Sunday, April 15, 2012

Death on the Vine - April 14, 2012 - Bogart's, Cincinnati, Ohio

It was all so good. An embarrassment of riches, really. By the time Cincinnati's mini-death metal festival, Death on the Vine, ended near midnight Saturday night eight bands had played across a solid seven and one-half hours and the first acts were already beginning to feel like memories from long ago.

Death on the Vine brought me back to college haunt Bogart's for the first time in over fifteen years. The place seemed bigger to me now but perhaps I have just become accustomed to smaller venues in recent years. While Bogart's has hosted many, many incredible bands over the years the venue is fairly unremarkable - a large hall with high ceilings and small balcony (which remained closed for this event). An elevated bar and now, apparently, "VIP area" sit in the rear where merchandise is also staged (the variety available from each band for this show was immense). The acoustics have been decent every time I've been there. Staff are unobtrusive and moshing and crowd surfing are the norm. The turnout for Death on the Vine was impressive from the get-go and when I arrived after the published (and, as always, delayed) 3:00 doors time there was already a line down the block.

California's Arkaik went on promptly at 4:00 and delivered a fairly straightforward, albeit unmemorable, brand of technical death metal that got the fans moving - they had a mosh pit going by their second number - but still served as a baseline for the event. I was unfamiliar with the band (as well as the two who would follow) prior to the concert and each number, while certainly a decent listen, was more or less indistinguishable from any other in their brief set. Rome's Hour of Penance followed and were much more exciting. While still another technical-flavored set, Hour of Penance had a lively stage presence and communicated an edge of brutality. They identified one of my favorite numbers from their set as a new song from an upcoming record so I may need to watch for this one as I think they may be a fun band worth following. Abysmal Dawn rounded out the first tier of openers and, while far from abysmal, they did little for me aside from reminding me that I really like Morbid Angel. They were high-energy and the crowd really swelled during their set but the straight-up, no-frills death needed a little more of a unique signature to leave a lasting impression.

Skeletonwitch were the first band on the bill I was excited to see. Love their records and, despite their Ohio origins, had never yet seen them live. Skeletonwitch did not disappoint and more than lived up to their reputation as an incendiary live act. From the first note they owned the room.

Skeletonwitch - "Erased and Forgotten" - Death on the Vine April 2012 from Gog Magog on Vimeo.

Chance Garnette is a consummate frontman and held the audience in the palm of his hand during their entire (and too brief) set. The band's chemistry is apparent onstage in both appearance and sound. Their black thrash approach to metal is perfectly balanced and injected a massive shot of adrenaline into a show already running at a fever pitch. I was sick to see them leave the stage and, as of this writing, will leave again in just a few hours to catch them tonight in Columbus.

Skeletonwitch could have left the stage, ended the show, and left me satisfied with a compact deathly showcase. But the show was just getting started. Exhumed burst on in a flesh-rending frenzy and went far beyond any expectations I could have held. Matt Harvey's meaty grind brought out the blood hunger in the audience and, as the room packed tighter and the pit widened, the place started, simply, to go fucking crazy. Exhumed's raw and sweaty set dug deep into the crypt of their catalogue and highlights included Gore Metal's "Limb from Limb" and, my personal favorite, Anatomy is Destiny's "The Matter of Splatter."

If there was a disappointment for me throughout the "big acts" for the evening, it would have to be Nile. To be fair, Nile have never been a favorite of mine and I have held onto a couple albums largely just due to my ongoing amazement at the speed of George Kollias' blast beats. The set started with what appeared to be major technical problems for Karl Sanders and he was missing for the first number or two and it is possible that they never quite achieved their usual momentum after. That said, after Skeletonwitch and Exhumed, Nile's largely stationary stage presence was a little sedate (even Kollias must be all feet in his motion). Additionally, a return to the more technical side of death, even with its Egyptian flavor, tempered the frenzy of the show for this fan. Still, there were many in attendance who were thrilled with Nile and it appeared that they satisfied their hardcore fans.

The Black Dahlia Murder. God damn. "Moonlight Equilibrium" set things into overdrive from the onset and Trevor Strnad bounced around the stage like a madman. At this point in the proceedings his high squeals (I generally prefer the lower register growls) were more an invigorating variation than an irritation and the enthusiasm of the band was absolutely infectious. While the set was peppered with Ritual numbers, it was Nocturnal selections "What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse" and "Everything Went Black" that thrilled me most. The Black Dahlia Murder's insane energy whipped the crowd into a frenzy and set a fantastic counterpoint for the immovable monolith that were headliners Cannibal Corpse.

Cannibal Corpse were everything I imagined and more. From their stoic, cemented positions onstage (it's as though you took Cliff Williams and Malcolm Young and simply multiplied them by two) to the deathly serious demeanor as they spewed out one vomitous number after another, it was as if they had a mission to which they were dedicated even if it meant their certain death. They were the id unstoppable personified and made up for the lack of motion in their bodies with the Corpsegrinder's breakneck headbanging and absolute power in terms of delivery. "Demented Aggression" opened and the Corpse delivered a true headlining set spanning around twenty songs across nearly ninety minutes.

Cannibal Corpse ran the gamut when it came to their backcatalogue and, after a healthy dose of Torture at the outset, went as far back as Eaten Back to Life for "Born in a Casket," stopping along the way to revisit Vile ("Disfigured"), Butchered at Birth ("Covered with Sores"), Kill ("The Time to Kill is Now"), Tomb of the Mutilated ("I Cum Blood") and more. It's a testament to the power of the band's latest release, though, that one of the night's strongest performances was the new song "As Deep As the Knife Will Go." The Corpsegrinder, a formidable frontman, did all the talking (sparse as it was), usually to berate the fans for their applause of the band's sick concepts or their lack of headbanging. While George Fisher provided the focus of the band's theatrics one could spend the entire show watching Alex Webster navigate his bass as well. It's not an overstatement to call the man a genius and it was a pleasure and a privilege to see his art in motion.

By the time the band closed with "Hammer Smashed Face," with hundreds in motion, a mosh pit gone wild and no fewer than two crowd surfers floating and flailing at any given point in time, I was thoroughly exhausted. Instead of a "good night," though, Fisher cracked a sardonic grin, said "I told you that was our last song. I lied," and, before I knew it, Trevor Strnad rushed onstage and the two tore into The Bleeding's "Stripped, Raped and Strangled." Utterly speechless. The room heaved in a minutes-long last spasm, the lights came up and we all shuffled out as smiling, sweaty zombies, thoroughly prepared to die a little happier.


  1. Looks like it was pretty rad, bummer about Nile though. That's really my biggest problem with metal shows, a lot of times it's just four dudes standing still on stage. More fun to listen to than watch sometimes. Granted, they are usually playing some super technical shit but I think it's just more fun if they can actually really get into it.

    Skeletonwitch are awesome, I wish they were on the CC bill here.

    What did you record the clip with, camera or phone?

    1. It was incredible - and I don't want to dis Nile. It was really an instance of suffering largely by comparison and such a momentum had been established with Skeletonwitch and Exhumed that they seemed sedate and, for me, kind of doused the fire. I know other acts seemed to have issues with the monitor in Sanders' spot and I am sure that didn't help one bit. That said, much of the crowd was CRAZY for Nile so what do I know?

      Skeletonwitch were awesome. Leaving in a couple hours for Round 2 and am really excited to see them in the headliner role.

      I used an iPhone4 for the photos and video. So far, pictures at any distance at all in low light are horrid but I have been pretty happy with the video results.