DOYLE/ELEMENT A440/HUNG LIKE A MARTYR/THE SUPERMEN

(November 21, 2015; READY ROOM, Saint Louis MO)

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So, this is the second metal show I’ve seen in the past five days and, like the Amaranthe show at Pop’s, this one had its fair share of drunken yahoos and intolerable idjits; in fact, several of the drunken yahoos and intolerable idjits from Pop’s were performing the same functions at the Ready Room. Even before the lights went down and the first band took the stage, a woman who seemed relatively sane five nights previous (her twelve year old son was with her then) was already so sloshed that she was slurring her words and was unable to navigate her way across the floor to the rest room, but we’ll get into more specifics as we go through the evening’s festivities, beginning with…

Supermen (Jimmy All-Dick; Valiance Jack; Gaius Julius Sensei Almighty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Supermen (Jimmy All-Dick; Valiance Jack; Gaius Julius Sensei Almighty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The Supermen, an unrepentant mish-mash of punk, metal, misogyny, soft-core porn, comedy and wrestling from the StL. This band is pure, mindless mayhem and their stage show had so much happening that it was hard to find a focal point; I’m sure that a majority of the males in attendance spent most of their time focusing on the barely-dressed dancer/dominatrix who, according to the Supermen’s Facebook page is called (Hail the New) Dawn and is listed as “Property.” For the ladies, there was Tiger Mask IV, the male counterpart to Dawn, who is the group’s “Lead Partier” and was, likewise, barely dressed, sporting a Luchidor mask, wrestling trunks and boots. The rest of the band have also adopted wrestling gear and names (Maxxx Loads, “the Prom King,” plays bass; Valiance Jack, “the Promiscuous Protomartyr,” plays drums; Jimmy All-Dick, “the Alpha Male,” plays guitar; Gaius Julius Sensei Almighty is the singer; and the “manager” is Osama Bin Erickson, the Dean of Debauchery). Musically, think early punk laced with liberal doses of Motorhead-style metallic speed; lyrically, look to bands such as the Cramps or Dwarves for like-minded reference points (translation: Don’t try to read too much into what’s going on with the Supermen; they don’t take themselves too seriously and neither should you). Even though the look and songs do, in fact, border on the cartoonish, don’t miss out on the fact that these guys are actually really good players. The band’s twenty-minute, ten song set included such instant classics as “White Women In Distress,” “Live Punk Sex Act,” “I Kill Everything I Fuck” and their call-to-arms anthem, “Blood, Honor and Pussy.” A fun time was had by all, except for a fellow cameraman, who was continually hit or shoved from behind by (surprise, surprise!) a drunken tool who would wander to the back of the room and then charge to the front, yelling, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” to whoever happened to be on stage at the time. Music reviews should not focus so much on the audience’s behavior, but when that behavior actually hinders your enjoyment of the music, it must be addressed (in an effort, hopefully, to curtail such incidents in the future for the enjoyment and safety of everyone involved).

Hung Like a Martyr (Mark Nicol; Bruce Morrison; Paul Dontigney) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Hung Like a Martyr (Mark Nicol; Bruce Morrison; Paul Dontigney) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Another local act, Hung Like a Martyr (who, coincidentally, have opened for Doyle’s old band, the Misfits), offered more of a straight metal sound that was not unappreciated by yours truly. Bruce Morrison’s voice has a certain Vince Neil quality, but carries the emotional weight of a John Corabi (thus embodying both Crue singers in one), though the actual music was heavier than the Crue’s pop metal. The dual guitars of Erik Spiller and Paul Dontigney reminded me of the Phil Campbell/Wurzel two-pronged guitar attack of Motorhead’s mid-’80s to mid-’90s period… rough, fast and insanely melodic; the rhythm section of bassist Adam “Adamned” Fuchs and drummer Mark Nicol managed to keep things brutally heavy while never giving up their funky groove. The set built from the frustration of watching this country crumble under the weight of internal strife and increasing violence, as well as attacks from without, with the opening song, “Bent,” a battle cry that lets everyone know that we may be bent but we’re not broken; “Kill Your Own King” and “Watching the World Burn” are laments to the fact that America is so divided that we can seemingly no longer find a common ground on which to come together; “The Reaper” and “Nuclear Salvation” follow the same apocalyptic message. The final number, “Dead Body Dumptruck,” is basically a dark hymn to what we have to look forward to if we don’t get our act together: Death from within and annihilation from without, leading to a sort of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombie apocalypse of rotting corpses in mass graves. The songs – while very much in the horror/science fiction vein – had an angry spark of truth, delivered with a conviction and energy that was hard to ignore… even the drunks and idjits behaved during the set. All of the tunes, aside from “Bent,” are from earlier incarnations of Hung Like a Martyr; with a new record eminent, I, for one, am excited to see where new vocalist Morrison leads the group, lyrically, from here.

