Rock Hollow Gun Club, Freeport, IL - 12/30/05

by Dr. Abner Mality

Rock Hollow Gun Club just outside of Freeport has surely got to be one of the most unusual venues I've ever seen a metal show at. The place is the very picture of the rustic hunting lodge, with thick wooden furniture, walls and a generally woodsy feeling. The walls were festooned with the heads and stuffed carcasses of many of God's creatures, all observing the moshing and backslapping below with dark and shiny eyes. In one corner of the room, a snarling bear and bobcat looked like they were about ready to tear into any human who strayed too near. Elsewhere, there were plenty of displays of hunting rifles and knives, along with conservation publications. In other words, this was about as warm and cheery as any place full of death and weapons could be! Perfect!

I got to the Club a little late, mostly due to rotten weather outside. Despite the wet slushy onslaught, a very good turnout was evident. There was a pretty good vibe throughout the night. As my good buddy Reverend Randall Mikkelson, formerly of Submission, pointed out, it was kind of like taking the old "That One Place" in downtown Rockford and dropping it into the middle of a Montana hunting lodge.

First band that I saw was Faded Embrace, a new entity featuring members of Hastings Way. I don't know if Hastings Way have called it a day, but if so, Faded Embrace is a worthy successor. It's standard metalcore, but thankfully with no emo traces and an emphasis on heaviness. Not blindlingly original, but very tightly delivered and showing some promise for what had to be one of their first shows ever.

Next up was another new band called Abandon All Hope and never has a band been more aptly named. This bunch of junior high kids had "MySpace band" written all over them and frankly it was awful. Youthful enthusiasm excuses many things but I have to call it the way I see it. They were not tight, they had no grip on style other than trying to cram in every trendy thing in sight and the music sounded almost like it was being made up as they went along. A little bit of crazy Dillinger stuff here, sickly sweet screamo ala Atreyu there, "jumpadafuckup" nu-core both here and there and a singer whose Mom probably had to pick him up after the show. He angrily spat out cliches between tracks and generally came across as greatly lacking maturity. I know in these days of MySpace and Soundclick, you can write songs and five minutes later have them on the net for your friends to moon over, but I'd like to see bands take more time working on songwriting, chops, originality, all of which were sadly lacking in Abandon All Hope.

Gunpoint Crush was up next and judged on appearance, I was kind of expecting more of the same. Very anorexic lads with trendy "moppet" hair-dos and I even think one of them was wearing girl pants with a white belt. UGH! Fortunately, though, they were a step up from Abandon All Hope and actually showed some good potential. If you're going to imitate a metalcore band, make it a good one. These guys are trying to follow in the footsteps of Bleeding Through and do a credible job of it. There were some pretty powerful slower riffs accentuated by keyboard reminding me not only of Bleeding Through but even stuff like Dimmu Borgir. The breakdowns, as always, were predictable and the vocals on the monotonous side, but Gunpoint Crush has got some promise. Refine and broaden the sound, don't rush things and most importantly, don't wear white belts with ANYTHING!!!

Self Fulfilled Prophecy are almost there. This band has been lurking around the area for a good while now and has been
steadily building up a following. They were stripped down to a three piece tonight...the last time I saw them, I believe they had five members, I could be wrong. They sure kicked up a powerful racket for a three piece, at times approaching blast beat velocity and at other times calming down for moody interludes. They seemed to be another band with kind of an identity crisis going on, as the songs jumped around and lacked focus within themselves. When the band is on, they have got the intensity and fury to carry them through. The vocals in particular are harrowing...varying between intense raspy screams and VERY guttural death-like growling. A second guitarist wouldn't be a bad move for these guys.

The crowd was steadily building in intensity with each band and they finally went apeshit when local heroes Through Dead Calm took to the stage. This was the first time I've seen these guys and all I can say is....JESUS! I am COMPLETELY impressed with them! I didn't think bands this heavy could exist in Northern Illinois outside of Chicago, but I'm glad to be proven wrong. A refined blend of influences like Napalm Death, Hatebreed, Dying Fetus and Machine Head, these guys didn't waste time with clean emo vocals, sad mellow bits or unnecessary bullshit, but just smacked you upside the head like a pimp getting even with a ho that stole from him! Thick and meaty, with brutish vocals, and great hooks. The pit was a war! Check out the picture in this article for one young soldier's bloody battlescars. I'd like to see some more guitar soloing from TDC, but they don't need too much work. The younger bands could learn from them. Instead of trying to please every trend, they focus on what they do best and nail it. I look forward to much more from Through Dead Calm and absolutely believe they could be signed to a major independent!

I hope that Jungle Rot enjoyed the show tonight. You might think that such an established band in the metal underground might be put out to play in such a remote spot and relatively small venue, in front of kids who probably were not too familiar with their material. The ingredients were certainly present for a disappointment. I've seen shows loaded with local bands where everybody left before the headliner came on. Happily, such was not the case tonight. The majority of the crowd hung in to check out Jungle Rot and there was a constant pit going through the whole set.

Death metal needs bands like Jungle Rot. Bands that aren't so carried away with their own technicality and so obsessed with what the critics want to hear that they lose both themselves and their fans. Many of the so-called critics find Jungle Rot to be stodgy and predictable. Much like Obituary, who they somewhat resemble, their reliance on simple catchy riffs and brutal rhythms is their greatest strength. On their albums, I will admit they can sometimes seem lumbering. Live, in a great intimate setting like Rock Hollow, their thunderous concoction of punishing riffology virtually forces you to bang your head and get in the pit. Those simple rhythms bite deep and sink in hard. There's enough high speed fury mixed in to really get your blood boiling.

Touching on their latest album but also going all the way back to their earliest demo days, Jungle Rot hammered it out like they were playing in front of a European festival crowd. What a pleasure it was to see a real circle pit going, instead of nitwit pit ninjas spazzing out and hogging the floor. Anybody trying to do kung fu moves during Jungle Rot's set would have been bulldozed into the ground! Those who stuck to the sides and the back of the floor were headbanging and showing enthusiasm for the band, who were extremely tight and played flawlessly.

The whole gig was refreshing because of the cool venue, the intimate feeling and the killer performances from Through Dead Calm and Jungle Rot. I don't what the people who owned the joint thought, but I'd like to see more shows at Rock Hollow!