Opeth and Graveyard at The Pavilion at Toyota Music Center, Irving, TX 2/29/2020

One of the cool things about being an old guy is that I’ve gotten to witness a number of bands early in their career playing at tiny clubs and then seeing them mature and grow over the years into these large professional touring entities.  I remember seeing Opeth playing at the old Back Room in Austin when they were just a small death metal band with proggy sensibilities.  Seeing them play a slick and fairly new music only theater in Dallas over the weekend kind of blew my mind when thinking back 20 years or so to that packed club show.  It seems as though Opeth has graduated to a new level of success on this latest tour because they pulled out all the stops with this show.  This was a downright spectacle of a stage show with intricate video screens and light show.  It was cool to see such a wonderfully underground band seeing the fruits of all their past labor finally paying off.  And the setlist was amazing.  Great blend of both the old death metal stuff for the geezers like me and a ton of the new proggy centered newer material for the music nerds in the crowd.  And it is still all tied together nicely with the best in-between-song banter from frontman Mikael Akerfeldt.  He seriously has no competition in this area.  Topics this evening included musings on how there isn’t a comparable word in Swedish for “mother fucker” (It’s such a rude word.), memories of watching the TV show “Dallas” in Sweden as a youngster and even a few thoughts on the band Abba.  I would seriously pay money to hear him do a spoken word tour.

Opener Graveyard was in fine form.  I saw them last year on one of their headline treks and they honestly seemed to be suffering from road fatigue.  Tonight felt like we were witnessing a band that was rejuvenated.  Sparks were flying from the moment the band hit the stage.  It was good to see them performing on a high level again.

Opeth

Opeth

Opeth

Graveyard

Cult of Luna, Emma Ruth Rundle and Intronaut at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 2/26/2020

I love a strong concert lineup.  I love having no filler.  I love spending my money and knowing that all of the bands on the bill are going to present a solid concert-going experience.

This was a good one.  First up was L.A.’s Intronaut.  A few years ago, it felt like Intronaut was rolling into town every couple of months.  These guys were absolute road warriors.  Then, they must have hit a wall because they have been off the map for the past five years.  They are back with a new album (that actually comes out today…review will be coming soon) and this show was a good reminder of how amazing this band is in a live setting.  Intronaut is one of the bands at the forefront of the post-metal world.  There songs are sludgey and complex.  They just operate at a different musical level than a lot of the bands going today.

In an interesting twist, Emma Ruth Rundle landed in the middle slot of the evening.  The last time I saw her perform she had a full band in tow.  This evening was just her and her guitar.  As she stated, this was a set showcasing how her songs initially sound during her writing process.  Her set was a marked mellow spot between the intensity of Intronaut and Cult of Luna’s sets.  The lack of a supporting band really showcased her plaintive voice and the haunting melodies of her songs.  This was a very stark and personal set.

And then Cult of Luna came out.  This is a band I’ve been wanting to see perform live for a really long time.  And, man, did they not disappoint.  I was curious to see how a band known for their atmospheric stage show would translate in the small cramped venue of Come and Take It Live.   It’s amazing how large the band made this show seem.  They filled the club with a smoke machine which helped showcase the band’s intense light show.  There was so much fog in the air that the band appeared to appear and disappear in and out of the shadows on the stage.  The atmosphere in the club really served to heighten the dark and ponderous songs that Cult of Luna is known for.  The build up for me on this show was very large and Cult of Luna delivered.  This was one of those shows where I was genuinely upset when the lights came up.

