Atlanta's Withered set the stage for much of what was to follow with its admixture of death metal and grindcore. But instead of playing with lightning speed, this band seemed to care more about mood and even the singer -- although adopting that hyper distorted and contorted vocal style most people would associate with death metal or grind -- had a genuinely deep and sepulchral near whisper. That is, if Attila Csihar of Mayhem and Sunn could be said to whisper.
Toxic Holocaust seemed to combine a kind of glam metal image with proto-black metal and thrash sounds for an effect that was a bit off-putting at first. But this trio actually pulls off that Slayer and Venom mixed with the speedier end of hardcore punk sound really well.
As with a lot of metal bands, Toxic had some amusing moments, like when Joel Grind yelled stuff into the audience like, "I'll know we have some devil worshippers here tonight. Let's see some horns, front to back!" After running through songs like "Wild Dogs," "I Am Disease," "War is Hell," and "Bitch," Grind and the guys got off stage after what felt like a very short set.
Named after the patron god of Babylonia, Sweden's Marduk couldn't play its date with Mayhem in Denver last year due to visa issues, but the long-running death/black metal band made up for its earlier absence by returning to the Mile High City last night. The outfit played a set wherein most of the stage was dark and we couldn't often make out anyone's face except for that of drummer Lars Broddesson. In fact, Mortuus' face being obscured by the shadows added a bit to the band's mystique.
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Vocals as an extended caterwaul and surprisingly melodic music with insistent rhythms like a barbarian horde over the open steppes made Marduk seem just different enough to be interesting. What made for some of the set's best moments was the in-between song ambient music. Otherwise, while Marduk played well, it seemed enough of a peace that the short set felt like it was taking an interminable amount of time. Even at that, some of the band's music sounded like it should have been included in the soundtrack to the French horror movie, Martyrs.
It was interesting to see Possessed on a bill at all, seeing as that band is credited by many to being the first death metal band -- or at least a named as an influence by virtually every well-known band in the genre to come along since 1983 or at least since 1985's Seven Churches was released. It's not often you see someone in a metal band wheel himself in his own wheelchair to front any band, much less a metal outfit, but that's what Jeff Beccera did.
Who knows what specific metal sound these guys were going for but the sheer variety in songwriting should be the reason this band has been so profoundly influential on a genre where there doesn't seem to be enough diversity in a single band's oeuvre.
Becerra wailed with a feral fury and the rhythm section may have been the best of the night because it wasn't just double bass and velocity -- Emilio Marquez is among the most versatile percussionists in heavy music and his sense of judiciously applied dynamics helped the music to breathe a little more.
One of the most candid moments in metal history came when Becerra said they were going to play "Beyond the Gates." After announcing the title, Becerra commented that the title was, "All generic and shit." At least these guys are cognizant of what some of what they do is but to be fair, the band's performance was confident and compelling.
The stage set-up for Danzig was like something out of a Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft story, the large, grey ovals carved with the Danzig log inside them, with tentacles curving down from each, flanking the drum riser. When the band finally came out one by one, a big cheer went up from the crowd, increasing significantly when Danzig himself strode to the center of stage, arms raised.
Beginning with "SkinCarver," it was obvious something was wrong with either the mike cable or something else, as Glenn Danzig's voice sounded incredibly thin and not robust as we know he really is. This phenomenon continued on into "Twist of Cain," but during that song, most of the audience was singing along, and that made up for any vocal shortcomings from the system. The band made it through the spooky "Hammer of the Gods," when the mike finally completely cut out.
This prompted Danzig -- when he finally got a mike that worked -- to say, "Don't hand me a mike that doesn't fucking work! That's like handing someone a guitar without strings and saying, 'Have a great show.'" But everyone took the situation in stride, and the show went on with the classic Danzig vocals able to be heard as they should. The band went through much of its catalog with some fan favorites and more obscure tracks.
The gritty and heavy "Thirteen," Danzig revealed, was written for Johnny Cash. "Under Her Black Wings" got the crowd to sing along even louder than the band on stage, and when the main portion of the set closed with "Mother," it sounded like everyone in the room was singing along.
That was followed by enough stomping and hollering that Danzig came back on stage for an encore which ended with "Long Way Back From Hell." Moving like a man half his age, Danzig and his band were commanding and charismatic from beginning to end, proof that even if you think Danzig is a little silly, at least the guy can deliver as a live performer better than most of his contemporaries.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Been a fan of Danzig's singing since hearing him do "You And Me (Less Than Zero)" for the soundtrack to Less Than Zero. Random Detail: Ran into Brandi Shigley of B. Sous, who was there to, as she said, "Rock out." By the Way: Someone at the soundboard played "Tribal Convictions" by Voivod at least twice while the Danzig crew was setting up.
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Danzig 11,12,10 | Ogden Theatre Denver, CO
01. SkinCarver 02. Twist of Cain 03. Hammer of the Gods 04. Deth Red Moon 05. Tired of Being Alive 06. Under Her Black Wings 07. How the Gods Kill 08. Do You Wear the Mark 09. On a Wicked Night 10. Ju Ju Bone 11. Thirteen 12. Bringer of Death [including extended instrumental section at the end] 13. Black Angel, White Angel 14. Mother
15. She Rides 16. Long Way Back From Hell