House of Blues, Chicago, IL April 17, 2009
by Dr. Abner Mality

At certain times, my hunger for metal becomes so acute that I drool for it like a slavering wolf. By the time April 17th rolled around, I was already WAY past this point. It seemed like it had been YEARS since I was able to cut loose at a real top notch heavy metal hoedown and the withdrawal symptoms were beginning to manifest themselves in the form of constant quivering, aching hands longing to throw the devil's horns and grinding teeth.

Not many better ways to quell the metal hunger than a show featuring two giants of thrash metal, Kreator and Exodus. Throw in the Austrian satano-fiends Belphegor, up-and-comers Warbringer and Epicurean and you got yourself a real feast!

Made it down to the illustrious House of Blues in Chicago with plenty of time to spare. I had spent the earlier part of the afternoon enjoying one of the most incredible burgers I'd ever eaten at the infamous Kuma's Corner, which I have written a Wormblog about on the Wormwood Myspace page. It was a warm spring day so I sauntered around the downtown River district before lining up at the ole HOB.

Things have changed at the House of Blues over the years. When I first went there, you had to run a virtual gauntlet of Gestapo-style security to secure a press pass. Crowd control was extremely heavy-handed at this expensive venue. Not today. I waltzed in with nary a problem and the HOB staff was friendly and courteous the entire time. The concert was the site of much aggressive thrashing, moshing and crowd surfing, but I don't think I ever saw one person tossed out....that was an absolute first for an HOB show. This was a pleasant surprise, as the stage is surely one of the best in Chicago.

First band up with Epicurean, the progressive thrashers from Minnesota who released their debut on Metal Blade last year. Things went far better for these guys than I would have guessed. Their sound was quite pristine, which usually isn't the case for opening bands...they are usually "guinea pigs" to get the sound kinks worked out. No kinks here. These guys played a fast and aggressive but still very melodic brand of metal. Never saw a keyboardist but the keys were prominent throughout their brief set. The crowd didn't exactly go berserk for Epicurean but neither did they harass them. For a 5:30 start, the venue was already half-full and the response was quite decent for these guys, especially given the fact that they were by far the most melodic band on the bill.

I had been warned by Sgt. Deth that Warbringer was one of the craziest bands he had ever seen live, mostly due to the antics of lead singer/lunatic Jon Evil. The crowd really dug these guys and its easy to see why they are one of the leaders of the new wave of thrash metal. Jon Evil is a lovable goof who was all over the place and even surfed into the crowd. The dudes started off with their signature attack "Total War" and from there, took no prisoners. They played the title track from their upcoming album "Separate Reality" and let me tell you, that mother smoked from beginning to end! That album will really kill if the rest of the tunes follow suit. Warbringer's set was a ridiculous five tunes, which the crowd was none too happy about. Well, that's the way it goes on these multi-band bills. I ran into Evil after the set and he was a genuinely cool and friendly guy to talk to. A true fan, he was later spotted thrashing along to Exodus and Kreator.

We were next treated to the sickness of Austria's Belphegor. These goat-worshipping sadists have made a slow and steady climb through the rankings of metaldom the last few years, culminating in their latest "Bondage Goat Zombie" opus. Tonight's bill was thrash-oriented, but Belphegor was pure blackened death metal and by far the heaviest outfit hitting the stage tonight. In fact, even some of the diehard Exodus bangers seemed somewhat taken aback by the pure distortion that Helmuth and his troops summoned.

In front of a pretty impressive looking backdrop, Belphegor did its best to appear as grim and evil as possible. None of the lovable clowning around or banter of Jon Evil or Exodus' Rob Dukes. It's kind of pretentious in a way, but the band, especially Helmuth, really looked the part of antisocial misanthropists. The early sound was kind of muddy and Helmuth's vocals were almost totally absent on the first couple of tracks, but by the time "Belphegor-Hell's Ambassador" came roaring in, balance had been restored. Vocally Helmuth creates an extremely frightful racket, with deep growling roars and hideous drawn out croaks both hitting pretty hard. Considering the fact that he plays a pretty mean lead guitar at the same time, he is the perfect frontman for a demonic mob such as this.

Belphegor had one of the most purely distorted guitar sounds I've ever heard...true low-end torture. That made their tunes extra-sick but decreased the oddly sad melody that's present on their Nuclear Blast stuff. That's the material they concentrated on the most, but they did sneak in the title track to "Lucifer Incestus" and it was a filthy delight. Starting somewhat weak but ending strong, Belphegor again was hampered by a shortened playing time.

The last time I saw Exodus, Paul Baloff was still their singer. Plenty of water (as well as blood and booze) has gone
under the bridge since then and sadly Paul is no longer with us. Yet Exodus is stronger now than ever. In fact, I was taken aback when I found out that it was Kreator, not Exodus, headlining this bill tonight. Wonder what kind of wrangling produced that result? At any rate these guys were on a seek and destroy kamikaze mission to thrash Chicago senseless and they pretty much succeeded.

