(July 31, 2015; POP’S NIGHTCLUB, Sauget IL)

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I don’t get out to Pop’s as much as I used to; it used to be THE place for the heaviest of metal and extreme acts but, now, with places like the Firebird, Fubar and Ready Room stepping up their game across the river, a good number of the smaller shows are booking those places. THIS was not a small show; a reconstituted Coal Chamber were touring behind the release of their excellent RIVALS album, Fear Factory’s new record GENEXUS was due for release the following week and, well… I mean, Jamey Jasta… am I right?

Madlife (Isaiah Stuart; Angry Phill) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Madlife (Isaiah Stuart; Angry Phill) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Los Angeles based four-piece Madlife are fifteen year veterans of the metal wars, with three EPs and one full-length album to their credit. The group’s live sound is not unlike that of the early industrial noises of old friends, Godhead. Founding members Angry Phill (vocals) and Isaiah Stuart (guitar) are joined by Kyle Cunningham on drums and new guy Topher Graves on bass, skirting the boundaries between industrial, metal and hard rock with a uniquely twisted LA pop sensibility. The concept and the blurred lines work well on a stacked tour like this one, particularly on tunes like “To Live and Die In Hollywood.” The band’s stage look is kinda nu-metal chic, with Phill’s modified flak jacket and coal miner-like facial smudges, evoking memories of Rammstein. Pop’s crowds are notoriously noncommittal (if not downright nasty) to opening acts, especially on high-profile tours like Coal Chamber’s latest jaunt but, if the early birds didn’t necessarily welcome the group with wide open arms, a good majority seemed to accept and appreciate what they were offering. With a new album due out soon, Madlife is a band to keep your eye on.

Saint Ridley (Paul Ridley) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Saint Ridley (Paul Ridley) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Saint Ridley – the band led by (and the alter ego of) vocalist Paul Ridley – hail from Detroit, the home of bad-ass rockers since the dawn of time. Ridley may just be the baddest of all; having died twice on the table while undergoing an invasive weight loss surgery called a duodenal switch, he was onstage at Michigan’s Dirt Fest two days later (against doctor’s orders)! The man is either crazy or totally dedicated to his music and his fans. The violent din rising from the stage on this night gave credence to both assumptions. Ridley’s vocals roared over the down-tuned rumble of the well-oiled machinery of guitarists Phil “Alabama” Durham and David “Texas” Flynn, bassist Nathan Garcia and drummer Richard Schlager. With a sound that was equal parts Pantera, Filter, Korn and just a bit of MC5 Motor City mayhem (particularly evident on “Burn”), the group kept it tight and heavy, offering up doses of Ridley’s brutal introspections, both new and from 2014’s FOOL OR A KING release. Paul mentioned a new album will be heading our way soon… I, for one, can’t wait!

Jasta (Jamey Jasta; Pat Seymour) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Jasta (Jamey Jasta; Pat Seymour) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

As the culture and face of metal began to shift in the shadows of a new millennium, MTV began shifting the focus of their HEADBANGER’S BALL to the harder, more extreme types of metal and hardcore that were then gaining momentum; as part of that refocusing, Hatebreed songwriter and vocalist Jamey Jasta was tapped as the new host of the program. The national exposure catapulted Jamey (though, unfortunately, not the band) to new heights of popularity. While some claim that the experience softened Jasta and his musical ventures, it did nothing of the sort, as he continues to explore the darkest recesses of the metalcore genre that he helped create. His solo band, Jasta, hit the Pop’s stage raging and barely slowed enough to suck oxygen into their lungs. The band was a super-group of sorts, with Jasta utilizing members of the sludgy Kingdom of Sorrow – bassist Chris Beaudette and former guitarist Steve Gibb (who has also spent time with both Crowbar and Black Label Society) – as well Eyes of the Dead guitarist Pat Seymour and drummer Joey DiBiase, on loan from the band Oath.

Jasta (Jamey Jasta; Chris Beaudette) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Jasta (Jamey Jasta; Chris Beaudette) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Most of the material played was from the self-titled album, JASTA, including set opener, “Walk That Path Alone.” The grinding brutality of the onslaught of “Screams From the Sanctuary” and “Enslaved, Dead or Depraved” were well received, as were a cover of Running Wild’s “Soldiers of Hell” and “Buried In Black,” a tune from Kingdom of Sorrow’s first album. The high point of the set was Hatebreed’s call-to-arms, “I Will Be Heard,” with Jamey telling the minions that he wanted to see “an old-fashioned circle pit.” He eventually gave up when it was obvious that no one knew what a circle pit was and, instead, began shoving and swinging at everyone indiscriminately. You see, guys… that’s why we can’t have nice things! This band was every bit as driven and impassioned as Hatebreed and, hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of Jasta.

