California Metal Fest IV: Live Review
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
May 15th 2010, Fox Theatre and Glass House, Pomona CA: The line-up for Day 1 of this year's California Metal Fest left me curious. I never got a chance to see any of the bands on the bill with the sole exception of Arsis. So I was looking forward to what this day had in store. The bill had 28 bands in total, not including the pay-to-play bands that started performing as early as half past noon. But I knew that it was going to be pointless running back and forth between the two venues and ending up seeing partial sets of every band. Add to that the fact that I was supposed to do a few interviews in the early evening. So I had decided to stick to a certain few bands and watch their entire sets.
I got to the venue at around 3 o' clock, just in time for my interview with Arsis, thanks to the brutal traffic on the freeway. I have no idea who on earth decided to call those roads "freeways". Anyway, I got a call from Jim Malone asking me to meet him outside the tour bus. He took me inside and called his band mates Nick Cordle, Noah Martin and touring drummer Shawn Priest to join in for the interview. It went really well, the funniest parts being the way Nick answered my question on why the previous bassist left the band, in eight words: 'He smelled weed on the bus and left' and Jim expressing his heartfelt desire to tour with Kesha and Lady Gaga.
After this light-hearted interview, I called Cattle Decapitation drummer Dave McGraw for my next interview of the day. Dave, the guitarist Josh Elmore and I went to an alley behind the Glass House in an effort to find a quiet place for the interview. It wasn't exactly quiet, but I think I managed to do a good job still. I enjoyed talking to them as they were open and honest with their answers while keeping it interesting at the same time.
Then it was time for my last and biggest interview of the day, with Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory. The lady at their merchandise table was really nice and helpful as she took me to their tour bus and introduced me to the manager, whose phone wasn't working and as a result of which I was just walking back and forth trying to figure out something, until I thankfully found her. I was taken inside the tour bus where Burton was waiting for me. This turned out to be one of the best interviews I've done till date. He was a complete professional. From his way of talking and his aura, I could totally feel that I was talking to the vocalist of a band of Fear Factory's magnitude of fame. He seemed to be in a very good mood, having just had a Mexican meal and being brought a bottle of whisky by one of the roadies. He was jovial yet intense with his answers. While parting, he said to me, 'I hope you enjoy yourself, because I'm going to have a great time tonight'. I sure did!
After this I spent an hour just to get some food from the Mexican place Burton recommended to me, to get some rest, recover from the interviews and to get ready for the show. Jim from Arsis told me that they would be hitting the stage at 6.30 and that was the first band I saw tonight. They opened with an 'oldie' if you can call it that, the song 'Return' from their debut album. After this they launched into a couple of new songs 'Forced To Rock' and 'A March For The Sick'. While I'd call these songs catchy, I enjoyed them as part of the live set. The band's on-stage energy suited the tempo and overall feel of these songs, and the whole set in general. Four of the five studio albums were represented in the set, the other two songs being 'A Diamond For Disease' and 'Sightless Wisdom'. They ended the set the same way they started, with a song from the debut effort. There was a little bit of movement in the crowd, but nothing great, as the place was far from packed at this point.
Performance wise, they were top notch tonight. Noah Martin's return has made an obvious difference to their stage presence. Nick Cordle, who looked like a taller version of Alexi Laiho while playing guitar on stage, did a good job as well. I don't know if Jim would agree with me on this, but I feel that his style of vocals suit the older material a lot better than the latest album. I quite enjoyed his performance on 'Return' and 'The Face Of Innocence'.
Carnifex, a deathcore band from San Diego were next up and despite of the fact that I hadn't heard of them, I decided to stay for their set as I went with a friend's suggestion. I thanked him after they were done playing, because they were really impressive and got the crowd going. Scott Lewis gave a tremendous performance on vocals. The vocalist is always the driving force of a band's stage shows but is more crucial when it comes to bands of the deathcore kind. Scott lived up to every bit of this expectation. They were not all about the vocals though, as there were some tight, dark guitar riffs that accompanied them. Shawn Cameron was relentless on the double bass drums as well. To be honest, I've hardly even tried to explore the hardcore and deathcore metal bands up till this point but tonight I got my chance to do exactly that. I can definitely say that Carnifex made some new fans with this performance of theirs, me included. I am already looking forward to their Summer Slaughter show in July. They set the tone for the rest of the night and raised the standard for the following bands to try to match.
After them, it was time for a band I was really eager to check out, Dying Fetus. I had heard a lot of great things about this band and wanted to see those for myself. They hit the stage in explosive fashion and the head bangers went furiously crazy in the crowd. The combination of the death growls and the amazing guitar riffs was just lethal. Add to that some aggressive drumming and killer bass, and I just knew I was witnessing one of the best death metal bands I've ever seen. I was glad I managed to stay away from the mosh pit, specially the core dancing karate kids. It allowed me to truly enjoy the music by doing what I do best, banging my head. John Gallagher was amazing on guitar and vocals. Sean on bass did a killer job as I said earlier, and assisted John ably on the vocals as well. Not to forget Trey on drums who was almost like a drum machine. If you're a fan of death metal, I just don't see how you can dislike this band. Even if you're not a death metal fan, this may be a good place to start, but I would also warn you that this might punch you in the face and knock you out. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find their set list and I myself wasn't familiar with their material to be able to tell you what exactly they played.
