Friday, May 19, 2017

Goatwhore in Omaha: May 18

Last night, the sludgy black/death metal band Goatwhore came to Omaha, playing with a number of local bands.  The venue was the Lookout Lounge, a small dive bar tucked away in a corner of a strip mall near one of the busiest intersections in the city.  Apparently it is an often-used venue for local metal bands and some of the more underground bands to come to the area.  I will have to keep an eye out for more shows there.  Four local bands opened up for Goatwhore: Drowning in the Platte, Exit Sanity, Orpheus, and Autopsick.  Many of them have strong local support.  It was the first time I had heard of any of them, but they all impressed me to varying degrees.

Drowning in the Platte is a two-person death/grind band from Columbus, Nebraska, a city about half an hour south of me.  The members are brothers and they originally had a bass player, but now exist with just two members.  They had a fairly short set, but had some decent songs, and I like the layered vocals between the two members, similar to Deicide.  Still though, it was missing the bottom end a bit.

Omaha's Exit Sanity was probably the biggest surprise of the night.  They had some terrific, catchy songs and their vocalist sounded like a cross between Phil Anselmo and Kirk Windstein of Crowbar.  Musically, the band blends a number of different styles together: some hard rock, sludge and groove metal elements.  On top of everything, they were there just to have a good time, and certainly looked like it.  The singer (and probably other members, we could not see well) was tossing back beer between songs and bantering with the crowd.  My wife and I were both very impressed with this band.

Orpheus took the stage next.  The local band played a combination of thrash and death metal with some aggressive riffs and shrieking vocals.  Where Drowning in the Platte was completely bereft of a bass guitar, Orpheus was notable for having their bassist stand out throughout their set.  And he was very impressive, though I am not sure that the sound was supposed to work out quite that way.

Autopsick was the last of the local bands to take the stage and their sound was rooted in old school death metal bands such as Immolation, Incantation, and Morbid Angel.  They were probably the most polished of the local bands, though based on some admittedly minor research, I am not sure that is really based on anything more than my own impressions from last night.  They did seem to have a bit of a local following.  I even saw some people come in wearing Autopsick t-shirts.  Apparently the band used to be known as Rotting Malignancy, which was more of a brutal death/slam band, and I now want to find more information about that inactive band.

Finally, the headliners arrived and delivered a blistering set.  Goatwhore has been one of my favorite bands for several years now.  Their music is fast, intense, and aggressive, with very little room for anything close to resembling melody or softness.  Between the grooving black/death metal riffs of Sammy Duet, and the rasping shriek of Ben Falgoust, the band's strengths were on full display.  The small, dirty, dank venue matched the band's own raw and filthy sound perfectly.  They played for a little more than an hour and their set spanned their entire catalog, even closing with a song from early on in their history, when they did tend to have a bit more of a melodic sensibility and used some clean singing.  It was a terrific show for the band and reinforced their standing as one of my current favorite bands.

There was originally some concern about going to this concert.  I had a lot of major hearings scheduled for the week and was not sure I was going to be able to attend this one.  After a few of the hearings dropped out, it became more likely that I was going to be able to go.  My wife was mostly concerned about some bad reviews she read about the bar, but it turned out that we both actually liked the place.  We will be keeping an eye out for shows there in the future.  And I can now say that I have seen Goatwhore in concert.  My wife even enjoyed them a bit more than she thought she would.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Testament and Sepultura in Sioux Falls: May 4

In the last month now, I have seen four legendary thrash metal bands.  Testament and Sepultura were just the latest after seeing Anthrax and Kreator in April.  This was a different venue for us though.  The show was at The District in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about a two-and-a-half hour drive for us.  So it definitely made for a late night, but it was worth it.  There were actually four bands there that night, which I will get to.

Both Testament and Sepultura have been longtime favorite bands for me.  I have been a huge fan of both since I was in high school.  Sepultura was the first band of whom I bought a t-shirt, though I lost it at some point.  It just sort of disappeared at some point.  As for Testament, well, my favorite song of all time is "Return to Serenity" and I went to a signing before they played a show in Lincoln when I was 18.  Unfortunately I did not get to see them that night since it was a 19 and over show.  Chuck Billy had his cancer scare shortly after that and it would be years before the band got back together.

The first band was a relatively young band from Germany called Dying Gorgeous Lies.  I was a little skeptical about what the band would sound like based on that name.  The name suggests they would be more at home opening for The Devil Wears Prada.  But no, they are definitely a thrash metal band.  The singer is a woman whose voice reminds me very much of Holy Moses singer Sabine Classen, so I definitely am on board.  We missed the band's first couple of songs as we had a long drive and decided to try out a Cambodian restaurant before the show.  But what I heard of the band was impressive.  They are definitely a German thrash metal throwback and given my love for that style, I will have to check them out.

Prong was next to the stage, and this is another band that I have enjoyed since I was in high school.  I used to catch them on Headbanger's Ball quite a bit when "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" was out.  I have not been keeping up with them for a very long time so I was surprised that I recognized most of the songs they played.  They stuck pretty well to their first four albums for most of their set.  That is generally their best material anyway.  They definitely sounded good.  It has been over 20 years since I have heard any new material by the band, but their old stuff still sounds great.  They closed out their show with "Snap..." which was appropriate.

I have not been the biggest fan of Sepultura since Max Cavalera left the band, but their albums with him are some of my absolute favorites.  They did play a lot of material from their early years, which was appreciated.  Derrick Green's voice has grown on me a little over the years and after some uneven releases, they are starting to put out some better stuff again now.  Most of the stuff from their Max albums sounded incredible, and I did like the songs they played off their latest album enough that I may have to check it out.  Their last three songs ("Refuse/Resist", "Ratamahatta", and "Roots Bloody Roots") were really amazing and were the highlight of their set.  They were definitely hitting their stride by that point and their energy was infectious.

