Originally written by Jordan Campbell
The 2014 Decibel Magazine tour concluded in Maryland last Sunday. It was a big deal. We should probably say something about it.
Here’s the thing, though. Concert reviews typically shove their victim(s) into one of two equally insufferable traps:
1) Amateurish Gonzo scattermaps that devolve into self-indulgence almost immediately.
2) Factory-pressed adverb-bombs that offer little in the way of actual criticism, information, or legitimate commentary and merely exist to fill space.
In reality, they’re best executed in blurb-on-steroids form, full-crutched by a killer photo set. (Invisible Oranges has mastered this technique over the past year or so by showing, not telling.) But taking photos is work, man. Reporting from gigs is one of the best ways to take the fun out of a hobby.
Hence the reason why few such articles grace these pages.
So, a forewarning: You won’t be treated to a stunning photo pit session here. Just some words that will likely fall into the first wormhole listed above.
Why am I subjecting you to this? ‘Cause this tour series has a way of conjuring a narrative, and it’s fast becoming one of the most relevant events on North American shores. Last year’s edition—featuring Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse—somehow compelled me to merge the token white-metalhead pseudo-feminism and Deafheaven thinkpieces into a single rant. [CUE GROANING]
And this year’s go-round—with Noisem, Gorguts, The Black Dahlia Murder, and (surprise, surprise) Carcass—stoked similar fires.
See, Carcass is one of those bands I never thought I’d see live; I got into Heartwork at seventeen, long after they hanged themselves with Columbia’s noose. They were the act on the bill that I was most stoked about; the band whose records I’d been spinning for years in a bubble of unrequited human interaction. They were The Ticket, man.
So when they rolled through Minneapolis, I bought one.
That’s not to say my hopes where sky-high. Dudes are old as hell, and Surgical Steel, while being a fun record with two legitimate killers nestled in it (“Unfit For Human Consumption” and “Noncompliance…”), is as close as death metal is ever going to get to Dad Thrash territory. It’s a safe record for fans, a feel-good classic rocker with just enough edge to lend it relevancy. Thus, a Carcass set would be a good time for a fuzzy soul rather than a life-changing event. Give us early-thirtysomethings our Necroticism / Heartwork jams, a beer, and a rad t-shirt. We’ll go home happy.
But, fuck, man. That t-shirt selection was abysmal. Carcass was peddling two “parody” shirts: One was a film reference that was lost on me—referring to the band as “The Carcass”—and the other was a Swansong–themed riff on that Led Zeppelin tour shirt you can get at Target for seven bucks.
They also had the classic, block-lettered “I REEK OF PUTREFACTION” shirt—which I might’ve purchased if A) I was fifteen years old, and B) that album wasn’t wholly insufferable—as well as a tour-date shirt that inexplicably featured the Decibel logo more prominently than the band’s. (Corporate rock really does suck, right guys?)
Needless to say, I threw ten bucks at Noisem and did my good cotton deed for the evening.
Those killer kids deserved the cash. But their set was…bizarre. They certainly destroyed, but the Mill City Nights stage was far too big for them. Noisem are dirty, filthy, thrashing little bastards that should be bashing it out in basements.
That’s a compliment. Their sound isn’t meant to be placed on a pedestal. In the flesh, they often reach near-grind velocity, and it should be delivered ground-level, full-throttle, and face-first. Hopefully, this band is handled correctly. A slow burn of dive-bar headlining gigs and micro-venue direct support slots would be far more beneficial to their longevity than attempts to become the next Warbringer.
Minutes later, on the same stage, the resurgent Gorguts were titans perched on a milk crate. Their set proved to be the night’s most magnetic; Luc Lemay was crackling with charisma and enthusiasm, despite looking like he had just rolled out of bed. The set consisted of four cuts from Colored Sands plus “Obscura,” so the twelve NYDM warriors pining for Considered Dead were left to shed tears / meat-sweats into their PBRs, but it was still a total heist.
Following that high, The Black Dahlia Murder’s set proved to be a perfect time to pester the poor dude at the basement bar for a nine-dollar Jameson shot.
(Drink prices were fucking astronomical, even by downtown MPLS standards. Question(s): Was this to prevent “unwashed metal types” from getting pisshammered? An attempt to cover the likely-astronomical cost of booking this all-ages gig? Both? Regardless, it was almost as obnoxious as the security staff, and the bartender was likely getting the worst of the arrangement, running himself ragged for fifty-cent tips.)
TBDM’s popularity is perplexing. Their expert re-flogging of Dissection and At The Gates has carried them to consecutive, successful, identical records, rendering them some kind of millennial edition of Bolt Thrower.
Whatever. More fascinating than their riffery is Trevor Strnad’s burgeoning gut, which has become one of the most amusing stage props in metaldom. Dude’s the bizarro Lambesis. The kids went berserk when he took his shirt off, but…
…not as crazy as the Carcass faithful did when Bill Steer stepped to the mic.
The first half of Carcass’ set was blissfully predictable, opening with a piped-in “1985” and running through a warmfuzzy collection of Heartwork and Surgical Steel cuts. (“Carnal Forge” geeked me out, but “No Love Lost” is basically their “Seek and Destroy,” which means that people love it ’cause it sucks ass.) And Jeff Walker’s rasp was on-point. But when Bill busted out the old-school grunts on “Pyosisified”—and other material that Jeff mockingly air-quoted as “grindcore”—the floor went wild, and old men became boys.
And that’s the crux of the Carcassian appeal; even though Surgical Steel is a perfectly legit album, their artistic viability in comparison to Lemay’s similarly-reborn Gorguts exists on a different plane. Gorguts are charging forward, and Carcass are banking on nostalgia.
That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s fantastic. They’ve achieved something that’s rare in metal’s extreme wing: They make you feel good. They make you pine for simpler times. They remind you why you do this shit in the first place. They weren’t the freshest, tightest, or fastest band on the bill, they were certainly the most iconic.
For decades, death metal has been looking for its Priest. Carcass might have stumbled into that void, and they’re filling it nicely.
• • •
Did you hit this show when it rolled through your preferred metropolitan area? How many of you bought camouflage t-shirts? More importantly, who stole the show?