Intronaut

Emma Ruth Rundle

Cult of Luna

Cult of Luna

Lucifer at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 1/17/2020

And away we go!!  First concert of 2020.  Man, it’s been a while since my last show and it was nice to get my middle-aged ass back into the pit.  2020 starts out with Lucifer strolling into town.  No, not that Lucifer.  Not the big man. Head honcho. Prince of Darkness and all that jazz.  No, this Lucifer is a retro, Sabbath worshiping, 70s era occult rocking band out of Sweden who is still touring in support of their second album.  Lucifer is probably more known for its key players former bands than their current incarnation.  Vocalist Johanna Sadonis was the frontwoman of the short lived, but super cult fave The Oath and her main songwriting partner and husband, drummer Nicke Andersson, is more known for his work in Entombed and The Hellacopters.  Ultimately, Lucifer is a continuation of what Sadonis started with The Oath.  In a nice shout out to their main influence, Sadonis was rocking a purple velvet jumpsuit with fringes along the sleeves that would have made a young Ozzy very proud.  The band hit a good chunk of their latest album with a few surprise tracks off their new album which is supposed to drop sometime later this year.  They even worked in a nice cover of Sabbath’s Snowblind and one of ZZ Top’s Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers, which was a nice shout out to the Texas crowd.

 

Napalm Death, Municipal Waste, Sick of It All, Revocation, Voivod and Psycroptic at Mohawk, Austin, TX 10/4/2019

Now, this was a show!  An all out assault on all of the senses.  Sound (blistering), sight (raging), smell (mixture of B.O, weed and shitty vape scents), touch (sweaty man bodies hurtling through the pit and into my unfortunate toe) and taste (mmmm….beer).

First week in October in Austin means the start of the most vanilla and safe of all festivals, Austin City Limits Fest.  Overpriced and overbearing, it is usually just a shitshow of middle-aged assholes who have no real interest in music absent the pop flavor of the moment and the usual group of legacy artists and retreads.  Needless to say, I was extremely happy to have a fantastic underground bill of metal’s finest as a more satisfying live music experience.  What you had this evening is two separate metal tours playing Austin on the same evening and just doubling up the lineups at a single venue.  The first half of the show was the Revocation/Voivoid/Psycroptic tour with the Napalm Death/Municipal Waste/Sick of It All lineup rounding out the evening.

Tasmania’s Psycroptic started out the evening’s festivities and started their set with a shout-out to ACL’s Friday night headliner, Guns N’ Roses.  They thanked us all for deciding to attend their set instead of the Gunners and said that they were going to give us a full set of Guns N’ Roses covers as a salute to our sacrifice.  Each song was preceded with an intro along the lines of  “Let’s open up this pit because here’s “Welcome To the Jungle!!”  and then proceeding into one of their ripping death metal tunes.  Funny guys, these dudes.

Canada’s favorite sci-fi thrash weirdos Voivod took the stage next with a set that focused primarily on their latest album, The Wake.  Although the guys are starting to show their age, their live show hasn’t lost a beat and the newer songs sound as alive and relevant as their older classic material.

Revocation found themselves in the weird position of playing the first headline set of the evening even though there were still three additional bands yet to play.  I say it was a headline set because they were given an hour to play and they spent this time playing the entirety of their latest platter, The Outer Ones.  Revocation is kind of a strange beast in that they are a thrash/death metal hybrid, but one that features a Berklee College of Music attendee in David Davidson.  The result is that you have a a guy who creates some of the most note dense riffs and solos that you will find in the death metal genre.

Opening up the second set of bands was New York hardcore stalwarts Sick of It All.  I’m not a big punk or hardcore guy, but I will say that there is something to seeing these bands perform live.  The energy is infectious.  The last time I saw Sick of It All was a number of years ago at an awesome festival we used to have in Austin called Fun Fun Fun (no longer a thing thanks in large part to C3 and ACL Fest being jealous little bitches).  I had never heard any of their music before, but before I knew it, I was headlong raging in the middle of the circle pit (I say “raging…let’s be honest, it was more of a leisurely jog.  This misadventure ended with me throwing my back out.  Getting old sucks.)  Bodies and middle fingers flying, this show was more of the same and was even more chaotic due to the tight confines of The Mohawk.  I felt the urge to jump into the pit again, but put my physical well-being first this time around and just hung around the edges of the pit.  The other weird thing I noticed during their set was the appearance of a number of shirtless bald men flailing about the pit.  I didn’t see any of these individuals prior to Sick of It All’s set.  It was as if these gentlemen simply rose up from the concrete floor once the first notes of hardcore came blasting out of the speakers.  Punk is fucking weird.