Element A440 (Kat; Halo; Katt) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Element A440 (Kat; Halo; Katt) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Though I’m not really into the “Anti-Christ Superstar” imagery and lyrics of groups like Marilyn Manson, I must say that Element A440 serve up their version with something that Manson frontman Brian Warner could never offer: Talent. Add to that a genuine conviction for what they’re doing (a seemingly concerted effort to not just shock or offend for the sake of being shocking and offensive… I mean, this FEELS real coming from this group) and, whether you agree with their stance or not, you have the makings of a fiery, evil set of industrial metal that is hard to ignore. Where the band does appear to be pandering to the lowest common denominator is the over-the-top attempts to titillate with sophomoric pornographic lyrics and visuals; a shame really, as the horror and religious elements of their set are what drives the narrative. It would appear that vocalist Halo (who also does programming and plays guitar… at least in the studio) is the mastermind behind the look and sound of Element A440… he is the sole songwriter and, I would guess, the visual designer of the band’s appearance and onstage set-up; the set was structured with a smart ebb-and-flow at the beginning, eventually ramping up to a chaotic close with the entire band donning some of the creepiest half-masks this side of the original Slipknot… the only thing we didn’t see was Halo’s fire-breathing (a matter of strict fire laws and low ceilings, I would guess). The musicians – guitarist Graven, drummer Kat and bassist Katt – were tight and scalpel-sharp, delivering their brutal, misshapen pop with a glee that never quite matched Halo’s but… that didn’t keep them from trying, pushing each other (and their manic leader) to ever harsher heights of musical mayhem. The songs that had the most impact, for me, included “Dance Dead,” “Wasted,” “Godless,” “Freak” and, I suppose, “Porn Star,” though for different reasons than you would think. I would definitely like to see a full Element A440 headlining set with the group pulling out all of the musical and effects stops… perhaps outdoors at Pop’s? Naturally, the drunks were back from their sabbatical during the last set, as the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” guy was back, seeking the acknowledgment from the stage that would validate his coolness and, the seemingly sane mother from five nights ago was all but molesting a couple of young men in the front row.

Doyle (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein; Alex Story) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doyle (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein; Alex Story) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

With a new band, a new album and a tour with Glenn Danzig highlighting the last few years in the career of Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, the Misfit guitarist is building on those successes with a headlining run through the States. Doyle (the man and the band) brought their ABOMINATOR TOUR to the Ready Room on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and absolutely destroyed! Doyle’s signature slash-and-burn style of guitar playing meshes well with the howling, growling vocal gymnastics of Alex “Wolfman” Story (he of Cancerslug fame) and, with bassist Left Hand Graham and drummer Brandon Pertzborn laying down a rhythmic bottom end denser than a graveyard fog, the crowd hung on every note, every scream. The set, as may be expected, was heavy on music from ABOMINATOR (ten tunes) and classic Misfits (eight songs). In fact, until the final four numbers, the group alternated three Doyle songs with three Misfits numbers; that pattern was broken up by a cover of KISS’ “Strutter,” which we’ll discuss later.

Doyle (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein with Brandon Pertzborn; Doyle) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doyle (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein with Brandon Pertzborn; Doyle) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Kicking off with Abominator,” the band proved their metal mettle (sorry… couldn’t resist), with Doyle already stalking the stage and hammering his guitar mercilessly. As much as I enjoyed Story’s vocals throughout, it wasn’t until the fifth song, the classic punk of “Ghouls Night Out.” I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that our screamer did change up the act a bit for the headliners; his mantra now became, “Doyle! Doyle! Hey, Doyle,” which at the beginning of the set was directed at Alex Story. The inebriated Mom, cajoled and egged on by this goof between bouts of yelling his lungs out at the band, even made it onto the stage, a little to the right of Graham, where she just kinda swayed to the music until the tour manager took her arm and led her off, at which point, I assume, she began cozying up to the brothers who had been fending her off the entire evening. So, anyway, after “Skulls” (from the WALK AMONG US album), it was back to new material, including the wickedly awesome “Dreamingdeadgirls” and Love Like Murder.”

