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Unearth At The Subterranean – Chicago 3/22/2016

I took the Metra to the CTA Blue Line since I didn't want to pay for both gas and city parking. Besides, mass transit probably caused more damage to my hearing over the years that heavy metal ever did. On the way down to the city, the train conductor asked if I was in high school as he was offering student discounts and I looked like I could be a teenager. I'm 28. That's the downside of shaving my beard off every spring and staying clean shaven all the way through the summer until late autumn. With it, I look 16. Without it I look 45. I simply cannot win.

The venue is located in Wicker Park, which is the Hipster capital of Chicago thanks in no small part to the Subterranean being located right next to the Double Door. If there was any further proof that the hipster generation is a bunch of aging fossils, the Subterranean had a flier for an upcoming nu metal DJ night with a picture of Fred Durst. When your generation is old enough to get nostalgic and start looking backwards instead of to the future, they're officially as pathetic as retired hippies still pining away for the 60s.

I arrived hours early which meant that Unearth were still in Indiana (I texted them to apologize for having to smell Gary as they drove through it) and I had nothing better to do but wander around Wicker Park for a few hours like a combination of a bar-hopping tourist and a creepy hobo looking for somebody to mug. First I browsed through a really great used book store called Myopia, which I'm giving a plug here because they have amazing prices, before crashing in a coffee shop called Brü, which would allow me to read on a couch for the next two hours.

I next headed for a punk bar called the Flatiron since by 5:00 I was hungry. I made the mistake of thinking that they served food but they had Allagash so it still worked for me but since I stopped drinking as Ken was still doing his sound check and you had to keep ordering to sit there and I was already tipsy but didn't want to be totally piss drunk while conducting an interview with Ken Susi and would rather just have a lack of eye contact which can't be transcribed in print within the final product than be slurring words and transcribing what can only be written in the Roman alphabet as, “soignoaingtoiasng.” So I headed to the High Noon Saloon which thankfully served actual solid food on the menu.

Subterranean - for those not familiar – is tiny. Not a whole lot of floor space so most people just sit on a balcony and watch from above but in a way, that's a good thing since the smaller the venue, the more brutal the sound quality. It's just a bit of a shame that Unearth are playing smaller venues than they used to and aren't drawing the same crowds that they once did. I remember that back when they were touring with Protest the Hero, they could completely sell out the House of Blues.

I had never heard of Great American Ghost before the tour was announced. They're a decent hardcore band. A bit generic but they have the potential, particularly if they capitalize on their grind elements. Despite being a generic chugga-breakdown hardcore band, they're probably five minutes away from something great and it's only a matter of whether or not the recognize it.

Culture Killer is one of the better grind bands that I've seen love. They're young guys so they have room to get more popular among the grindcore scene. More importantly, by lowing the tempo at points, they're able to carve out a niche for themselves in a genre infamous for sounding the same with monotonous blast beats and unwavering 300 BPM tempos. When people half expect songwriting to take a backseat to aggression, Culture Killer may prove to have actually have longevity. They aren't there yet but they certainly impressed me more than Great American Ghost did.

Fit For An Autopsy have always been one of the few tolerable deathcore bands to my ears. I'll admit that I'm biased against the genre but they along with The Red Chord have somehow managed to not only not annoy the shit out of me but even win me over so I'm not at all surprised that they absolutely destroy live. By destroy I mean they fucking nuked the place. A lot of bands simply try to improve upon what they do in the studio but Fit For An Autopsy go all out and are more focused on expressing extreme sonic aggression beyond which can be contained in mere CD format. The word, “brutal” is often overused in the metal scene but Fit For An Autopsy actually manage to redefine brutality in music.

Ringworm are one of those bands like 1349 that always evaded me. For as many good things as I've heard about them, I just never got around to listening until now but they managed to really put on a great show. I heard the metalcore tag used to describe them and expected something a hell of a lot less thrash metal influenced. Still... Holy shit those are some damn good riffs. These guys know how to write some seriously catchy stuff and I'm now absolutely kicking myself for not listening to them earlier. They also handed out a thinly veiled insult against opener Great American Ghost by saying, “You hear these? These are called riffs... and solos.”

Finally Unearth came out. Trevor Phipps looks a hell of a lot more built than he was the last time I caught them live. He's presumably picking up from where Tim Lambesis left off but thankfully without the criminal activity.

There were more stage divers than I've ever seen at any other show in my entire life since it's usually a thing that happens one per show but there were too many hardcore dancers to effectively mosh so all the metalheads gathered together on the balcony. Still, I just had to head downstairs since the dual guitar harmonies didn't sound quite right upstairs due to the acoustics of the venue and neither did the gang shouts. The downside was that the sound engineer thought it was a smart idea to brickwall the mic levels and I wound up in a situation not unlike the first At the Gates reunion tour where the vocals just became garbled noise and I was thankful that I knew all the lyrics ahead of time. Not that I'm complaining since they brought back, “My Heart Bleeds No Longer” and, “Sanctity of Brothers” which they haven't played in a while.

The low turnout still got them a heckler asking why if they're, “so good, how come nobody else is showing up?” Outside of how obnoxious that statement is, the guy had a point. Without a mainstream trend to bring in new fans (djent and blackgaze will never find a mainstream audience), metal acts are forced to play to a smaller and smaller audience of preexisting fans. The last time this happened was back in the early-mid 90s in between Nirvana's Nevermind and the late-90s nu metal boom. I wasn't around for it but from what I hear, the circumstances were VERY similar. The silver lining was that the 80s metal bands who didn't jump on the alternative rock bandwagon had fewer expectations from record labels and that led to an explosion of creative freedom. WASP could put out their ambitious concept album The Crimson Idol while Seultura could create folk metal on, “Roots” which paved the way for Primordial, Melechesh, Tyr and Orphaned Land who all combined metal with world music, Pantera left their glam roots behind and created groove metal and Death could redefine the genre that they created back in the 80s by taking death metal into more technical and progressive directions. That's not including how newer 90s acts like At the Gates, Samael, Faith No More, Dream Theater, Fear Factory, Converge, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, KoRn and the entire second wave of black metal completely changed the entire genre from within. For all the hate that the pre-nu metal 90s gets, in retrospect it was actually an era of incredible creative expression. And hopefully by the time that some new mainstream metal genre hits, we'll get some awesome reunions from some 2000s-era bands that the new fans missed the first time like Strapping Young Lad, Chimaira and After Forever and we'll get a replacement for Mayhem Fest.

Also, I convinced Trevor Phipps to play “Imposters' Kingdom” on their next tour so that's also a small victory in and of itself.

Dasher10's avatar

Matt is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois and a metalhead since 1999.

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