Finally, Testament took the stage and I finally got to see them after being disappointed back when I was in high school.  The wait was worth it as Testament was incredible.  They played a mix of songs going way back to their first album and generally covering most of their early releases and also featuring a generous sampling of stuff from the new album.  Everyone was in top form and each of the musicians was given the spotlight at one point to show off their abilities.  My wife was quite impressed with Alex Skolnick.  I was more interested in Steve DiGiorgio's bass work myself.  The only disappointment with their show was that they did not play "Return to Serenity", though since that is a slower song, I should not have been that surprised.

This was an early birthday present from my wife and it was a terrific show.  Sepultura and Testament are still two of my all-time favorite bands, Testament possibly being number one.  Definitely a good birthday present.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Kill/Thrax Tour in Omaha: April 29

There have definitely been a lot more interesting concerts around Nebraska lately.  The latest to hit the stage in Omaha was the Kill/Thrax tour on Saturday night.  Four bands, led by Killswitch Engage and Anthrax came through town on a rare Saturday night concert.  Which meant that we could actually sleep in instead of having to get up early and go to work the next morning.  Which is awesome.

It was cold Saturday night.  And raining most of the day.  Simply miserable conditions, so we were not in a big hurry to get there.  Besides, the other band we knew were playing was The Devil Wears Prada, a band I have made my disdain for on this blog very clear.  Unfortunately when we arrived at the venue, another band that we had no idea would be playing was on stage.  It was some group called Code Orange, who play a metallic hardcore style.  That can be done well, just look at Nails among other bands.  Unfortunately, I was not at all impressed with Code Orange, and my wife pretty much hated them.  To each their own I suppose, hardcore has never really been my thing.

After that, Christian hardcore band The Devil Wears Prada started their set.  I really dislike this band.  But I was curious about their name, because of course most people are aware of the movie starring Glenn Close and Anne Hathaway, which does not exactly scream badass rock band.  Apparently the band named themselves after the novel after misinterpreting one of the messages of the novel being an anti-materialistic stance (due to not actually reading the fucking thing).  After realizing they were incorrect, they decided to keep the name and create a new definition of anti-materialism in the name of God.  So apparently, they are idiots as well and did not bother to read the book that was the source of their name.  Their set was predictably annoying.  There was the occasional decent moment and singer Mike Hranica has a pretty good voice, but there is a reason I successfully avoided them when they opened for Slayer and King Diamond and tried to avoid them Saturday.

Next, Killswitch Engage played.  I will admit to not paying much attention to them for over a decade.  I honestly had no idea Jesse Leach was back with the band, and apparently that has been the case since 2012.  I was a little surprised then that the band played so many songs that I recognized from The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies, the only two albums from the band I owned.  Leach sounded great singing them though, very similar to previous vocalist Howard Jones.  KSE was very charismatic on stage and definitely got the crowd going, a large number of whom were apparently there just for that band (lots of people left after their set without staying for Anthrax).  Overall I was pretty impressed with the band's set.  The highlight was them closing things out with a cover of the Dio classic "Holy Diver" which even featured Anthrax singer Joey Belladonna coming out and providing lead vocals.  That was definitely my wife's favorite moment as well.

Finally, Anthrax came out.  Anthrax was the last of the Big 4 thrash metal bands that I had yet to see.  I first discovered Anthrax during the John Bush years, and I still think that Sound of White Noise is an underrated album.  But nothing really compares to their earlier stuff with Belladonna and they played a lot of the classics.  They took the stage playing "Among the Living" and followed that up with "Caught in a Mosh", which got the crowd going.  They played a couple of newer songs, including the infectious "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't" which is my personal favorite track off of Worship Music, their reunion album with Belladonna.  After that they ran through a number of other classics before closing out the set.  Honestly, I was even more impressed with Anthrax than I was with Slayer in concert.  I have developed a newfound appreciation for the band now.  I am going to have to dig out my old Anthrax albums now.  Even my wife enjoyed them more than she thought she would.  I had second thoughts at one point about going to this one, but I am definitely glad we went.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Kreator in Omaha: April 5, 2017

The Waiting Room in Omaha is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues.  I have now seen three shows there and they are all bands I was shocked to see in Nebraska.  Blind Guardian and Queensryche had been there previously.  When I heard that German thrash metal titans Kreator were going to be there, I had to go again.  I have been a big fan of Kreator for about ten years now, and their early albums are some of my favorite thrash metal albums of all time.

Kreator was supported by a couple of local Nebraska bands, which was cool.  I had not previously seen any Nebraska bands live.  Since I am somewhat isolated from Lincoln and Omaha, I only go to shows with bigger bands, instead of checking out local groups.  I was vaguely familiar with both of the supporting bands, so I had a general idea of what to expect.

Garoted was the first band to play on Wednesday night.  The death metal band from Lincoln actually put on a fairly impressive show.  They have been around for about ten years now and have released a couple of albums, so they had quite a bit of material to draw from.  Their music was obviously heavily influenced by early death metal bands and even the German thrash metal scene.  They even covered "Curse the Gods" by Destruction.  All told, I was actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed Garoted.  Even more shocking, my wife did too.

After Garoted came Ezra, the very long-running Lincoln band.  I remember seeing Ezra appear on a cable access show back when I was in high school, which was almost 20 years ago now.  The guitarist and bassist are brothers, though it is their other brother that is inarguably more famous: Cory Schlesinger played football at the University of Nebraska and went on to an 11 year career with the Detroit Lions.  Ezra was a little more raw-sounding than Garoted, but turned in a reasonably impressive performance as well.  I did not remember much about their sound from when I saw them on cable access before, so I don't know if their sound changed at all.

