckless Redemtion" on the online flyer I saw and then shortened to just "Reckless" on the banner hanging outside Bar 3. This is the sort of local band you see opening every similar show in your area....generic riffs, generic vocals, a horrible attempt at a guitar solo and no real stage presence. I will say no more.

Used to be a time when Witch Beulah was the same kind of band Reckless Redemption is now, but every time I've seen them they've improved and tonight was no exception. I have some issues with the "Juggalo metal" style of these dudes, but they deliver one hell of an energetic metal show. The crowd rapport of lead "clown" Eric Morgan is strong and his leering facial expressions, accentuated by black metal style facepaint, are priceless. Witch Beulah's music comes in two basic and thrashy stuff like a cross between Slayer and Static-X and slower, sludgier nu-metal tunes similar to the heavier Korn. I like the fast and brutal stuff myself...the slower tunes feature too much of that whiny Jonathan Davis style vocal I detest. Even so, Witch went over real good tonight and pleased their many fans. I think their next full-length could be one to look for, if they get a good production and tighten things up.

29 Needles is another local band that on the surface I should kick to the curb, but I just can't do it because these suckers are just too good at what they do. They play a very slick kind of melodic death metal mixed with commercial and nu-metal elements. Not the sort of thing I usually gravitate to, but damn, I give credit where it's due and 29 Needles is a thoroughly professional band. Their two lead singers work together outstandingly...the short and stocky dude handles the blood-curdling screams with endless energy while the tall scarecrow fella has an excellent melodic voice. The songs play to these guys strengths with exquisite detail and when things on the verge of getting a little sappy, they rip into some fast and vicious death/thrash with melody. The keyboards (played by a guy in a gasmask) are very well integrated into the whole. I might venture to say that 29 Needles was the surprise of the night.

I've written about Beyond Threshold extensively in the past so no need to really go in depth with their performance tonight. Except to mention, there was quite a sizable absence in their lineup. It turns out that lead guitarist Todd Paluzzi was under the weather and couldn't play the gig, leaving B.T. to play as a four piece tonight. It's not really fair to critique them, as Paluzzi is such an integral part of their sound with his exceptional lead soloing abilities. The band was also breaking in a new drummer Tommy Castle. Paluzzi's absence gave the songs a more stripped down, hardcore feel that usual. Lead singer Erik Virgin also told the crowd this was the direction the band was heading for their new album to be released later this year: "heavier, more hardcore and more aggressive". A couple of new cuts from this opus got played tonight and lived up to Erik's description.  I can't really judge their performance tonight because of the change in line-up but there's no reason Beyond Threshold should not continue to be the most successful heavy band in this area.

With the locals having finished their contributions to the show, the out-of-towners took the stage. I was most looking forward to Chicago thrash stalwarts Diamond Plate play tonight. I had just heard their Earache Records debut "Generation Why" a day or two before and was interested to see how the material transferred to the live stage. They actually came across better live than on record, where I thought their mid-paced chugging thrash was kind of mediocre. Of course, the Rockford crowd has little experience with true thrash, so their response was respectful but muted. The guitar work from these dudes was excellent and it was easy to see they've had a ton of live experience. I like their faster, more raging material like "Relativity"...the energy doesn't come across as much on their more medium paced tunes. Surprisingly, the vocals live are not as one-note and monotonous as on "Generation Why". All in all, Diamond Plate delivered a good thrashing set in front of a good sized crowd.

Dirge Within is a name I've heard tossed around a lot, but never actually heard before. Formed by Shaun Glass formerly of gory death metal growlers Broken Hope and commercial hard rockers Soil, the band seems to be trying to find the middle ground between those two poles. Their publicity makes them sound heavier than they really are...I would never call Dirge Within a death metal band. Instead, they are very much another entry in the popular "groove metal" sweepstakes, sounding like a cross between Lamb of God and Five Finger Death Punch. They are a band tailor made for guys with chin beards, bald heads and Tapout T-shirts.
Very predictable, but they play with a ton of energy and hit all the right notes for this style. Their mohawked singer seems to be the kind of guy Beyond Threshold's Erik is slowly working his way towards...he connects with the crowd in the same way. While the cynical and intellectual side of me realizes Dirge Within is a highly commercial band with nothing new to say, the heart and gut knows they deliver the goods, particularly on the awesome tune "Forever The Martyr".

I haven't kept track of Kittie in a few years now, but after the performance I saw from them tonight, I don't think I'll be making that mistake again. God knows these girls have been through hell and back, but they've never given up. I couldn't tell you all the members they've been through and I wouldn't be surprised if they themselves have lost count. They've also lost their manager to a heart attack and been through the record label grind. Not only haven't they given up, but they've continued to grow and mature through the years.

They seemed happy to see a good turnout on a Sunday night in a smaller town and I could tell the immediate improvements they've made on their very first cut. I didn't catch the name, but this song was major league HEAVY, as in "Bolt Thrower" style heavy. A long track with plenty of heaving mid-tempo riffs, this was a real neck-breaker. Back in the late 90's, Kittie was thought of as a nu-metal/hard alternative band, but there was no doubt they are now pure metal. As always, the vocals of Morgan Lander are astounding. She duplicates those hellcat shrieks she's known for EXACTLY but is still able to switch to her more melodic croon easily. Tonight, I heard a lot more shrieking than crooning...proof of how the band is headed towards the more aggressive side of the fence.

Some of the new tunes they played had a strong stoner-style groove to them, mostly due to guitarist Tara McLeod. Tara has a strong 70's touch to her soloing technique, adding a rock n roll feel even to the super heavy tunes. To keep their old fans happy, Kittie played favorites like "Spit" and "Brackish", but it seemed their hearts are really in new material from "I Failed You" and based on what I heard from this album, I don't blame them. The band has lost some traction since the heyday of the early 2000's, but they really deserve to be heard.

I didn't not see the entire set from Kittie due to a bad incident I saw in the crowd. This is the sort of shit you only see in small town clubs like Bar 3. I know that a lot of places don't allow mosh pits or crowd surfing due to insurance crap. But have you ever heard or seen a person getting kicked out of a metal show for HEADBANGING TOO MUCH??! Bar 3, step forward and take a bow. A bunch of dudes were up front and having a good time during Kittie's set, jostling each other in fun and doing some major headbanging. That's the cue for clueless and ignorant jar-heads to throw someone out of the club. One guy got pulled out and thrown out the door. That led to his angry buddies leaving the floor and the club, but not before telling the "security" how they felt about it. Good for them!

It left a sour taste in my mouth and I left before the set ended. I apologize to Kittie for that. Most people go to a metal show to have fun, not stand around like a bunch of saps with their hands in their pockets. That's understood even in places like House of Blues. But not here in Hicksville. I'm not impressed with the security of Bar 3. Word of incidents like this gets around in the metal community and it will cost the bar some money.

A bad ending couldn't spoil a fun show, though, and this one was worth checking out for sure.