Doyle (Alex Story; Alex with Left Hand Graham) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doyle (Alex Story; Alex with Left Hand Graham) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The musical merry-go-round continued with three of the best tracks from EARTH AD, “Green Hell,” “Bloodfeast” and “Devilock.” Now, of course, hearing all of the great Misfits songs, when I sat down with Doyle after the show, I had to ask the question that has been on every Fiend’s mind since the original group broke up nearly 35 years ago: “Are the reunion rumors true and, if so, where do things stand now?” Doyle tells me, “I’m workin’ on it. I’ve got two fuckin’ bulls to deal with, ya know? One dogs lookin’ this way, one dogs lookin’ that way and this guy’s sayin’, ‘What do you want from me?’” What more can we hope for? Well, for one thing, a second album from Doyle, the band but, more immediately, the final round of ABOMINATOR songs, including the heavy, atmospheric Mark of the Beast,” and the graveyard mysticism of “Cemeterysexxxand “Drawing Down the Moon.” This was the point where the guys broke the cycle, tearing into “Strutter.” It’s also the point that the two drunks actually managed to get Doyle’s attention; the woman was attempting to lift her shirt up, an occurrence that the gentleman just couldn’t let pass without alerting the guitarist: “Hey, Doyle! Doyle! Doyle! Look at these!” In mid-solo, without missing a beat, Doyle replied, “I don’t wanna see those nasty old things.” Crest (breast?) fallen, the duo were utterly lost, put in their places by the one guy in the whole building you didn’t want to cross. With a smirk on his face, Alex introduced the final two – and possibly the two most well-known – Misfits numbers, “Last Caress” and “Die Die My Darling,” which has attained legendary status among fans and punks everywhere. Closing with “Hope Hell Is Warm,” Doyle, Alex, Brandon and Graham left the crowd with ringing ears and memories of a great night of punk and metal.

Doyle (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doyle (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Before leaving this review, I should probably explain why I spent so much time relating the actions of two very drunk people. The reasons are really simple: First, your actions made you a part of the show to the group of people around you, ruining what may have been their only night out for the entire month (or longer… considering the economy, live shows are very much a luxury nowadays). Second (and most important), there is no way that being fall-down drunk before the show even started can be construed as “just having fun,” miss… you have a serious problem that could endanger your life; please, take your actions into consideration, as you have a twelve year-old son to think about… how would you react if a stranger old enough to be his mother spent the night hitting on him? Plus, to both of you (and anyone else who decides to drink to excess), I don’t want to be on the road, worrying if you’re behind the wheel of one of the vehicles in my general vicinity. I understand that we all need a little release from time to time, a chance to let go and have a good time but, please, remember that there are others who have to put up with you and your drunken shenanigans and… please, don’t be the fatal statistic who crashed and burned on their way home from a killer night of Rock ‘n’ Roll.


AMARANTHE/BUTCHER BABIES/LULLWATER

(November 17, 2015; POP’S, Sauget IL)

Amaranthe Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye with Danielle) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Amaranthe (Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye with Danielle) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

From the outset, standing in line and listening to the various comments, it was obvious that the majority of the people at Pop’s on the evening of November 17th were there to see Butcher Babies; I even heard comments and questions like, “I have never heard of this Amaranthe band. Do you know anything about them?” I can kinda understand that… while both acts play metal, they take very different approaches: Amaranthe play a symphonic, well-orchestrated and choreographed style of progressive metal, while Butcher Babies blur the line where punk and metal meet. I am all for diversity and can and have enjoyed bills featuring several different musical styles. Unfortunately, I tend to be part of an ever-shrinking fan base that enjoys listening to a myriad of genres and styles in the course of an evening of live music. So, with that as a backdrop, here’s how this night shook out.

Lullwater (Brett Strickland; Roy Beatty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Lullwater (Brett Strickland; Roy Beatty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Opening act Lullwater was a total surprise. The Athens, Georgia quartet play the type of hard rock that I grew up on, though steeped in the early 1990s sound of the Seattle scene; there are touches of Alice In Chains and Nirvana, as well liberal doses of Stone Temple Pilots (yeah, I know they weren’t from Seattle, but… ) and Soundgarden. As Southern boys, there’s plenty of good ol’ Lynyrd Skynyrd and Seven Mary Three style rock and roll. With their new album, REVIVAL, barely a month old, they were determined to make an impression. And, make an impression they certainly did! It didn’t take these guys (vocalist/ guitarist John Strickland, bassist Roy “Ray” Beatty, drummer Joe Wilson and lead guitarist Brett Strickland) long to win over an early crowd hyped to see Butcher Babies.

