The Rock Box
Rockford, Illinois 11/10/2007
by Dr. Abner Mality

In the annals of crazy rock shows in Rockford, Illinois, I would rank this one only behind the legendary Ted Nugent concert at Rockford Speedway in 1977...exactly 30 years before. That was the one that crowded 30,000 crazed maniacs into a 99 degree asphalt oven and which had people literally hanging from the utility poles. Well, this hardcore blowout at the Rock Box was not on the same massive scale but it was another sold-out show involving looney fans and loud music. Some things never change.

Rock Box was just big enough to hold the crowd. Not a single ticket remained to be sold. I stood in line in the cold November air and had to endure the inane comments of foul-mouthed teeny girls blathering non-stop on cell phones when they weren't chain-smoking and bitching about the weather. As is usual, I'm always the oldest guy at the show. I'm used to being a misfit. When I saw the guy go by wearing girl pants and a white belt, and sporting the oh-so-trendy sideswept hair, I momentarily wished I had a machine gun on me.

But once inside, the feeling passed and a wild evening of screaming metal debauchery began. First band in was the durable Self-Fulfilled Prophecy churning out their equally durable metalcore. They were just the ticket to get the incoming crowd warmed up for the rest of the evening without getting them tired out. I was glad to see they still had "Afro-man" in the band, my favorite local music character, whose berserk antics both on the stage and in the pit later will bring a smile to my face every time.

Veils of Maya to me is the name of an old Cynic song. Now it's also the name of an interesting new metalcore band that has the potential to turn into something special if they can leave the more typical elements of their sound behind. The first tune from these guys did NOT impress me, as it seemed to be the usual breakdown-heavy thump with screamy vocals. However, with the second tune in, the sound improved and the band started to add some really cool Eastern-style melodies into their music. In fact, I was reminded of mid-period Death by the quality of the young guitarist's soloing. There was also a Cro-mags feel to some of the music. But still, the vocals were just too typical and there was still a lot of "metalcore 101". These guys should pursue their progressive leanings while keeping a hardcore feel. Then they might survive the imminent collapse of the metalcore scene.

When The Agony Scene hit the stage, the energy level in the club jumped noticeably. Veils of Maya got a very nice response, but the moshing was now in full force and stage divers made their first appearance. We'd be seeing a lot more of those before the night was done! Since the last time I've seen them, I think these dudes have gone in a more straight hardcore direction and left some of the melodic death metal touches behind. It wasn't original at all, but their screaming lead singer did a good imitation of a rabid pit bull as he shrieked and stomped all over the small Rock Box stage. This was knuckle-dragging music, but live, it really gets the blood racing. By now, the place was packed and ready for war.

When Walls of Jericho hit the stage, it was like somebody had thrown a side of beef into a shark tank. The place EXPLODED and I mean, it blew apart like an al-Qaeda suicide bomber struck the joint. The tight-packed crowd pulsated and writhed, with those up front throwing themselves against the stage in a furious crush. Further back, the moshing whirlpool got started. And those who didn't mosh headbanged or tried those ridiculous kung fu dance moves. It was like years of tension and frustration had suddenly found a way to vent itself.

As for Walls of Jericho, they are a band combining Slayer-ish thrash with breakdown-heavy hardcore. Their ace in the hole is their lead singer...a red-haired spitfire named Candace Kucsalain, with the fierceness of a lioness and the toughness of a New York dockworker. You could feel her energy pouring off the stage. Combined with the intense antics of the rest of the band, it sure triggered something in the crowd. I have never seen so many stage divers in my whole life! And I've been to some pretty intense gigs over the years. Maybe Krisiun at the first Milwaukee Metalfest I saw them at came close. At any rate, Candace actually encouraged kids to come on stage and jump back into the crowd. There was a literal LINE of people waiting their turn for a suicide leap. One lunatic actually jumped off the SIDE of the stage on to where all the stage gear (and myself) was located. It was a wonder he wasn't crippled for life. I was even more astonished to note that many of the stage divers were teenage GIRLS! Now I've seen "chick pits" before, but this was a see a little 13 year old cutie flying end over end into a crowd!

