By Andrew Bansal
March 25th 2017, The Observatory Orange County, Santa Ana CA: The 2017 edition of the annual Decibel Magazine tour embarked on its journey through North America earlier this month, and its four-band lineup of Kreator, Obituary, Midnight and Horrendous arrived in Southern California for a sold-out show at The Observatory Orange County in Santa Ana last Saturday March 25th. The venue made it very clear (with the sign above) that those who slept on getting tickets were not going to be able to score any on the day of show. The pre-show buildup suggested that this was one of the marquee metal events on the Southern California concert calendar this year, an event every metalhead anywhere within Los Angeles, Orange County and surrounding areas wanted to attend. By the end of it all, it lived up to the hype, perhaps much more than any previous edition of the tour.
Doors opened at 6, and by 7 PM, the venue was already considerably packed despite it still being unfashionably early, as opening act Horrendous played to a sizable turnout, which is the least they deserved. This young extreme metal quartet hailing from Philadelphia PA/Washington DC is easily one of the best bands to have participated in any Decibel tour lineup since the inception of the concept, and they showed why with their ultra-impressive five-song, 30-minute set. They put forth a compelling presentation of their musicianship as well as stage presence and crowd interaction, and excelled in all three aspects.
Clearly inspired by the likes of Death, Horrendous play a brand of death metal that carries technical, progressive qualities but at the same time isn’t overly complex, and instead builds an atmosphere and creates its own aura. The music is dark but they keep it light-hearted and humorous with the manner in which they engage with the crowd. They did their first U.S. tour last year opening for Tribulation, and this one is surely another giant step for them. Horrendous made for an entertaining opening act, and attendees that were here early enough to catch their set did not regret doing so.
Horrendous set list:
01. The Stranger
04. Ripped to Shreds
Next up at 7:45, things were about to get jolted into top gear, as Cleveland, Ohio trio Midnight took the stage for 30 minutes of unrelenting, unabated, unhinged blackened rock n’ roll madness. A mere three-piece but packing more power and fury than any of the other bands on display on this evening, Midnight came out in their signature attire, i.e. black leather, bullet belts, black denim and black hoods completely covering their faces, and had only one mission, to destroy. Over their 14-year existence thus far, Midnight have invariably played to great crowds in the LA area and this was no different, as the crowd went absolutely wild the moment they began the set. The occupants of the photographers’ pit can testify to this fact with the number of crowd-surfers they either got knocked in the head by or narrowly avoided it.
Bassist/vocalist Athenar and guitarist Commandor Vanik utilized the entirety of the stage space at their disposal and reached as close to the audience as they could, raising people’s excitement levels even further in the process. To mark the end of a fantastic 9-song set, Athenar smashed his instrument on himself and on the stage, and distributed the pieces to the crowd, while Commandor Vanik dove right into the front few rows. Midnight’s raw rock n’ roll aggression is second to none, and taking the audience back to the roots of first wave black metal, they came across as the most powerful band of this lineup. Kreator and Obituary were the main attractions and understandably so, but those that missed Midnight certainly missed the best performance of the show.
Midnight set list:
01. Vomit Queens
02. Evil Like a Knife
03. Satanic Royalty
05. Endless Slut
06. Lust, Filth and Sleaze
07. You Can’t Stop Steel
08. Death Scream
09. Unholy and Rotten
Next were Tampa, Florida death metal legends Obituary, who in fact drew just about as many people to this show as the headline act. You know what to expect from Obituary, whether it be a studio album or a live show, and they never fail to deliver the goods. This was another solid exhibition of death metal from the quintet as they played a 9-song set comprising tunes off of their newly released self-titled album as well as going all the way back to the iconic 1989 debut ‘Slowly We Rot’. The sheer strength and enormity of the sound is Obituary’s most notable quality as a live band, and The Observatory was the perfect setting for them to demonstrate that. They were in their full element, and the intensity of the mosh pits told the story of a crowd loving every bit of it.