Throughout the week leading up to this show, a friend of mine kept sending me messages along the lines of “They’re gonna fuck you up!”  “Damn, man!  Give me some credit.” is all I could think.  Then Municipal Waste exploded onto the stage and it full import of his message fully hit home.  Municipal Waste is going to fuck you up, indeed.  And my policy of wearing flip flops to every show I attend was put to the test and my big toe unfortunately paid the price.  I do my best to hang around the outskirts of the circle pit itself, but this particular pit was not to be contained and it took out a number of innocent bystanders in its wake.  I’m certain I wasn’t the only bleeding patron during this set.

Ending the evening was the brash British grindcore legends, Napalm Death.  I always find the between song banter by vocalist Barney quite the contrast to the bile fueled death metal this band produces.  Like anything presented in a British accent, the introductions to songs of war, death and destruction just sound so proper and polite.  It just makes the fuzzy sonic obliteration that follows all the more jarring.  Barney has got to be one of the more interesting metal characters going because everything about is just so non-metal.  He’s kind of doughy.  He was sporting a white T-shirt and jorts Friday night.  And he just has this dorky sort of awkward flailing stage presence.  But then there is that growl of his and it all just comes together.

All in all, this was one of the most satisfying shows I’ve attended this year primarily because of the energy each band brought to the stage.  Plus, it was a nice mixture of styles from thrash to death metal to crossover thrash to hardcore punk.

Arkona and Metsatoll at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 9/7/2019

So, you head out for a metal show on a Saturday night and a fucking renaissance faire breaks out.  Seriously, the number of denim metal battle vests were seriously outnumbered by the amount of cloaks, capes and all manner of leather contraptions on display at this show.  This is when you know you have entered the realm of pagan metal.

This was an interesting double bill not only in that it was a prime display of larping pagans, but you had two bands from some somewhat non-traditional metal places.  Headliner Arkona hails from Russia and Metsatoll is from Estonia.  It’s been a theme since this blog started in that metal is a global phenomenon and that it is really force that gives people from disparate locales all over the world a common language and culture to share.  Most of the lyrics in Arkona’s songs aren’t in English, but that didn’t act as a barrier at all for the music and the emotion of their performance to connect with the audience.

Arkona brought out a set that showcased their blending of black metal with pagan metal.  Their frontwoman, Masha, combined melodic vocals with a very effective black metal scream.  Many of their songs center around rhythmic chants and are given that pagan sound with the use of traditional instruments such as bagpipes and various flutes and recorders.

Metsatoll was a band that I wasn’t familiar with at all prior to this evening, but they gave a rowdy performance that put a premium of crowd participation.  The entire performance felt like it was taking place in a drunken tavern right after a great victory had been had on the battlefield.  I have never seen that many metal head dancing arm-in-arm in the pit during a show in my entire history of seeing shows.

Evergrey at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 9/3/2019

Swedish progressive power metallers Evergrey rolled into town last night.  Evergrey is one of those bands that I was a really big fan of in the early 2000s.  They had a run of albums during that time span that were downright glorious (In Search of Truth, Recreation Day and The Inner Circle).  Unfortunately, they didn’t really do serious touring in the States during that time.  Which is a shame because I never really got to hear those albums showcased in a major way in a live setting.

So, flash forward to today, and Evergrey has managed to carve out a nice little fanbase in America and they are touring over here on regular basis.  The past couple of times that I’ve seen them play, including last night, the set list focused primarily on their most recent three albums.  Which are all fine and have some good songs on them, but I can’t say that they contain the band’s strongest material.  From a selfish viewpoint, I really wish they would pepper the setlist with more songs from their older and more classic albums.  Look, I get it.  You’re busting your ass on the road to help showcase the new album and try to sell some records.  But, if you view the response from the crowd last night, the response was much louder and excited for the older songs than they were for the new stuff.  The atmosphere from the crowd was honestly fairly lackluster overall.  It was a good show and was professionally performed.  But it just lacked that special something that takes a show to a different level.

