The Black Dahlia Murder with Nile, Skeletonwitch, and Hour of Penance, The Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2012
Check out any listing of heavy metal tours in the United States and you'll notice that when most bands hit the Western states, they usually move from Denver, CO to Las Vegas, NV and skip over Utah. Even worse, some bands will travel north to Idaho and play a show there without even gesturing toward Utah. Things are changing quickly though as bands like the ones on this tour discover the quality venues and the enthusiastic fans that come out for these shows. Soon Utah will be an essential stop on any tour.
Take, for example, Nile's appearance on this tour. When the members of the band came out for a brief sound check, the audience members began chanting "Nile," "Nile," "Nile" over and over and over. This appreciation lasted well into their brief set and continued after they began tearing down their equipment. Nile hasn't played here for ten years, but since Utahns are used to being overlooked, we take any time with a beloved band that we can get. We may even beg for an encore. Nile, unfortunately, didn't play one, but they played an excellent set, one largely made up of material from Those Whom the God's Detest but also offering a healthy dose of tunes from their back catalogue. I like the new stuff and was especially impressed with the times Nile played slower-tempo songs. These guys certainly know how to play patiently, never anticipating the next moment or the next chord. I was always taught that anybody can play quickly, but that not just anyone can play slowly. Nile can do both. I was pretty close to the stage at times and was able to get a good look at Karl Sanders' guitar playing. He has a flashy, but highly technical, solo style that I admire. Nile could have headlined this tour and everybody would have been delighted. After their set, I almost expected The Black Dahlia Murder to sound terrible.
They didn't. Instead, they ramped up the energy of the evening into a strong set of songs from their new album Ritual and some favorite older tunes. I'd never seen them before, but was quickly impressed with how good they sound live. These guys should not be missed. I've looked at other reviews that suggest they consistently outperform the other bands on this tour. I don't think that's exactly right. This is an ensemble tour, one that is strong because of the quality of all the bands. I must say, though, that The Black Dahlia Murder plays with lots of confidence. They come to the stage assuming that they're going to put on a great show and they do. The audience was appreciative, but most of the younger fans went straight into the pit and created the largest circle (almost wall to wall) that I've ever seen. I didn't realize that BDM has such a large teenage fan base, but they do and most of them were at this show. My only complaint about these fans is that they don't mosh well--they thrash about way too much, performing odd gyrations that look like mock kicking and punching, almost like they are doing some kind of martial arts display. They need to relax and learn to enjoy the thrill and the rhythm of the pit itself and to discover the near-ritual purposes that lie beneath all the controlled chaos.
Whether readers like The Black Dahlia Murder or not, nobody who sees them will quickly forget the stage antics of vocalist Trevor Strnad. He dresses in the simplest style, usually a pair of exercise shorts and a t-shirt that he really only wears for the first couple of songs. This guy runs around so much that he actually has a fan set up on stage to keep him cool. He would stop in front of the fan from time to time to cool down before launching into another run around the stage. I haven't seen anyone command the stage this way since I used to go to hardcore punk shows in the 1980s. BDM isn't punk, but Strnad has easily taken his cues from some of the leading men from those old club days. He's got the energy and that special quality that good frontmen have. I did get a little tired of his constant arm pumping; after a while it seemed like we was constantly declaring victory or that he just keeps scoring touchdowns. Nevertheless, he keeps the audience involved and keeps his energy up until the end.
Skeletonwitch's set was also strong, if a little too short. I would have loved to have heard more from them. They have enough songs for a longer set. Even better, their newest release, Forever Abomination is an outstanding album that deftly blends classic metal musical arrangements with death metal performances. Moreover, Chance Garnett's singing is one of the better higher-end rasps out there right now. Let's face it: most death metal vocalists don't do much to distinguish themselves from others. It's nice, then, to hear a singer whose voice helps characterize the band as a whole. He fits Skeletonwitch perfectly.
I missed most of Hour of Penance's set due to traffic delays, poor parking options, and waiting at the box office. I was able to catch their last two numbers and was impressed with what I heard. I would very much like to discover more about what these guys are doing.
To conclude, fans of death metal should not miss this tour. All the bands put on a great show, sound terrific, and have legitimately good songs. Between sets, I asked audience members which band they came to see specifically. I heard only a variety of responses that pointed to all the different bands. One woman informed me that she came to see Skeletonwitch because they are awesome. I agreed, though I came to see Nile. BDM headlines this tour, but this is an ensemble show, a way of celebrating a strong body of talent in an exploding death metal scene.