Words by Brian O’Neill | Photos by Tashina Byrd
Any good metal package has a name. For some reason, nobody bothered to come up with one for this tour which was a tragic missed opportunity considering it was probably the best theater-level metal tour of the winter pairing two classic bands with a couple of up-and-comers.
Devil Master didn’t need to play in front of cobwebs strewn across the stage to accentuate the horror thrash the band specializes in, but it was a nice touch anyway as the calendar slipped closer to Halloween. It was a little difficult to make out the corpse-painted faces behind what seemed like a demonic police barricade, but that didn’t diminish the band’s hellish sound. The guitars chime along with eerie synths, creating a sound, not unlike a thrash metal Misfits.
It took a few minutes of “Two Minutes to Midnight” playing over the PA to get the joke. Two minutes to be precise.
The Cleveland trio thrashes old school and righteously; what they lack in finesse they more than make up for with anthemic power and far more volume than a three-piece should be capable of making. They wear hoods to conceal their faces but also spend considerable time during the set up against the stage, feet on monitors and even the barricade, mugging for the crowd. It may seem like a paradox, the simultaneous need for attention while shying away from it, but Midnight gets away with it by churning out primitive thrash, the likes of which hasn’t been heard since Slayer left Metal Blade.
In the course of two albums, Abbath has gone from being an Immortal refugee to making it easy to forget his role in pioneering black metal. This is not just due to the quality of the latest Outstrider album and the preceding eponymous release, but his live shows. This one was no exception.
It is obvious that Abbath, the band, perfect the raw black metal blueprint. Ole André Farstad and the band’s namesake remember when the only atmosphere black metal needed was conjured up in dirty riffs, while Ukri Suvilehto adds a classic metal flair behind his drum kit. Rusty Cornell filled in for Mia Wallace gamely.
It’s also obvious that Abbath, the man, has showmanship most of his peers might write off as corny but he makes it work. He makes flamboyant gestures to rile up the crowd and he has a fan positioned to blow his black hair in just the right way as he grimly grimaced and cracked hilarious grins. Clad head-to-toe in black leather battle gear, tongue menacingly sticking out from his painted face, it’s evident which member of Kiss he dressed up as on Halloween.
Abbath wasn’t as cuddly as Belzebubs but still felt like an episode of Dethklok come to life, though nobody died at the end. As far as you know.
Of course, if anyone did die, who better to end things than Obituary? There was death metal before they crawled out of Florida, and there has been a ton more since, but no band has come close to conjuring the sound that Obituary creates.
As “Snortin’ Whiskey” by Pat Travers played over the PA, the Philadelphia stage darkened and fog filled the venue. Adding in the humidity of a packed room gave the proceedings a swampy feel that likely made Obituary feel at home.
The reason Obituary is so unique was evident from the live show. The guitar tone Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews get when they strangle their guitars is grimy, guttural, and thick as the smoke-filled air. Donald Tardy and the legendary Terry Butler keep the rhythms mid-paced which accentuates the heaviness; speed can blur and doom can be lethargic but Obituary almost always finds the sweet spot in between those extremes and fashioned a whole new level of extremity in the process.
The main thing that sets Obituary apart is one John Tardy. With curly hair draped down to the belt of his camo shorts, he unleashes a voice unlike any other, one seemingly unmolested by over three decades of abusing it. It stands out during the twisting “Turned Inside Out,” the staccato punch of “Find the Arise,” and of course the entirety of Slowly We Rot.
This tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking debut. Although they didn’t perform it in it’s entirety like they did Cause of Death when in town for last year’s “Decibel Metal & Beer Fest,” they did end the set with five tracks from it including the claustrophobic “Internal Bleeding,” “Godly Beings,” and “Suffocation” which lives up to the title.
The band encored with their newest song, the explosive and sick Adult Swim single, “A Dying World” before closing with one of their oldest. “Slowly We Rot” seemed even more sinister live; the slow parts grinded even more fiercely, the chugging thrash was perfect for banging heads. It doesn’t matter if John Tardy actually is singing “Volleyball, join me,” it is still death metal perfected. Even thirty years later, you just can’t top it.