Visually, there is very little that is outstanding or memorable about the band itself and a dimly lit stage barely allows the audience to see the band members, but you don’t go to an Obituary show expecting visual antics, and every fan of theirs knows as much. That being said, vocalist John Tardy fronts the band to perfection and brings an imposing personality while the rest of the band does its bit, drummer Donald Tardy of course shining through with his inimitable work behind the kit. Obituary’s monstrous 45-minute set fully lived up to the band’s reputation in every possible way.
Obituary set list:
01. Internal Bleeding
02. Chopped in Half / Turned Inside Out
03. Visions in My Head
04. Find the Arise
05. ‘Til Death
06. Don’t Care
07. Sentence Day
08. Ten Thousand Ways to Die
09. Slowly We Rot
And lastly, headliners Kreator hit the stage promptly at 9:45. The stage setup they’ve adopted (at least on American tours) in recent years is completely stripped off any real amp heads and cabinets, and they use Kemper Profiling amps instead, which can exactly replicate any kind of sound or tone and act as a direct interface between the instrument and the PA. Kreator’s fellow Germans in Accept have also been using this setup of late. To fans of the old-school amplified live sound this might have instilled a degree of skepticism, but Kreator’s cut-throat precise sonic output on this stage put all doubts to rest, and gives much food for thought when it comes to convenient stage setups for touring bands. Who knew that an old German thrash band from the early ’80s would be among the ones to open people’s eyes and ears to modern technology? And it’s only fitting that Kreator is also constantly attempting to evolve their sound beyond mere thrash, as evident on their latest release, ‘Gods of Violence’.
As expected, as many as five new songs were spread throughout Kreator’s 18-song, 90-minute performance, but this set list jumped around the catalog quite a bit to represent as many of the band’s 14 albums as it possibly could. Opinion among fans has been divided on the new album, but there is never any doubt about the quality of the Kreator live experience, and this set further reinforced the band’s stature in the eyes of fans old and new. Mille Petrozza has unfailingly fronted this band for so many years, and this show proved once again that he always brings his best to Southern California. He held the crowd at his command throughout the set. Kreator’s four-member lineup has stayed the same since 2001, and Petrozza’s band mates certainly work well with him on stage.
Not having guitar amps on stage cleared space for other components, such as lights, which Kreator brought in plenty, the strobes playing a major role as they were injected in perfect sync with the music and showered the crowd for most of the set. There were no slow songs or dull moments at any point in the set and it’s hard to pick highlights, but ‘Violent Revolution’ was one of them, as was ‘Enemy of God’, the new songs were not far behind, and the old-school encore taking it back to the ‘Pleasure to Kill’ album was the best possible way to close out the show.
Even after all these years, Kreator remains a phenomenal live band that hasn’t lost a step or slowed down one bit, and Decibel did well to get them to headline this year’s tour, both for their sake and the sake of metalheads across the continent. Kreator reconquered Southern California and raised the Flag of Hate once again. Overall, this is by far the best lineup of bands the Decibel Tour has offered so far, and if you reside in a town yet to be visited during the remainder of the itinerary, you should not just buy a ticket but certainly must watch all four bands. Which of these bands wins the night is a matter of opinion, but metal is the undisputed winner after all is said and done.
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Kreator set list:
01. Hordes of Chaos (A Necrologue for the Elite)
03. Satan Is Real
04. Gods of Violence
05. People of the Lie
06. Total Death
07. Phantom Antichrist
08. Fallen Brother
09. Enemy of God
10. From Flood into Fire
11. World War Now
12. Hail to the Hordes
13. Extreme Aggression
14. Civilization Collapse
15. Violent Revolution
16. Flag of Hate
17. Under the Guillotine
18. Pleasure to Kill
Remaining Tour Dates:
03/27/2017 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
03/28/2017 – Seattle, WA @ Neptune
03/29/2017 – Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw
03/31/2017 – Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Ballroom
04/01/2017 – Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall
04/04/2017 – Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
04/06/2017 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cabooze
04/07/2017 – Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
04/08/2017 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
04/09/2017 – Cleveland, OH @ House Of Blues
04/11/2017 – Toronto, ON @ Opera House
04/12/2017 – Montreal, QC @ Club Soda
04/13/2017 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
04/14/2017 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
04/15/2017 – Philadelphia, PA @ TLA