Concert Review: Back To The Black U.S. Tour 2013 at Fubar

Matt Albers

            Being a Midwestern-based fan of extreme underground music naturally yields an unspoken understanding toward a lack of numerous, unique bands and tours making stops in your city. Larger cities and their surrounding areas like Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or even Detroit regularly host a wide range of big and small metal acts every year. Within the past decade, St. Louis, MO has seen a decline in metal tours, and bands that frequent the city tend to be more accessible and well-known, not to mention domestic. This leaves an admittedly small population per capita of fans of extreme metal – that may or may not be foreign or rather obscure – with a growing hunger to see their favorite bands without traveling. Hope seemed lost before 2013, but the long drought seemed to give fans a break when bands stopped in St. Louis after long absences. Bands like Meshuggah, Opeth, Soilwork, Amon Amarth, and more returned to St. Louis this year for the first time in anywhere from three to eight years. Even Iron Maiden played their first St. Louis show in thirteen years in early September, but less than a week later at a venue much smaller than the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Riverport, Vader brought their legendary Polish death metal to Fubar along with four other touring acts.

Opening the show to an already enthusiastic, Saturday night crowd was Tyranny Enthroned. Having opened for bands including Fear Factory, Dark Funeral, Nile, Grave, and Hate Eternal, within the past year alone, this blackened death metal four-piece was the perfect local talent to begin the evening. Though not donning their usual grease paint, the group shredded professionally, showcasing their songwriting skills from their latest album Born Of Hate. Vocalist and guitarist Jesse McCoy’s demanding stage presence and musicianship was juxtaposed against dry humor between songs, and his guitar work was well complimented by Winston Alvarez’s own as well. Tyranny Enthroned’s strong start bled naturally into the young, fresh trio of Extremely Rotten. Formed in 2009 in Jacksonville, FL – the state notorious for birthing and nurturing American death metal – by founding member and drummer Juan Pablo, the gory brutal deathgrind of Extremely Rotten from their latest effort Grotesque Acts Of Humanity was a welcome sign of a promising future from relative newcomers.

The next act on the bill was rather a step back from the first two promising bands. Colorado Springs’ Execration started their set off with promising sonic, by-the-books death metal, but they seemed to plateau rather quickly with little to no strong appeal to their style. While the vocalist Wyatt Housemann showcased a respectable range of deep growls and high shrieks, none of the other members – though capable in their musicianship – left much to be desired from their sound and performance. Not a bad band or performance, just unfortunately forgettable. Fortunately though, the same could not be said for the next group, California’s Sacrificial Slaughter. Not only was there plenty of death and grind goodness for extreme metal fans to eat up, but this band was not afraid to incorporate the grooves, crunchy riffs, and guitar solos of thrash metal for added uniqueness. Their combination was reminiscent of bands along the likes of Skeletonwitch or Goatwhore, and the high-energy and constant movement from the not-exactly-skinny members made their set all the more fun.

The final supporting act was the legendary blackened technical death metal of Vital Remains to Providence, RI. Playing on average once per year, give or take, Vital Remains are no strangers to St. Louis, or the Fubar venue. That is to say, guitarist Tony Lazaro isn’t a stranger, as he is the only remaining founding member of the group. Dedicated to keep his band going despite the revolving door musicians over the years, Lazaro surrounded himself once again with comparable talent, particularly in guitarist Aaron Homma, whose precise, shredding fingers were attached to a sleeve tattoo of various cartoon characters. While their set was textbook Vital Remains musically regardless of the latest members, the most notable difference was latest vocalist Brian Werner, replacing the charismatic and rather jolly (yes, you read correctly, JOLLY) Scott Wily. Werner’s vocals fit the bill, but his stage presence was noticeably different. Taking an old school, almost punk approach to his crowd control, Werner convinced patrons at the front of the stage to participate in a “wall of death” toward those at the bar in the BACK OF THE VENUE, somehow without a single injury. At one point, Werner also ran back to the back, stood on the bar, and then had fans carry him crowdsurfing-style back to the stage. The anti-religious shirts of his X-Communicated clothing line that Werner was selling at the Vital Remains merch booth that night were mirrored by his vocal distain for the Christian band that played on the opposite side of the venue the last time they played the Fubar lounge. Though his persona may have been different for a Vital Remains vocalist, Werener’s dedication to the band and their fans was obvious that night.

Finally, the time had come for Vader to take the stage. And take it they did, wasting no time in busting out old classics and fan favorites like “Sothis,” “Vicious Circle,” “Chaos,” “Silent Empire,” “Reborn In Flames,” “Carnal,” and “Fractal Light.” Though focusing mainly on work from their first three albums – The Ultimate Incantation (1992), De Profundus (1995), and Black To The Blind (1997) – they also made sure to feature songs from their latest effort, 2011’s Welcome To The Morbid Reich. Similar to Vital Remains, Vader’s only remaining founding member is Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek. Along with his band mates, Wiwczarek began their set with strong enthusiasm, as would be expected from a band that used to play St. Louis multiple times per year the earlier days of their career. Vader’s haunting and extreme brutality translated perfectly from recording to stage after all these years, but it was hard not to notice that by the second half of their set, Wiwczarek seemed to become slightly more subdued in his presence and banter, limiting to almost strictly simple song introductions. It was as if he was bored or unimpressed with the crowd. And then it became rather evident that he was indeed bored and/or unimpressed with the crowd, as the crowd was rather small. With six bands on the bill for a show starting between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM, Vader’s set did not begin until almost midnight and ended close to 1:00 AM. Given the times of the show, it might seem understandable that patrons left before the end (or maybe even the beginning) of the headliner’s set if it was during the week, but this show was on a Saturday night!

At the end of their set, Wiwczarek and Vader simply played their last few songs and left the stage with hardly any “thank yous” to the crowd, just walked off as “The Imperial March” from Star Wars played over the PA to indicate the end of their set. With the return of such extreme metal icons on a weekend evening, you’d think more people would show up and stay for the whole show. But the sad truth is, St. Louis is not the biggest or most populated Midwestern city, therefore there is a smaller metal community than other cities and an even smaller percentage of extreme metal fans. And with the ever-changing trends in metal and all forms of music, St. Louis has gotten used to being passed over by bands that may have once had a strong fan base during a time when they were much younger and more resilient in touring. Instances like the many in 2013 when bands thought to have forgotten a city appear to take a risk once again and see if St. Louis is worth spending time and gas money on, it’s discouraging to see a lack of enthusiasm in a city that complains of “never getting shows,” especially when given opportunities to see something you might not at least once per year.

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