CARNIVAL OF DEATH TOUR (Encrust, Jungle Rot, Decrepit Birth, Broken Hope, Obituary)
Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago, IL
I could very well refer to the spectacle I witnessed on September 17th as “The Bucket List Tour”. Why? Well, Obituary is one of the few reasons I became a fan of extreme music in the first place. I was 13 when I first heard the band’s heavy-as fuck debut album, “Slowly We Rot”. I didn’t find Broken Hope until I was 21 and “Loathing”, having just been released, found its way into my ears. That CD and the band that created it changed my life. Hunting down the rest of their archetypal, brutal canon became my life’s mission for about a year back in ’97-’98. This was around the time Obituary stopped making music and eventually left the scene.
In the meantime, during the summer of 2000 my own band recorded an album in the studio of then-Broken Hope guitarist, Brian Griffin, who also co-produced it. A few years after that Obituary reanimated itself and started touring again and has done so prolifically ever since. Yet, until Monday night, I’d not seen Broken Hope or Obituary live, and I hadn’t seen Jungle Rot in 14 years despite haunting the same Wisconsin-Illinois Stateline stomping grounds. Throw into the mix Decrepit Birth – some of the most technically proficient modern death metal in existence, and Encrust – Chicago-based deathgrind upstarts, and you have one hell of a badass tour, no matter who you are. But if you’re me? Well, you’d have lost your fucking mind only to find it again on your way back up I-90 toward Wisconsin, ears ringing and high on metal.
The show was at Reggie’s Rock Club, located on Chicago’s near-south side. Reggie’s is an old converted brick storefront-type building residing in the middle of several similar buildings that occupy the entire block. Once inside, the short foyer contained merch tables for the two main bands as well as the entrances to the surprisingly large and well-kept restrooms. The space opens up into a main room, a relatively small brick space with high ceilings, sporting exposed duct work and bad acoustics. A bar occupies the back wall and the floor slopes downward toward the stage. It made me feel the way I imagine women wearing heals do, and as I sit here writing this two days after the fact, my calves are fucking killing me. Then again, I was one of the death metal elders in attendance and I suppose that what I’m doing now is akin to telling the neighborhood kids to stay the hell off my lawn. Either way, I wasn’t impressed with the venue’s structural deficiencies, but everything else about it was nice.
We arrived about halfway through Encrust’s set. These guys play vicious deathgrind with elements of death ‘n roll or at least some stoner-inspired grooves. They reminded me a bit of bands like Soilent Green and later-era Skinless. The band’s frontman was full of punk piss ‘n vinegar, expressing anger in no uncertain terms. There were even some interesting exchanges involving him and the crowd, spit and punches, but no one seemed to mind. These guys looked comfortable on their home turf and when they dropped grooves, everyone on the premises paid them heed. I was pleasantly surprised to say the least and I’ll be looking out for them going forward.
Next up were my Wisconsin death metal brothers, Jungle Rot. First of all, these guys never put on a bad show. However, every time I’ve seen them in support duty, there always seems to be a minority of fans that are unimpressed. I have no idea why that is, yet even here on their own turf, there were a few douche bags in the crowd but they were exponentially outnumbered by rabidly enthusiastic fans that initiated several spirited circle pits. Jungle Rot does a nice job of mixing slams and d-beats with an old school aesthetic and once again they were really tight and heavy. Frankly, I always drew parallels between these guys and Obituary and it was nice to see them on the same bill.
Next up was southern California’s Decrepit Birth. If you’re familiar with these guys then you’re certainly aware of their virtuosic abilities. To a man, this band is top-shelf musicianship-made-loud. Because their music is so technical is seemed like the soundman took a little while to get them dialed in. Once he did, their set really took off. Vocalist, Bill Robinson was perhaps the most memorable frontman of the night. At points he flew around the stage, gesticulating wildly as if he were disemboweling his bandmates and some audience members with a sword. Other times he played air guitar on his microphone. The highlight was their finale before which he told the crowd about his deep affinity for hallucinogenic substances and how he recently went on a long trip with Death’s Chuck Schuldiner (who’s been dead for over a decade, incidentally). He told us that Chuck said to let us know that he misses us and then the band launched into a blistering cover of Death’s “Crystal Mountain”, complete with a sing along. It was a neat way to end great set by a really talented band.
Finally it was time for the co-main event, the mighty Broken Hope. The anticipation was palpable as the band’s small home town venue seemed to fill to capacity while fog machines issued a milky haze over the throngs. “Repugnance”, the opening instrumental track from the album “Bowels of Repugnance” played over the PA setting up the band’s first live track, “The Dead Half”. The entire place immediately exploded and let me state now – Broken hope stole the show. Their intensity and brutality was unmatched and the crowd reaction was bananas. Vets Jeremy Wagner and Shaun Glass looked like they had missed doing their thing together, while newcomers that included Gorgasm’s Damian Leski on vocals, Chuck Wepfer replacing Brian Griffin on lead guitar, and Mike Miczek on drums, all fit in extremely well.
A huge part of Broken Hope’s sound was the pioneering ultra-guttural vocals of co-founder Joe Ptacek who sadly took his own life in 2010. Needless to say, Leski had huge shoes to fill and I had doubts about whether or not it could be done, regardless of Leski’s abilities. It turns out, Leski channels “The Esophagus” so well that he even looks similar in body language and over all image. He did Joe proud, and Broken Hope is really fortunate to have him onboard. The set list was culled from the band’s first four albums and included many of my favorites. I’m hoping they continue as a band going forward and record something soon because this line up, against all odds, is a version of Broken Hope that’s every bit as monstrous as any that’s come before it.
To cap off the night, Chicago was treated to an abridged version of legendary Obituary. These guys are super heavy, morbid, and incredibly consistent. Trevor Peres’s guitar tone is unmatched and unmistakable and combined with Donald Tardy’s signature drum grooves, John Tardy’s archetypal shrieks and the subsonic low end courtesy of new bassist Terry Butler (ex-Death, Six Feet Under) filling in for Frank Watkins, Obituary left Reggie’s Rock Club a ruined pile of rubble. They may not move around as much as they did twenty years ago, but otherwise one could be forgiven for thinking it was 1992 all over again.
Following suit, Obituary’s set list was almost entirely composed of material from their first three albums. This was something that really pleased me and the group I was with as we’d practically been weaned on “Cause of Death” and “The End Complete” as teenagers. The only element, or lack thereof, that was mildly disappointing is that this was the four-piece version of the band so there were none of the creepy, whammy bar-possessed guitar solos that have been such a signature part of the Obituary sound, whether it was Allen West, James Murphy, or Ralph Santolla, shredding the leads. Otherwise, their nearly hour-and-a-half-long performance, which included an encore, left me satisfied and completely exhausted. It was a fantastic capper to a night of death metal variety, ingenuity, and nostalgia.
Enthused, exhausted, and feeling a little bit old, we drove north back toward the dairy state. Whatever I had imagined I’d experience on the drive down was brutally surpassed. Here’s to next time….
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