Kreator took the stage next and played a healthy mix of stuff off of their new album and several classics from their more than 30 year career.  I like their latest album, but not nearly as much as their albums from the 1980's and early 1990's.  Stuff from that era was what I was most looking forward to, and Kreator definitely played some good stuff.  "People of the Lie" is perhaps one of my favorite Kreator songs and the band played it fairly early in the set.  I was a little surprised to hear "Phobia" as that is from a mostly-reviled era of their career.  The band was a bludgeoning force all night, they sounded great and were as aggressive as their recorded output.  Mille Petrozza's voice is not as powerful as it was early on in their career, but that is to be expected.  The raw intensity was certainly present though.  Kreator saved the best for last of course, with a three song set at the very end of the show that included "Violent Revolution", "Under the Guillotine", and of course set closer "Pleasure to Kill".  It was great seeing a band that I had no expectation to ever see in Nebraska.  Now, if only Sodom can show up.

After the concert, I asked my wife what she thought.  She said she enjoyed the concert well enough, though the vocals were not to her liking and she was not sure she would like their albums.  That is as close to a ringing endorsement that I could have expected.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Steel Panther and Project Terror at the Aztec Theater, San Antonio, TX on March 18

This was my wife's idea.  I blame her totally for this.  I thought that last year was an anomaly.  Less than one year after we traveled to San Antonio, TX just to attend a concert, there is now a precedent for doing it.  And we found ourselves doing it again last weekend.

For reasons I can not really explain, my wife has really gotten into hair bands.  Groups like Poison, Motley Crue, Cinderella, and the like.  One band she has gotten into recently is Steel Panther, the hair band parody.  She watches tons of video interviews with the band.  They are pretty funny, I will admit, but I have never been really a fan of their music other than finding it mildly amusing.  "Death to All but Metal" is a pretty funny song, but that was about the extent of my prior knowledge.  My wife decided she really wanted to see this band in concert and I told her we could if they got reasonably close.  Well, they were not coming terribly close, but they were coming to San Antonio.  And so, we went.

First off, the Aztec Theater is amazing.  Decorated to look sort of like an Aztec temple, it was a beautiful locale.  It was a little more disturbing when we learned later that it used to used to show porno movies, but the design really was incredible.  The only real problem I had with the venue was that you practically had to take out a mortgage in order to buy a damn drink.  I am not that much of a drinker, but wanted to enjoy a beer that night, since it was my vacation and my damn beer cost almost as much as dinner for the two of us earlier.

The opening band was a local group called Project Terror.  They are a traditional metal band with strong roots in 1980's heavy metal and they played a fairly long set.  They were pretty decent.  The guitarists were pretty impressive, even to the point that the band did a very competent cover of a Yngwie Malmsteen song with Rising Force.  Vocalist Ronnie Stixx has been around for a while and had strong pipes.  The highlight was probably their song "Raise Your Fist", in which Stixx did a great Halford impression singing a Running Wild song.  Project Terror was pretty decent and was probably the highlight of the night for me.  I love discovering bands I have not previously heard before.

But the highlight for my wife was undoubtedly Steel Panther.  They looked typically ridiculous when they took the stage, like rejects from Poison.  Nothing less was expected though since they are what they are.  Bassist Lexxi Foxx was wearing brightly colored pants referred to as peacock pants.  Their personas were on full display and they spent a lot of time bantering between songs and insulting each other.  The bassist was the usual target of jabs and spent a lot of time preening and looking at himself in a bedazzled pink mirror.  I will say they are very talented musicians, particularly guitarist Satchel who performed an extended solo in which he stood at the drumset and kept time by playing the bass drum while shredding.  There was a fair amount of audience participation as well, usually the band pulling women onto the stage to embarrass them a little bit.  The performance was definitely entertaining.  I am still not really a fan of the band, but I had a good time, and it made my wife happy, which is nice.

The best part of the trip though was the food.  The last time we were down to San Antonio, we discovered a terrific Chinese restaurant in Austin called Ho Ho's Chinese BBQ and we had to stop there on the way there and back.  We also ordered Franklin BBQ, apparently a world-famous barbecue place, also in Austin.  I would definitely go back for the food alone.

All in all, it was a fun trip.  I can not say I would have ever considered going to see Steel Panther before, but I had a good time, and of course my wife loved it.  I will be getting back at her with a couple of the concerts we have planned over the next couple of months though...  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

So, the Grammys...

Lots to talk about here.  First of all, the award for Best Metal Performance went to Megadeth for "Dystopia".  I was pleased with this.  The other contenders were Periphery, Baroness, Gojira, and Korn.  And frankly, all but Korn probably deserved to be in this category.  I would have loved to see Gojira win it, and Baroness's song was one of the catchiest of the year, but Megadeth's album was damn good.  It is too much to expect the Grammys to give the award to an underground band like Gojira, so the Megadeth victory was not at all surprising.  Once I saw the nominees, I knew who would win.

But that obviously was not the whole story of the night.  There were all of the slights.  For one, Megadeth took the stage to a Metallica song.  Metallica performed, but with Lady Gaga.  Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox introduced the performance, but neglected to name Metallica.  And then, James Hetfield's mic did not work for the first half of the song.  Honestly, I do not think any of the issues were intentional, though they were frustrating.  Frankly, I thought the Lady Gaga/Metallica performance was quite impressive.  She sounded good singing for Metallica, and I have always respected her music, though not really enjoying it.

The Grammys have never really known what to do about metal.  That was obvious from the very beginning when Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for the first Best Metal Performance Grammy.  Now, the award is not even televised on the actual program and there have been a long list of questionable choices.  I don't think this year's issues were intentional, but they are new additions in the Grammy Awards long history of incompetence in handling metal music.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

TSO in Council Bluffs: November 17, 2016

Somehow I forgot this one and my wife keeps pestering me to go back and write it.  Unfortunately I don't have a lot of specific memories of it.  I have seen TSO with my wife four times now and this was one of the less impressive concerts.  Something just seemed to be missing and I don't know what it was.  The scale of the concert seemed to be cut down, there seemed to be fewer musicians, fewer songs, and the theme seemed like a rehash of previous ones.  I have no idea if any of this actually was true, but that is the way it seemed to me.

