British Death Metal Forerunners Play Rare Performance in Austin
Death metal was one of the hot topics at this year’s Chaos in Tejas festival in Austin, Texas. Although punk rock permeates throughout the festival (The Damned headlined a show on the prior night), the ninth installment promised rare performances from two pioneering acts from England, Benediction and Bolt Thrower. Both bands are touring the States together. Unlike their gigs with Autopsy in California, Benediction and Bolt Thrower played on separate days.
I recall buying a computer desk from the sheet-metal warehouse that the promoters dubbed “E 11 5” and turned into a venue (at least for the festival). Even though the venue was not as cramped at Benediction’s show at Red 7, the sold out crowd’s body heat raised the temp to uncomfortable levels. When the temperature became unbearable, an outdoor vendor area on the grass presented a cool retreat. This area was a good place to talk to the fans including a group from Sweden and an ex-Z Rock disc jockey who informed us one of the members of Dokken was in attendance.
We arrived at the venue near the end of Magic Circle’s set. We didn’t catch much of their set, but were impressed with what we saw. The group has little to offer in terms of studio recordings, but their brand of doom rivals the best of today. Having caught their set at last year's festival, we knew the group wouldn’t disappoint. This band knows how to write catchy songs, so we’ll see what the future holds for their career.
Imprecation stepped up the tempo with its blasphemous, blackened guttural death metal. The Houston-area band played tight and presented a black metal aesthetic. A cross hung upside-down on the drum kit. Vocalist Dave Herrera screamed bloody gore through a microphone held out by a gauntlet-studded fist. JT of Dixie Witch and The Blood Royale told us the last time he saw Bolt Thrower perform was when he opened for them while playing in Imprecation in 1992 or ’93. Imprecation used the show as an outlet to perform material from their debut full-length “Satanae Tenebris Infinita,” which Dark Descent Records issued just a couple of days before this show.
We skipped watching Iron Lung, but caught another death metal band, Cruciamentum. The last time we caught the UK act in Austin was their gig with Mournful Congregation. Their doom-death approach resembled the mighty Incantation. Tremolo riffs mixed with hanging bar chords left a diabolic feeling in the air. The group didn’t offer much variety, though, so the tempo changes and indistinguishable vocals lost our interest after a couple songs.
Death metal was the focus of the night, but the show wouldn’t a Chaos in Tejas show without some punk-related groups. Punks literally flew off the stage for the music of steadfast crust punks Tragedy. Tragedy’s name is always bandied around Austin when the Oregon-by-way-of-Tennessee band plays here. Containing speedy grind-like sections and bruising hardcore, the group elicited pit after pit, stage diving and vigorous, fist-thrusting sing-alongs.
While the crowd reacted in a different manner than Tragedy, the energy never escaped when Bolt Thrower stepped on stage. Stage diving continued and the crowd crammed into every available space (or created new spaces) when the familiar guitar harmonies of “The Ivth Crusade” bounced echoed all the way through the venue’s tin construction. This track and “…For Victory,” “In Battle There is No Law,” “Mercenary” represented the title tracks in their set. Guitar chords churned like the gears of an indestructible war machine. Taken from the “Realm of Chaos” album, hardcore fans cited this song as one of the highlights in their set
Bolt Thrower isn’t known for its breakneck speed or bewildering technical elements; however, few death metal bands rival Bolt Thrower in the area of rhythm. Part of this is due to the ultra tight rhythm section of Martin Kearns (drums) and Jo Bench (bass). The two produced bass with ear-drum-popping results. Whether blazing through older, grinding material or creating polyrhythms to the newer, mid-paced dramatics, Kearns’ drum play was simply phenomenal. The volume of his drums overpowered Bolt Thrower’s guitar, which is much like their studio recordings.
Kudos to Chaos in Tejas for making this show happen. Bolt Thrower was a rare treat for this Austin audience. The reaction of the mixed crowd of punks, hardcore fans and metal heads proved the band’s greatness.
Bolt Thrower set list is as follows:
The Ivth Crusade
When Glory Beckons
Where Next to Conquer
No Guts, No Glory
When Cannons Fade
In Battle There is No Law
The Kill Chain/Powder Burns
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