Evergry-The Grand Collapse

Orange Goblin, The Skull and Mothership at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 9/1/2019

“We don’t care about politics, religion or race.  All we care about is Black Sabbath and Motorhead.” -Ben Ward

Yeah, that sounds about right.  Good time rock n’ roll in the name of Sabbath and Lemmy ruled the evening when Orange Goblin came rollicking into town Sunday night.  Ben Ward is just a whirling dervish of a frontman.  He took control of the stage from the moment he stepped upon it and commanded the up-to-that-point laid back Austin crowd into a good time frenzy.  Even if you are that dude who just stoically stands in one place and gives a slight head nod at the proceedings (I’m looking at myself), you felt the call to cut loose and really engage the infectious call of rock n’ roll.  I’ve had a few of these shows of late in which I really didn’t want them to end.  The show was just that engaging and fun.  It’s nice to have a band refresh one’s normally jaded outlook.

At the center position of the evening was a big reason why I came out to this show.  The Skull is the remnants of classic 80s doom band Trouble.  The Skull sports vocalist Eric Wagner, and bassist Ron Holzner from Trouble.  Presumably, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell are still carrying on with the Trouble moniker, but I can’t honestly remember them doing anything with the band in many years.  So, in my mind, The Skull is the current living embodiment of Trouble.  And that spiritual continuation of Trouble was evident in last year’s The Endless Road Turns Dark and the show they put on Sunday night.  Wagner is looking like a sage prophet as he has gotten older and, for a moment, when he first stepped on stage I thought Robert Plant was gracing us with his presence.  He’s not hitting the high notes as effortlessly as he once did, but overall his craggy siren vocals of doom is still recognizable.  Serious treat in that they rolled out a couple of classic Trouble tracks.

Opening the evening was Dallas based Mothership.  Mothership is a power trio in the vein of a heavy version of stoner metal.  It has been some time since I’ve seen these guys in person and there non-stop touring is really starting to pay off.  The band is as tight as I’ve seen them and there is a level of confidence that is taking their live performance up a notch.  Guitarist Kelly Juett continues to remind me of an Angus Young clone in his stage presence.  There’s no goose step and his sound is different, but there is just something mischievous about the look on his face that just brings forth the joy of performing that I see in Angus.  Plus, he likes shirts just as much as Matt Pike.

Orange Goblin-Sons of Salem

Orange Goblin-The Fog

The Skull-The Tempter (Trouble)

The Skull-Till the Sun Turns Black

Mothership

Demons & Wizards, Lizzy Borden and Tyr at Gas Monkey Live!, Dallas, TX 8/26/2019

This would have been a good show for someone who had never been exposed to heavy metal at all because everything about this evening was turned up to eleven.  The three bands involved brought a little bit of everything to the table this evening, but it all was in the service of classic heavy metal in its purest form.

First up was Demons & Wizards.  This was a show I never expected to see in person.  Demons & Wizards is a long-dormant side project of Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth and Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian.  These guys came together in an attempt to blend the more aggressive musical style of Iced Earth with the fantasy lyricism of Blind Guardian.  Many times collaborations between artists don’t always gel as well in practice as it would seem they would on paper.  The two albums these guys cobbled together in 1999 and 2005 were absolutely perfect in realizing their goal and, in many respects, outperformed the guys’ main gigs in terms of quality.  They have played a few one-off shows in Europe during the festival circuits, but I really never thought they would get enough logistical support to actually pull off a tour of the U.S.  Well, damn near 20 years from the release of the debut album and we get an awesome surprise.  For the touring band, Schaffer and Kursch brought along Blind Guardian rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen to play bass and current Iced Earth lead guitarist Jake Dreyer to tackle lead guitar.  The set list was an absolute blistering rendition of songs from both albums with selected numbers from Iced Earth and Blind Guardian.  Even though he is starting to look more and more like a Confederate General from his beloved Civil War days with his freshly shorn grey hair and increasingly interesting facial hair choices, Schaffer remains one of the best rhythm guitarist going.  He’s right up there with Hetfield in crafting these speedy, clean and crunchy riffs.  If these guys have dates set in your town on this current tour, go see this show.  This was one of those special moments that we probably won’t get a chance to see again.