Of course the show was still entertaining.  Trans-Siberian Orchestra are phenomenal musicians, including some amazing singers.  And of course the visuals are always spectacular as well.  The story this time around was about a young woman who broke into an abandoned theater for warmth where a man, who was likely a ghost, found her and helped turn her decide to go back to her family.  And TSO did the usual two shows thing, following up the Christmas program with a much more rock-oriented show afterwards.

It was a good time, as it usually is, it just seemed somehow lacking this last year.  Nevertheless, I am sure I will end up seeing them again.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Best of 2016

I should qualify this here.  Honestly, I have not heard that many new albums in 2016.  In fact, it is the fewest I have heard since well before I started this blog.  Because I checked out so few albums, all of the bands are safe bands for me.  I did not experiment with any groups I was not already familiar with and already enjoyed.  So this list is going to have some limitations.

Rotting Christ has been declining for several years now.  And this is my least favorite of their albums so far.  Aealo, their 2010 album was their last really good one.  The biggest problem is that this album is more of a collection of ideas than actual songs.  The band seems more interested in playing soundtrack scores for movies like 300 than in crafting real songs.  The spoken word sections and samples used throughout the album certainly add to the soundtrack feel.  It is a credit to the band's ability that even this sounds interesting enough.  There are definitely some good moments throughout the release, but this album is largely a disappointment.  

Skeletonwitch is easily one of the best metal bands going right now.  And this release shows why.  Every song on it is perfect, with great vocals, face-melting intensity, and infectious riffs.  The only problem is that it is an EP, and I had no idea that it was not a full-length album.  It seems a little cruel to hold that against the release, but it is my blog and I can do what I want.  So, because this is just an EP, it falls pretty far down the list.  I am just looking forward to the next album.

This is a weird one.  The title gives away that this is basically a split album, but it is a split album by just one band.  Let me explain.  Defeated Sanity has always been a little bit strange, combining some of the most brutal slam death with some bizarre jazz-like sections.  So the band took both sides of its sound and split them up.  The first six songs are straightforward brutal death/slam.  The next five emphasize the more experimental oddball side of the band.  Still brutally intense, but with some absolutely off-kilter moments.  It is an intriguing idea, and Defeated Sanity succeed.

Probably the most anticipated metal album for a lot of people (though not for me, we'll get to mine).  For the most part, Metallica has put out one of their best albums in a very long time.  The songs are tighter and punchier than anything on Death Magnetic, and I actually liked that album.  There are definitely some terrific songs on this album.  It also helps that the songs don't linger for too long.  They are not nearly as long as some of the songs they have been putting out lately.  They are still mostly incapable of getting through a song in less than six minutes, but then, Metallica has always been like that.  This is absolutely one of their best albums in years, but it is just not as good as many of the other albums this year.

Gothenburg-style melodeath has mostly disappeared into the ether over the years.  Many of the bands that popularized the form have changed their sound drastically.  But there are a few bands that still sound like the best that style had to offer and Finland's Omnium Gatherum are one of them.  I have only had this album for about a week, so it is still sinking in, but it is a good example of what made this style so interesting in the first place.  There is nothing much risky and ground-breaking here, it is just a solid piece of melodeath, similar to the best releases by In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork.

The Italian symphonic death metallers keep getting better and better.  At first their symphonic elements were a little unwieldy, threatening to take over the sound and sounding a little clumsy.  But over the next few releases, they have been able to incorporate the orchestration more and more to the point that their sound is much more all-encompassing.  The symphonic sections are grandiose while the death metal sections are properly brutal.  And the two mix together very well.  This is a style that does not make much sense on paper, but Fleshgod Apocalypse pull it off nicely and have been doing so for a few years now.

One of the most ambitious albums of the year comes from the Finnish melodeath band Insomnium, who have put out a number of terrific albums.  This entire album is just one 40 minute long song.  Other bands have done that in the past (Edge of Sanity's Crimson comes to mind), and it is of course an extremely challenging thing to do.  The story is based on a short story written by the band's bassist.  The more I listen to it, the more this one grows on me.  It is extremely difficult to write a 40 minute song that doesn't completely lose the listener, but this one does a good job of retaining interest throughout.  It is more of a collection of movements than one cohesive song, but it manages to to not drift into the background.

It has only been three years since Wormed's last album, which is damn impressive since their previous album to that was ten years earlier.  The technical slam death band from Spain has outdone themselves yet again.  Each of their albums seems to be better than the last.  Their sci-fi lyrics fit in well with the unconventional song structures and constantly shifting progressions.  The drumming is particularly impressive throughout.  The only constant on the album is the overall uncompromising brutality.  This is not an easy listen for someone not familiar with the band, but after several sessions, it sinks in and doesn't let go.

The long-anticipated full-length release of the original guitarists from Mercyful Fate finally dropped this last year.  After a terrific four-song EP in 2015, the full-length features all new songs.  Michael Denner and Hank Shermann have been doing this for a long time and they know how to write some damn good riffs.  This album is very good from beginning to end.  The only real complaint that I have is that vocalist Sean Peck is not quite the powerful vocalist that would sound best with this blackened heavy metal style.  Someone more like Harry Conklin of Satan's Host would work better.  Other than that, this debut full-length is damn impressive.

The long-time Immortal member Abbath Doom Occulta (probably not his real name) has formed a solo album after years of playing just about every instrument the black metal legends.  All he does for Abbath is sing and play guitars, and of course write all of the music.  Abbath has always had more of a melodic sensibility to his riffing style, as opposed to the blazing fast brutality of previous Immortal guitarist Demonaz.  That sensibility shines through here as he writes his own music.  It is an infectious, powerful album with the kind of classic metal-infused black metal that Abbath has been hinting at throughout his career with Immortal and I.  His ideas are now fully-realized on this release.

