The Goregrowler's Ball 5, Day 2: Hirax, Brutal Truth and Funerus Ruled the Evening.
Day one of The Goregrowler’s Ball came and went without any hitches. Day two promised even more gore-gurgling delights. This day started earlier than Friday’s 5:30 start time. Originally scheduled for a 1:30 start time, the promoter pushed the start time back to 2:30. Prog death artists, Vex took this early slot, which we unfortunately missed. Comatose Records was on full display, as it was throughout the weekend, with Atrocious Abnormality. Said band played a brutal slab of unmerciful, brutal death metal featuring label head, Steve Green.
Ibex Moon Records, owned by John McEntee of Incantation, also made its presence known on the second day. Cardiac Arrest produced grimy, churning death metal in the vein of Autopsy and Grave. The Chicago act switched between rotten-limb-stiffening slow jams and all-out-blast fests provided by new drummer Nick Gallichio. Adam Scott, Tom Knizner, Dave Holland joined low and mid-range scathing voices to narrate grisly tales from the group’s three recordings. Set highlights include the frantic pace of “Insanity’s Grip,” and the ominous, full-moon-blooming groove of “Affliction of the Beast.”
Fellow Ibex Moon label and former tour mates, Hod took the hell-raising chaos outside. Hod was in fine form, performing its perfected blend of death, thrash, black, speed and all-things-metal (“We’re Hod and we play fucking metal”) style. The Central Texas act showcased material from its sole album, “Serpent.” The said album has been out for two years, so one would expect new material. Locals familiar with Hod knew the band well, so their new songs came without surprise. However, those from out of town delighted in hearing new tracks such as “Den of Wolves.” Look for a new record in 2012.
Sacrificial Slaughter played a memorable set of thrashing death metal. Flanked by back drops showing an amorphic, wolverine-clawed woman, the group played gore-strewn death metal that focused on riffs, rather than pure speed and bludgeoning brutality. Their sounds of death were injected with segments of thrash. A death riff here, a thrash riff there-- the group's style kept the throes of boredom at bay. Bryan "Big Daddy" Roth made a big impression on the hair-twirling audience.
Funerus was one of the weekend’s highlights. Led by Incantation’s John McEntee and his wife Jill, the group played gear-switching death/doom. As McEntee told me after their set, he likes fast and slow bands, a statement reflected in the group’s music. Bolt Thrower and Incantation were two bands often used by patrons to describe the band’s style. Jill McEntee exhibited a dry vocal delivery reminiscent of the Asphyx’s Martin Van Drunen. Whether playing drawn-out, diabolic-vibe-enveloping notes or low-end, soul-churning notes, each rhythmic movement left the crowd drowning in a sea of grubby gore. As the band’s latest offering dictates, the group truly “Reduced (the crowd) to Sludge.”
The heavy-metal-horror-film narrations of Deceased gelled so smoothly with the Relapse bands—Exhumed and Brutal Truth—that headlined Friday and Saturday’s festivities. Although no longer part of Relapse Records’ roster, Deceased were the first band to sign with the vaunted, extreme metal label. Their first few albums were instrumental in laying the foundation for the label. Songs from the Relapse era, Deceased’s most ambitious period, were in full effect. Like the Crypt Keeper from the original “Tales From the Crypt” film, King Fowley led his hardcore devotees through ghastly corridors of zombies (“Fearless Undead Machines” and “Night of the Deceased”), A Voivodian, Sci-Fi nightmares (“Robotic Village”), The Bermuda Triangle (“The Triangle”) and mankind’s extinction (“Fading Survival.”)
The group’s death/speed/heavy metal amalgamation was one of the weekend’s most diverse musical styles. A cover of Venom’s classic “Black Metal” seemed so appropriate for Fowley, who surely took cue from the gruff tones of Venom’s Cronos. Near the end of their set, Fowley announced they only had nine minutes to capture twenty-six years of music. While the group put their best foot forward, emphasizing classic, early material, it would have been nice to hear a song or two from “Supernatural Addiction” or recent recording “Surreal Overdose.” Such is the way of the multi-day metal festival.
