Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Atheist @ Santos Party House 3-09-11

What's in a name? If you're opener Last Chance to Reason, it connotes generic metalcore, which means I'm probably going to skip your set. If you're Revocation, then your name brings pleasant memories of similarly named New York death metal bands (Immolation, Incantation, Suffocation), even if your music is anything but. Revocation are in fact part of a generation of hardcore kids who switched to metal and formed thrash bands. For them, the live setting is a chance to revel in every arena rock cliche from indulgent solos to tossing out guitar picks. There's a slight divide between their older, not entirely convincing thrash material and their newer, very exciting tech/death approach; indeed, the biggest reaction they get all night is a mid-set cover of Death's "Pull the Plug." Despite their background, the only lingering hardcore influence is from the Converge-styled shout alongs...they are from Boston, after all.

...speaking of Converge, the last time I saw A Life Once Lost, it was 2002 and they were the spitting image of the Boston quartet, down to the Bannon-esque stage antics of frontman Robert Meadows. Since then, though, they've reinvented themselves as a mathy groove metal band, a cross between Meshuggah and Lamb of God. Though I've never been a fan of anything since The Fourth Plague EP, in the live setting I find it hard to hate them... especially after Meadows cuts his forehead open on the mic stand. After the set, when asked by a fan for a pick, their guitarist says simply, "Sorry...we don't roll like that." [I considered asking the band for a shirt after their custom lighting rig fell on me, though honestly I was happy to settle for not getting crushed to death.]

Midway through ALOL (unfortunate acronym), someone taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I'm going to shoot Athiest's set. I nod cautiously, not wanting to have my camera confiscated in case he's their concert promoter or manager. Instead he asks me if I can e-mail the pictures to him, and after I agree he hands me a torn up sheet of paper, saying "Here's my e-mail address, and here's a guitar pick so you know who I am...I'm Chris from Atheist." I start gushing how I've waited 10 years to see his band (I was in South East Asia when they reformed and toured circa 2006). Fanboy that I am, after that little encounter, my anticipation to see them doubled.

With his bandana, blonde hair, and strange yogic dancing, the deeply tanned Kelly Schafer looks like a visitor from a different rock age. Which he is in a way; Atheist broke up in the early 90's, and since then metal has been affixed with the modifiers "thrash," "death," "groove," "nu-," "-core," and back again. None of that should matter, though, as this is a band that never fit perfectly into any scene. Even as antecedents of tech-death, their sound bears little resemblance to the spastic fretboard gymnastics of Psycroptic or the insomnia-curing "djent" of Animals as Leaders.

The setlist drew heavily from the newest album Jupiter, but to the band's credit, none of the songs aired seemed out of place with the rest of their set, despite the 17 year gap between their last two releases. It didn't even seem incongruous when they had a new song follow "On The Slay" from their 1990 debut. If I was a little disappointed that very little of their thrashy early work was aired, I was at least grateful that I didn't have to stand through the goofy latin-influenced numbers that characterized the Elements album (I suspect that those went by the wayside when bassist Tony Choi left).

The track record for death metal bands reforming and putting out great albums has been short; I think everyone in Santos that night would agree when I say that I'm glad that Atheist took the chance. I only regret I haven't gotten to see them again. Well, hopefully there's the tour for the next album...