FEAR FACTORY/SOILWORK/SPADES AND BLADES/SYSTEM SLAVE

(April 22, 2016; POP’S NIGHTCLUB, Sauget IL)

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Hello, fellow rockers… Dustin Gabel here to bring you my first concert review since my college days. A little background on my start: After graduating from Belleville Township High School East, I moved on to college at Belleville Area College (now known as Southwestern Illinois College or, SWIC) and secured a spot for a new section in the college paper, STUDENT OUTLOOK, doing concert reviews. That landed me next to some of the period’s most influential bands, like Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Rob Zombie, Queensryche… once in awhile getting lucky enough to be given backstage passes. After college, I decided to go into the military which kept me occupied for 12 years, but I wanted to keep my foot in the door for doing concert reviews, live concert photography, and interviews; so, after a long wait, and some sorely missed opportunities to get back into the music scene… I am back! I do see that a lot has changed in the way public relations and publicity for bands is handled, but being in the photo pit for concerts still has that flavor I missed… being inches away from your favorite singers and band members, taking pictures. So without further ado, I bring you… THE DEMANUFACTURE TOUR starring Fear Factory, Soilwork, Spades and Blades and System Slave! Enjoy!

System Slave (Cody Golden, Chuck Guzman; Mike Messex, Stephen Harris) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

System Slave (Cody Golden, Chuck Guzman; Mike Messex, Stephen Harris) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

Opening the show was System Slave from Sullivan, Missouri. Barely on the music scene for a year since their start in January 2015, the five members came together to share a common goal: Writing music and, someday, taking their music to the world stage. To start building their fanbase, three songs were released on reverbnation.com while they worked on their album. Shortly after the release of the three songs, titled “Loaded,” “Last In Line” and “Lights In Seattle,” the track “Loaded” went on to win the best rock song in the Academia Awards. This will definately be a band that’s going to excel with it’s edgy, powerful, melodic style and with their first full length album due out later in 2016. When asked about what genre their music should be placed in, the answer was “REAL,” which is definately the truth! For being a relatively new band, I saw no signs of that at all. The members work really well together, with several different musical styles falling into place, delivering a live show that could easily be compared to bands that have been on the scene for much longer. System Slave definitely has that fluidity that you just don’t see in new bands who haven’t even recorded their first album!

Spades and Blades (Jason Todd; Tommy Jean Stiles) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

Spades and Blades (Jason Todd; Tommy Jean Stiles) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

Next up was California act Spades And Blades. Formed in 2006, the founding members have actually been on the music scene since 2001, as a hardcore punk band named the Havoc; but, it was decided that they wanted to form something different, a heavier project with a new life. They definitely delivered that with style, with their mashup of metal, hardcore, and hard rock leading to a more melodic metalcore sound in 2013, with the release of their EP, PROUD TO BE LOUD. After completing a successful tour in 2015, the band played several local shows in Southern California to support the release of the album THE END IS NEAR in February, 2016. After ten years as a band, the music industry is finally taking notice of Spades and Blades and their progressive metalcore style as a force to be reckoned with. My first thought after they started their set, without knowing much of the band history prior to 2006, I saw a lot of Henry Rollins influence in the singer, and now, knowing more about their hardcore roots, it all fits in. Either way, if you are able to catch them out on tour, Spades and Blades is a band you won’t regret showing up early or staying late for!

Soilwork (Bjorn Strid, Dirk Verbeuren; Sylvain Coudret) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

Soilwork (Bjorn Strid, Dirk Verbeuren; Sylvain Coudret) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

The third band to take the stage was Soilwork from Sweden. Having arrived early, for a scheduled 3:00 PM interview with Bjorn “Speed” Strid, the group’s frontman, I was pumped up for the show and the chance to learn more about their music, methods of inspiration for their songs, influences, and Bjorn’s personal side. Unfortunately, due to a tour bus incident, Soilwork and Fear Factory were running a few hours late. Having formed in 1995, under the name Inferior Breed, they changed their name in 1996 to Soilwork, which means working from the ground up… which is what they have done despite the lineup changing several times, with Bjorn being the longest standing (and only original) member. As the singer stated, Soilwork is sounding better than ever and I can’t agree more! After their set, I was able to pull Bjorn aside for a few minutes to talk about the tour to support the new release, THE RIDE MAJESTIC. He stated they will be back in the area in the fall; hopefully, there are no incidents to make them run late again and I can deliver a solid, information-filled interview for you all to enjoy!

Fear Factory (Burton C Bell; Dino Cazares) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

Fear Factory (Burton C Bell; Dino Cazares) (photo credits: DUSTIN GABEL)

Finally, the long awaited part of the show for many. Despite the tour bus mishap (a  broken engine belt), putting them late for arrival at the venue but keeping in contact with the tour manager via text message, vocalist Burton C Bell had a direct quote for the anxious, waiting fans… “Sorry it’s gonna be a throw and go, but we’ll give ’em one hell of a show”. Having seen Fear Factory several times in the past with Sepultura, that promise was lived up to… just like I expected from Fear Factory! They never disappoint. While the stage hands were setting up their equipment, we were graced with the PURPLE RAIN soundtrack being played – as requested by the band – to honor the late musician, Prince. To hear every single person in Pop’s singing “Purple Rain” was a very emotional, respectful tribute as he has had a phenomonal impact on many musicians in across all genres. The music slowly faded out, lights dimmed, and here, finally, was the much awaited moment with Fear Factory taking the stage to support the twentieth anniversary of the release of DEMANUFACTURE, opening with the title track, tearing straight into “Self Bias Resistor,” followed by “Zero Signal,” “Replica,” “New Breed,” “Dog Day Sunrise,” “Body Hammer,” “H-K (Hunter-Killer),” “Pisschrist” and “A Therapy For Pain.” As the house lights came back on, fearing that was all of their set, the crowd started chanting for more. It paid off, as the house lights went back down and Fear Factory returned to belt out four more tracks, “Shock, “Soul Hacker,” “Regenerate,” finally ending the night with “Edgecrucher.” Burton stated he would deliver one hell of a show and that promise was lived up to with kickass double-bass, insane riffs, heavy bass lines, and lyrical slaughter as only Fear Factory can deliver!


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.