By Lisa Burke
April 26th 2017, The Echo, Los Angeles CA: Death metal is alive and well in 2017, if you know where to look. On Wednesday April 26th, the best place to look was at The Echo. This venue is actually pretty divey despite the $10 drink prices, with an old-school appeal that lends itself well to an old-school death metal show. The headliner on this evening was Asphyx who came all the way from the Netherlands to completely melt all of our faces with some brilliantly written speedy jams. Due to the size of the venue, a sold-out death metal show means the entire floor becomes a mosh pit, so everyone needed to stay alert to survive while pushing through wall to wall people to get to the urination chambers. This place does however have a nice escape patio smokers’ lair that even has a small unused stage. Between sets you can go out there to breathe the fresh smoke-filled air and take in the reggae tunes happening, probably at the Echoplex which is a much larger set up, for an odd change of pace. The American support acts this night were Skeletal Remains, Gravehill and Ruin.
The first band I was able to catch was Gravehill, local LA old-school blackened death metal packed with a punch of thrash, and they always bring their professional faces backed with technical mastery to the stage. Their mix is powerful and creative while the guitarist who might have the best hair whipping skills on the planet definitely even gave Corpse Grinder a run for his money. Having such talented musicians from the badass vocals through the hard-hitting drums really pays off for them and they have very solid song structures backing them as well. Despite some sound issues they powered through like champions and set the show flying into a proper cycle. It seems I really haven’t seen much death metal lately and clearly I missed the environment, so this show actually felt like home to me. Gravehill always stands out in any show no matter how good the rest of the acts are and they are always very memorable in a positive way. This is the best to hope for with any band so they should take pride in that as it’s not an easy spotlight to achieve.
Next up was Skeletal Remains, also a local death act with that clean and pure straight up old-school death metal style. They have a good following here in Los Angeles and a solid skill set to boot, but at this show in this order of a line up I was not blown away and lost my attention span a bit towards the end. They still must be commended for sticking to their guns, staying true to the masters craft, and pulling it off well. The only missing piece is that in today’s world they blend instead of standing out, however as I mentioned they still know who they are and what their place is while delivering the goods exactly as they promised, so I really have nothing to complain about here. A solid show with solid musicians happened and that’s where their story ends and Asphyx’s story begins.
I had never seen Asphyx live as they don’t get over here very often from Dutch country. I knew it would be enjoyable, but I did not realize just how amazing the whole hour-and-a-half plus of brutally entertaining death metal was actually going to be. I left the show with the intent to book a flight to Europe and never return again because I am pretty certain I have never seen a European death metal or any other metal band that I did not love. The culture and old world influences they possess from their heritage provide them with the capabilities that any American born and raised metal head can only dream of. I am not here to put down any American metal in any way as I’m sure I have a small case of the grass is always greener envy here, but definitely there is a noticeable difference. The other feature at play here is that they originated at the height of death metal in 1987 and were surrounded by the best influences that gave them very strong building blocks to stand on, so despite the ’90s being a rough time for them and the members fluctuating through the changing times, this lineup was strong and solid as ever.
The lead vocalist Martin Van Drunen was such a delight to watch from his fantastic vocals to his witty and charming stage banter. He made a great joke about how these headliners only play for sixty minutes so instead he would play for sixty-one and then went on for over an hour-and-a-half of mind slaughtering death tunes. There are only a few bands who put on shows these days that are worthy of me creeping to the edge of the mosh pit for some in-your-face raging and this happened to be one of them. When this band is on stage, their guitars become their battle axes literally and they have no problem chopping off the heads of anyone that gets in their way, all the while delivering those catchy, fun, and fast death riffs. Their stage antics are much like champion soldiers who are actively winning a war where you know the victory party will be the highlight of your life. With all good headliners there comes a point where more must happen and worshipping chants ensue. What is slightly abnormal yet perhaps only to me is the chants from the audience that basically just sound like “ass fix” to an outsider, yet as I hinted at, this is just accepted normalcy for fans of this band.
I for one, and I’m sure I am not alone in my thoughts, will never miss this band live in the future if I can help it, and they are one of the few bands that was so intense in such an awesome way that I actually had to walk outside to take a break because it was sensory overload. It’s basically the equivalent of really good sex for your ears in simple terms. People think listening to loud music is damaging to your ears and while that may have some semblance of truth to it, I am living proof that my ears are happier and healthier from all the good metal I feed them. It was great to be up close and personal with them in this small venue, so I suppose the show had added character that it would not have gotten in a bigger space. If you can’t see them live you are unfortunately missing out on the best of life, so do yourself a favor and at least bask in their records since you have this privilege at your fingertips. Asphyx effortlessly and intelligently put this show in the best of the year category for me, with the help of the American bands in support. Long story short, if you can pull of a brutally creative show and make me laugh during the down time then you absolutely win my heart.
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