Grand Magus can do no wrong.  Criminally underrated, the traditional heavy metal band just keeps putting out classic albums that almost no one seems to hear.  And that is a shame.  Heavily influenced by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and so many of the titans of the genre, Grand Magus forges its own identity through songs about warfare and battle.  Their sound is masculine and powerful.  There is no room for cowardice.  This is pure fucking metal, plain and simple.  There is nothing soft here, no emotions shrouding things.  Pure.  Fucking.  Metal.

Revocation is currently one of my favorite bands.  It has been that way for quite some time now really.  The technical thrash/death metal band is about as close to late-era Death as bands can get, and honestly that was my favorite era of Death's output.  But they take things much farther with some unusual moments of their own.  Revocation continues to grow and continues to improve on their already unique sound.  Each album seems to get better and better.  Plus this album features one hell of a Slayer cover on it.  It takes a great band to do justice to a Slayer cover, and Revocation is a great band.

It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Destroyer 666 will make my Top 5 every year that they release an album.  The only frustrating aspect is that they don't do it nearly often enough.  This is their first full-length album since 2009.  One of the biggest surprises on the album is the inclusion of a few clean-singing moments.  That is definitely out of left field for this group, known more for its extremely brutal brand of blackened thrash.  Featuring incendiary lead guitars, frenetic riffs, shrieking vocals, and some of the best songs the band has ever written, this is up there with the absolutely perfect Cold Steel...For an Iron Age among the band's best albums.  An easy choice to be this high on the list.

Yes, Megadeth's newest album is that much better than Metallica's newest album.  But that really should not be that surprising.  I have seen Megadeth live twice this last year and they continue to put on an incredible live show.  This is quite possibly Megadeth's best album since Countdown to Extinction, and that is really saying something because they put out a number of good, even great albums during that time.  But Mustaine's guitar riffs and solos and his sneering vocal style have not sounded this good in years.  After a couple of lackluster albums, Megadeth has come charging back into top form.  This is a fantastic comeback album and one of the legendary band's best albums in years.

I mentioned previously that the new Metallica album was not my most anticipated album.  That honor belongs to this one.  Sure it has only been three years, but anytime a new Testament album is coming out, I have to get it.  Testament is one of my favorite bands of all time, if not my favorite.  And this album definitely does not disappoint.  This is probably my favorite release by the band since they re-formed after singer Chuck Billy's successful bout with cancer.  The band's brutal blend of thrash, death, and groove metal has not sounded this good since 1999's The Gathering.  This is far darker and more intense than anything the band has done in years and it blows away most of the other albums I have heard this year.  Except for one.

I have been a fan of Vektor ever since I first heard the band.  They are the perfect blend of The Sound of Perseverence-era Death and Nothingface-era Voivod.  And this is their best album yet, which is really saying something as each of their albums have been incredible.  This one blows them away.  An intense, epic sci-fi concept album, this release is progressive and punishing at the same time.  Vektor has always been about pushing the boundaries of metal and they are in top form on this release.  All of the musical risks they take, and there are many, pay off.  This is an absolutely incredible album all the way through.  The very first time I heard it, I knew it would end up being the best album of the year.  It is hard for me to imagine anything topping this one this year either.      

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Queensryche and Armored Saint in Omaha: December 13

Two nights ago, the progressive metal band Queensryche took to the stage at The Waiting Room in Omaha.  Once again, on a Tuesday night.  Nebraska kind of sucks that way.  The concert also did not start until 9:00 p.m.  Which is crazy.  With us having to drive almost two hours to get there and back, it promised to be a very late night.  And this week was already pretty stressful.

I'll be honest, I did not have the highest of hopes for this concert.  There were three bands present and there were questions about all of them.  The first band was Midnight Eternal, a band with whom I was completely unfamiliar.  The Metal Archives lists them as a symphonic metal band and they have a female lead singer, so my first thought was "Nightwish clone".  I have only heard two albums from Armored Saint, one of which I love, and the other I really don't care for.  Most of my knowledge beyond that was that they appeared in Hellraiser 3 and singer John Bush spent some time with Anthrax.  I was most familiar with Queensryche but have not really heard much from them since 1994's Promised Land.  I was not even aware until a few days before that singer Geoff Tate was no longer with the band, which made me that much more wary.  So I did not have the highest of hopes, but it was a chance to see a band I really enjoyed at one point, and my wife wanted to see them, so we went.  And I am so glad that I did, because this was possibly the best concert I have seen all year.  And I have seen several.

Midnight Eternal was not terribly impressive.  Their music was decent enough but my initial impression upon looking into them was correct.  Their pixie-ish singer was talented enough but did not really match up with the music that well.  They were decent, but I don't see myself rushing out to get their album any time soon.

But where Midnight Eternal failed to impress, Armored Saint came out swinging.  They sounded amazing and it is hard to imagine that this is a band likely in their late 40's/early 50's.  John Bush's voice still has the same power it did when they released the Symbol of Salvation album.  They played two tracks off of that album, which is really a classic.  Unfortunately they did not play "Hanging Judge", my personal favorite from it.  They played songs from throughout their career.  I did recognize one track from the album I did not like that much, but it was admittedly the best song from it.  My wife really enjoyed Armored Saint as well.  I may just have to look into their earlier catalog.

After that, Queensryche came on, and they blew me away.  New singer Todd La Torre, formerly of Crimson Glory, sounds so much like Geoff Tate that I would likely not have been able to tell the difference if I just heard them.  The Waiting Room does not have the biggest stage, but Queensryche managed to cram two huge monitors in to show some visual displays during most of their songs, including a little animated feature prior to "Operation: Mindcrime".  As I mentioned, I am only really familiar with the band's material up until Promised Land.  Luckily the vast majority of the songs played were from that time period.  There were only three or four newer songs, all of which were surprisingly good.  But by far the best stuff was the earlier songs, like "Queen of the Reich", "Empire", "Damaged", and "Rage for Order".  I was a little disappointed that they did not play "I Don't Believe in Love", but that was a small disappointment.  The band was in top form throughout and La Torre sounded amazing.  They closed out the night with a blistering version of "Eyes of a Stranger".  I was definitely impressed.

