While heavy music seems to be producing new bands as fast as it can create new sub-genres, it’s truly amazing how many acts that started in the 80s and early 90s are still taking the stage and putting out music. It’s always a dice roll when you venture out to see these legacy bands; while some groups continue to destroy their live sets, there are others who are clearly phoning it in. My wife and I caught Iron Maiden a few years ago and they were amazing. On the flip side, I was in attendance for a Mötley Crüe “performance” in 2014. I haven’t seen a more depressing spectacle since the Dustin Diamond sex tape, and at least in that case I could masturbate in the comfort and privacy of my own home. Speaking of horrific mental images, Vince Neil looks like an overstuffed sausage suffering from late-stage skin cancer. I digress… I was pretty fucking amped when Extensive Enterprise announced this line up, however Napalm Death, Exhumed, and Voivod have a combined 90+ years of existence – would these bands be able to bring the fury, or would they simply ride the comfortable nostalgia wave?
I entered Club Soda just as opening act Black Crown Initiate were starting their set. As BCI appeared to be the go-to support act for almost every major North American metal tour in 2014, I was intrigued to hear what all the fuss was about. When the music started, BCI’s quick rise to fame made sense; these dudes chug out some pretty fucking beefy technical death metal! BCI’s songs have a nice mix of fist pumping aggression and ethereal progginess. Tunes such as “The Malignant” blend breakneck blasting with contemplative prog/jazz elements, however some breakdowns do take on a familiar djent feel. The band, comprised of guitarists Andy Thomas, Rik Stelzpflug, drummer Jesse Beahler, and bassist Nick Shaw all demonstrate incredible technical proficiency. Vocalist James Dorton’s death growl is sufficiently jimmy-rustling, however I wasn’t a huge fan of Andy Thomas’ clean backing vocals, as he seemed to have trouble with tone and hitting certain notes in a live setting. Overall, a good set from a young band that I am sure will only improve with time.
Next up were crossover thrash lunatics Iron Reagan. I was stoked to finally see these guys live after picking up and subsequently losing my shit to their 2013 debut full length Worse Than Dead. Also, Iron Reagan’s line up is pretty stacked, featuring members of Municipal Waste, Darkest Hour, and Cannabis Corpse. Fans of Iron Reagan and Municipal Waste will attest that Tony Foresta, lead singer of both groups, is hands down one of the best front men in metal; endless energy, lightning fast lyric delivery, and a youthful exuberance that encourages gleeful headbanging and the over-consumption of alcohol. The band kicked things off with “I Won’t Go”, “Eyeball Gore”, and “In Greed We Trust”, three scalding tracks from their newest full length The Tyranny of Will. The twin shredding from Phil “Landphil” Hall and Mark Bronzino was razor sharp and chock full of gnarly riffs and face-annihilating solos. The rhythm section, comprised of bassist Rob Skotis and drummer Ryan Parrish, was in total lockstep. Iron Reagan briefly slowed things down just a tad with “Cycle of Violence”, a mid-tempo rager with one of my favorite riffs from the first album. The band ripped through a few more new tunes before Napalm Death lead singer Barney Greenway popped onstage to join the band in a cover of the classic SS Decontrol song “Glue” (holy shit, did that just happen?). This was a thoroughly enjoyable set that made me want to punch things and drink faster.
Proceeding Iron Reagan were old school death metallers Exhumed. Exhumed exist at the opposite end of the metal spectrum to progressive, technical acts such as Black Crown Initiate, opting for a far more raw, visceral assault in the vein of early Entombed or Carcass. The songs are purposely simple, with the focus being on pure aggression and a far more organic sound than some of their more technical peers. The band ripped through a number of classic tracks from their 1998 debut album Gore Metal such as “Necromaniac”, “Limb From Limb” and “In My Human Slaughterhouse”. The vocal trade off between lead singer/guitarist Matt Harvey’s high pitched rasp and second guitarist Bud Burke’s guttural growl adds a cool dynamic to the music, making for a more interesting listening experience than other DM bands that stick exclusively to the low end. While Exhumed can grind at impressive speed, many of the songs demonstrated the band’s ability to groove, again indicating Exhumed are just as interested in quality song writing as they are with what your lower intestines would look like as a Christmas ornament. Midway through the set, Exhumed’s chainsaw-wielding mascot appeared threatening to carve up anyone who dared get too close. The band then called Tony Foresta out to sing a cover of the Negative Approach classic “Ready to Fight”. While Tony appeared to have a bit of difficulty with the lyrics, the crowd went apeshit and the band appeared to be having a wonderful time. Exhumed finished off their set with “Open the Abscess” and, true to form, hauled a guillotine on stage and decapitated a blood-filled dummy.