Seeing the names of the next two bands in the Fox Theatre line-up, I decided to move to the Glass House and stayed there for the next two bands that played there, Skinlab and Misery Index. Again, these were bands I wasn't familiar with but was more than happy to check them out to see what they had to offer. Skinlab were more of the Black Label Society slash Pantera kind of band in their sound, which can be described as groove metal in simple terms. They were giving more than their 100% into the performance and considering the small stage, set time and sound they were given, they made the most of it. Sadly though, here was hardly a crowd to see them. The vocalist did mention something about being booted out of the Metal Fest line-up by their label but then getting back on it on their own. I give them kudos for doing that and for turning up to this event to perform for us.
The next band was Misery Index, a band I had only heard of because they are label mates with Dying Fetus. The material from their latest album 'Heirs To Thievery' was particularly impressive. For people who haven't heard of them, their music was a blend of death, grindcore and thrash metal. I would definitely be inclined to see them play a longer set or even their own headline set at a show in the near future. Their on-stage performance was near perfect. Their new album is going to take them to great heights and I can foresee many more amazing albums from this band in the years to come. Misery Index rule.
By 10 o' clock, I was back at the Fox Theatre to get a rail spot for Fear Factory's set which was due to start at 10.30. Sadly, this meant that I had to miss Cattle Decapitation's set at the Glass House. They played from 10.00 to 10.30 and instead of catching partial sets of both bands, I decided to go for Fear Factory but made a promise to myself to catch Cattle Decapitation whenever they are in town next time. After talking to them during that interview, I was really looking forward to check out their show but unfortunately for me it didn't work out that way. Anyway, I was happy to get my desired rail spot for Fear Factory, but was very surprised by the poor attendance in the venue. The number of people in the floor area was embarrassingly small. A few more people came in when the band started playing, but even then the crowd was much smaller than what it would have been at a regular Fear Factory show, which was a shame. Even those who decided to stay didn't get involved into the show at all, probably because they were tired of standing around for close to 10 hours straight.
Nonetheless, the band made an explosive start to their set tonight with the title song off of the latest album 'Mechanize'. This album is everything that a Fear Factory fan could have asked for, and then some. When I heard this album for the first time, I knew that the songs would be great in a live setting. I got to experience this for myself tonight, as the band belted out as many as five songs from this record with an unrivalled intensity driven by Burton's vocals and they sounded as good as they do on the record, if not better. This is an album they will and should continue touring behind for quite a few months to come and I'm quite sure that it isn't something the fans are going to get tired or bored of any time soon.
But in addition to the material from Mechanize, they did a great job at mixing up the set with the older material sandwiched between the new songs. 'Mechanize' was followed by two songs from the Obsolete album, 'Shock' and 'Edgecrusher'. This would have surely lit up the faces of people who've been listening to and following the band for more than 10 years. So although Mechanize is guaranteed to win them a lot of new fans, it was still important for them to keep the fans of the older material happy as well. They certainly did that tonight. Interestingly though, 'Obsolete', 'Digimortal' and 'Demanufacture' were the only albums represented other than the new one of course. Talking of new, 'Powershifter' was the fourth song in the set and by far my favorite for the night. I thoroughly enjoyed myself singing the chorus: 'Powershift! Powershift! Powershift! Powershifteeeerrrrrr!!' I mean, how can you possibly not enjoy that?
Burton showed his class on vocals. As I mentioned earlier, it was my first time seeing them and it was an immense pleasure getting to do so. I hate it when people don't give the same credit to singers who do screaming or harsh vocals as they give to clean vocalists. According to some people, it's not even singing. That is a totally unfair and incorrect remark. A singer's job is to sing according to the music of the band he's playing in and not necessarily to show his complete vocal prowess. It wouldn't really make sense for Burton C. Bell to sing like Rob Halford for a Fear Factory song. Sorry, I just had to rant. I'm fed up of people not giving credit to singers like him and Randy Blythe from Lamb Of God. In Burton's case it's all the more unfair as he does clean vocals in addition to the harsh parts. Anyway, the other new songs they played were 'Fear Campaign', 'Christploitation' and 'Final Exit'. I honestly never thought I'd see a Fear Factory guitar solo, but I did and it was just perfect. As Burton said in the interview, Dino nailed it.
They ended the main set with the beautifully intricate 'Final Exit'. They came back out with a 'Demanufactured' encore of 'Hunter Killer' and 'Replica'. I never saw the band with Raymond Herrera so I'm not the right person to judge, but one thing I can say about Gene Hoglan is that no matter what band he's playing for, what size of venue he's playing at and what kind of music he's playing, he delivers every single time, drumming with precision and strength. Burton rightly calls him a 'drummer's drummer'. Dino was amazing on guitar and the older fans would have been happy to see him back in the band. Byron was solid on bass. The effect created by the strobe lighting added punch to the already powerful music. The crowd reaction left a lot to be desired, but there will be a better crowd for them the next time they return to the Los Angeles area, because they truly deserve it. A word of appreciation goes out to the organizers at the venue because they kept things on schedule from start to finish, something that can and does easily go wrong at most shows of the festival kind.
Overall, I had a lot of fun on day 1 of the California Metal Fest IV. I was too tired by the end of the night and ended up staying awake the whole night so that I could post the interviews done today. As a result, I wasn't physically ready to watch day 2 of the festival. But I'll make sure to catch some of the better bands from that line-up the next time they come back around, specially The Faceless and Earth Crisis.
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