Death Metal is Boring

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Morbid Angel + Behemoth
BB King Blues Club
April 9, 2006

I'm not sure quite what I was expecting when I went to see Floridian death metal OGs Morbid Angel, but I didn't think I'd be checking my watch between every song. Over the last couple of months, I've been trying to get a better grasp on all of metal's assorted subgenres and cadres and niches, and it's been like an onion; the deeper you look, the more layers emerge. If High on Fire and In Flames and Opeth have a common audience, you wouldn't know it to look at the crowds that come to the shows. So it made sense to go see a band that's universally respected and hugely influential even for bands that sound nothing like them. Morbid Angel, from what I've been reading, were one of the first bands to refine death metal into its own genre, independent of thrash and speed metal and whatever else, amping up the violent occult imagery and growl-roar vocals and (most especially) insane jackhammer velocity to new levels. But chops are a big thing, and a band's precision tends to get lost in translation when there's muddy sound involved. And Morbid Angel mostly stuck to stuff from their first album, Altars of Madness, which is nothing but fast-wheedly evil-screech, and it came out sounding like ass: drums set so hard on blastbeat-onslaught that they barely had anything to do with rhythm, guitars in a constant blur that only occasionally congealed into anything recognizable as a metal riff, a third of every song given over to horrible cat-in-a-blender solos. The best parts of the show came between songs, when frontman David Vincent gave the monotonous cookie-monster snarl a rest and reverted back to his buttery, affable Southern-lawyer speaking voice. He's funny: "When we raise those signs [devil-horns], it doesn't mean we're angry. It means we're evil. This is a song called 'Blasphemy of the Holy Ghost.'" Or: "So, should we consider this an extension of the Gospel brunch earlier today?" And my favorite: "If you're going to be standing in the pit, act like a fucking man and [back to the growl] moooove!" It should be noted that not too many people in the crowd complied with that last request; the pit at the NOFX show in March was way more hectic. It should also be noted that Vincent was wearing a vinyl wifebeater.

Another Vincent-ism: "The world could take a fucking lesson from the diversity at this show." That's a bit of a reach, but the crowd was more of a jumble that I would've expected: guys with long hair and wispy goatees and doo-rags, yeah, but also mustached, leather-jacketed Latino guys with Caesar cuts and lunky bespectacled normals and girls whose basic look was something like circa-84 Motley Crue and one guy who looked exactly like Ol Dirty Bastard. About half the crowd went outside for smoke breaks between bands, and it was fun to watch the looks on the faces of tourists on their way to and from Broadway shows when they had to navigate the clogged sidewalk. Also fun: watching security guards laughing about a confiscated bullet-belt. Morbid Angel themselves might not have knocked me dead, but the show looked exactly the way I'd imagined metal shows would when I was thirteen, which was awesome.

I missed two of the three opening bands, but the Polish band Behemoth looked way more metal than the thirteen-year-old me could've imagined possible: faces painted like corpses, stereo hair-whipping, a staff topped with some weird symbol standing vertical behind the singer. Every one of the band's grand uber-metal gestures has been made fun of about a million times, but the band pulls all this stuff off totally straight faced, and there's something thrilling and glorious about seeing that. Behemoth indulges in the same double-kickdrum abuse that Morbid Angel does, but their songs still basically sounded like songs, and plus they had all these really cool chanted bits where the crowd becomes a sea of upraised devil-horns. From what resident Voice metal expert Shawn Bosler tells me, the more recent Morbid Angel stuff, which they weren't playing on Sunday night, is a lot more like that: big monolithic doomy stomp that has awe mixed in with its menace. I wish I'd seen that Morbid Angel.

Behemoth download: "Conquer All"
Behemoth download: "Slaves Shall Serve"

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