Sepultura, Death Angel, Krisiun, & Havok At Higher Ground In South Burlington, VT
Band Photo: Sepultura (?)
“That’s not the pass for tonight,” muttered the venue staffer checking IDs, wearing a dismissive expression suspiciously resembling a dildo. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
I’d just conducted interviews – coming soon – with guitarists Andreas Kisser (of Sepultura) and Moyses Kolesne (of Krisiun) backstage at Higher Ground in South Burlington, Vermont. With no additional press to handle, Sepultura’s tour manager had scrapped the planned guest list, handing me instead a photo/access pass from a prior show. As this straightforward story was received with borderline indifference and a blasé shrug, I was pulled aside to allow lucky ticketholders entry. There I stood waiting under the gatekeepers’ stone cold gazes, like a failed freeloader – the lowest form of tool at a concert.
When another, infinitely more helpful staffer finally arrived to hear me out, a quick phone call confirmed my entry. I was ushered to the box office to receive a hand stamp, dutifully frisked, and waved on into the ballroom – where Denver thrashers Havok were concluding their brief opening set.
I’d been less than familiar with Havok’s music (latest release reviewed here), and was looking forward to soaking up their live show, so missing most of it was a disappointment. What I did manage to witness, however, was certainly not – for a new wave thrash band, these guys play it straight and fierce without the gimmicky conceit of celebrating an era they never truly lived through. Also, they deserve a great deal of credit not only for personally staffing their merch booth at all times, but for constantly mingling in the crowd as fans on an equal footing with the rest of us.
Krisiun, the only pure death metal act on the bill, crushed. The towering battery of sound on their recordings makes it easy to forget that the band is a mere trio of brothers – the Hanson of extreme music, if you will. A proper live show demands constant focus and intensity from blast beating drummer Max Kolesne, shredder Moyses, and bassist/vocalist Alex Camargo, with no easy fallbacks in case something goes amiss. That wasn’t the case tonight, and Krisiun delivered a massive jolt to the slowly growing crowd as more patrons filed in the doors like molasses. Genre-wise, their inclusion on the bill felt strangely appropriate, for what began as simple underground death metal has evolved into something far broader in scale and scope – as evidenced on their finest work to date, last year’s “The Great Execution.”
While “The Will To Potency” was the only new track represented, to be fair, the short set time wouldn’t have allowed any more such epic-length songs. Instead, Krisiun offered an entry-level sampling of their catalogue, each song off a different album. For the finale, Alex invited fellow Brazilian Andreas Kisser onstage for a guest guitar performance of “an old classic.” My tongue moved quicker than my brain, and I blurted out [Sepultura’s] “Refuse/Resist!” After reminding myself who tonight’s headliners were, I sheepishly tossed that remark into the trash bin of idiotic requests and watched Krisiun wrap it up with their cover of Venom’s “In League With Satan.”
Up next: some authentic Bay Area thrash. Death Angel is everywhere these days, and that’s a great thing. Their second wind on the Nuclear Blast label has transformed them, over the course of three stellar albums, from late ‘80s teenage also-rans into a modern metal touring machine finally receiving its just deserts. Having always relied on nothing but skill and their own instruments to achieve a proper live sound, Death Angel scored big tonight with their new(ish) rhythm section – drummer Will Carroll and bassist Damien Sisson – and the hyperactivity of frontman Mark Osegueda and guitarists Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar. Nobody stood still in position for even five seconds at a time. Live, Death Angel is about as physical as thrash gets.
“I’m gonna say something I’ve never said before in our music career – never before in my whole life,” Mark announced, before loosing a trademark shriek: “GOOD EVENING, BURLINGTON!!!” Requisite cheers. “Man, people told me, ‘Nah, don’t bother; it’s just a bunch of hippies up there.’ I can’t WAIT to tell those people how fuckin’ metal you motherfuckers are!” While crowd-flattering is standard practice for stoking energy, this statement rang all too sincere for us. A live, high profile metal bill in Burlington is tough to come by, and when fans get to attend a show close to home, you’d better believe they make it count.