Regarding the band, I couldn't say they played the most sophisticated music, but damn, it was physical! This was really amazing! Candace herself seemed to be taken aback and yelled "You guys are fuckin' incredible! This is beautiful...this is a beautiful thing!" And I had to agree. This was sheer catharsis. Many thanks to Walls of Jericho...this is something I'll remember the rest of my life.

I'm surprised that the Rock Box was even left standing after WOJ's set. Next up was A Life Once Lost and these guys had a hopeless task in following the devastation before. Now I've seen these dudes before and they were truly excellent. So they were tonight. The tightest, and in many ways the heaviest, of all the bands playing this evening, these guys did NOT rely on metalcore trends and breakdowns to push their sound. They've made a very concerted effort to slow down and add a Southern style groove to their music. The result is powerful and mesmerizing but it also allowed the crowd to take a breather after WOJ's blitzkrieg and gather their strength for Suicide Silence's onslaught.

There was something really stomping and crushing about ALOL's music...very Pantera-like, or even resembling Down, but with blasting bits of discordant thrash and Meshuggah-like heaving added in. The crowd was calm during the early part of the band's performance and many of the "scene kiddies" bowed out altogether. But there was a lot of good old fashioned headbanging going on and I could sense people starting to dig ALOL. Though it never came close to the frenzy of Walls of Jericho (or Suicide Silence, for that matter), the dudes broke on through in the last part of the set, with mosh pits erupting and even a couple of stage divers doing their thing. For what it's worth, I thought A Life Once Lost played the tightest and most grooving set of the night. But sandwiched between two juggernauts, they were bound to suffer a little bit.

In an amazingly short amount of time, Suicide Silence has built up a huge buzz. Take the fact they are headlining above such long-standing acts as Walls of Jericho and A Life Once Lost as proof of their heat. Whether it's a flash in the pan, trendy kind of popularity or a more long-lasting impact, I'm not sure. But the crowd tonight really welcomed the band with the kind of fervor usually reserved for the likes of Slayer or Slipknot.

Though I would not call them true death metal, there's no doubt that S.S. is way beyond brutal and they transmit that brutality even better live than on their debut record, "The Cleansing". Try mixing Napalm Death with the gnarliest Dillenger Escape Plan and standard metalcore acts like Darkest Hour to get an idea of their relentless sound. The lead singer's slight build and sideswept hair made him look like another screamo scenester, but this fucker RAGED on stage and he switched from guttural grunts and groans to rasping screams as easily as anybody I've ever seen. His energy was boundless.

Once again, the Rock Box became a molten sea of stage divers, maniac moshers and kung fu dancers, attacking with a ferocity just a wee bit short of what I witnessed during Walls of Jericho. I chalk that up to fatigue more than lack of enthusiasm. This time some minor fights and shoving matches broke out in the crowd...all part of the sweaty, chaotic fun. Suicide Silence is very, very tight and compact live....except for the singer, they all looked like long haired death metal dudes and they all gave us their best "helicopter hair" techniques.

I can't say that these guys have made their songs "flow" yet, but the absolute aggression that they deliver them with carries the day live. I haven't yet made my long term assessment of Suicide Silence yet and in a year, they may be gone. But for this one night in Rockford, they delivered about as hellacious an ass-whooping as you could imagine. The stage lights wobbled and almost fell into the crowd once due to the frenzied surge of fans, leading to a lot of concern from the venue personnel. But no harm done and the Rock Box survived what had to be its sternest test so far.

This was a whacked out, memorable night of mayhem. Walls of Jericho's set was something you might see once in a lifetime if you're lucky and Suicide Silence was not too far behind. This show was hardcore war and more!!!