Lullwater (Joe Wilson; John Strickland) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Lullwater (Joe Wilson; John Strickland) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The Strickland’s imaginative guitar licks are certainly hard to ignore, particularly on the stinging “Oddline,” from the band’s 2013 self-titled debut, as well as its cousin, “Evenline,” from the new record; the pair’s biting style is further enhanced by Beatty’s bass, which is tuned to a higher register (a trick also used by the Who’s John Entwistle), adding to the buzzsaw tone. Roy’s style also lends itself well to the Southern rock “guitar army” feel on songs like “Broken Wings,” allowing Brett and John to soar on an extended harmony part. Wilson’s playing demands attention, though it is never overbearing or dominating… as has been said many times before, it ain’t always the notes you play, sometimes it’s the spaces between that make a performance special; make no mistake, though, when he hits those notes, it is with power and precision. John’s chameleon-like vocals draw from most of the bands listed above, though mostly, he tends to sound like a tasty three-meat stew of Layne Staley, Scott Weiland and Seven Mary Three’s Jason Ross. From front to back, Lullwater delivered the type of high energy, flat-out rock ‘n’ roll show that you very rarely get a chance to see anymore… I just wish they could have played a longer set.

Butcher Babies (Carla Harvey; Heidi Shepherd) (photo credits DARREN TRACY)

Butcher Babies (Carla Harvey; Heidi Shepherd) (photo credits DARREN TRACY)

Honestly, though I’ve heard quite a bit – both pro (usually from avid fans) and con (usually from music journalists like myself) – about Butcher Babies, this was my first time to experience the live bludgeoning. The band are obviously fans of the Plasmatics and their enigmatic vocalist, Wendy O Williams; I mean, the group’s name is an homage to the Plasmatics’ very first single from way back in 1978. You can also plot the progression of Williams’ band from anarchic punk noisemongers to heavy metal behemoth through Carla Harvey’s near-gutteral screams and Heidi Shepherd’s more melodic, sultry wails. And, even though the ladies’ stage attire was rather tame on this night, most images and videos show they have a proclivity for, at least, a mildly titillating form of exhibitionism. Shepherd and Harvey are twin balls of kinetic energy, in motion virtually from the time they hit the stage for “Monsters Ball” until their final exit during “Magnolia Boulevard.” The three-piece band – guitarist Henry Flury, bassist Jason Klein and drummer Chrissy Warner – are a well-oiled, if predictable, industrial punk metal machine; their sound falls somewhere between the Plasmatics’ NEW HOPE FOR THE WRETCHED punk overload and COUP D’ETAT metal mayhem, with more than a touch of Nu-Metal around the edges.

Butcher Babies (Henry Flury; Chrissy Warner; Jason Klein) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Butcher Babies (Henry Flury; Chrissy Warner; Jason Klein) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The group highlighted material from their latest release, TAKE IT LIKE A MAN, including their approximation of a power ballad, “Thrown Away.” As well received as tunes like “Monsters Ball,” “Jesus Needs More Babies For His War Machine” and “Gravemaker” were, when the ladies introduced “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” a cover of a fifty-year-old pop hit by Napoleon XIV, the crowd erupted. I will say that, even though I was a tad under-impressed, this group must be doing something right to have such a loyal following (a couple of guys – one sorta laid back and cool, the other more of the rabid “Hey… look at me! I know their bus driver! Wooo!” kind of guy – were in from Kansas City for the Tuesday night show). Considering the solid musicianship of Lullwater and the symphonic sheen of Amaranthe, it may have been a case of Butcher Babies being the wrong band at the wrong time; as such, I’m willing to hold further opinions until I can see them in their natural habitat, with more like-minded groups (and, yes, I realize that goes against everything that I said in my opening paragraph but, like everything else in life, there are exceptions to the rule).

Amaranthe (Johann Andreassen and the offending cap)) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Amaranthe (Johann Andreassen and the offending cap)) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

I was actually pleasantly surprised when it became apparent that a large number of the folks on the floor remained there for Amaranthe, although there was considerable turnover at the front of the stage. This, of course is where I get all curmudgeonly and tell you how much I dislike being around drunks; as I bid adieu to the laid back guy from KC, a couple of excitable drunks pushed in front of my spot and began documenting EVERY freaking moment of their time at the front of the stage with their phones… all with me trying to shoot pictures either over or through them. I usually let people around me know that I’m working and that I am only allowed to take pictures (I use an actual camera, for which I have obtained a photo pass, as well as permission from the band’s management to use) for the first three songs of any set and they’re usually cool and let me work, trying to avoid getting in my way or obstructing my view; these two were having none of that… I took close to 150 shots of Aramanthe, a hundred of them starring either at least one of the pair’s phones or the gentleman’s cap. If that weren’t bad enough, they compared notes on virtually every image or video they captured in an approximation of the English language that I can only refer to as trailer park rustic (my apologies if I’ve offended any of the millions of fine people who live in trailer parks but, I’m sure you know what I mean), loud enough to annoy more than just this humble cameraman. Okay… with that out of my system and, as I’m sure you didn’t come here just to hear me vent about my job, let’s talk about the real reason you’re here: Amaranthe.