Death Angel’s setlist was about what I expected from a direct support act: a handful of obligatory “first wave” songs (including “Mistress Of Pain” and “Seemingly Endless Time”), a heavy chunk of material off the latest album “Relentless Retribution,”  and a track apiece from the two previous “second wave” albums “Killing Season”  and “The Art Of Dying.”  From the latter came “Thrown To The Wolves,” which works to perfection as an opener on the album and a closer in a live setting. I’ve now caught Death Angel live three times, each in different slots – headliner, opener, and now direct support – and the experience thus far has been as well-rounded as the band’s attention to every corner of their catalogue.
And now, at last. Sepultura. The Brazilian three-decade-running institution of metal that has excited, delighted, inspired, and infuriated fans from all across the heavy music spectrum. The band to which many, many of today’s acts owe their sounds and styles, if not their very existences. The band whose evolving, river-like career has soaked up thrash, death, groove, hardcore, and even punk, and blasted it back in our faces with a fiery, unmistakably ethnic signature. They, too, were playing in Burlington for the first time in history.
The long-raging debate over Sepultura’s notorious late ‘90s lineup shift, which saw the American Derrick Green replace founding frontman and proud Third World caveman Max Cavalera, has been thoroughly covered elsewhere. The debate was further fuelled in recent years with the departure of drummer Igor Cavalera and his succession of replacements – first Jean Dolabella and now young Eloy Casagrande, half the age of his bandmates. There are some who, armed with these facts, glance at the bill on a flyer and scoff, “This isn’t Sepultura.” These people are communists. There are still others who, after having witnessed the band live in its current incarnation, still hold fast to such statements. THESE people are child predators.
The point is, Sepultura smoked. With a live production as tight as a noose and massive as the country of Brazil, the band tore the roof off the place. Choice of material didn’t matter; lineup and setlist be damned, this was a metal show, and they played METAL, period. As with Death Angel, I was happy to hear a carefully crafted blend of classic songs with a heaping of cuts off last year’s colossal “Kairos,” (reviewed here) along with several selections of earlier Derrick Green material (“Dark Wood Of Error,” “Convicted In Life,” “Sepulnation,” and “Choke”) and a couple old deep cuts – including “Subtraction” off “Arise.”  Fresh-faced Casagrande, known for his work with André Matos (Angra), has yet to demonstrate what style he’ll bring to future Sepultura recordings, but live, there was certainly nothing to complain about behind the kit. Founding member and bassist Paulo Jr. is the onstage anchor of the band – a controlled, driving force that allows Andreas and Derrick to indulge in the evening’s heroics, which climaxed with their shared vocal duties on the tribal jam “Ratamahatta.” I created another First World Problem for myself when Andreas recognized me in the crowd and tossed a pick directly to me, which I lunged for with both hands and promptly lost in the shuffle. With countless pairs of eyes burning the back of my head, it took a couple songs to live that one down.
While Sepultura gave a welcome nod to Ministry with their cover of “Just One Fix,” I would’ve appreciated a cut off “Roorback,”  which I haven’t seen them visit live. Nor was “A-Lex”  represented, but every other release had its moment in the sun. The live staples – “Escape To The Void,” “Inner Self,” “Arise,” “Dead Embryonic Cells,” “Refuse/Resist,” and, of course, closer “Roots Bloody Roots” – hit as hard and monstrous as their reputations, and it might as well have been 1996. Or 1993, or 1991, or 1989, or 1987, for that matter.
The only serious drawback tonight was the rather pathetic turnout. People trickled in the doors in painfully gradual fashion until, for Death Angel and beyond, a decent-sized crowd barely capable of sustaining a serious pit was formed. The rowdy energy levels were a healthy compensation, but promoters care about numbers, and until they know they can pack the place, metal will stay largely dead in Burlington. This is unacceptable. Bands of tonight’s caliber deserve a welcome that makes a statement; a welcome only a full house can deliver – especially in a town known for spawning Phish. To all readers living in similarly deprived areas: when metal comes to town, even if the band isn’t your favorite, don’t be picky. Show up. Go support it. You have nothing to lose but time, as future tours pass you by.
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