Intronaut, Saviours, A Life Once Lost, High On Fire Wednesday, February 20, 2008 Bluebird Theater Better than: Banging your head on the punk rock
It’s official – metal ain’t dead. Sure, you can point to a million cases in which metal has been modified – some might say diluted or downright destroyed – by pop, punk and pomposity, but last night’s near-capacity bill of four unapologetic metal marauders left no doubt that there are still plenty of bands and fans who appreciate the thunderous power of unadulterated head-banging mayhem.
LA’s Intronaut opened the evening with a well-played – if slightly introverted – set of prog metal. The band’s technical virtuosity and solid songwriting has earned it comparisons to Mastodon, and both were on impressive display last night. Unfortunately, the musicians concentrated so intensely on the challenges of their individual parts that they hardly took time to acknowledge the audience or one another. Also, the mix didn’t do justice to the nuances of the quartet’s playing, and the sound coming directly from the amps was actually better than the house. Still, for the folks who’d shown up early, Intronaut was an auspicious beginning to the night.
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In a perfect world, Oakland’s Saviours (pictured) would have co-headlined this bill, but these decisions are made in ways we aren’t meant to understand. Sadly, this means that many folks who’d hoped to catch this promising act as well as High On Fire missed it by showing up at 10:30. And, damn, did they miss out. While Saviours’ prodigious musical talents easily match Intronaut’s, the band played with such ease, aggression and an irrepressible sense of fun that the crowd couldn’t help but grin with gritted teeth while throwing up the horns. This brutal foursome deftly forges its hammer of the gods from an alloy of metal influences – from doom to thrash, sludge to speed, and even some good old-fashioned British New Wave. The twin leads of Austin Barber and Tyler Morris set the stage on fire, while towering bassist Cyrus Comiskey provided the gut-punch low end. The group’s energetic, eviscerating set was, without question, one of the best metal shows I’ve ever seen.
Next up was Philadelphia’s A Life Once Lost, a quintet that has evolved in recent years from metalcore mediocrity to purveyors of potent and confrontational progressive metal. Once again, the technical skills of the band were intimidating. While the group’s four instrumentalists focused on their axes, vocalist Robert Meadows – whose fashion choices, including a punk t-shirt, painted-on-tight girl jeans and bare feet, made him the first hippy punk emo metal singer I’ve seen – bore most of the responsibility for entertaining the crowd, which he did admirably. The band also brought along its own onstage light-and-smoke show, which created some nice drama. While the set had its moments of genuine intensity, there was something almost too polished, too professional and too restrained about it. Perhaps it was just an off night for A Life Once Lost. While the music they were making had a fist-pumping aggression, it was played with very little expression or energy.
The bill was brought to a close with the much-anticipated High On Fire. The punishing trio has become a local favorite, even among the indie rock set. With roots in stoner and doom metal, the group – the pet project of innovative guitarist Matt Pike – has evolved into a world-conquering metal behemoth with a million tricks up its tattooed sleeves. The last time I caught the threesome was at 3 Kings Tavern, which proved to be a challenging room for the band’s overpowering sonics, so it was a treat to hear and see them with a better sound mix. The band puts on an undeniably entertaining show, with the always-shirtless Pike pulling out all the metal frontman stops to whip the crowd into a frenzy. The audience at the front gladly obliged, stirring up a raucous, rollicking and entirely unironic mosh pit to accompany the band’s musical assault. It was a thrilling and threatening performance, but I still thought Saviours stole the show. – Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: Kemado Records, the label that released Saviours most recent record, is one of my favorite labels right now. I like pretty much everything they put out. Random Detail: The presence of Hell’s Angels at a metal show gives it that extra edge of credibility. By the Way: As much as I love the Bluebird, they just have to do something about the drink prices. I saw Security confiscate a guy’s flask, but you can’t blame folks for bringing their own when a freakin' can of PBR costs $3.75.