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Metal Blade 25th Anniversary Tour Review

by Mark Hensch

Metal Blade Records has spent 25 years building itself into one of the foremost forces in the extreme metal community. Now, the fruits of these labors are paying off. As a gesture of paying back fan dedication, the label has assembled a diverse, large, and powerful tour package in honor of its milestone anniversary.

I caught the Detroit leg of said tour on my birthday, September 29th. The event was a homecoming not only for me (Detroit is my hometown) but native sons the Black Dahlia Murder, whose brand of melodic death metal provided direct support for death metal legends Cannibal Corpse. Rounding out the bill were sludgy black metal perverts Goatwhore and the tandem of melodic death metal shredders the Absence and grind monsters the Red Chord. As the brightest stars of the Metal Blade Roster (both old and new), this line-up of top caliber bands gave fans a truly memorable treat.

Opening act the Absence suffered from some minor opening jitters but soon overcame such obstacles to deliver a highly moving set. The unforgiving acoustics of the Majestic Theater (a former opera house) made for some slight hiccups in the set's mixing, but the band is currently riding such momentum that all this was quickly forgotten in the ensuing set. Currently supporting new release Riders of the Plague, the band played a short but spirited set full of melodic death metal greatness worthy of respect. Though the shred-filled numbers were culled largely from the newer material, a few cuts from 2005's From Your Grave also made an appearance. All of it melded together into a whirling festival of fiery fret board fireballs, the band's manic noodling and epic dual-harmonies making them seem much more deserving of the melodic death metal praise typically given to label mates the Black Dahlia Murder. Apparently, the fans on hand agreed with me, as all the band's album merch had sold out only two bands later. And did I mention that closing the set with a melodic death metal cover of Testament's "Into the Pit" is purely genius?

Sadly, this grandeur was sorely lacking during Goatwhore's set. The band's brand of vile, quasi-blackened metal was dull, repetitive, and largely stoic; frontman Ben Falgoust II was animated, but the rest of his band's immobility largely rendered his silly gesturing and over-the-top theatrics null-and-void. Also, it is worth noting that the band's starkly different sound from the others on hand resulted in them being the odd band out, and crowd reaction was as a result fairly muted. Though a few moments of unnerving squalor might have added points to the performance grade, overall Goatwhore were largely stuck in a stinking groove of tremolo-melodies and bland riffs. It was definitely the low-light of the concert.

Thankfully, Boston's Red Chord quickly tipped the scales back in the opposite direction. I've seen them three times now, and out of the three, this one was definitely the most deranged. Though earlier cuts of the band's more deathcore moments made appearance, the twisting grind of new album Prey for Eyes was slamming, catchy, and cathartic all at once. The whole band (especially energetic frontman Guy Kozowyk) looked like they were having a blast, and the crowd responded in kind. A flurry of spastic stage-dives soon occurred, and the band seemed to get even tighter in its abrasive violence as time wore on. Angular and schizophrenic, the new material was especially brutal, inspiring churning circle pits and general melee. This crusty mosh pit of noise was easily the coolest thing I saw all night, and it seems that each time the Red Chord has thrown down for me I like them a bit more. Maybe it was the crushing riffs, the berserker rage, or the clever use of melodies and time-signature changes amidst blistering grind, but the Chord has a new fan in me after last night.

Following them was the Black Dahlia Murder, a band whom inspires large amounts of apathy in me. Their highly touted brand of melodic death metal is (in my opinion) nowhere near the greats, yet even I can't help but admit that the tracks from the brand-new Nocturnal have stepped up the intensity a bit. With longer leads and much more complex solos, the band has definitely added plenty of virtuosity to its multi-layered, catchy groove. It might just be the hometown hero response, but overall Black Dahlia was simply adored by the crowd around me, love them or not. As for me, I'd begrudgingly admit that this is the best I've ever seen the Black Dahlia Murder at musically, yet something still keeps me from being fully converted.

Speaking of converted, no one should have any misgivings of faith in death metal after seeing Cannibal Corpse. Though I didn't stay for the entire set due to time constraints, it is readily apparent that despite a huge back catalog and ever-increasing age that Cannibal Corpse are still vital and essential listening for the death metal scene. The band attacked with a vile, putrid groove so low yet blood-pumping one could almost be forgiven for thinking that toxins were infecting their beating blood; as for the band visually, frontman George "Corpsegrinder" Fischer remains a symbol of heavy metal dedication, his inhuman windmill headbanging putting everyone else in the venue to shame. Classic cuts like "Through the Eyes of the Dead," "Mummified in Barbed Wire," and the like were what I saw, and it seems the band is unearthing its older gems to show just how strong this year's Kill actually is in comparison.

In summary the show was stacked in terms of talent, merch, and entertainment value. Metal Blade still has one of the world's foremost metal rosters and an evening like this reaffirms my belief one hundred percent. The cross-country trek is pretty intense, so if you get a chance, do yourself a favor and check this monster out.

The Absence: www.myspace.com/theabsence
Goatwhore: www.myspace.com/goatwhore
The Red Chord: www.myspace.com/theredchord
The Black Dahlia Murder: www.myspace.com/blackdahliamurder
Cannibal Corpse: www.cannibalcorpse.net

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