Last Sunday, I got to see a legendary British band, pioneers in their genre, playing a show on one of the most eagerly anticipated tours of the summer. No, I'm not talking about the Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath. I'm talking about grindcore/death metal legends, Bolt Thrower.
That the stars aligned to put fellow Brits Benediction and equally legendary California death metallers Autopsy on the bill was a nice plus.
If I understand correctly, the last time Bolt Thrower played in the Bay Area was 22 years ago, so the level of pent-up excitement about this show was very high. The show sold out months in advance, although as was the case with the last sold-out show I went to at the Oakland Metro, they had some last-minute tickets available the day of the show. Memo to self and others: if you ever want to get into a sold-out show at the Oakland Metro, try turning up early on the day of the show and checking at the box office before you pay an absurd price to a scalper.
Unlike the last show I went to at the Oakland Metro, they actually started letting people in at the stated door time, and I think got most people inside before the opening band started. In fact, I had about half an hour to hit the merchandise stands (acquired: 1 Bolt Thrower T-shirt, 1 Noothgrush CD, 1 Noothgrush patch) and grab a bottled water from the bar.
Anyway, on to the show itself. Noothgrush were up first. They seem to be a regular go-to band for the Oakland Metro when they need a local band to round out the bill, and I can see why. They play slow, sludgy, down-tuned doom metal, creating an immensely thick guitar sound. Seriously, I'm not sure how they did that with only one guitarist - testament to the power of a down-tuned Gibson SG in the right hands, I suppose. The real star of the band for me, though, is their drummer. I don't know how to describe it other than to say that she just sounds really heavy. Since they're local, I'm sure I'll catch these guys again, and I'm quite looking forward to it.
After Noothgrush's equipment was cleared off the stage, a few guys who I assumed were Benediction's crew/guitar techs came on and started checking the sound. At one point, they broke into a bit of full-scale guitar-riffing, and I thought, "Woah, Benediction has some pretty freaking talented guitar techs. These guys are rockin'." Eventually, they gave the thumbs up to the sound guy, put down the instruments, walked off stage...and immediately walked back on as Benediction.
Benediction may win the prize of the night for sheer good plain fun. I only have a cursory acquaintance with their work, but it's punk-tinged death metal powered by galloping rhythm guitar riffs often played in unison by the two guitarists. It's fun, and guaranteed to whip the crowd up into a frenzy - something the singer abetted by actively encouraging people to stage dive.
(As a concert-goer, I find crowd-surfing and stage-diving irritating. As an observer of metalheads, I must admit that I find it fascinating to watch: it looks chaotic on the surface, but there's quite complex organized group behavior going on, with almost entirely non-verbal communication. )
Benediction also wins the prizes for oddest dedications of the evening, dedicating "They Must Die Screaming" to "all the South of the Border guys, the Mexican guys here tonight", and "Suffering Feeds Me" to "all the ladies here tonight." Oookay.
Next up were Autopsy. I'll admit that they slightly underwhelmed me at first, which may have had as much to do with me as with them. Much as I like death metal, I have trouble listening it for multiple hours on end, and for the first few songs of their set, I was thinking, "Wow, it's really hot in here and my feet hurt and I would really like to sit down somewhere and have a cold drink." They were also having some sound problems, with the guitarists not being able to hear the drums in the monitors for the first few songs of the set. Once they worked out those kinks, they sounded a lot tighter. They played a couple of songs from their forthcoming album, which sounded good. By the end of the set, my death metal fatigue had worn off and I was ready for more.
Well, except that I did step outside the main area for a bit to try to get some air. This was probably a mistake, since I wasn't able to reclaim a spot with quite as good a view of the stage as I'd had for the first three bands.
Bolt Thrower were really good, though. Every band that performed did a great job, but there was just something epic about Bolt Thrower's performance. The audience, who had been enthused and engaged for the prior bands on the bill, went absolutely freaking nuts. Singer Karl Willetts at one point thanked the crowd for keeping the security guys busy throwing stage divers off the stage. Between the smoke machine, the crowd surfers, and the tall guys standing in front of me, I didn't actually *see* very much of Bolt Thrower's performance, but it sounded great. (I think the vocals could have been a bit higher in the mix, but otherwise no complaints.)
They played a good selection of songs from (I think) all of their various albums. "World Eater" segueing into "Cenotaph" was probably the highlight for me. They also did an absolutely ferocious rendition of "The Killchain". And they played two encores, just to ensure that we got plenty of Bolt Thrower to make up for the 22 year wait.
(I didn't get any decent pictures of Autopsy or Bolt Thrower. It was just too wild out there.)
I just hope it isn't another 22 years before Bolt Thrower play a show near me again, because I want to go and do that whole evening again. (Preferably somewhere with better ventilation, and maybe without the smoke machine? But that's just me being picky.)