My wife wants it to be known that they were not as good as Scorpions from earlier in the year, but honestly, as much as I enjoyed that show, I enjoyed this one more.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Megadeth in Council Bluffs: October 3, 2016

Last night my wife and I traveled to the Omaha area (Council Bluffs is just across the river in Iowa) for the third time in the last week and a half to catch a concert.  This time, Megadeth was headlining a show featuring four other bands.  This is the third time that I have seen Megadeth, but the first time that they have been the headlining act.  I saw them for the first time a few years ago when Rob Zombie was headlining and I saw them earlier this year at a festival in Texas.  I was excited to see what they would do as the headliner.  The four supporting bands last night were Amon Amarth, Suicidal Tendencies, Metal Church, and Butcher Babies.

In a rare occurrence for my wife and I, we were quite a bit early.  There were very few people in the seats and a handful in front of the stage when we arrived.  That gave us some time to wander around a little and find the merchandise table, where I finally got a Megadeth t-shirt.  At the festival earlier this year, they were completely sold out of Megadeth shirts in my size.  We then found our seats where we realized that Butcher Babies would be the first band to play, instead of Havok as we originally thought.  Apparently they had been kicked off the tour a couple of months ago due to a dispute with management and I did not realize this.  That kind of sucked because I was excited to see Havok, one of the better recent thrash metal bands.

So Butcher Babies took the stage, and I was already annoyed about Havok not being there.  And then Butcher Babies started playing, and my annoyance increased exponentially.  Butcher Babies is basically a novelty band.  They have achieved notoriety from having not one, but two, beautiful female singers (as my wife said, four boobs are better than two).  Early on the band's career, they took the stage topless in just pasties, but now dress like naughty schoolgirls, showing a lot of cleavage.  They both utilize extreme vocal styles, such as growling and screaming, and bounce around all over the stage.  Having two singers would make sense if they used two different vocal styles a la Scar Symmetry, but Butcher Babies do not do this.  The music was annoying too, Butcher Babies is basically Coal Chamber sonically.  So, things did not start off too well.  I will not be picking up any Butcher Babies albums, and my wife still thinks they are called Stabby Sisters.

Metal Church was next.  I am not completely familiar with their catalog, outside of their first two albums and one of their more recent ones.  The band had recently reunited with singer Mike Howe, who took over for David Wayne, the singer on the band's first two classic releases.  Unfortunately the band seemed to have the shortest set, playing just five songs, though one of the songs "Beyond the Black" was extended somewhat.  Four out of the five songs appeared on Metal Church's first three albums, so they stuck to the classic era.  The only other one appears on their newest album.  Metal Church sounded great, though Howe was a little worse for wear.  Kurt Vanderhoof's guitar work remains the band's biggest strength.

After another break, Suicidal Tendencies took the stage playing "You Can't Bring Me Down", which is my personal favorite ST track.  Despite the advanced age of some of the members (singer Mike Muir is 53), the band still moves across the stage like a bunch of damn maniacs.  Their set was energetic and filled with the kind of punk-infused thrash metal that made the band one of the forefathers of crossover.  Muir's frequent preachiness got a little old quickly, though that was the only downside.  I have been a fan of Suicidal Tendencies since early in my formative years in metal and the band played a number of songs that I was captivated by early on.  My wife, on the other hand, was not nearly as impressed.  The other big surprise was that Dave Lombardo, legendary drummer for Slayer and Testament, among other bands, was hitting the skins for Suicidal.

Despite having just seen Amon Amarth in concert a few months prior, I was pretty excited to see them again.  The stage set was different this time around, they had a boat in the middle of the stage instead of a viking helmet.  A number of the songs were the same as earlier in the year.  But they seemed to have a little more energy.  I have been a big fan of Amon Amarth's particular brand of viking-oriented melodic death metal since the first time I heard them, and last night was a reminder of why.

Finally, the headliners took to the stage.  Megadeth sounded terrific, although Dave may have been suffering from a little bit of a cold.  His voice was not quite right.  Megadeth played a wide assortment of songs from their entire history, as well as a few songs off of their newest album, which really is a very good release.  Megadeth opened things up with the classic "Hangar 18" and covered a few other songs from Rust in Peace as well, including the blistering "Tornado of Souls".  Along the way, they covered most of the bigger songs in the band's extensive catalog.  As expected, Mustaine and new lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro were the highlights of the night with their back and forth soloing.  They closed things out with the ball-busting "Holy Wars".

After three concerts in a week and a half, I am glad that it will be a little while before the next one.  Having to travel two hours to get there and getting home at 1 to 2 a.m. on weeknights can be a little tiring.  Nevertheless, I am already looking forward to the next one.  Most likely that will be in December when Queensryche comes to Omaha.  My wife and I will also be seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra in November as well.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Trivium with Sabaton and Huntress in Omaha: September 29, 2016

For the second week in a row, I found myself driving down to Omaha on a Thursday night to catch a metal concert with my wife, who is getting more and more interested.  Things have come a long ways since she was falling asleep during the Opeth and Overkill concerts.  This concert was headlined by Trivium, a band that I loved when I was in law school.  I will say that I was more interested in seeing Huntress than Trivium, and I had not heard Sabaton before.  I have liked some of Trivium's stuff after The Crusade, but I did not check out their two most recent albums at all.  Huntress's album made it into my Top 5 of 2013, but again, I have not checked out their more recent output.