The set was split almost 50/50 between "oldschool" Exodus and "comeback"-era tunes. Kicking the set off with "Bonded By Blood" was a sure announcement that the glory days of the band are not forgotten. Manic singer Rob Dukes, about as thuggish looking as a human being can be with a shirt that blared CUNT in bold letters, a boatload of tattoos and an angry looking scar on his face, assaulted the crowd verbally and physically from the get-go. He is sounding more and more like an ultra-pissed Zetro Sousa all the time. You have to give kudos to this guy because he was as sick as a dog during the performance, as guitarist Gary Holt informed us. Running a 102 degree temperature, Dukes must have drank 9 bottles of water during the set and spit most of it into a bucket. But when it came time to sing, he held nothing back. Holt laughingly encouraged us all to wish Rob good healthy by whipping him the bird and yelling "FUCK YOU!", which we happily did.

Lots of fun in this show. I've come to recognize many of the same faces at these Chicago metal shows and among the most familiar is an ovweight buzz-cutted guy who loves to take his shirt off and go crazy in the pit. Dukes pointed him out and said "this sucker was at our Mokena show and got hammered like crazy!" He then set up two sides of the room to meet each other in a wall of death...with the big guy in the middle! "Suck it up and get ready, big boy!" yelled Dukes. What a was the biggest wall of death these eyes have ever seen and I noted that the big dude never showed up in the pit during Kreator's set! Dukes also had harsh words for The Pearl Room in Mokena, where Exodus has been banned: "Fuck you!" Amen to that, that venue makes its living from metalheads yet treats us like dirt.

Some other notable tunes in the Exodus onslaught included "Children Of A Worthless God", "Deathamphetamine" and "War Is My Shepherd" from the newer discs and classic nuggets like "Piranhas", "Strike Of The Beast" and the anthemic "Toxic Waltz" from the good old days. Man, Gary Holt looks as ageless as hell on guitar and was clearly enjoying himself immensely. However, award for best soloist has to go to Lee Altus...this guy is FAR beyond Rick Hunolt in terms of fret-killing.

A great moment occurred as the band climaxed with their final tune "Strike Of The Beast". A young kid who couldn't have been more than 10 or 11 was brought on to the stage and given Altus' guitar so he could thrash out and blast. With a little help from the rest of the guys, the kid made an admirable showing. In such a way is the legacy of thrash metal translated from one generation to the next...what a thrill for that kid and what a cool moment! Amazingly and disappointingly, Exodus did not play an encore, though the demand was there for them to play another 2 or 3 hours if they wanted to.

It was a real tragedy the last time I saw Kreator. 50 people in an abandoned factory in Rockford's west was brutal. That was in the dead metal year of 1994. Since then, Kreator has gotten up off the floor and reinvigorated their career. Some of their best ever stuff has come out in the last few years, with latest disc "Hordes of Chaos" being no exception. I was still kinda amazed that these guys headlined over Exodus in the States but I had no beef with that...they've put in the miles to deserve it.

Kreator's backdrop for their set was one of the hugest and most detailed ever. I mean, they could have used this thing at Wacken. Talk about impressive. The Germans excelled in a much different way than Exodus did. Whereas the Bay Area boys were boozy, brawling comrades in arms, Mille's soldiers were an example of thrash at its most precise and demanding. The band is unbelievably tight and performed with the clockwork certainty of a fine Swiss watch. They lacked the boisterousness of Exodus but to make up for it, delivered jaw-dropping musicianship.

Starting with the title track from the new album, the dudes split their set between old favorites and newer anthems in much the same way Exodus did. It's amazing to watch Mille Petrozza at work on the guitar....his spidery fingers are a perpetual blur over the strings. He never missed a note and he navigated the entire huge HOB stage with ease. Plus, his voice held up really well throughout the night. Truly one of thrash's leading generals. Even so, I was even more blown away by the quiet mastery of Kreator's other guitarist Sammi Yli-Sirnio. What an unheralded genius this frail, almost feminine looking Finnish guitarist is....he could give Yngwie a run for his money in the screaming neo-classical leads sweepstakes. I kept an eye on him throughout the show and was beyond impressed by his professionalism.

The 90 minute setlist was a pretty good representation of just about all eras of Kreator...early killers like "Terrible Certainty", the awesome "Pleasure to Kill" and "Riot of Violence" (with gruff vocals from drummer Ventor, who also excelled all evening long); mid-period stuff like "Extreme Aggression", "Coma of Souls" and "Betrayer"; and more recent thrashers such as "Enemy of God", "Destroy What Destroys You" and "Warcurse". The band also had the luxury of a four song encore, which was predictably capped off with "Flag of Hate" and "Tormentor". I think Exodus should have gotten at least 2 songs for an encoure, but then, HOB had to close the joint early because it was an all-ages show. The crowd's energy was pretty good throughout the set, although the stage diving was not quite as insane as during Exodus's set.

Realistically, the evening could not have been bettered. No underground metal fan could deny the potency of this line-up and I was damn glad to have been a part of it.