Amaranthe (Henrik Wilhelmsson Englund; Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye; Elize Ryd) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Amaranthe (Henrik Wilhelmsson Englund; Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye; Elize Ryd) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

At first, I couldn’t fathom what the heck was taking place on stage; there were no amplifiers, there were no monitors. It definitely made it easier for the band’s three-pronged vocal attack to maneuver around the stage but… it just looked SO weird! All six band members wore ear monitors, something that is generally only done by the singer; as mentioned above, I am usually at the front of the stage, which means that most of what I hear comes from the stage monitors. Without those monitors, those of us situated up front, between the speakers on either side of the Pop’s stage had kind of a muffled sound, especially on the vocals; I’m sure that to those a little farther back on the floor, the sound was as pristine as the stage looked. This was merely a minor annoyance and, other than louder-than-they-shoulda-been pre-recorded keyboards and having to strain to catch some of the lyrics (especially from Elize Ryd), did not hinder my enjoyment of this highly technical (not to mention high-tech) Swedish outfit. The group was obviously enjoying themselves, as well, mugging for the legions of I-phones and I-pads, posing for the occasional selfie with a fan; at one point, Henrik Wilhelmsson Englund (the “dirty” vocalist) took the phone away from a young man behind me and began videoing himself and the other members of the group before handing it back to the excited fan. These moments are the things that I’ll remember long after Jethro and Minnie have been forgotten.

Amaranthe (Olof Morck; Morten Lowe Sorensen; Johann Andreassen) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Amaranthe (Olof Morck; Morten Lowe Sorensen; Johann Andreassen) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

So, here’s where I’m gonna talk about the audience again, okay? Two of the new faces that joined me at the front of the stage before Amaranthe’s set included a young woman with a face that had me thinking that I should know her from somewhere and her daughter; as it turns out, while we had never actually met, we do frequent some of the same stores and shops in our respective home towns (we live in two small communities, eight miles apart). Anyway, I noticed that, not only was the daughter (eleven year old Danielle) thoroughly enjoying herself, she was singing along to ALL of the songs. Eventually, all three singers (the other clean singer – aside from Elize – is Smash Into Pieces vocalist Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye, who was filling in for co-founder Jake E Lundberg) noticed her, as well, and began coming over to take her hand or make eye contact. After a set that began with “Digital World” and included “Invincible,” “Massive Addictive,” “Afterlife” and “Electroheart,” the band – which also features musicians Olof Morck (guitarist and chief music-writer; Lundberg and Ryd handle most of the lyrics), Johann Andreassen (bassist and encore break MC) and Morten Lowe Sorensen (drums) – kicked into their theme-song, “Amaranthe.” After singing a verse and a chorus, Elize came over to Danielle and asked her if she knew the song; Danielle answered in the affirmative and sang the next verse into Ryd’s microphone. After a final song, “Call Out My Name,” the group left the stage.

Amaranthe (Olof Morck; Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye with Danielle; Elize Ryd) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Amaranthe (Olof Morck; Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye with Danielle; Elize Ryd) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

But, of course, Amaranthe weren’t finished yet. After a brief break, Andreassen was back to pump up the crowd (allowing the others to towel off – it was HOT in the venue and even hotter under the stage lights – and for Elize to affect a costume change). The rest of the band joined Johann, charging into “The Nexus,” the title track from their second album. The night ended, three songs later, with Englund asking Danielle, “If I were to say, ‘Drop Dead,’ what would you say?” Without hesitation, she replied, “Cynical” and the band tore into the very danceable, heavy pop of “Drop Dead Cynical.” Before leaving the stage, the three vocalists and Olof took time to greet, not only Danielle, but just about everybody in the first couple of rows. Amaranthe is a band that gets it; they understand that without fans like Danielle and her mother (and even the overbearing couple in front of me), they wouldn’t be able to do what they love to do. I enjoyed the set more than I thought I would; I just hope that before I see them again, they figure out that sound system.


COAL CHAMBER/FEAR FACTORY/JASTA/SAINT RIDLEY/MADLIFE

(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.