Isis / Dub Trio @ Subterranean

July 26th, 2008

Starting just after the end of the first night of the Wicker Park Fest, this show finally sold out with the walk-up attendance. I was actually surprised that it took that long to sell out, but I guess the fact that Isis would be headlining the Wicker Park Fest the next night probably depressed sales a bit.

I’ve seen Dub Trio twice before, but not as Dub Trio. Instead, they were the backing band for Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom. So I knew they were an instrumental force to be reckoned with, but did they have the songs to match? I think the answer is yes. It’s really just instrumental metal, with no dub to be found, and I wished that they would spend more time on the crushing grooves and less on the jerky, technical rhythms, but I suppose it’s the contrast between the two that makes that groove so cathartic when it comes.

The question for Isis was how this tiny-club show would compare to the the last-minute tiny-club show they did at the Bottom Lounge a couple years ago. While it wasn’t as brilliant as that, it was still better than than the two times that I’ve seen them at larger venues. This crowd also seemed more into it than that Bottom Lounge crowd, even starting up a mosh pit during the encore. Isis has to be one of the consistently best-sounding bands that I’ve ever heard. From the smoothly thumping and un-triggered bass drums, to the three guitars which completely respect each others’ space, to the active bass which slides in between all that respect, to the roars and unchallenging-but-effective singing of Aaron Turner, everything stays apart yet comes together in a way that few bands seem to be able to match.

At The Gates / Darkest Hour / Municipal Waste @ House Of Blues

July 14th, 2008

For the first time in well over a year, I rode the L into the city. They finally have most of the slow zones eliminated on the Blue Line, so what used to be like an hour took less than 35 minutes, way faster than traffic. Yay! Only downside was for the people who had to sit next to me on the way back home, since I was thoroughly coated in the slimy stink of a mosh pit. Sorry!

Municipal Waste – I arrived shortly before they started. They’re pretty terrible. They play thrash of the worst sort – purely backward-looking (by decades), and neither hooks nor heaviness are anywhere to be found. Paying $1000 for the privilege of playing the 1:15pm slot at the Milwaukee Metalfest in 1997 is where I’d expect to find them, but due to some crazy rip in space-time, they actually have fans in 2008 that were going all crazy-mosh for them. Congratulations to their marketing team, I guess. I started down in the pit, but left after a few songs. Not to avoid the violence, but just because I was really bored. Their cover of a punk song was the best thing they did, along with their chant of “Municipal Waste is gonna fuck you up!” or some such at the end of their set.

Darkest Hour – I saw them open for Tomas Lindberg and The Crown six years ago at the Fireside Bowl. I liked that version of the band a lot more. In comparison, the 2008 version is a lot less energetic, and seems to have less melody in their melodic death metal. But, they have much fancier lights, banners, and risers! Someone should tell them that that stuff won’t hide boring songs though. It was a boatload better than Municipal Waste, but nothing I need to go out of my way to see. Crowd was noticeably less enthused than they were for MW, but not to the point of hatin’.

At The Gates – First, I must establish my postion. I bought “Slaughter Of The Soul” in 1997. The band was already dead and gone by then, but I would guess that purchase date still puts me in the upper 60th percentile of tr00ness among those in attendance. Because, you know, that was 11 years ago. It hit me instantly, and to this day, I consider it a masterwork and one of the defining albums of 90s metal. It’s not at all “overrated”, and since I’m not dumb, it’s not even the slightest bit diminished simply because it inspired a million other bands who I don’t care for. I acquired “Terminal Spirit Disease” not too much later, but never warmed to it, or anything else they did.

So I was there solely to hear this resurrected band play “Slaughter Of The Soul”, and they did not disappoint me. I think they played every song from it except the atmospheric instrumental “Into The Dead Sky” (“The Flames Of The End” was used as the outro music). And they played it all with the same slicing precision, pained ferocity, and ruthless efficiency that made the recorded version such a classic. Ok, maybe the pain that the 22-year-old Tomas Lindberg felt wasn’t quite as evident in the screams of the 35-year-old version, but nowhere else was there a hint that they had been away from this for 12 years. The guitars still produced that groundbreaking sound that is simultaneously massive and penetrating.

In between the SOTS songs they played plenty of older material, apparently at least one from every release they ever did. I feel no shame in admitting I could have done without any of them; they were ok, but hearing them mixed in with the SOTS songs just highlighted what an incredible and out-of-nowhere leap they made for their final album; nothing in their past hinted that they would produce anything with the sound, style, and most importantly, songwriting featured on “Slaughter Of The Soul”.

But at least they did a nice job of mixing the old and “new” songs so that the sold-out crowd’s interest never flagged. Following the lesson of SOTS’s three-minute songs, the set contained a minimum amount of bullshit. Perhaps the longest break was a genuine show of respect for the Chicago metal scene by the band, who were wearing Trouble and Nachtmystium t-shirts. Even when they went offstage to the fading outro of “Need”, the enthusiastic “At The Gates!” chant went for only 30 seconds before the iconic sounds of shearing metal signaled that the encore would start with “Blinded By Fear”. That equaled the climax of Iron Maiden’s “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” earlier this summer for the most intense concert moments that I’ve felt in years. The intensity continued through the next song (“Unto Others”?), but then unfortunately faded a bit when they insisted on a traditional closing with “Kingdom Gone”, an old song. But that’s about the minor nitpick, and I would have put up with far worse in order to witness the highlights that I did.