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Shadows Fall/Still Remains/The Acacia Strain/The Showdown Live Review

by Mark Hensch

The Intersection - Grand Rapids, Michigan 3/21/07

A lot of things have changed since Shadows Fall last came to Grand Rapids and worked over a crowd at the Intersection. I've had the fortune of seeing the Massachusetts heavy metal revivalists twice before, both times about three or four years prior to the show I'm speaking about now. Nowadays, the Shads are on a major label (Atlantic Records), the Intersection is owned and operated by different people, I'm in college, and bands like Lamb of God, Mastodon, and Slayer were nominated for Grammys in heavy metal. It all makes for quite the surreal experience, and an odd show to boot.

Things kicked off right at 7PM with The Showdown, a strange bunch of southern-fried hard rockers with a trace of the HxC to them. I still can't decide if I loved it or hated it, their unique blend of massive breakdowns and wanking Southerner cock rock confusing not only me but an entire crowd of perplexed concert-goers. Perhaps it is my failing ears (I do listen to LOTS of metal after all) but the applause seemed faint and polite, despite these guys putting on one helluva show. They could shred and in terms of stage presence they were absolutely explosive, with tons of headbanging, Southern-twang, and strange colloquialisms. My one gripe is a short set, the likes of which was mainly focused on a medley of Metallica, Van Halen, and Pantera snippets. The crowd thought it was cool, but those bands are in a completely different universe compared to the Showdown, and it showed. Perhaps a longer, more originally-composed set next time will win the day.

Massachusetts natives The Acacia Strain have never sat well with me (this is my third time seeing them too) and they probably never will. At the end of the day, their macho tough-guy bulls*** seems pretty lame to me, but maybe there is a tongue-in-cheek element I'm missing in my scrutiny. As always, the band whipped up a frenzy of cartwheeling hardcore kids, all of them decked in quasi-ghetto drag and sporting a sort of watered-down Scarface vibe. The band's low-end breakdowns are pulverizing and heavy, but beyond that they're really exactly what their image portrays them to be; a bunch of loud dogs lacking bite. A lot of people will read this and say "BUT MARK----THE ACACIA STRAIN IS HEEEEAAAAVVVVY LOLZ" and I will respond with a casual so what? At this point, I listen to Pig Destroyer, and Pig Destroyer wins. Oh, and I listen to Emperor, and they burned motherf***ing churches. Church burning and Pig Destroying seems much heavier than tired gangsta theatrics, now doesn't it? The point I'm trying to make is that a band isn't incredible because they can somehow convince a bunch of people to randomly punch and kick the crap out of air, but rather the music at hand. Down-tuned breakdowns are STILL down-tuned breakdowns, and there are simply other things I'd rather listen to. Nothing personal guys, at least they know how to work a crowd!

The same CANNOT be said for local band Still Remains. Like most metalcore, I can't see the appeal of it, but Still Remains is especially bad as they traffic in plagiarized At the Gates riffs and symphonic effects. With an almost-entirely new roster and the upcoming Serpent album to support, the band seemed a bit rattled tonight on their home turf, the set feeling rushed and maybe a bit schizophrenic. The newer cuts were highly symphonic and utilized a frightening amount of tremolo picking; for a minute I had horrific visions of the local scene kids telling me that Still Remains was the greatest black metal band with keyboards in all of metal history. Thankfully, the band chose to stop stealing from Emperor and instead attacked At the Gates Again, as the majority of their set was focused on older efforts like Of Love and Lunacy. I enjoyed this more than The Acacia Strain, but in terms of performance the guitars were choppy and poorly mixed, making the band's sonic assault sound muddy. I counted pleas to buy the new album no less than six times, and it was often I found myself shaking my head at how fashion-conscious the band appeared rather than music-oriented. Perhaps I'm just cynical, or mad I can't be in a local band that made it onto Roadrunner...we might never know. The point is that Still Remains should know how to work a home-crowd, and in my humble opinion, tonight's show left something to be desired.

Thank God then for Shadows Fall. Yes, I'm a huge fan of theirs and have been for quite some time. Yes, I like straight metal better than metalcore. Yes, I like longer, headlining sets. All of this is irrelevant---I've seen the band three times, and neither times were mind-blowing upon reflection. The first time I saw the Shads was on the inaugural Strhess Tour, and the show in question was completely stolen by the rabid performance Himsa put out that night. A later concert I attended saw Shadows Fall put out a decent but by-the-numbers performance due to band illness, and a lineup of awful bands doing nothing to kick the evening off properly.

So, my bad, there still weren't any amazing bands performing prior to the Shads. But when they took the stage, did they ever own it! Kicking things off with a dual-haymaker combo in "Thoughts Without Words" and "Enlightened by the Cold," frontman Brian Fair was an atomic bomb of energy and spent most of the set leaping, windmilling his absurdly long dreadlocks, and generally kicking ass. The Guitar Hero 2 set got to hear "The Light That Blinds" done f***ing right, and old favorites like "Destroyer of Senses," "The Power of I & I," and "What Drives the Weak" got some solid push-pits going. Brian led an excellent sing-along to hit single "Inspiration on Demand," and blazed through B-Side "In Effigy" like it was nobody's business. The highlight was seeing the band tweak their new songs off the upcoming Threads of Life album to fit the stage---tonight's show was only the 3rd in their first tour in quite some time! First single "Redemption" sounded crisp and battering, while personal faves of mine "Burning the Live" and "Venomous" made a much-applauded appearance. The zenith of the night for me was the band busting out a flawless "Stepping Outside the Circle" and inspiring one of their classic circle-pits, a Shadows Fall tradition to that song. I got joyously trampled, the riffs were marvelous, and I loved every second of it. And did I mention that major label deal or not, Brian Fair didn't have a problem with jumping into the pit with us. What a f***ing everyman! To conclude, Shadows Fall really are a revelation of positive, straightforward, good old-fashioned heavy metal fun. Great stuff!

Check out the Showdown at www.myspace.com/theshowdown

Check out the Acacia Strain at www.myspace.com/theacaciastrain

Check out Still Remains at www.myspace.com/stillremains

Check out Shadows Fall at www.shadowsfallrocks.com

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