Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Singapore Deathfest: 9.01.2012

This is part two of a three day live show binge, between Friday, August 31st, and Sunday, September 2nd. Three shows in two countries in three days... how much metal is too much metal? Can this old hesher still bang his head without having a senior moment? We're about to find out...

I got back home from the Disgusted show late, and decided that sleep was for the weak. And pretty pointless, because after showering, eating dinner, and packing my backpack, I'd only be able to shut my eyes for an hour before I needed to get up and catch my bus. And so I made my way to Singapore Deathfest without any real rest, hoping that the bands would be enough to stave off exhaustion.

The event was held at the Singaporean Chinese Chambers of Commerce, close to Fort Canning Park (where both the Opeth and Judas Priest shows were held earlier in the year). The auditorium's huge stage dwarfed everything in it: the amps, the bands, and the audience. It may be the perfect venue for Immortal if the Blashyrkh ever goes to Singapore, but most of the bands that night looked like they were struggling with its enormity. The marble floors, combined with the size, were also not ideal, causing everything ten feet past the stage to echo into an indiscernible cacophony of blastbeats and guitar noise.

Those issues aside, the hall is in the perfect location for a music festival. It's walking distance from Clarke Quay, where there are least a dozen backpacker inns, and just around the corner from the Peninsula Plaza mall, home of Hell's Labyrinth, one of the best extreme metal music stores in the whole region. Singapore's reliable mass transit system means easy travelling to and from the venue, and the preponderance of shopping centres in the area means that there's always some way to kill time between sets.

Killing time was exactly what I needed after I arrived, as the fest was running a few hours late - ironic, since Singaporeans have such a reputation for organization. It would appear Rumah Api Time had followed me south of the causeway; if I'd known that, I would have asked for a few extra body scans at customs. We can never be too safe.

I decided to head to a nearby Indian restaurant and take my time with the Kashmiri pulau; as a result I missed Penang's Butcher Bastard completely, and arrived to see the similarly named Whore House Butchery were already on stage. Their jokey gore/grind wasn't an ideal way to start my Deathfest afternoon, and their masks left me believing that at heart they really just wanted to be Slipknot or Mushroomhead. After a few songs, without much holding my interest on stage, I decided to sit the rest of their set out.

While waiting for the next band, I ran into Mikey Thunder, the singer/bassist of the excellent Singaporean thrash band Bloodstone. I hadn't seen him since Bloodstone played Rumah Api back in April, and he filled me in on the Singaporean scene.

Flesh Disgorged play death/grind with plenty of catchy parts and fake blood, and at least one of those things got the audience's attention. Their drummer (who used to be in Bloodstone, go figure) is clearly the MVP, navigating the band's mix of blast and groove with ease. I tried to predict the mosh parts based on when the singer jumped in the air; I don't know if I was alone in doing that, but I was at least 60% successful. Other than that, FD's style isn't really my thing, but they do it as well as anyone else.

From their set the night before, I knew Disgusted would deliver the goods. But the assembly hall was noticeably sparse while they played. What's up, Singapore? Asian brothers can't get no love? Undaunted, the band tore it up, and the crowd swelled as the set went on, eventually earning them a decent reaction. Not bad, but for the distance they traveled to be there, Disgusted deserved better.

Truth Be Known describe themselves as "rojak," a Malay word meaning "mixed" - which could refer either to the mixed ethnicities of its lineup, or the way their songs mix death metal, hardcore, and stadium rock. They're the first (and only) band that night to really set the crowd off, with girls windmilling their hair and boys taking off their shirts (first time I've seen that particular combination of those things). Things get slightly dodgy mid-set with a Beastie Boys cover that's more well-intentioned than it is sound; but by that point, it didn't really matter. From their between song fistbump trains, to their constant wandering off-stage and into the crowd, to their finishing move of trading places with the audience (who headbanged in unison on stage while the band played in front of it), Truth Be Known stole everyone's hearts, and goddamn if they didn't steal the whole show.

[Truth Be Known postscript: sometime after their set, I approached the band to buy a shirt, deciding that there'd be no way I'd get on a bus back to Malaysia without one... only to be told by their singer Subash that they had tossed all the shirts they brought with them into the crowd. I then asked if he had any CDs for sale, which prompted him to yell gleefully, "It's online! Just download it!" People, I implore you: We need to band together and stop Truth Be Known before they crack the planet in half with the sheer weight of their awesomeness.]

After TBK's set, I walked to the ritzy Raffles City Shopping Centre to try and find a reasonably priced beverage, and returned to find Rust Phantom struggling with the audience's attention. I don't know if it was because their style was too techy, or if it was just the misfortune of having to follow Truth Be Known. Maybe everyone was just burned out. Whatever the issue, it wasn't Rust Phantom's night. Which is a pity, because their music is commendable, especially considering their pared down lineup of guitar/drums/vocals. It just didn't move many people that night (a notable exception being one little girl who ran around the auditorium like a one-person circle pit - that's gotta be worth something).

How does a band get booked at SG Deathfest?  Well if you're Asilent, I'm sure it helps that your bassist is also the show's organizer. And considering Asilent's very capable take on thrashy death metal, I'm sure no one minded. Other questions still linger, however:
1) Who hates silence more, Asilent or Malaysia's Break the Silence? (I guess since Break the Silence have broken up, Asilent wins by default)
2) How did their Swedish singer end up speaking English like a Singaporean?
3) Why was the bassist so high in the mix? Oh right... [ha ha, I kid, I kid...]
4) What is it about guitarists wearing shades on stage these days? Is this another metal fad that slipped by me, like djent or hummus?

Headlining SG Deathfest must have seemed like a cakewalk for Tools of the Trade, since it wasn't that long ago that they were sharing a bill with the likes of Exhumed, Nasum, and Suffocation. For three guys who are constantly smiling and friendly offstage, their transformation into a raging grind monster is somewhat startling (are they secretly always angry?). It's clear to me that their recent European tour pushed them to a new level, as this was the best Tools of the Trade I'd seen (and I've seen them a whole bunch in the last six months). It's a shame that more people weren't there: For a headlining band at an event that has the word "fest" in the title, the turnout sure wasn't what I'd expected.

While Tools of the Trade conducted a post-show interview, I spoke with Disgusted's bassist Hoàng and singer Tom. Tom, with his hand heavily bandaged, explained the roughhousing he does with the audience is to get them engaged and amped up. Considering the tepid reaction that day compared with the boisterous Rumah Api crowd the night before, I had to concede he had a point. Hoàng spoke at length about how in Vietnam, the audience supports every band, regardless of who they came to see; it left me wondering if the amount of big acts that pass through Singapore have the metaheads there spoiled for choice. There were some great bands at SG Deathfest, and kudos to everyone involved for making it happen. But for a scene to succeed, the fans have to do their part too. Hopefully next year, they will.

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Next: Hey kids, tell your mom to sew some patches to your jacket, because we're going to Kuala Lumpur Thrashed 2012!