Driving to this show, I had a pretty good idea of what I hoped it would be. With the top of the dance card topped by such names as 3 Inches of Blood and Goatwhore, I earnestly pined for a show that would celebrate all the vast excesses of heavy metal as a play in two acts.
The place this robust carnival was to be staged was the curiously named Sounds Asylum (shouldn’t it be ‘Sound Asylum?’ Or ‘Sound’s Asylum?’) in the downtown heart of Middletown, New York. What a curious place. For starters, the walls are lime green and there’s no bar (which, when I explained that to my wife, she replied ‘oh man, then you can’t even drink that color away.’) The house lights are scathingly fluorescent and appear to have dead critters trapped in them. The floor is springy like a wrestling ring, the ventilation is awful, the temperature is stifling and every time the mosh pit got going, the air became sick with the fetid aroma of flatulence (though that may have been the product of the rather shapeless men in front of me.) There was even a girl there with a fairly convincing tattoo of the internet sensation “Grumpy Cat” (wait, what?)
We begin with Ramming Speed, a band that most people may not know, but damn it, they have the right attitude. Throughout their set of familiar, ground-down speed metal, the performers on stage embodied the kind of spirit I was hoping to see during my drive into town. Ramming Speed serves as a constant, joyful reminder that beneath all the bullshit, heavy metal can be a fun thing.
Following that was Revocation, the hardcore metal growlers from Boston. Confession time – at the risk of carelessly lumping them all together, I have never understood the steadfast attraction to the wave of bands that emerged from the Bay State. What’s curious is that the abrasive style they all so embraced, in all of its varied permutations, only held sway for so long and then vanished. With the exception of Killswitch Engage, maybe Unearth and depending on who you talk to Shadows Fall, many of these bands lack for traction. Nonetheless, Revocation’s set was an honest effort, submitted by honest musicians. The guitar artistry of Dan Gargiulo was on display, wending his way through set pieces such as “No Funeral.” The crowd, for their part, was eager and accepting, enjoying Revocation as the table setter for the night of over-the-top metal to follow.
Vancouver natives 3 Inches of Blood exist as a sort of self-aware parody of all the most bombastic qualities of metal. Despite looking like four dudes who stumbled out of a Grim Reaper Appreciation Night at the local townie bar, these guys can bring it loud and hard. Their newest material, that off of “Long Live Heavy Metal,” popped live in a way it didn’t on the album, the guitar of Shane Clark coming to virile life during “Leather Lord.” Still, the band’s best songs on this night all came shooting out of the back catalogue, including an epic (used in the true sense, not the internet sense,) “Battles and Brotherhood,” and a crowd stirring “Deadly Sinners.” The highlight of their forty-five minute parade of metal hubris was an impossibly good “Call of the Hammer,” which was explained to be a song about “hitting Christ in the face with Thor’s hammer.” High brow stuff to be sure, and exactly the boundless attitude I was anticipating when I arrived.
There were other notable 3 Inches of Blood moments, including a hilarious one where the most pit had come to a standstill. Singer Cam Pipes urged the standing patrons to keep it going, at which they exchanged self-conscious looks and then immediately resumed full-bore pushing and shoving. Additionally, 3 Inches of Blood let their Canadian roots show, sneaking in a cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and the entire bridge breakdown of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.” Which brings us to…
Goatwhore. The mere mention of the name elicits reaction from those around you. IN metal circles, the name is an epithet for riff-centered, take no prisoners metal in the darkest vein. As they smashed into the front end of their set with the first three cracks of “Blood for the Master,” the band’s intent became clear – to provide a night of no-frills heaviness that would confirm the band’s harder-than-nails reputation. As the infectious riff of “When Steel and Bone Meet” began, I was momentarily transported to another place, imagining in my mind’s eye watching Venom prove themselves in some similarly suspect flophouse in 1980. Whether that portends bigger things for Goatwhore isn’t up tot me, but that’s what the moment felt like. Running headlong into “Parasitic Scriptures of the Sacred Word,” the band received a high compliment from the crowd. Uniform head-nodding overtook the assembled mass, each cranium rocking on its neck to the same step. Everyone club wide was unconsciously involved, even the guy who seemed to think head-banding consisted of bending at the waist and shaking his hands wildly. But I’m not hating on that guy, he was into it!
As the evening wore on and Goatwhore stormed through band classics like “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult,” I began to grow concerned for the crowd. They couldn’t seem to keep up, tiring themselves out after three of four trips into the pit. (To the pit’s credit, I didn’t see a single spin kick or punch thrown or other martial demonstration. Bonus!) The denizens assuaged my fears by taking up the charge again however, as Goatwhore rounded their evening out with their two best performances. The blazing (and personal favorite) “And End to Nothing” and a blitzed, solidly strong “Apocalyptic Havoc,” the latter of which sent the crowd into the last frenzy of the night. Goatwhore accomplished a lot in little more than an hour.
If this is coming near you, it’s a pretty cheap night out that’s worth your time if you enjoy the endemic excess of heavy metal. I got what I came for.