By Avinash Mittur
February 11th 2012, The Roxy, Hollywood CA: Once again, Scion A/V has given Southern California the gift of heavy metal, and once again I have returned from their show with an amazingly sore neck. Needless to say, Scion has delivered a fun afternoon of metal to Los Angeles for the umpteenth time, and I couldn’t be happier.
This concert showcased Relapse Records, easily the heaviest and most experimental label Scion A/V have given the spotlight yet. Between the thrash and power metal leanings of Nuclear Blast, and the more modern metal stylings of Prosthetic Records, Relapse Records’ roster of sludge metal, grindcore and post-metal stands out as especially ear-rattling. I came to this show with zero prior knowledge of any of the bands’ music, besides knowing the style in which they played. As such, I gained a unique view of the bands’ performances and the show as a whole.
The concert began with Atlanta, GA’s Royal Thunder, who truly managed to remain an musical enigma throughout their short set. Opening with a track resembling post-metal, the song alternated between slow dirge-like verses and far louder sections with more head-bangable riffing being utilized. After thinking this band would continue with this loud-quiet volume dynamic for the rest of the set, I was surprised to hear their second song begin with an amazingly badass southern hard rock riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mastodon album. This track got many heads moving, and highlighted Mlny Parsonz’s out of this world singing ability. It goes without this saying that this lady could wail. Her singing was full of passion and bluesy grit not unlike a more metal version of Joan Jett. The audience clearly loved this harder-rocking tune, and answered its finish with appropriate applause. The band’s set continued to alternate between post-metal styled tracks and more traditional rockers, which the audience seemed to enjoy. Personally, I would like to see the band decide on one direction and master it instead of attempting both at the same time. With a weapon like Mlny, I can see Royal Thunder succeeding in either style, but perhaps not both.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY’s Tombs. This band had an identifiable post-metal sound, with addition black metal influences as well. The riffing and the tempo dynamics reminded me of a far more aggressive version of Oakland’s Neurosis, the original pioneers of post-metal. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill screamed his lungs out much like Neurosis’ Steven von Till, and eschewed traditional heavy metal power chords in favor of more dissonant and complex chords. The black metal influences could be heard in the drumming, which incorporated anything from blast beats to tribal tom-beating. One could hear as much Jason Roeder as one could hear Hellhammer in drummer Andrew Hernandez’s playing. While Tomb’s set certainly benefited from a more consistent sound than Royal Thunder, the music began to sound the same after some tracks and I had to struggle to keep my attention near the end. As the band continues to develop, I’m sure they will write tracks with more variety and more dynamics – for now Tombs can be satisfied with delivering an enjoyable live performance.
After the more experimental leanings of Royal Thunder and Tombs was Revocation, one of modern day extreme metal’s brightest hopes. Many of the Exhumed fans at this show were also Revocation fans, and as such the pit became active as soon as Revocation began their set. For me, the band gave a fun death metal set with some welcome 21st century influences. These included highly technical riffing, vocals supplied from more than one vocalist and many exotic guitar solos. A highlight of their set was an instrumental preceded by a call from vocalist David Davidson for the audience to raise their chalices in honor of fallen Viking warriors. This was a good bit of fun, especially in contrast to rather serious prior acts. Overall I enjoyed Revocation’s set a good deal, especially since I saw it as a primer for Exhumed, who I came in most excited to see.
The last support act was Black Tusk, also hailing from Georgia. The only sludge metal group on this bill, Black Tusk had a bit of work to do to win this death metal loving audience over. The band clearly knew this, and as soon as they hit the stage, bassist Jonathan Athon belted the words “Six! Six! Six!” much to the audience’s delight. Boasting a beard that would make even ZZ Top’s axemen blush, Jonathan and guitarist Andrew Fidler were as active as could be during their set. Giving the photographers plenty of shots, the two could be seen facing each other many times, showing the audience plenty of fun faces and generally striking a cool pose when they could. The entire band contributed vocals to the songs, which at times reminded me of a heavier and dirtier Baroness, Black Tusk’s sister group. One interesting fact about the songs from Black Tusk is that none of them contained guitar solos; the band was purely focused on the almighty riff. Being a fan of Georgia’s sludge metal scene, I greatly enjoyed Black Tusk’s set; some riffs were downright unholy both in their heaviness and catchiness. The audience clearly agreed with me, giving every track a solid applause and a well-deserved boo when the curtain dropped on the band as they tuned up for another track.
After a short wait, Exhumed came on to absolutely decimate this poor Hollywood bunch. I had never listened to a second of this band before coming in, but after 45 minutes of their absolutely phenomenal live performance, I’m now a fan for life. Bandleader Matt Harvey’s vocals were the first surprise for me, coming off as more of a strained mid-range shriek instead of the death growl I was expecting. The tracks in fact, all reminded me of the insane out of control violent sound of Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill. The sheer speed of the tempos caught me off-guard and threw my head into an oscillating frenzy. What especially caught my ear were the varying tempos of the tracks. They ranged from traditional thrash metal beats, to blastbeats and just plain speedy tremolo riffing combined with a barrage of snare hits and cymbal crashes. The songs were intoxicating for lack of a more descriptive adjective. The sound was just as surprising as the tracks themselves; every instrument was perfectly clear, and although I couldn’t understand a word of Matt’s lyrics, his voice still cut through the mix easily. Although the entire set was blistering, Decrepit Crescendo in particular induced one of the most violent pits I have seen yet. It wasn’t the largest pit I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the most brutal. Moshers flew about at lightning speeds, with people being knocked down and picked up every few seconds. There wasn’t even so much circular motion to the pit was much as it was a general cesspool of chaos and bodyslamming. Simply put, this audience meant business. After continuing the onslaught for the set, which included a healthy mix of new material and old classics, Harvey and the gang paid tribute to the Sunset Strip with a partial cover of W.A.S.P.’s Wild Child (thanks for knowing the song Galen!). Another fun moment came when Matt had the audience chant “chain saw” before Limb from Limb. It’s always nice to see a group not take themselves too seriously. The band’s stage presence was nothing to scoff at either- everyone on stage looked as if they were having a blast and directly invited the audience to join them. Needless to say, the crowd was more than happy to oblige. After being subjected to the neckbreaking music, the sheer violence of the moshing, and the energy and enthusiasm of the band, I came away from Exhumed’s set thoroughly stunned. It’s been a good while since I’ve come into a concert with no clue about a band and come out with an absolute adoration for them, and I’ll be damned if I don’t love it when it happens.
A couple of notes:
Despite my massive praise for Exhumed’s set, I’m still giving this show an 8.5. The band played for only a bit longer than the openers, who delivered sets ranging from confusing to a good deal of fun. Lastly, I was lucky that I happen to enjoy post-metal, sludge and death metal. These can be pretty disparate genres of music, which could have certainly affected the other concertgoers’ experience this afternoon. Exhumed and Revocation fit very well together and the audience’s reaction to the band reflected that, but the other bands were simply mismatched with them, regardless of the quality of their songs or the proficiency of their live performance.