It's ironic that a tour featuring heavy metal greats Death is so focused on life. This year's Death to All tour celebrates Chuck Schuldiner, Death's founder and one of the genre's greats. Since dying of brain cancer in 2001, Schuldiner's left a void in extreme music few can fill. Created as a tribute to his vast legacy, Death to All reunites Death's classic lineup and attempts filling Schuldiner's absence.
Sadly, last Friday night's gig at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland didn't quite fill Schuldiner's shoes. Though a loving reflection on one person's vital achievements, it couldn't conjure the same magic behind them. Try as they might, Death 2.0 fell short of slaying a lackluster crowd and underwhelming opening acts. At day's end, listeners got a merely good performance out of a great man's music.
The night started off shaky with poor attendance from area fans. Barely filling the Fillmore's generous floor area, the night's first few attendees received a short set from Vancouver's Anciients. Solid but unspectacular, it revealed a promising buzz-band that hasn't settled its final stage presence yet.
Currently touring for their debut full-length Heart of Oak, there's no denying Anciients is an interesting act. Their music unites seemingly disparate influences into a rich, intricate whole. Unfortunately, such complexity hurt them live. With barely a half-hour of time, Anciients' performance felt rushed. Though satisfying, one got the feeling they were warming up as the clock wound down.
What little listeners heard, however, was decent. Anciients wisely began with "Raise the Sun," a somber folk ballad that quickly exploded into a fist-pumping war anthem. "Giants," meanwhile, carried on this energy with burly riffs, brawny roars and thunderous percussion. "Overthrone," for its part, began with ringing guitars which morphed into glorious, open-ended rumbles. Anciients wrapped things up with "Faith and Oath," a hailstorm of frigid speed-picking followed by psychedelic guitar chords and gargantuan bellowing.
If Anciients had one fatal flaw, it was stage presence. The quartet played each of their songs – all powerful tunes – with little enthusiasm. Compared to their successors, one got the feeling Anciients were merely putting in hours at the office.
Thankfully, San Jose, California's Exhumed took things up a notch with their manic, macabre style. Opting for shock-and-awe, the four-piece mixed gory stage antics with ripping jams. "Dis-Assembly Line," for example, was a shotgun blast of shredding guitar solos and furious drums. One of the band's new songs – "The Beginning after the End" – kept up the blistering pace with rabid ferocity of its own. In contrast, "Under the Knife" slowed things down with echoing harmonics before launching into razor-thin riffs and crushing breakdowns.
Backing Exhumed's performance was their crazed surgeon mascot. When he wasn't crowd-surfing or swinging a chainsaw, the masked "murderer" was showering concert-goers with fake gore. Such foul-play was a marked contrast to Anciients, delivering that live X-factor Exhumed's predecessors lacked.
As entertaining as it was, the crowd was clearly waiting for Death. When the reunited legends finally took the stage, they delivered in spades. Over the course of nearly two hours, Death covered all their classic hits in tasteful homage to Schuldiner's memory.
Death 2.0 coalesced out of the band's Human era, so most of their cuts came from that landmark 1991 album. "Flattening of Emotions" kicked things off with ominous, churning riffs before swarming with relentless aggression. Later on, "Suicide Machine" opened up with news clips about Dr. Kevorkian before unleashing the song's queasy time-changes and unnerving atmosphere. "Together as One," meanwhile, steamrolled listeners with a maelstrom of amp abuse.
The band sprinkled in some non-Human cuts for older fans too. "Living Monstrosity" was just that, showing no mercy with its frantic speed and deranged howls courtesy of replacement singer Matt Phelps. "Within the Mind" warped psyches with its otherworldly chug, while the glimmering fretwork of "Spiritual Healing" provided one of the evening's biggest highlights.
Strangely enough, the night's most breathtaking moment was a montage of photos and clips chronicling Schuldiner's brief life. Even in snippets, he was clearly a man of rare personality and genius. Seeing a sea of lighters honoring Schuldiner's memory, it was deeply sad realizing such a vibrant life was cut so tragically short.
Ever the masters, Death let this tribute end their set. Reappearing for an encore, they launched into the gritty stomp of "Pull the Plug" before taking one final, well-deserved bow together. It was the perfect finish – Death "pulled the plug" with one of their earliest, heaviest hits, and not a moment too soon.
Get more info about the Death to All 2013 Tour here
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. You can also read more of Mark's work in Heavy Metal Hensch at the Washington Times Communities.