Tuesday November 19th, 2002 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Immolation, Vader, The Berserker, & Origin
A List of Knowns:
When I arrived at 6:00, Australia's The Berserker was already into their second song. I paid the painful $14 and rushed to the front of the club. Getting up front for a view of the band was easy there couldn't have been but 100 people in the club. The primo position turned out to be vital for The Berserker, as they've spent some time cultivating their image and costumes. After what must have been a momentous hunt in Hell's Halloween store for just the right diabolical masks, the band spent some time with Martha Stewart creating auxiliary hair for their creaturous heads. Once the masks were modified slightly to fit snug, the band completed their outfits with the standards black plants, black boots, and black long-sleeve t-shirts (in this case, their own shirts.) I suppose if I were more familiar with Slipknot and that scene, this might not be so novel, but as I'm not, I was entertained.
Although The Berserker rest in a musical subgenre where the music is nearly a monotonous whirring noise, I did manage to pick out a few details. Firstly, a nearly constantly double bass over-powered everything. In any other genre, the guttural growls of Berserker [the band was created by, and fronted by, a single constant member who only goes by the name Berserker] would dominate any instrument, any song, but for The Berserker, they cower somewhere in the middle of the mix. The guitar work was full of quickly changing power chords but no leads, leaving the bass responsible for presenting any hints at melody. The resulting leads certainly weren't soaring elements, but the only melody all the same.
The macabre samples played between songs led me to wonder if some sequencing augmented the rather small drum kit. Although I'm not positive, I'm pretty sure much of that constant double bass was sequenced, and most certainly running through heavy distortion. There was definitely some processing of the snare drum going on as well. Even more curious, the drummer's ride sat in the middle of his kit, something seen much more in jazz than in rock derivatives. I understand this is the band's thirteenth drummer, so chances are that when you see this band, it'll be a different guy and configuration.
While The Berserker seemed to embrace elements of industrial music and Nu-Metal™, Poland's Vader were mercilessly old school. Peter Wiwcarek's low and elongated grunts were completely intelligible save a word surely misheard here and there. The band continued the evening's pacing elements, and, at times, pushed the velocity even further. In those moments, Vader were relentless. Everything was reduced to pulsing double bass and deep, wet toms that pushed the band forward. The bass was left behind, forced to play only on the whole or half notes. The two guitars (both Gibson Flying-Vs from my vantage point) moved in similarly heavy chunks. Only occasionally would Wiwcarek's guitar work would shift to high-pitched, utterly hectic solos, however those never lasted more than ten seconds there just wasn't time to dally.
When the band's new material was played next to songs from their first album (1993's The Ultimate Incantation) it was obvious some progression has crept into Vader's music. For Vader, change has manifested itself as occasional rhythmic shifts. Less than a handful of these tasteful breakdowns (or what qualified as such by virtue of comparison) were pleasant mile markers in the set.
Despite drawing the evening's largest crowd, there were no mosh pits, organized or otherwise. Instead, the young men in the audience spent the set with their arms in the air, hands formed to devil horns, their heads constantly banging in an attempt to keep up with the (quite literally) breakneck beat. The longhaired trio (old school remember?) that lined the front of stage led by example. I can only hope they have a chiropractor or masseuse waiting for them in their RV every night.
In the lull between sets, my typing was interrupted by a cute crusty grrl asking what I was working on. Curiously enough that random punk rocker was someone whom I hung out with regularly five years ago when I first moved to Kansas City. Having both played in an early incarnation of The Brett Ray Holocaust, she introduced me to her (unimpressed) friends as the guy "who taught [her] to play bass." Wow, that's great she remembers it like that. I remember it as simply loaning her a bass that was loaned to me years prior. However if you see Mary, please don't correct her... I like her version better.
At exactly 8pm the lights came up and New York's Immolation stood on the stage behind their instruments. Without fanfare the band began a very loud and aggressive set. While I'm sure those not familiar with the genre (and I myself can only claim a passing knowledge) are likely to claim Immolation and Vader are indistinguishable, a fan is likely to find that statement incredulous.
First, the band's sound rests on an entirely different foundation. When drummer Alex Hernandez uses his double bass, it's for effect, not as a base. The songs, with few exceptions, come in quick waves, breaking for the vocals and lead guitar. Although a few songs make use of Ross Dolan's deep, nearly coughed, vocals over speeding instrumentation during the verses, the choruses (identifiable for the first time in the evening) returned to the on-again-off-again rhythms. Whether this trait is an influence of more commercial metal or hardcore it's hard to guess.
What might be the band's most interesting variation is that of guitarist Bob Vigna. His style is inventive and fresh, playing as many upstrokes as heavy down strokes. In creating a rhythm of his own, the songs have a depth and complexity that (although certainly hidden) provide some thoughtful moments. Of course the majority of his time is spent in Jackson-in-drop-D-through-a-Marshall-full-stack-land providing growl or high-whining soloettes full of bends of quick hammers. Both (newcomer) Bill Taylor's guitar and Dolan's bass work were more obvious if not completely straightforward; seldom does the neck of a bass see so much action so quickly, especially when its player is also the vocalist.
In addition to a more engaging musical experience, the band also mesmerized the audience with spinning and flashing strobe lights, several fog machines, and Dolan's hair. It's long. Longer-than-Crystal Gail long. Long enough that I'm sure it never completely dries. Long enough that it sticks most annoyingly to his glistening face. Long enough that it hangs over the strings of his bass. This man has made an incredible sacrifice for his art it seems. Sort of the anti-van Gogh if you ask me, but none-less spectacular.
All of this eye-candy served to distract fans from a band that were, almost entirely, stationary for their entire set. In fact, with the exception of Vigna's guitar neck, Dolan's hair, and Hernandez's arms, the stage was bordering on stagnant. However, unlike during the previous bands, members of the audience were compelled to thrash about a bit. Although the pit was just a small, mostly pathetic, crew of four or five young boys content to shove each other about, there was motion.
After completing an hour-long set comprised almost entirely of material from their just-released album, The Unholy Cult, the band thanked the audience one final time and slipped off the stage without an encore.
Summing up the show is hard for me. Metal is such a fickle animal and sub-genres like 'Black Metal' and 'Death Metal' don't begin to give the clues necessary to delineate the subtle but vital differences important when describing bands. In reference to this show, each band had their faults and their fans. I found Vader too antiquated, The Berserker too progressive, and Immolation too pandering. So as the uninformed often say, "I can't tell you what good metal is, but I know it when I hear it." Luckily, the majority of the audience seemed informed, and they shifted to and from the stage during the show, making their views on "good metal" known. I wouldn't dare suggest to them that they were wrong.