The lineup for this year’s Decibel Magazine Tour was something like fantasy football for metalheads: Carcass, Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts, and Noisem, passing through Seattle at my favorite venue, The Showbox at the Market, on a Saturday night. I expected a concert that people would talk about for years afterwards.
One of my favorite things about this venue is that they let patrons of the adjacent bar into the show before they open the doors to the street. After enjoying a beer next door, I was lucky enough to grab a seat parallel to the sound booth with an unobstructed view of the stage. I love not having to choose between hearing the band and seeing the band.
Portland’s Bastard Feast (formerly Elitist) incorporated the standard mix of influences – death metal, black metal, and hardcore. This can often result in a mishmash, but in this case the ingredients blended into a dynamic yet cohesive whole. The overall sound was fat and heavy, and their frontman moved proficiently among a variety of extreme vocal styles, although he was a bit theatrical for my taste, as if Henry Rollins and Robert Smith had an angry, tattooed baby.
The music was filthy though, and I think I like it even better than the next band on the lineup, Noisem.
According to the archives, these guys have been around since 2008 (when they were in kindergarten) as Necropsy, changing their name for their 2013 debut album. Noisem are coming from a thrashier, more straightforward place than Bastard Feast. One of the songs early in the set reminded me of the Anaal Nathrakh chorus “Todos somos hermanos.” So did three or four other songs; they could use more variability in their songs.
In their defense, the back half of the set was more interesting, and the whole thing was heavier and dirtier than typical rethrash. Their frontman subscribes to the caged animal school of showmanship, pacing agitatedly across the stage, but he kept disappearing. Was he jumping into the pit or just writhing on the stage floor? Noisem was a hell of a lot of headbanging fun, and I can’t wait to see what they do as when their songwriting catches up to their playing.
Then Gorguts came out looking like video store clerks, wearing glasses and highwater guitar straps. And they made everyone else I’ve ever seen look like a bunch of amateurs. In seconds the room was wrapped in a fuzzy miasma of sickness and terror. Every note was clearly distinguishable but the effect was viscous. I felt like I was drowning in the music, anchored to its overarching plodding momentum even as John Longstreth kept a pace and precision that would challenge Bill Rieflin.
Luc Lemay didn’t say a word until the last song, and when he spoke he sounded as ordinary as he looked. Gorguts don’t need showmanship. The music was so all-encompassing, so jarring and paralyzing that “performance” would be a distraction. It may be unusual to compare metal to children’s books (I seem to do it all the time) but I felt like a Hattifattener, one of those strange characters from Moominland who commune in immovable silence with the lightning. When the music stopped everyone turned to look at their neighbor in confusion, as if we had all been released from a spell.
You know how sometimes when something bad happens, people come together and with their own sense of mortality hanging over the festivities, party harder than ever? That’s the Black Dahlia Murder after Gorguts.
Confession: I wasn’t really familiar with TBDM before the show.
I was completely surprised to discover that while their sound falls somewhere between technical and melodic death metal, their spirit is that of Red Fang. Which I would have realized if I had seen this video beforehand:
With the possible exception of Devin Townsend, I have never heard music this heavy played by anyone who takes themselves less seriously. Even Townsend has a little bit of that Amanda Palmer “I’m so cool I can afford to be this dorky” attitude, but TBDM were just a big party with friends. Trevor Strnad actually made little Kai-lan hearts with his hands and pointed to individual members of the crowd.
They’ve got their priorities sorted though, and take their music a lot more seriously than they take themselves. The sound was sharp, the songs unpredictable. While abrupt, the surprises weren’t arbitrary. It was such a joy to hear metal be playful without being silly. After a lineup this solid, it would take something like Carcass to even make it worth adding another band to the night.
As TBDM was playing, the room had begun to fill with smoke. I began to notice a strange smell; it was almost appealing, but also a little revolting. There was something familiar about it, but the memory was very old. Then I realized what it was. The kitchen was grilling hamburgers. ‘How ironic,’ I thought, as the members of Carcass took to the stage.
There was never any doubt that this would be a killer performance, although Jeff Walker assured us all that it was not always so. “It’s been a long time since we played Seattle. Five, six years. El Corazon. What a shitty show that was. Sorry.”
Walker talks quite a lot on stage; he likes a bit of a chat after every song, really, and I was stupidly surprised by his accent. I’ve been to northern England, and I know they speak a dialect that only slightly resembles English. Walker’s accent isn’t extreme, but I still missed about a third of what he had to say (he promised subtitles on the next tour), and there was always a delay before I figured out the rest. I liked what I heard, though. Given his interview style, I was half expecting a taunting, confrontational style like Jim Morrison or Father John Misty, but Walker was more like a teasing uncle.
“Humans and animals are not that different really. We all are born with a brain, a heart, and an ass…Most people don’t really use their brain or their heart. They only use their ass.”
The set emphasized Heartwork and Surgical Steel, but didn’t neglect the earliest albums. The performance was completely old school, with a light/smoke/music build to welcome the band onstage and lots of dual and alternating solos (that the sound guy unfortunately couldn’t keep up with). Listening to the albums, I tend to focus on the chugging riffs, but live the noodly guitar leads were really prominent, and highly welcome.
I started to panic because I had forgotten to put my earplugs in, and it was really loud. I touched my ears and found that I was wearing earplugs. Maybe the volume muddied the sound, or maybe the sound guy was making mistakes beyond missing the trade-offs between Bill Steer and Ben Ash. But my only complaint about the show was that after Gorguts’ and TBDM’s crystalline sound, Carcass’ sound lacked separation.
It was after midnight and we were distracted by a text from the babysitter, who wondered if we planned on coming home any time soon. Suddenly the music stopped. Walker announced that someone was injured up front. Someone in the crowd yelled ‘Fuck yeah!’
“No, not fuck yeah. A person is hurt. Show some respect,” Walker replied.
I have never seen a show stop for an injury, and I’ve seen plenty of bloody people helped out of a pit. Was this person unconscious, or bleeding from his ears? Is everyone a lot more careful now because of what happened to Lamb of God in Prague? Or were Carcass too compassionate to put on a show in the immediate face of suffering? I don’t know, but I left with as much respect for the men as for their music.
Unfortunately, I did leave. Faced with extreme exhaustion and an antsy babysitter, and with no idea if or when the show would resume, we had to call it a night. On Facebook I saw that the band waited for the EMTs, and once the person was taken care of, finished the show.
Almost everything about the night turned out differently from what I expected, but I will be talking about it for years to come.
Decibel Magazine, you did good.