Next to the stage were heavy metal veterans and local heroes Voivod. While typically described as a mix of thrash and prog, the band’s sound is difficult to describe succinctly as they draw on a wide variety of influences over their 33 year career. As such, they’ve created an incredibly unique sound. Adding to that uniqueness is the vocal style of lead singer Denis “Snake” Bélanger; melodic, haunting, and only a touch of grit far more reminiscent of hard rock acts like Guns n’ Roses than the traditional thrash harshness. This is also true of the guitar tone and the use of odd chord structures, both of which point to original Voivod guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour’s love of progressive music. The group received a hero’s welcome upon taking the stage, the crowd chanting along to almost every song. The band jumped around their catalogue, playing earlier, more thrash inspired numbers such as “Order of The Blackguard” as well as more progressive tracks like their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”. Current guitarist Daniel Mongrain is incredibly talented, distinctly in his element during the more intricate numbers and able to rip a mean solo when necessary. While Voivod isn’t my particular cup of tea, it’s always rad to seeing great musicians play to an appreciate crowd.
The final act of the evening was legendary UK grindcore act. Arguably the progenitors of the genre, Napalm Death have been grinding since 1982 and while none of the original members remain in the band, the current line up of Barney Greenway, Shane Embury, Mitch Harris, and Danny Herrera has remained unchanged from 1990 until late 2014 (Mitch Harris is currently on an indefinite hiatus, replaced on this tour by Corrupt Moral Altar’s John Cooke). Typically, bands release their best material earlier in their career with later efforts never quite measuring up. While it is true that Napalm Death’s seminal debut full length Scum is considered to be one of the most influential albums in extreme music, I would argue that this is a band that only got better with age, like a fine cheese or a parking ticket. Yes, a few of the records from the 90s went in some weird and unfortunate directions, but Napalm Death’s output in the last ten years has been their strongest work to date. Albums such as 2006’s Smear Campaign, 2012’s Utilitarian, and their newest offering, Apex Predator: Easy Meat, exhibit a group who have found their sound and honed it to lethal sharpness. That sharpness was on full display this evening; the band started the set with a few older tracks before launching into new song “Smash a Single Digit”. The sheer intensity on display was infectious; if we could harness whatever powers Barney Greenway as he throws himself around the stage we’d solve the global energy crisis. Danny Herrera’s drumming is both frenetic and nuanced; songs such as “Cesspits” demonstrate his ability to blast beat with the best of them while adding in more complex patterns. Catering to the grind aficionados in attendance, the band went back to their classic debut album, playing “Scum”, “The Kill” and “MAD” in rapid succession. Later in the set, the guys ripped through their cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, a far heavier version with blistering double bass drumming. They then played my favorite track from the new record, “How The Years Condemn”, a thoroughly pissed off, thunderous mid-tempo anthem that unsurprisingly incited the crowd to acts of mosh savagery. Napalm Death then delighted the crowd with “You Suffer”, a track that holds the Guinness world record for being the shortest song. The set ended with “Adversarial / Copulating Snakes”, the last cut from Apex Predator: Easy Meat, another demonstration of the band’s incredible speed and ferocity which includes a breakdown finale that renders resistance to headbanging futile.
It was cool to check out Black Crown Initiate and no one should pass on Iron Reagan when they roll through your town, and hats off to the vets in Exhumed, Voivod, and Napalm Death. It turns out the old fellas are still sufficiently full of piss and vinegar!
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Shannon Fong SLF Photography