Huntress was the first to take the stage and they did sound excellent.  Jill Janus's voice was in top form for the most part, other than when she was doing screaching vocals.  It was the guitar work of Eli Santana that was the most impressive aspect of the band's show.  Huntress did play "I Want to Fuck You to Death", which was one of their best songs off of Starbound Beast.  I was not aware that Lemmy Kilmister helped write the song before last night.  Janus told the story of wanting to have the venerable Motorhead singer co-write a song with her and he presented the lyrics to this song.  Huntress plays classic-sounding pure metal and Janus's vocal range is awesome.  It was a great way to start off what would be a great night of metal.

I have apparently missed out on something with Sabaton.  They had a huge fanbase present at the show.  As I mentioned, I had not heard Sabaton before, as power metal has never been one of my particular favorite subgenres.  But they blew the roof off.  Emboldened by some terrific fan response, they were energetic and charismatic on stage and played some damn catchy songs.  Sabaton was definitely the highlight of the night, and it is not very often that a supporting band can really say that.  I will definitely be checking out some of the band's discography.  My wife was also very impressed with Sabaton, which is surprising, to say the least.

Finally, Trivium took the stage.  I am much more familiar with their catalog than the other two bands and recognized most of the songs they played.  And they played most of the songs that I expected.  Their setlist encompassed their entire output, even one song off of their very first album.  Trivium is usually at their best when they are avoiding the harsh vocals of their past, and thankfully they only played a couple of those songs.  The dueling guitar attack of Cory Beaulieu and Matt Heafy is definitely the band's strength and took center stage last night as well.  I was a little surprised that Trivium played "In Waves" as their encore, instead of the tailor-made for an encore "Anthem (We are the Fire)".

All in all, last night was a lot of fun for the both of us.  I was pleasantly surprised by Trivium's show, but Sabaton were definitely the highlight of the night.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Blind Guardian and Grave Digger in Omaha: September 22, 2016

Last night, my wife and I attended the Blind Guardian concert in Omaha at the Waiting Room Lounge, a venue I have not previously been to.  Grave Digger was opening, so it was sure to be a fun night of German heavy metal.  The Waiting Room is a fairly small venue.  It is a bar that happens to have a stage area and a floor in front.  We found some seats at a table that had been moved to the back of the floor area.

Grave Digger was the first to take the stage and they played a blistering 45 minute set.  They are looking somewhat worse for wear, still dressing as they would have during the 1980's, but with graying and balding hair.  But they still sounded damn good.  I am not completely familiar with Grave Digger's catalogue, I only have one of their albums, but I did recognize one of the songs they played, which was my favorite off of the album I own, "Ballad of a Hangman".  Many of the other songs played had me convinced that I needed to check out more of their output.  Singer Chris Boltendahl was definitely charismatic and kept the crowd in it throughout the entire show.  All in all, it was a very impressive show for a band that has been around for more than three decades at this point.

Blind Guardian was up next, playing a track I had not heard before, though it would be the only one the entire show.  Afterwards, they played the enormously popular "Welcome to Dying", followed by the rollicking "Nightfall".  Blind Guardian has always had some rather unique lyrical themes for metal, and the next song "Fly" certainly qualified.  Only Blind Guardian can write a song about Peter Pan and make it sound metal as fuck.  After that, the band played the entirety of the album Imaginations from the Other Side, which was always my favorite of their albums.  They sounded just as good live as the album did, and that album is over 20 years old, which is incredible.  They closed the set after finishing up with the album, and then it was encore time and Blind Guardian delivered.  They started off with "Sacred Worlds", the best song off of their last album.  Later they performed the acoustic "Bard's Song-In the Forest" with the crowd singing along before closing the show out for real with "Mirror Mirror".  The band really did sound like they were 20 years younger, and singer Hansi Kursch still has the dynamic range that has become one of the key components of the band's sound.

This was my first time seeing a power metal band in concert.  Blind Guardian is of course one of the greatest power metal bands in history.  This was apparently their first concert in Nebraska, and the crowd was really involved.  Hopefully this will spread and more groups will make it over here.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Guns 'N Roses and Alice in Chains in Kansas City: 6/29/16

No, Guns 'N Roses does not really belong on this blog.  They are not a metal band after all, but they were heavily influential in helping to lead me to metal.  My older brother was a big fan of the band and had their first four albums.  In those days, the band was everywhere.  "Welcome to the Jungle", "Paradise City", and "Sweet Child O' Mine" were already massive hits and the band was striking it big with the hits from the two Use Your Illusion albums.  I have always enjoyed their music, though never quite enough to pick up any of the albums.

It was not my idea to go to this concert.  My wife has been slowly converting into a hard rock fan and has developed a particular fondness for attending concerts.  We have been to a number of concerts over the last year or so, many of which she wanted to attend.  I was okay with the idea of going since it was mostly a reunion for the band.  Slash, Dizzy Reed, and Duff McKagan re-joined the band with Axl Rose.  Richard Fortus had been with the band since 2002 and Frank Ferrer since 2006.  They also featured a second keyboard player Melissa Reese.  So, much of the band from the height of their popularity was back.  So that was enough to make me at least somewhat interested, though it was still my wife's idea to go to it.  Now, when it was announced that Alice in Chains would open for them, I was fully on board.

Well it turned out that we missed most of the Alice in Chains set.  Getting to Arrowhead Stadium in the first place proved to be a debacle.  Traffic was terrible and they were doing some inexplicable things with the entrances to the parking lot.  After that, we had to walk all the way around the stadium to get to the right gate, then wait in line for 20 minutes to get in.  Finally, we were on our way to our seats on the third level, only to find that we were bumped up to the third row of the floor seating area, right behind a kid that looked like a teen-aged Axl Rose, complete with long stringy hair and red bandanna.  Which was great, but meant we had to turn back around and head all the way down.  It just goes to show you should never pay full-price for the best seats.  This is the second time we have been moved up considerably.  By the time we finally got to our seats, Alice in Chains was playing "Rooster".  And then, they were done.  We heard bits and pieces of them playing "Down in a Hole" and "Would?", but that was it.  It was horribly disappointing.

