Monday, April 25, 2011

Sepultura and Friends, 4-25-2011

Besides my obvious affection for the headliner, this was a tour that I had high expectations for. Any three bands from this line-up would have made a must see package, but all together, they trump any of the summer's touring metal circuses (Summer Slaughter, Mayhemfest, etc). Kudos to Sepultura and their management for their taste in touring partners. While Max Cavalera seems only too happy to throw himself in with every trend from nu-metal to myspacecore, the Andreas-led faction has always shared the stage with more credible underground acts, from the Victory era of hardcore to Sepultura's ostensible successors in the Brazilian death metal scene, Krisiun.

Unfortunately, such a great line-up meant mercilessly short set up and playing times. The first 6 bands were constrained to half-hour sets, and the sound for the openers was largely lacking (with the possible exception of Bonded by blood, whose no-frills back to basics thrash attack needs no extra favours).

No use guessing what Bonded by Blood sound like; they kicked off this night of metal with a largely Exodus-derivative attack, though their singer does get points for a passable Paul Baloff impression, at least hairwise. I was somewhat impressed by their young ages and ability to channel a genre that hit its apex long before they were born. Cynical fuck that I am, I really don't have the patience for another thrash revival band, but for at least half an hour, Bonded by Blood counted me as a fan.

Not much has changed since the last time I saw Neuraxis - their drummer is still a relentless machine, their guitarist is still doing the work of two, their bassist is still getting his hair caught in his tuning pegs,and their singer still brings enough goofball French-Canadian charm to make up for his sleeveless deathcore shirts. Neuraxis may be geeky tech-death on paper, but live they've got the most cross-over appeal of any band on this tour (besides the headliner). Whatever reservations I had from seeing them on the Deicide tour are gone; I honestly enjoy their effortless mix of math and hooks. C'mon guys, don't make me go to Montreal to see you headline.

With the quality of this line-up, it's no small statement to say that Keep of Kalessin were the band I was looking forward to most on this tour. Last year saw new releases from Dimmu Borgir, Enslaved, and Ihsahn, but in my mind Keep of Kalessin trumped them all with Reptilian. It's odd to see a band that relies so heavily on ambient synths and textured guitar harmonies relegate those elements to a DAT tape, but with a single guitarist and no keyboardist, that's what they did. Drawing on songs from the Kolossus and Reptilian albums, they got the first decent crowd reaction of the night. Hopefully they'll be back soon, and have a decent set time to work with.

I wonder, what do the Keep, being the token Norwegian black metal band on the tour, think of Poland's Hate, whose commitment to corpsepaint means wearing it through soundcheck? At least one other person found this amusing: The soundguy immediately brought on the snark, quipping "Hey, do you guys know that band Marduk?" (second funniest comment: "More kickdrum? Yes, that's understandable.")

I've been trying and failing to like Hate since their Morphosis album. Though there is a vague similarity to Behemoth, Hate seem one-dimensional and prissy in comparison. I'm glad I finally got a chance to see them live, but frankly there are a dozen Polish death metal bands I'd rank over them.

Corpsepaint isn't evil enough for Austria's Belphegor; they go hogwild with covering their faces in blood. Their slowchurning black metal recalls the likes of New York's Incantation and Immolation; indeed, the latter gets a shout-out during Belphegor's set. It's a pity that visa problems caused them to miss Deicide tour, where their blasphemy would have been more at home; still, it's hard to imagine them getting a bigger response from the assembled black t-shirt brigade. I'm not particularly a fan, and can't say I was comfortable with watching an Austrian onstage encouraging people to chant "Hail! Hail!" over and over again. Though I suppose the potential offensiveness of that was offset by his bizarre muppetesque between-song voice.

It's been a decade since I last saw Sepultura, but you wouldn't know it except that Derrick Greene's hair is significantly longer and Paulo Junior's hair is, well, gone (as is mine, I should add). That this band has lost significant ground since the 90's was evident from the fact that they were playing to about a fourth of the audience they enjoyed back then. The idea that their best days are behind them was evident as "Arise", "Refuse/Resist", and "Dead Embryonic Cells" were fed to the crowd right off the bat, and their newer songs (couldn't tell you which ones) were fired off quickly and without introduction. I've always assumed that most Sepultura fans have little respect for anything post-Roots, but in truth I may have been one of few uninterested in their later (post-Max) material; if anything, the crowd seemed more enervated by the newer catchy hardcore songs than the old school death/thrash that I was looking forward to.

Still, the highlight of the set for me was a Schizophrenia pseudo-medley (they cruelly teased half the album before playing "Escape to the Void"). And though I enjoyed the inclusion of three songs from Arise, I found the lack of songs from Beneath the Remains a letdown (but only because, you know, that album sort of changed my life).

The band are using this tour to premier songs from their upcoming Kairos album; like everything since Derrick Greene joined the band, the new songs run along same Chaos AD/Roots meridian. Solid, but not particularly exciting.

Ironically, this same venue will be hosting the Cavalera Conspiracy in a little over 2 weeks, and so it's arguable that Max and Iggor's reunion isn't any more enticing to fans than any version of Sepultura without them. I've always been of the mind that once all the relevant parties have had their pride hurt enough, the classic Sepultura line-up will come together again. With talks of a reunion becoming more serious, it seems that the Derrick Greene era may be ending soon.

Still, as much as Derrick has presided over the decline of one of the metal's greatest bands, it's hard to dislike the man himself. He's a hell of a frontman, and as he tries to make classic material like "Meaningless Movements" and "Troops of Doom" his own, it becomes clear that in his own time with the band, he was given much less to work with. Here's hoping that if Derrick's time with the band is indeed coming to a close, Kairos will be the swansong that he deserves.