Delays seemed to be the order of the day with this one. Shayne and I arrived an hour early, as per usual. I always have a tendency to overestimate the amount of time it is going to take us to reach these venues, but at least I managed to score a prime parking space because of it. We stood outside and people watched for a while. The guys from Destruction got mobbed by a small group of adoring metalheads, and Arsis’ vocalist/guitarist was wandering around like a lost dog. Sometime shortly before the doors were slated to open, a firetruck arrived. Apparently a smoke machine belonging to one of the bands set off an alarm or something, and an inspection had to be carried out. This prolonged the sound check and pushed start time back an additional hour. The area continues to be awash in a sea of hipsterdom. We watched as throngs of people who looked like they hadn’t seen a shower or a bar of soap in years walked by complaining about how “cookie cutter” New Orleans had become. As someone who was born into and raised by a family of New Orleans bohemians, this kind of made my blood boil. Cookie cutter? Well, maybe this means they’ll pack their tight shirts, fashionably ripped jeans, and patchouli oil and leave. Anyway, after around 9 p.m., the doors finally opened.
The first band of the night were Starkill. Starkill fall into a category that we’ll call “girlfriend metal.” They’re a quartet of pretty boys purveying a sound that is essentially an Americanized take on the melodic mangina death metal of Children of Bodom. It is an answer that would have been more relevant, though no less lame, a decade ago. While they play as a tight, and clearly well rehearsed unit, their riffs are (much like their Finnish counterpart) largely forgettable. Their live sound is also mostly drowned out by a wall of cheesy, prerecorded keyboard orchestrations. In the future, a live keyboard player would likely work better in the mix. Their set was short, and the crowd was fairly thin through much of it.
Up next were Virginia technical melodeath quartet Arsis. I was introduced to their music back around ’05 by a guitar player friend of mine. I got on a bit of a progressive rock kick for a few years and lost track of them and quite a few other metal bands, so I was kind of excited to catch their set. After dealing with the lethargic sound guy who didn’t seem to know what the words “snare drum” meant, things got underway. Arsis are one of the tightest death metal acts that I’ve witnessed in a live setting so far. Aside from a guitar issue that rendered one of their songs a half-ass instrumental, they were pretty well flawless. Midway through their set, with the aid of some goading on the part of frontman James Malone, the first mosh pits of the night broke out. I was a little happy when an obnoxious bimbo who was hippie dancing Shayne and I into the wall got caught in the middle of one. While I wasn’t familiar with some of the material they played (again, I was out of the metal loop for a little while), they closed out their set with pretty blistering renditions of “Seven Whispers Fell Silent” and “The Face of my Innocence,” so I was satisfied.
Up next were German thrashers Destruction. This was really the band that we were there to see. I was informed by the venue’s bouncer that this is only the second tour that Destruction have done of the U.S. I don’t know if that’s true, but the energy of the crowd during their set definitely sold that notion. Aside from a little bit of playful banter at the beginning of their set, Destruction seem to be a band of few words. With the “how’s everybody feeling tonight” schtick kept to a minimum, the band were able to fire off a set that portrayed a rather generous cross section of their lengthy career. The entire front section of the venue erupted into a massive mosh pit that didn’t seem to let up at all until the very last song of their set. There were people sliding across the floor and flying through the air. I watched this unfold with great interest from a close distance. Having never seen Destruction in a live setting, I can definitely say that they lived up to their name. However well the previous two bands may have done, their sets were rendered mere flotsam by the German cyclone that was Destruction. As much as I was looking forward to seeing Sepultura, the night could have ended here and I would have been more than satisfied.
A cymbal change and a floor tom later, Sepultura were up. It has been a fashionable thing over the past decade or so to write this group off as dead. This has been especially true since the departure of Igor Cavalera in 2006. The band are elder statesmen of thrash metal at this point, and their early catalog is a subject of a fervent devotion eclipsed only by the early output of bands like Slayer and Megadeth. While there has been a lot of trash talk in the press lately by a certain ex drummer about the band being “dead,” washed up, whatever, that definitely didn’t seem to be the case. Sepultura play with an intensity that is very difficult to match. We can debate the quality of their newer material all day, but one thing that is not debatable is their prowess as a live act. Their set was pretty well balanced between old and new material. Unfortunately, on the pre-Chaos A.D. material, a weakness does show. Sepultura need a second guitar player. While I was glad that they played old classics like “From the Past Comes the Storms” and “Arise,” there is no denying that there is something missing at key parts where on the albums there are two guitars playing contrapuntal parts. The later, groovier material sounded just fine though. They played what could best be described as a marathon set. After announcing what was to be their last song, they came back on stage for what should have been a short encore. However, a rather enthusiastic group of fans kept shouting “one more song,” and the band were all too happy to oblige, for what must have been an additional hour. Between Derrick Green’s stage presence and the crazy mosh pits, it was a pretty intense experience from a band that have been written off as the corpse of a relic far too many times to count.
Despite the lackluster opening act and all the delays, this turned out to be a pretty good event. The venue was pretty nice, the P.A. sounded good. On top of that, I didn’t get stuck standing behind a giant during the headliners, and my car didn’t get booted.