Freeport Convention Center, Freeport, IL - 05/20/06

by Dr. Abner Mality

Exhaustion has proved to be the death of many a metal show. Too many bands, too long of a show, too much going causes things to crash and burn almost every time. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

That was kind of the story of tonight's show. A touring national line-up was linked with a show loaded with local bands, all of whom I'm sure had to scramble frantically to sell the tickets they bought from the promoter. The result was a pretty intense and powerful concert that surprisingly kept its momentum up fairly well, but which definitely fell victim to the "too much" syndrome.

I was told the show would start at 6:00. I get there and naturally the start time had changed to 7:00, which gave me an hour to catch up on reading David Yeadon's "The Back of Beyond" (excellent travel book, by the way). And still another extra half hour got tacked onto the gap to iron out sound problems. The line-up also changed from what had originally been announced. National metalcore band Embrace the End apparently had dropped off the tour with no word given and advertised locals like Powertrip and Blood of Creation did not show. That really didn't bother me because NINE BANDS wound up playing anyway!

First band was Darker Side of Reality. If a concrete mixer had busted through the walls and dumped its load all over the mixing board, the sound couldn't have been any worse. Sheer mud, with the drums sounding like somebody slapping packing crates. "First band syndrome" struck hard with these guys, featuring a front man who offered dialogue like "Here's our next song, hope you like it" and "Check us out on". To be fair, they put a lot of energy into their incredibly angry music and the dude's high pitched shrieks were truly horrifying, but this was really local band stuff with a vengeance.

Unless I miss my guess, local favorites Self-Fulfilled Prophecy were up next. Their line-up changes so much, it's hard to tell. If so, they now have the services of the infamous "Afro Dancer" dude on bass. This fucker is the biggest show on the local metal scene with his berserk and uncontrollable antics. When he's not lurching around on stage like he's been hit with an electric cattle prod, he's doing cartwheels and kung fu moves in the pit when other bands play. God bless him, every scene needs a guy like this. The rest of the band was equally manic as they blasted through a set composed of psychotic tech-metal like Dillinger crossed with Unearth. There were some great riffs buried in the shrapnel, but the band never stuck with them for long and there was no real coherency to the material. Yet they were so goofy on stage that you can't help but be entertained by them.

After this was one of the real surprises of the evening, a band named Rhombic hailing from Belvidere. Based on that, I was expecting a Man Made Man/Powertrip/Abcent kind of band, but instead, this was probably the most corrosive all-out death metal I have ever seen in Northern Illinois outside of Chicago. No metalcore or melo-death here...this was intensely ripping blast beat death metal like the old Florida stuff with a touch of modern dissonance ala Meshuggah to it. The twin vocal attack was absolutely nuts, featuring TWO raspy, shrieking lunatics working in concert. Not the usual "low and guttural" guy teaming with "high and shrieky guy" or "clean vocal" guy...these were two "high and shrieky guys" who sounded like they wanted to flay skin off the Devil's ass. Rhombic could do with a bit more attention to songwriting instead of all-out aggression, but man, if all out aggression is what you want, you'll get it with these guys! The crowd responded warmly to them.

If Rhombic was a pleasant surprise,then Kill Me Dead was nothing short of a revelation. I was shocked by the energy and quality of their set. Whereas so many of the local extreme bands are content to act crazy and jam as many parts into their music as possible, KMD is much more concerned with strong and coherent songs. These songs had not only intensity but a powerful groove. Their slower riffs were not the predictable and typical breakdowns which even tonight's headliners churn out, but more like the power-packed mosh parts of old. Great variation in speeds and riff without flying off the hook...good stuff. I couldn't say it was totally perfect...the few clean vocals from the mohawked frontman were a little shaky and I don't think they needed a sampler (though his guttural death vocals were good)...but it was far, far better than many local bands. And wouldn't you fuckin' know it? Tonight was their farewell show! Now that makes me pretty sad, because Kill Me Dead had nothing but huge potential.

