With summer beginning to fade and Halloween approaching – who I am I kidding, it’s Halloween every day that ends with a -y for me. Meaning, I sit in a dark room with horror movies on, not answering the door. So when someone says to me, “Oh, wow you must get to go to tons of free shows,” the truthful answer is: being on the depressive side of bi-polar, going to the gym is typically my big outing for the day. It can lead to a misanthropic agoraphobia where the thought of being around people makes me sick to my stomach. I dug in; told myself I was going to break this unhealthy pattern. I not only forced myself out of the house for one show, I hit four this summer. I have been going to shows for 36 years. I have seen almost everyone once, and some artists, like King Diamond, in double digits. Depression aside, the thought of the smoke and the drunks loses more appeal each year. The bands I caught this summer I either have not seen before, or the concert had some other significance to get me out the door. This also serves as a snapshot of what metal looks like these days, as the four shows occupied their own sub-genres.
Sanctuary / Ghost Ship Octavious / Halcyon Way at the Basement
Of the four shows, this was in the smallest venue. The club is in the basement of another club, hence where it gets its name. I walked in at the end of Halcyon Way’s set. They are on the end of power metal that doesn’t interest me, so I paced around. I don’t hate power metal, it just tends to not be dark enough for me. The band who stole the show this evening was Ghost Ship Octavious. A progressive metal band not so caught up trying to squeeze so many guitar solos into their songs that they leave out any sense of hook or groove. Their drummer used to play in Nevermore, and these guys are total pros who were enjoying what they were doing. This kind of music can lend itself toward grandiosity, but it’s composed in such a way that uses that as a dynamic and keeps things compelling without feeling stuck in the 80s.
Sanctuary was playing their 1987 album Refuge Denied front to back. A tall order considering Warrel Dane is dead. With only two original members, the drummer and guitarist. Dane’s voice not only had range and power, but his unique personality embedded into it. Former Witherfall singer Joseph Micheal took on the mantle. He hit the notes, but it wasn’t Warrel Dane. The intangible X-factor was missing, but was pretty passable. I never got to see these guys back in the day, though I did buy Refuge Denied when it came out and wore the hell out of it in the early years of high school. If you drink they might even seem like the real thing. Being sober, I was all too aware and had to really suspend my disbelief.
Iron Maiden @ Lakewood Amphitheater
This was the 4th time I’ve seen Maiden. Full disclosure: I have the album cover of Number of the Beast on my left forearm, so I might not be the most impartial party when it comes to them. This was also my daughter’s first concert. She is 9, so she’ll be the coolest kid in the 4th grade for sure. At CVLT Nation, we are big supporters of heavy metal parenting. With no album to support, it had been 7 years since the last time I saw them. They opened with “Aces High.” Bruce was not yet warmed up and it was early in the tour, it was not until “Where Eagles Dare” that the dust was knocked off. From that point on, the band was unstoppable. I keyed in on the guitar solos in order to hear which of the three guitarists I like best. The winner was Adrian Smith.
“Revelations” was one of the more impressive songs in the set. Bruce sounded great, his voice most suited for the melodic part two and a half minutes in. The stage turned fiery red for “Number of the Beast,” which my daughter said was her favorite song. Though, she just likes singing “six-six-six.” They might not have been the band in the theater for the “Seventh Son” tour, but they were better than they were in 2012. The production value was bigger and the set list was better. I was glad to hear things like “Wicker Man” and “Revelations” which I had never heard live before. If you get a chance to see them when they roll through your town, it is highly recommended.
Baroness / War on Women @ Buckhead theater
Going into this show, I was only a marginal fan of Baroness. I got on the list in hopes Pallbearer was one of the openers. This turned out to not be the case. Instead, we got the War On Women. They proved to be more entertaining live than their album. This was largely due to the stage presence of singer Shawna Potter, who was more Debbie Harry than riot grrrl. They knew Baroness’ crowd – who were wearing more Tool shirts than anything else – was outside of their demographic. They still played with a great deal of heart trying to win the audience over.
Baroness took the stage and hit me with an infectious energy. Not the kind of spastic acrobatics a metalcore band might employ, but honest enthusiasm. “Honesty” is the world that best encapsulates their performance. It seemed the newest addition to the band, Gina Gleason, played with something to prove. She melded her voice and played well to fit the band. The set leaned heavily on the new album and the Yellow & Green album. They also played “Isak” from the Red album. Their show clearly won me over.
Neurosis / Bell Witch/ the Deaf Kids
I had not seen Neurosis since the Times Of Grace tour in ‘99. I walked in at the end of the Deaf Kids set. Bell Witch sweetened the deal for me as I had never seen them. They came on stage with no fanfare and started playing right after the line check. Dylan Desmond’s approach to his instrument is very interesting to watch. The drumming was sparse, with Jesse handling the growled vocals while Dylan sang the clean parts that were more moaned chants. They created a powerful atmosphere. One that might not have appealed to those there just for head banging.
20 years later, things had changed. They sounded great, which says a lot considering how many layers Neurosis can have going at any given time. Steve Von Till took the stage like a storm. It was the best vocal performance I have heard from him to date. This time around, all of their smoke and mirrors were gone. They just stood on a well-lit stage and played. They also did not go back further than Times Of Grace. The set was broodingly mellow. “At the Well” was the only song I had heard them play on stage prior to this. Perhaps not as crushing as when I saw them in 1999 – however they were both mind-blowing and crushing, but they are in a different place. Their show rekindled my love for them.