In the middle slot of the evening, we got to bathe in a wave of nostalgia in a very satisfying set from 80s shock rocker Lizzy Borden.  Yep, Lizzy is still cranking them out and he still has the pipes to make Geoff Tate jealous and the myriad of costume and mask changes to make Rob Halford feel like it’s all a bit over the top.  Lizzy looked a little hefty in his black and silver sequined body suit, but dammit, he absolutely nailed all of the high notes with ease.  His band is made up of youngsters that I have to believe none of which were alive when most of the songs in the setlist were written.  This was a great visit to the Murderess Metal Roadshow complete with him brandishing the axe and spewing blood all over the audience members next to the stage.

Opening the evening was Faroe Island Viking/folk metal band Tyr.  This was my first exposure to these guys and they put forth a rousing opening set full of songs that seemed perfectly suited for a rowdy alehouse full of drunken Vikings.  Lots of hearty sing-along chorus that had a good chunk of the early crowd calling back and forth with the band.  Perfect opener.

Demons & Wizards-Poor Man’s Crusade

Demons & Wizards-Burning Times (Iced Earth)

Demons & Wizards-Tear Down the Wall

Lizzy Borden-Redrum

Lizzy Borden-Master of Disguise

Tyr

The Claypool Lennon Delirium at Emo’s, Austin, TX, 8/12/2019

“Fuck bottomless popcorn!”-kernel of wisdom from Les Claypool

Yeah, it wasn’t exactly highbrow repartee from the Delirium last night, but it was all in keeping with the darkly comic and twisted visions from the duo of Colonel Claypool of Primus fame and his cohort in crime, Sean (Shiner) Lennon.  This project is pretty much exactly as you would imagine coming from the musical brains of Primus and the spawn of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  It is Primus toned down a bit in intensity with a psychedelic sheen sprayed o’er-top with a hint of some of the more hippy-ish moments from The Beatles.  In other words, it’s amazing.

Last night’s set relied heavily on their latest album South of Reality with a few choice covers worked in to balance out the set.  It was evident from the irreverent and ad-libbed stage banter that these two guys enjoy each other’s company and have created this project out of a shared vision of musical weirdness.  Good way to spend a Monday evening.

Little Fishes

Allegaeon and Exmortus at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 7/10/2019

Death metal banger in the middle of the week.  Pretty decent crowd showed up for this one in both numbers and in rowdiness quotient.

Allegaeon.  The awesome band with the weird name.  I really dig these guys quite a bit not only for their super duper metal chops, but also for their down-to-earth and almost goofy stage presence.  It’s hard not to root for band of guys that just seem like they really enjoy what they are doing on stage.  I’ve seen them do their thing live a number of times now, but I believe this is the first headlining gig that I’ve seen them perform.  So, it was nice to see them go longer than a 30 minute set for a change.  Once again, they showed live why they are at the pinnacle of bands in the technical death metal realm.  The technical chops are all just off the charts, but it never comes at a sacrifice to the songs.  The songs are still catchy and memorable and never succumb to being pure musical wankfests.

Opener Exmortus (or the Sex Tortoise as Allegaeon’s singer, Riley McShane referred to them) is kind of an interesting beast of a band.  In presentation, they kind of come across as being from the power metal world with their synchronized headbanging and weird dueling guitar antics.  But the sound they bring is more of a thrashed flavored death metal.  Probably leaning more on the thrash than on the death side of things.  Even though I’ve never completely warmed up to this band, their set last night was very energetic and engaging.  I kind of understand the buzz surrounding these guys.

Allegaeon

Allegaeon

Exmortus