Monday, April 16, 2012

Skeletonwitch • Dismemberment • Kingsblood • Arise the Titan - April 15, 2012 - Skully's Music Diner, Columbus, Ohio

artwork by Kingsblood axeman,
Jason 'Mcfly' Kincaid

Words will ultimately fail me when attempting to describe the Skeletonwitch concert I experienced last night. But I'll try anyway. I'll start by planting this flag firmly in the ground: the succession of performances by Kingsblood, Dismemberment and Skeletonwitch on April 15, 2012 at Skully's Music Diner in Columbus, Ohio was, hands down, the best show - of any genre - that I have seen in 17 years. And out of personal concert experiences numbering in the triple digits it ranks in my Top Three of all-time (I'll tell you about the other two some other day).

Driving home, I kept conjuring parallels to Game of Thrones for whatever reason. Two sets of brothers: kings and princes, all. A band of Nordic marauders, either guarding the wall or tearing it down, I'm not yet sure. None born into nobility yet each clawing their way through bone, flesh and sinew to ultimately claim dominion. Overly dramatic? Only if you weren't in attendance.

First, the usual rundown. Skully's was new to me but not by reputation. Co-workers and friends who had been there all praised the room and they were right on. True to its name, it offers a diner up front with a bar in the middle and a concert venue in the rear. It's a nice, intimate room with high ceilings and a wide stage that's elevated perfectly. Lights and sound were fantastic and many kudos go to the folks responsible for making sure those were perfect. The show was a "matinee," scheduled from 5:00-9:00 with the joint turning over for a reggae band an hour later. A bizarre juxtaposition but interesting to me to see how the proprietors could maximize a Sunday evening for two radically different crowds.

Arise the Titan opened very shortly after 5:00 to a largely empty room and, to their credit, delivered a long set with full-on energy that never flagged. A straightforward brand of brutal metal, they really suffered from the early spot on the bill and the lack of an involved crowd and, while I appreciated their sound overall, I never quite became fully engaged in what they had to offer.

Kingsblood followed quickly and, stuck in the midst of the tight four-hour window, skipped their usual Conan intro and raged right into "A Warrior's Past." This was my third Kingsblood show and they fired on all cylinders and then some. Vocalist Alex Nida, in my few brief encounters with him, has to be one of the most gregarious people I have ever met. When the music starts, however, he transforms instantly into a berserker that rampages and roils incessantly until the last note fades - a fucking fantastic frontman (all with F's three times taller than you, to borrow a Zappa quotation). The musical unit conveys an imposing stage presence with a thick, powerful, enveloping sound to match. The guitars of Jason "McFly" Kincaid and Damon Ark provide the sweep of longboat oars driven to war by the raging rhythms of Slinky on bass and James Watson on drums. New songs from their upcoming EP, A King Reborn, fleshed the set to about a half-dozen songs and, dammit, three times as many still would not be enough for me. The room apparently concurred as it filled quickly when Kingsblood went on and rioted in a manner befitting the Ragnarök onstage.

Dismemberment are goddamn wizards. It's that simple. I've now seen the band four times in six months and they get better every time. Their setlist, seven songs deep, was fantastic, drawing heavily from Denied Salvation and featured only "Cryptic Isolation" from The Condemned. The rhythm section displayed their usual thunderous perfection but brothers Luke and Jacob Shively held court this particular evening, ruling the stage not with swords but with axes and each were deadly in their precision. To top it off, they paid tribute to Death with a stellar cover of "Crystal Mountain" (and some sweet lead work from Luke) and the circle pit raged in approval.

If Dismemberment are wizards, Skeletonwitch have to be fucking sorcerers. They mesmerized the crowd, held them under their sway and forced them to do their bidding (Drink beer, smoke weed, eat pussy...) and performed non-stop black magic for damn near ninety minutes. Having just seen the band less than 24 hours before at Death on the Vine, this evening's performance was an amplification of the evening prior, with every aspect exponentially improved under the magnification of the tighter quarters. The music, first and foremost, is rock-rock-solid. A sinister black thrash with a sharp, lively delivery and more hooks than a Hellraiser film, the sonic portion alone is stellar. The band, and Chance Garnette in particular, have their live rock moves down pat in that, despite all that goddamn movement, there are no moves. No posturing, no posing, but instead five guys getting off on the sound and the crowd. The only difference between the fun the audience is having and the fun the band is having lies in the fact that they're the ones holding the instruments. And thank God they are. Nate Garnette's leads were, simply, sick and he, paired with the guitar of Scott Hedrick, stood as kingsguard on the offensive, launching volley after volley of sonic assault from each side of the stage. And, all due respect and everything, but the God of Thunder is not Thor (and he sure as hell is not named "Simmons"). He is a they and they, bassist Evan Linger and drummer Dustin Boltjes, provided booms that make Mjölnir seem like a tackhammer.

Skeletonwitch tore through fourteen songs, each with the same unbridled passion and intensity, largely splitting the difference between Forever Abomination and Beyond the Permafrost (with only a couple numbers from Breathing the Fire) and dedicated "Of Ash and Torment," late in their setlist, to Dismemberment and it was fitting: bound to this fate you suffer / tortured within this domain / commit your flesh to the fire / your soul condemned to the flame. The parallels here between the brothers - the paths they follow, the soul of their sounds, the energy they bring - are undeniable and, frankly, it was more than a little mind-blowing to find myself in such a relatively small space absorbing such incredible music across such a brief timespan from bands based less than 200 miles from my home. The density and intensity of musical power emanating from southwest Ohio is staggering and any self-described metal fan in this state should bend their knee, pledge fealty to the Metal Gods and name Skeletonwitch and their brethren high on the list of their blessings when they count them.

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