November 19, 2014

The Metal Grill, Cudahy, WI

By Dr. Abner Mality


"I wonder if people realize the significance of Manilla Road?"

That was a Facebook post from promoter Randy Kastner a few days before the band played The Metal Grill. I guess the sad answer is, probably not. This awesome veteran metal band stopped by the Metal Grill on a freezing November night and the turnout was out of all proportion with the quality of the gig. Those who did show up were loud and enthusiastic, but for Christ's sake, this is a band that should be drawing a lot more.

Time for a rant. I can't stand these phony Facebook Warriors who click a mouse and say they will be attending a gig when they actually have no fucking intention of doing so. Do you have any idea how much that screws with the promoter and the venue, who are expecting more than they get? Some might see it as giving "support". I don''s more like an outright falsehood. If I hit the "going" button, I go. If I'm not gonna make it, I don't do anything. On rare occasions where I'm up in the air, I'll hit "maybe". What's so hard about it?

I'll grant you, it was cold in Wisconsin on November 19. I think the temperature was about 16 degrees when I got to Metal Grill after driving from Rock Bottom. And it didn't get any warmer outside. But inside, there was booze, comradeship and red hot metal to keep things nice and toasty.

The concert startted with traditional metal fiends Razor Fist, who played to about 20 people. They sure didn't let it affect them. These guys play oldschool speed metal bordering on but not quite crossing over into thrash. They tore it up pretty good and played like they were at Deathfest. Their lead singer has one of those super high pitched screaming voices that you will either love or hate. I mean, the guy is beyond Dan Beehler. If you ever heard the classic Hawaii album "One Nation Underground" and experienced the glass-breaking shrieks of Gary St. Pierre, you'll be familiar with where this dude is coming from. He left nothing on the table with his performance and I also noticed him headbanging furiously for the other acts playing tonight. You gotta love dedication like this. I could hear some mistakes here and there, but Razor Fist played with a lot of heart.

Next up was Architects of the Aftermath. I've heard that name for years but tonight was my first time seeing them in action. They killed! Wow, where have these guys been all my life? This was absolute, brain-smashing THRASH at its most powerful.  Fantastic speed riffing along the lines of the first 3 Slayer albums with a touch of Megadeth progression and occasional heavy duty mosh parts ala Anthrax in the "Among the Living" era. This was one of those bands where you had to wonder, why haven't they got a deal? I have seen a lot of "big" bands at major events that didn't have half the fury and precision that the Architects did! If you ever seen their name on a show, don't miss it and get ready to wreck your neck!!!!

Like Manilla Road, Wrath are longtime veterans of the metal scene and it shows. Fresh-faced young kids they are not, but a hard-working live band they are. They open a lot of shows across the Midwest and I don't think one week goes by without them playing out. Tonight brought them to Milwaukee. There is something gritty and uniquely Midwestern about the band. They play with a thrashy edge but not at the velocity of Architects of the Aftermath. I can detect a lot of AC/DC, Motorhead, old Kiss and Pantera in their underlying foundation, but they inject that speed and chug into it. The bushy-bearded vocalist has that sandpaper kind of raspy voice but can actually sing...there are good vocal lines amidst the mayhem. The lead guitar soloing of Scott Nyquist and Rob Noon is excellent and deeply rooted in classic metal. One thing that really stands out about Wrath is the strength of the backup vocals....the shouted choruses are unusually powerful. I felt a couple of their tunes kind of dragged too long but overall, this is meat and potatoes metal at its most solid. In addition to playing live regularly, they've got a new album "Stark Raving Mad" out and based on what I've heard it's worth checking out.

Last time I saw Manilla Road, the circumstances were as different as you could possibly imagine. I saw them jamming on a beautiful sunny day in front of thousands of people at Maryland Deathfest 2013. Tonight they played on a freezing cold night at a Milwaukee area bar in front of probably around 55 people. It worked out for me because I got a much closer look at these long running masters of heavy metal, but the band deserves much more.In a sign of true professionalism, they played a set that was probably better than what I saw at MDF. Not only that, but mastermind Mark "The Shark" Shelton thanked everybody for coming out on such a frigid night...what a class act!

Tonight Manilla Road leaned heavily on the early years of their career, starting the set with "Flaming Metal Systems"  and then slamming into an intense medley of classics which they titled "Masque of the Red Death By the Hammer of the Witches Brew"! When you see Shelton in action, you are seeing one of the best heavy metal guitarists ever to be born on American soil. Whether its fast, near thrash material like "Up From the Crypt" or slow-burning moody epic stuff like "Witches Brew", he just completely shreds! The crowd may not have been huge but they were absolutely glued to everything Shelton did.

The guys did touch on their most recent album "Mysterium" by playing "Only The Brave" and "Stand Your Ground", but I think that was about the only thing past the decade of the 80's they played. In a perfect world, I would have liked to hear them try tunes from records like "Out of the Abyss", "Atlantis Rising" and "Voyager", but I was happy hearing the great classics like "Road of Kings" and "Divine Victim". "Road of Kings" is one of the best Manilla Road songs ever and they did full justice to it tonight. I have to say that lead vocalist Bryan "Hellroadie" Patrick sure came into his own tonight. Despite suffering from a nasty cold, this was the best performance I've ever heard from the man, including unleashing some intense falsetto screams. For the first time, I was totally comfortable with him taking over vocal duties from Shelton. Shark still did some singing himself and with age, his voice is raspier than ever. But having Patrick take over the brunt of the singing leaves him to concentrate on his exquisite ripping solos, which he demonstrated nowhere better than on the long and lugubrious "The Ninth Wave".  This was fretmanship on the level of Blue Oyster Cult's Buck Dharma and since Buck is my favorite guitarist, you know just where I'm coming from.

The band wrapped up an excellent set with "Crystal Logic" and, of course, "Necropolis", which has become their anthem. Props must also be given to the other members of the band, drummer Neudi who deliver some thunderous beats and rock-steady bassist Mr. Castillo, who is probably half Shelton's age. When you play a show such as this and deliver a world-class performance, you can't be described as anything but totally professional.

It was a real well-rounded evening of metal entertainment. As is typical of many shows I see at the Metal Grill and promoted by Randy Kastner and/or Mercyful Mike Smith, the bands had their own separate identities and enhanced each other. Maybe the time for classic metal is coming to an end in the States....I can't say on the basis of one show...but acts like this should be praised and supported. Manilla Road are legends! Don't be a "Facebook Warrior"...get out and support when quality comes your way!