On Saturday October 13th, 2012 I dutifully lined up outside Sacramento’s shiniest concert venue Ace Of Spades in order to attend a show consisting of veteran bands; groups that had long established themselves in the pantheon of metal, that had somehow managed to still be kicking around long after so many peers and contemporaries had hung up their hats and called it a day. These are bands that have long since earned their place in metal’s pantheon (outside of the night’s openers, who are just beginning the journey to do so) and are now basking in the worship of metal’s fandom.
The night would basically play out with one local opener (in this case Sacramento’s own crushing blackened-death metal monsters Soma Ras) and then every other band pretty much having the stage to themselves for an hour. Standing outside for a little bit before the show started saw it get real cloudy, cold, and then for some reason, every crow that considered downtown Sacramento its residence decided to fly over the venue at once. Coincidental as all get out, but still a good omen for what would play out to be a five hour set and history lesson of vicious and extreme death metal.
Soma Ras would take the stage as a four piece that night, since regular lead vocalist Monte was unable to make the show. Normally the band plays with Monte up front and the dude has some low, low guttural growls that the band then augments with their bassist doing some high black metal shrieks, and one of their guitarists following up with some low death growls of his own. Basically, the band are a three-pronged vocal attack on top of an already hammering blast of death metal that just ceaselessly pounds away at the listener. Since they were down one vocalist, the group’s bassist stepped up to take on the main vocal work and he actually did damn well. It was cool to hear the high shrieks being buttressed by the death growls of one of their guitarists. With him up front it actually made it so that Soma Ras had more in common with tour co-headliners Dark Funeral than with the death metal side.
It’s probably a rare occurrence that this will happen but it was cool to see. The band have a ton of material to work with now and man, a live set is quickly becoming a test of endurance because it just seems to never end. When I describe these guys as ceaseless and relentless, I am not joking. Maybe one of these songs has a stop for melody and the rest of the time it is just a cacophony of instruments getting destroyed and a volley of blasts courtesy of their drummer (who was mixed SUPER LOUD that night).
Since this group is formed of a bunch of musicians from already well established Sacramento bands, you get the idea that they know what they are doing and that sort of professionalism has quickly moved them to the forefront of this scene. They definitely left the crowd a sweaty mess for the rest of the tour to play with.
Even though it doesn’t need to be stated, it’s always surprising just how much of metal these days tends to tie back into Grave. They’ve never been a tremendously popular band, but they’ve always had a vast and dedicated following of their brand of stripped down, bare bones thrash-death metal. These guys have such a well developed sense of groove that almost every song, even if you aren’t familiar with it, is liable to have your head bobbing.
It’s hard to describe what it is about Grave that makes them interesting, but it’s undeniable that what they write sounds like them, and even covering other bands, they still sound like Grave. I was excited to see them live too, so even with a somewhat truncated set list, it still seemed like Grave had plenty of time to take the stage, which was complete with a Swedish flag attached to one of the amps so you won’t forget where they’re from.
The new material from this year’s Endless Procession Of Souls sounds fucking great live, especially “Amongst The Marble And The Dead“. Front man Ola Lindgren sounds gritty as hell too, and he tends to let his voice obtain a bit of a snarl live, which made everything feel even heavier than it did on the record. The rest of the lineup, whilst being a little bit more recent, still make it clear that they are part of this band, especially the ones with five-plus years under their belts. It’s hard to say that these guys were just openers, since every band that night had eight or more songs to work with, so it actually felt more like you were getting four separate concerts in one night. The Grave experience was well worth it.
So who knew that a band like Dark Funeral would put on a show that would quickly rank among my favorite live shows? Not only that but they did so in such a way that it was almost like they stole the whole show from everyone else. The group’s sense of theatricality is second to none, and they play up their black metal aesthetic for everything that it’s worth. New vocalist Nachtgarm is a sight to behold; he really plays his part fantastically. He’s got a monstrous howl of a shriek, and honestly I’m surprised the guy can do it night after night because it sounds like the type that would tear somebody’s vocal chords if they didn’t know what they were doing. He actually interacted with the crowd quite a bit for their nine song set, moving amongst a pretty crowded stage (which honestly had a lot of space but you get four dudes up their in battle armor and you can see where you start losing elbow room – shoulder pads and nail gauntlets everywhere) like the demon he makes himself out to be.
Live, you really get a hint of the subtleties that Dark Funeral have buried in that massive wall of blast beats and shrieks that they call music. While some people may go for the oppressive atmosphere of it, I thought it was great that I could actually hear every instrument and the chaos that was ensuing from it all. Bonus points go to current bassist Zornheym for being the brave son of a bitch that he is – leaving the stage during set closer “My Funeral” and walking into the crowd. He was pretty much right in front of me by the bar for a bit before walking out on to the main floor and finishing the song off in the pit. Dude probably has the strength of a god to be able to continue to play the song with as many people that were grabbing and pulling at him. However, it was a highlight of a pretty goddamned amazing set and a great way to close out Dark Funeral’s night in Sacramento.
Man, Morbid Angel can play a long set when they want to. Holy shit. I should have expected it, but after such a high energy set from all the bands prior I was ready to just hang up my jacket and call it a night. The photo that you see above is the current live line up of the band, with journeyman drummer Tim Yeung on the skins for a little while now while regular drummer Pete Sandoval deals with back surgery. At least, that’s what the story was last year. Recovering from surgery takes forever, or so I’m inclined to believe.
One of the things that I noted immediately seems to be a difference in approach to live shows between the different members of the band. Three of the guys were wearing black wifebeaters and jeans, and when David Vincent took the stage he had something on that was half pirate regalia/half spandex with flames and battle gauntlets. He is probably the consummate front man when it comes to this band because he approaches it with an almost 80′s hair metal-esque attitude on how to rock out on stage. It verged on caricature from time to time, but I think he’s playing up the Morbid Angel part to be larger than life and he does that masterfully. He had all sorts of weird spins and stances while playing and even though his vocals aren’t as low and guttural as his contemporaries, his mid range scream was good enough to carry most of the songs.
They play a lot of material in one set, with two songs (“Nevermore” and “Existo Vulgore“, i.e. the two passable tracks) from Illud Divinum Insanus finding their way into the set. Those are surprisingly heavy live, and fit in well with the rest of the stuff they break out. The set is pretty heavy on Morbid Angel’s first three (so Altars Of Madness, Blessed Are The Sick and Covenant) but even stuff from Formulas Fatal To The Flesh found its way into the show. It’s actually surprising how quickly paced and thrashy a lot of Morbid Angel’s stuff is live. It isn’t until you get to the later material that they really seem to take on the mantle of a death metal band.
The constant refrain of “extreme music for extreme people rang” out throughout most of their set too, which despite being a little cheesy, works well with their motif. In a way it was one part history lesson, because you could see just how much Morbid Angel, as a band, have inspired so many other bands out there and likewise, it also seemed like an opportunity to hear something that few people have gotten to hear live. The band at this point are professional enough to play their stuff flawlessly, so if you haven’t seen these guys and you get the opportunity, do so. The songs from the new album, even though they may not have been up everyone’s alley, are decent enough live not to offend, but it is in the rest of the band’s catalogue that the group finds life, and you can really see what drew people to Morbid Angel in the first place.