Fear Factory (Dino Cazares) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Fear Factory (Dino Cazares) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As a newly reconstructed (former Static X and Soulfly bassist Tony Campos is now in the fold) and revitalized Fear Factory took the stage, their mission statement was obvious: Crush all contenders, demolish all pretenders. Founding members, vocalist Burton C Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares, ruled the stage and commanded the attention of even the most distracted members of the crowd from the outset. With Campos and newish drummer Mike Heller laying down a suffocating bottom end, the band tore through a couple of tunes from the 1998 breakthrough album, OBSOLETE; “Shock” was followed by fan favorite “Edgecrusher,” with Bell’s feral growl cementing his place as one of the best in the business. As the group worked their way through a ten song set that included classics like “Martyr” and “Damaged,” the repetitive grooves of Fear Factory’s industrial roots were on ample display. Those roots came to bear most explicitly on the new GENEXUS songs, “Soul Hacker” and “Dielectric,” as well as set closers, “Demanufacture” and “Replica,” both from the DEMANUFACTURE album.

Fear Factory (Burton C Bell) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Fear Factory (Burton C Bell) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Earlier live versions of the band had featured a keyboard player; though Dino, Tony and Mike are more than capable of replicating most of those parts, “Dielectric” was the only number that prominently featured a prerecorded keyboard part. Heller’s drums gave the band an overall heavier sound, one that fits much better with Burt’s aggressive vocal delivery, the doom-laden lyrics and Cazares’ inventive guitar parts. Dino’s playing mixed nu-metal down-tuned riffing, metallic sheets of industrial sonics and straight forward blasts of edgy rock runs that never felt derivative or out of place. There was certainly plenty of furious pit action throughout their set, even if much of the audience were riveted to their spots, mesmerized by the performance. This is a completely new Fear Factory, a band that is set to reclaim its place at the top of the industrial heap with heavier guitars and Bell’s take-no-prisoners approach.

Coal Chamber (Dez Fafara) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Coal Chamber (Dez Fafara) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

After far too long away, the mighty Coal Chamber have returned! This tour, hot on the heels of their first record in fifteen years, when initially announced, had me hoping for a Saint Louis stop. Needless to say, I was absolutely stoked when I found out that they would be playing Pop’s. Vocalist Dez Fafara, likewise, was stoked for the show: “When I saw this show on the schedule, I thought, ‘Friday night? At Pop’s? That sounds like a party! Fuck, yeah! Let’s do this!’” The high-tech light show would have buried a lesser band but, Coal Chamber is NOT a lesser band. Fafara, guitarist Meegs Rascon, drummer Mikey Cox and long-time touring bassist (the new RIVALS is her first studio work with the band), Nadja Peulen, grabbed the crowd by their collective throats, screaming “Listen to this!,” with a pair of classics from their first album, “Loco” and “Big Truck.” It was off to the races (or, perhaps, the demolition derby would be more apt) from that point.

Coal Chamber (Meegs Rascon) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Coal Chamber (Meegs Rascon) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Meegs has toned down his glacial stares and emotionless facial expressions and jerky, robotic movements but, he is still one of the premier guitarists in the extreme metal game. That statement was borne out from the opening notes of “Loco” through to the final crescendo of “Sway,” but was particularly evident on the first single from RIVALS, “IOU Nothing,” as well as the title track from that album. The familiar sight of Nadja’s red mane flying, her constant motion keeping time, hasn’t changed; nor has her bass playing skills diminished… in fact, she has upped her game, keeping pace with the other members of the band. I was stricken from the outset by how forceful and proficient Mikey has become, to the extent that he was the focal point – at least, in my eyes – of the performance, driving the other three to new heights of musical heaviness. As much as Dez and Meegs may be the guiding lights of Coal Chamber, they simply would not sound anywhere as vicious without Mikey’s powerhouse drumming.

Coal Chamber (Mikey Cox) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Coal Chamber (Mikey Cox) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The set featured songs from the group’s four albums, though it did seem to be stacked with songs from the first record and their 2002 swansong, DARK DAYS. While it is fairly common for an artist to “sprinkle” in a few tunes from a new release (including “Another Nail In the Coffin,” there were three), I was rather surprised that they only played one track from their break-out record, CHAMBER MUSIC. Maybe Dez and the others wanted to distance themselves from the slicker, more radio-friendly sound of that album, relying more on the gritty vibe of the other three but, I gotta tell ya, I would have loved hearing their cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” in a live setting. I suppose if I had to choose only one tune from CHAMBER MUSIC to hear live, it probably wouldn’t be “No Home” but, more likely the more Goth-sounding, atmospheric “Burgundy” or the rhythmically challenging “Entwined.” But, after thirteen years, I’ll takes what I can gets.

Coal Chamber (Nadja Peulen) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Coal Chamber (Nadja Peulen) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Besides the obvious crowd favorites, like “Big Truck” and “Fiend,” other highlights included “Sway,” “Dark Days” and “Rivals.” It should be noted that, aside from Fafara’s work with DevilDriver, the other members of Coal Chamber were pretty quiet until the unofficial reunion a few years back, with a handful of shows, leading to a full-blown reunion, with preparations for and recording of RIVALS. I’m not sure how long they rehearsed for this run, but it seems as though they’ve never been away. If there were any signs of stage-rust, I sure didn’t catch them. Along with Jamey Jasta’s Hatebreed and Fear Factory, these are the bands that I cut my journalistic teeth on; it’s nice to relive the past a bit, as well as look to the future with some old friends.