We missed Putrid Pile’s one-man show, but those who didn’t had nothing but positive things to say. Having seen PP (the abbreviation works so well here) as part of three, one-man death metal acts at Goregrowler’s Ball 2008, I’ll stand by those positive assessments.
We did, however, catch Internal Bleeding. These Sultans of the Slam were part of a strong, East Coast contingency at this year’s festival. Watching Internal Bleeding was like seeing a sneak preview of Sunday’s headliner, Suffocation. The Long Island-based band crunched the crowd with body-bobbing slam segments, while incorporating fast change ups similar to Suffocation, especially Suffo’s guitar play. The two are even linked through members--Suffocation’s Guy Marchais played with Internal Bleeding during their most productive time in the late nineties.
Although Internal Bleeding has been credited as one of the innovators of slam, the group came off as Suffocation light. Their style was similar, but the quality was of a lesser degree. They weren’t as technically brilliant nor were their hooks as memorable. Additionally, new vocalist Keith DeVito (ex-Pyrexia, Catastrophic) possessed a mid-range that dampened some the guttural glory of past microphone pukers.
An energetic anticipation pervaded through Korova’s halls before Hirax took the stage. Guitarist Lance Harrison fiddled with an exquisite pedal rig while the group’s crew hung their logo-strewn backdrop. Once leather-and-spiked front man, Katon de Pena took the stage, all of this energy found release in a single, massive wave of head-banging, fist pumping, circle pitting and even stage-diving fury. The crowd reaction was as close to a 1980s intimate setting in San Francisco that we’ve seen. This was the thrash show I always hoped for after watching old videos such as “Wake up Dead” and “Toxic Waltz.” Possibly, the thrashing chaos could find explanation in Hirax playing way fewer shows than their ‘80s thrash-metal peers from the north and south of California. It was also due to the fact that Hirax has never compromised their heaviness. New tracks “El Rostro de la Muerte (The Face of Death)” and “Assassins of War” felt nearly as authentic as timeless material such as “Bombs of Death” from their 1985 debut “Raging Violence.”
The trademark, snarling vocals of Katon de Pena, swift, tradeoff leads of Lance Harrison and Mike Guerrero traded and pounding pulse of Jorge Iacobellis and Steve Harrison were so entertaining and uplifting for a mere twenty-five minute set. That was exactly the case, though. One of the most talked about acts of the weekend seized the day, and in my humble opinion, went away with the best performance. This accomplishment was sullied by a mere half-set (I’m being generous saying this was even a half-set.)
Performances by Deceased, Sacrificial Slaughter and Hirax highlighted thrash as the movement of the night, so Danny Lilker’s set with Brutal Truth seemed so appropriate. Granted, Brutal Truth reveals little thrash in their sound; they bring death metal and grindcore blitzkrieg; however, Lilker’s time spent in Anthrax, Nuclear Assault and S.O.D. surely laid a concrete footing in the house that thrash built. His nimble fingers gracefully travelled the neck of his bass guitar. He is one of the great bass standouts in heavy music, and his performance on this night truly upheld this status.
Seeing Danny Lilker play is always a treat. Wearing his familiar Panama Jack-style hat and donning a grizzled beard, Kevin Sharp super charged the crowd, emphatically running around the stage in bare feet (no pregnancy, though). Grind doesn’t hold much sway over this scribe, but the big sound, punk-fueled rhythms and high-octane stage presence revealed the band’s place as one of grind’s elite. Still, after Hirax’s performance, watching Brutal Truth was akin to watching a child with ADD succumb to the effects of Ritalin. The second-to-last band owned both Friday and Saturday, but I wonder if going on at 1:00 AM might have led to a let down just like Exhumed and Brutal Truth experienced.
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