A short time later, G'nR took the stage to "It's So Easy", which struck me as odd.  They have the perfect opening song in their arsenal in "Welcome to the Jungle".  Fuck, it even has "Welcome" in the title.  Why is that not the opener?  I was not sure what to expect from the band honestly.  I remember Axl showing up on some awards show several years back with Buckethead as his guitarist and being utterly unimpressed.  I was pleasantly surprised at how good the band actually sounded.  Axl's voice was obviously not as powerful as it had been when he was younger, but he did sound reasonably close.  He and Slash are a little pudgy these days and look kind of ridiculous wearing the same clothing they wore when they were in their 20's, but at least their sound is reasonably close.

Guns 'N Roses played most of their biggest hits and a lot of other fan favorites as well.  They also played at least one or two songs from the maligned Chinese Democracy album, which I could have done without personally.  In looking at their catalog later, the only song that sticks out in my mind that they did not play was "Patience", which is a little too soft and slow anyway.  After playing for two hours, they seemingly closed out the show with "Night Train" only to come back and play "Don't Cry" and close things out with "Paradise City".  It was a bit of a long concert, but it was a surprisingly good show from a rejuvenated band.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

River City Rockfest: San Antonio, TX 5/29/16

I did something last weekend I swore I would never do again.  I went to an all-day, outdoor music festival in the summer.  And I did it in Texas.  Don't blame me.  Blame my wife.  She was the one that wanted to go to this festival.  She has recently become a big fan of hard rock and heavy metal from the 1980's and the Scorpions are one of her favorite bands.  I like the Scorpions as well, though not quite to her level.  So she got it in her mind that she wanted to see them in concert, but the Scorpions do not really tour much these days.  They were going to be co-headlining the River City Rockfest in San Antonio though and so an idea for a vacation was formed.  The bands at the festival were mostly more modern rock-oriented, with some over-the-hill nu metal bands, and some older metal bands as well.

After two days of driving, we arrived at San Antonio the night before the festival.  We decided to skip the first act and get some lunch before heading over.  We missed Pop Evil, a band I am not at all familiar with other than my sister-in-law's boyfriend wearing their t-shirt all the time.  We also missed Avatar and Red Sun Rising, two other bands with whom I am not familiar.  The first band we saw was DevilDriver.  I have a couple of their albums, but I did not hear any of the songs from those releases.  To be fair, with as many bands as played, most of the setlists were fairly short.  Most of the songs kind of blended together.  They were decent, but I am not as familiar with their music as I once was.  Dez sounded great, as expected though.

After DevilDriver, we did not really pay much attention to the bands for a little while, trying to track down t-shirts and water, since it was 90 degrees and humid.  We barely heard Texas Hippie Coalition or Hellyeah, though to be fair, I am not really a fan of either band.  I also saw Hellyeah last summer with Slayer and King Diamond.  The singer gave the exact same "metal saved my life" bullshit speech that he gave last year.  We did get a look at the pathetic-looking third stage which was barely large enough for an entire band to stand on and rarely had more than a handful of fans watching.  I had not heard of any of the third stage bands and did not particularly want to move around much due to the heat.  We brought lawn chairs and positioned them in an area that allowed us to see and hear the first two stages.  The bands were staggered so that there was not typically two bands playing at the same time for more than a couple of minutes.

The next band that my wife wanted to see was Sixx A.M., Nikki Sixx's band.  This was fairly typical modern hard rock with a bit of the hair band flair.  The songs were catchy enough.  I doubt I will ever really like them myself though.  On the second stage after Sixx A.M. came The Sword, who I have seen before opening for Metallica.  This is another band I have not really kept up with, though I did recognize a couple of songs.  Their particular brand of psychedelic doom metal did not really appeal to too many in the crowd.

After The Sword, we had to seek shelter from the heat for a little bit.  Besides, the next two bands were Bullet for My Valentine (who I hate), and Hatebreed (who I am mostly ambivalent towards).  There was a sideshow called Hellzaopoppin that was performing in a small indoor area with fans running.  The acts were not very exciting though, other than one man who was missing his entire lower torso.  It was amazing he was even still alive.  We hid out there for a little while until close to the time that the band I was most excited to see would be taking the stage: Megadeth.

This was my second time seeing Megadeth.  Dave Mustaine was not quite as animated onstage and a lot of his normal commentary was missing, but they still sounded good.  They played a number of classic Megadeth songs like "Hangar 18", "Peace Sells", and "Holy Wars", but they also played a number of songs from their newest album, which is a pretty good release.

Once Megadeth was done, we moved forward closer to the main stage as the Scorpions would be taking the stage after the second stage band was done.  Fine with me, as P.O.D. was never exactly one of my favorite bands, even when I did like nu-metal.  A huge crowd gathered around the stage.  Amazing that a band that has been around for nearly half a century could still gather that much of a crowd.  The Scorpions were amazing and were definitely the highlight of the day.  The fact that men in their late 60's still could play that well, in the sweltering heat of Texas, was truly mind-blowing.  They played a number of their biggest songs: "No One Like You", "Big City Nights", and "The Zoo".  They acted like they were closing their show after an hour, but it was pretty obvious they would be back to play "Rock You Like a Hurricane".  And as expected, they did return to play two more songs, starting out with "Still Loving You" and closing with their biggest hit, which we all expected.

After that, we decided to take off, missing the last two bands: Sevendust and Disturbed.  I have seen both bands when I was in college, and did not have a whole lot of desire to stick around.  It had been a long day and hot.  The last all-day music festival I attended resulted in me getting heat stroke.  I was not looking forward to that happening again.  Luckily, I stayed hydrated and survived.  My wife did too, obviously, or this would be a much different post.  I swore after that last one that I would never do this again.  But I did, and we traveled all the way to Texas in what could have been a very bad move to do so.