Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sounds of the Underground 2006

Last year the Sounds of the Underground tour made an attempt to fill a vacuum that seemed to exist in the summer festival scene. Warped Tour was around for the pop-punk and scenester kids. Ozzfest seemed geared towards the classic metal fans, as well as an older crowd. Taste of Chaos was set up for the trendy metalcore crowd. But nowhere was there a festival tour that had a simple lineup of rock solid hardcore and metal bands. Well, that’s what the Sounds of the Underground tour was created for, and this year it is back again, bigger and better than ever.

I had a chance to catch the festival as it made its way to Minnesota on August 5th, on a latter leg of the tour. With the tour having been going on for a month or so already, everything was working like a well oiled machine. Setup times were quite quick. The sound was well mixed, for the most part. The bands were on top of things. Set times weren’t missed. What this all led to was a very receptive and appreciative crowd.

Starting off the nearly nine hour long moshfest was Through the Eyes of the Dead. Their latest album was a respectably impressive slice of metalcore, albeit littered with small flaws, but that didn’t keep the band from throwing everything they had into their performance. Musically the band was extremely tight, but the vocals didn’t fare quite as well. The high pitch squeals, as good as they sound on disc, don’t translate as well to a live performance. By the end of the set I would have given anything for the mic to go out in order to save my hearing from the ear shattering screams that seemed to never relent.

With the crowd nicely riled up and starting to break a sweat, Evergreen Terrace took the stage and floored everyone there, including myself. There’s something to be said for a perfect balance between raw energy and being musically tight, and Evergreen Terrace walk that line perfectly. Each song was album quality, and at the same time the band was putting so much more energy into each song, it was nearly impossible not to feel a little bit of extra adrenaline seeping out of your adrenal glands. It’s just too bad that these guys couldn’t have kept playing because 20 minutes definitely weren’t enough. It felt more like a tease, but an acceptable tease.

Unfortunately after such a strong performance from Evergreen Terrace the next band on the bill was The Chariot. Having seen them before with their old lineup, they had left me less than impressed. Now, with two new members, the band is worse than ever. I have no problem saying that they put on one of the worst live performances I have seen in years. There have been college bar bands and art school project bands that come off better. The only way to describe the cacophony of noise that they were playing is to say that you and three friends could do better by simply picking up some instruments, banging on them relentlessly (seriously, don’t even try to play anything), and running around in ridiculous patterns in your living room.

Thank God that the almighty Behemoth came on shortly after the noise fest of The Chariot. Outside of Gwar, the most theatric band on the tour is easily Behemoth. Seeing them take the stage in their white makeup, medieval boots, and gothic attire was enough to get the crowd churning. It then turned to chaos once they started to play. Sadly they didn’t feel as tight as I would have hoped, but they still had stage presence to spare. They commanded the crowd with an iron fist. I didn’t realize how big of a following they had here in the States, but a solid majority of the crowd was getting into it, especially when they ripped into “Demigod”. These guys are seriously underappreciated by the US metal scene.

Not giving the crowd a chance to slow down, after a surprisingly quick set change, The Black Dahlia Murder took the stage and proceeded to shred away. On disc, I never found this band to be all that impressive, but their live show is energetic as all get out and undeniably tight. These guys can handle their instruments and they didn’t have to tell the crowd to get into it, everyone in the pit just did. Oddly, the band played about an equal mix from Miasma and Unhallowed, with the songs from Miasma sounding slightly better than the older tunes.

Going for the knockout blow, Terror coaxed every last bit of energy out of the crowd constantly imploring people crowd surf, jump around, get crazy, and make the security team earn their keep. And did they ever have to work for their money. The boys in Terror know how to tap into the most primal of emotions with their brand of brutal, simple, and heavy as hell hardcore. Having relatively few hardcore bands on this year’s tour, Terror pumped out more energy than most any other group of hardcore bands combined. Sticking mostly to classics, they also played some new songs off of their recently released effort, Always the Hard Way, which went over just as well as the oldies.

The crowd was finally given a couple of moments to get some water and a well needed break as the road crew set up the elaborate Gwar stage setup. After a little more than a 35 minute setup period, the costumed warriors took the stage. If you’ve seen Gwar, then you know what it was like—lots of spraying fake blood, piss, and goop into the crowd with different mock characters being brutalized and torn apart onstage while the band played their brand of metal. I know that Gwar has a devoted following, and I respect that, but musically they are pretty terrible. Sure, most people don’t come for their music (at least I hope not), but considering their stage show is a one trick pony, it would be nice to actually have something interesting to listen to for those of us who don’t care to get covered in red and yellow liquids. Regardless, the crowd was nuts. Would you expect anything less?