NOTHING could have prepared me for Ion Dissonance...nothing! Maybe being at Ground Zero the day the Towers fell or perhaps in Hiroshima when the bomb went off...that might have come close. But I doubt it. Montreal's Ion Dissonance is not heavy metal as we know it, but rather a fifty-megaton blast that takes every atom of your body and scrambles it. Maniacal, diabolical extremity that squeezes the breath out of your body and leaves you completely exhausted is one way to describe it. I always thought these guys sounded like a dumpster full of golf balls falling down a stairway on CD. Live, they STILL sound that way, but when a band attacks you like this, you go with the flow just to survive. Ion Dissonance were 5 shrieking madmen convulsing on stage, making goofy faces like somebody just pissed in their Pepsis and playing the most chaotic, noisy metal music I've heard. Lead singer Gabriel was literally hanging from the ceiling and kicking people in the face! This was a sprint, not a marathon. Despite looking like the very embodiment of Lucifer on stage, Gabe is a super nice guy who urged the crowd to give a big hand to Kill Me Dead...a class act for sure. These guys don't look crazy at all offstage, but when they plug in, watch out! I felt like I had run 20 miles with a pack of feral pit bulls on my tail after Ion Dissonance had played...sheer catharsis!

Chicago's Lygate had the totally unenviable task of following Ion Dissonance's scorching set...something which I don't think any band on Earth could have done effectively. To give them credit, they put on a good show and inspired several mosh pits in the surprisingly energetic crowd. Their music had elements of Pantera, Meshuggah and metalcore, which was competently delivered. But again, Ion Dissonance had all the aces tonight. Lygate's frontman was personable but spent too much time talking between songs. Could have squeezed a couple more tunes in if he had eased up on the blab.They had a substitute drummer who really impressed me a lot. Lygate kept the momentum going and the energy high, which was commendable.

The energy peaked again with Sworn Enemy. This was the band I had come to see and they did not disappoint. Just a plain old fashioned ass-whuppin' from a band that crosses Slayer and Agnostic Front and adds their own bad-ass New York attitude. About as fancy as a $2.00 steak, these guys were brutal. Less breakdown prone than Throwdown and faster than Hatebreed, there was indeed the smell of Slayer about Sworn Enemy's set, but minus the Satanic bullshit and stripped of all frills. The vocalist's shrill rasps were like a drill bit on sheet clean vocals here! There were a few drum problems during which the frontman delivered some funny business. "I hate to tell you bad news, but we found out our drummer has a serious medical problem. He will be dead in three hours if he does not get some weed." That was a good one for sure! Nobody who was there to slam could be disappointed in Sworn Enemy's set.

Fatigue was finally starting to kick in on folks now. The crowd thinned noticeably for Faded Embrace who were up next. These guys, arising from the ashes of Hastings Way, have made great strides in a short amount of time and delivered an extremely tight and professional set in front of fans who still had the energy to dance, mosh and yell. Kind of a mixture of the sort of no-nonsense brutality Sworn Enemy just demonstrated and the harsher end of metalcore, I couldn't complain about Faded Embrace except that my battery is starting to run low and I need to sit on the floor. Considering seven bands including two awesome nationals and the farewell of an excellent local had went on before, the response to these guys was still fairly strong.

All the way from Germany came headliners Caliban, to play in front of a diminished crowd whose energy was starting to flag. The proliferation of bands definitely hurt these guys and I could sense some disappointment from them. Caliban is the very definition of trendy metalcore, but they have perfected the style about as much as it can be. Breakdowns were as predictable as Mexicans picking up sticks after a windstorm...really, you could set your watch by them. To their credit, they were playing their heaviest, thrashiest stuff, but it seemed kind of hollow after the insanity of Ion Dissonance and straightforward menace of Sworn Enemy. Their lead singer looked like he escaped from Atreyu with black eyeliner, skinny build and solid black clothes...ugh. He could roar like a demon,though...and one of the guitarists handled clean, poppy vocals.

I had to take off about halfway through Caliban's set, for which I apologize. My brain and body were both starting to shut down and I had a long ride back to Rockford. Yet this show made me happy for the most part despite the plethora of bands. I gotta say once more, you will NEVER experience a band crazier or more intense than Ion Dissonance. They were the talk of the show.

We'll see what promoters Break the Surface come up with next, but they'd be wise to concentrate a bit more on quality than quantity in the future...