Once the cleanup crew had mopped up the stage and taken down all of the Gwar gear, Cannibal Corpse hit the stage… and bored the hell out everyone. Talk about a letdown. Outside of a dedicated following in the middle of the pit, no one seemed to give a crap about what was happening onstage, and for good reason—the band members did not move from their spots the entire set. They stood there, none of them moving an inch, playing a set list of songs that all sounded the same, and eventually finished. For being such an “intense” and inflammatory band, they were easily the most boring band of the day.

Attempting to get things back on track was Trivium. For a band that relies a lot on solos, it was unfortunate that the mixing was muddled for their set, leading to a muffling and over distortion of both of the guitarists’ playing. This band has always felt like a Metallica cover band with a more modern edge and their live set reinforced this notion even more. It was nearly impossible to ignore the heavy Metallica influence, especially when they covered about two minutes of “Master of Puppets”. Now this isn’t to say honoring your influences is a bad thing, but it would be nice to see the band put a little more of a personal spin on a formula that was pioneered way back in the 80’s.

With Trivium finished, it was time for the grand finale triumvirate of Machine Head, In Flames, and As I Lay Dying. The last two and a half hours of the festival were easily the best and well worth the wait. All of the other bands that had performed throughout the day, even the craze inducing Gwar, were simply the foreplay for the orgasm of metal to come.

Entering through a haze of fog, Machine Head started up the opening notes of “Imperium” as the crowd screamed in anticipation. Needless to say, once the song hit its stride, Rob Flynn and company had the entire venue in their capable hands. Their set was easily one of the heaviest of the day. The bulldozer riffs, pummeling drums, and heavy as hell tones were just as volatile live as they are in the studio.

After their gigantic entrance, they hit up some of their older tunes playing “Old” and “Bay of Pigs” back to back before taking a chance to inform the crowd that they were going to be entering the studio soon to record a new album. With that information put out there, they ripped into “Aesthetics of Hate”, a track they were going to be recording for their new album. It started and ended with mellow tones, which was a slightly interesting departure, but the middle of the song had the tried and true Machine Head grind going on, but this time around accompanied by a fair share of soloing. To end their set, the band pulled out “Davidian”, which was a spectacle to see with vocalists from many of the assorted bands coming out to scream out the chorus, “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast!” This was easily the best performance of the day.

Even though they had to follow a monstrous set by Machine Head, the Swedes from In Flames put on a hell of a show themselves, covering their hits but also throwing in an unexpected track, “Come Clarity”, into the middle of their set. It was unexpected as it is one of their slower songs, so it was odd to see them shifting gears in the middle of their set, but it actually worked out quite well for them. If anything it softened up the crowd a little for the fast and furious end of their set that consisted of some of their older, quicker paced songs.

It should be noted that In Flames, as opposed to many bands who can get away with being slightly sloppy live, are extremely tight in their performance. The clarity of the distinct parts of each song was easily recognizable, even in such a large venue. It just goes to show that with time, practice, and experience a band actually can grow better and better.

The final performance of the day came from metalcore heavyweights As I Lay Dying. The crowd had died down to about half the size it was at for In Flames, with a mass exodus taking place as they set up As I Lay Dying’s gear. With a smaller, more intimate crowd, As I Lay Dying rocketed through 45 minutes of modern metalcore playing about half of their set from Shadows are Security and the other half from their older material. Surprisingly there were a couple of songs played from their old EP and even a song from Beneath the Encasing of Ashes, no doubt to get the kids to go pick up A Long March (the reissue of their older material, which just recently hit the shelves).

There was rarely a weak or non-energy filled moment throughout As I Lay Dying’s set. The crowd had plenty of opportunities to circle pit it up and knock each other around to the numerous breakdowns that are a staple for the style of metalcore that As I Lay Dying play. All in all it was a pretty strong set that made good on their exposure as the headliner of the festival.

At the end of the day, there really isn’t a more solid festival tour going around this summer that is worth the money. You won’t regret throwing down your money for the solid 8-9 hours of metal and hardcore mayhem that can be found at the Sounds of the Underground.

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