Tom DeLonge, formerly of Blink-182 (remember them?), recently made headlines for making strange comments concerning aliens, mind-control, and government cover-ups. He also asserted that he camped out near the infamous Area 51 and not only heard inexplicable bumps in the night, but also experienced three hours of lost time. He may even have been abducted by aliens. What's a guy to do once his biggest band's success lies in the past? Maybe the aliens will show him a new way to write catchy pop-punk tunes.
Look, I'm no Tom DeLonge, but I actually have my own Area 51 experience, one that I'd like to share in the following paragraphs. Don't worry: I haven't lost my mind, at least not any more than most of us have. I have, however, been to Area 51. But, to kill all the alien fun, it's just a nightclub, nestled in a dark and quiet section of Salt Lake City, Utah. If you'd like to know about my night there, read on!
So there I was, standing near the stage at Area 51, nodding my head to the music. Nearby, three dozen or so fans were engaged in various activities—headbanging, windmilling, moshing, some were even checking their phones. It felt good to be surrounded by metal fans, to look at the patches on jean jackets, and to witness live music. Area 51, a relatively small club in Salt Lake City, Utah, mostly caters to the Gothic crowd, but has recently begun taking in metal bands on certain nights. They also have other activities, pin-up costume / fetish nights and something that looks like vampire / fetish nights. (I never thought I'd use the word fetish so many times in one sentence). Anyway, Area 51 is a nice place, dark but mostly clean, decorated with light fixtures made out of plastic male and female torsos. You can probably guess where the light bulbs are placed. Weird, right? The stage also has the clichéd dancing cages on stage right and stage left. While I was there, the cages were empty, unused. After all, this is a night for a mix of death metal and black metal bands, not another Motley Crue farewell tour. Tonight is all about five bands: Die off, Wolvhammer, Abysmal Dawn, Origin, and 1349. For the rest of this review, I'll simply comment on each band's performance. Bottom line: I had a blast.
The night began with Die Off, a local band I've never seen in concert before. After witnessing the band's performance, I would definitely love to know more about Die Off. A trio made up of guitar, bass, and drums, the band performs with fairly consistent energy and power. I was especially impressed with the drummer's performance because he was also providing the vocals at the same time and managed to be good at both; sometimes, he even pulled off some pretty impressive drum work while simultaneously growling into the microphone. For me, the highlight of their set was when the drummer said that their last song was about not being able to find anything good in the world. What he said next made me laugh: "I hope you all enjoy it." We did. Does that mean there's something good in the world?
The next band on the docket was Wolvhammer, the blackened sludge band out of the American Midwest. According to some of my friends, the last time Wolvhammer played here it was on the same ticket as King Parrot (and Burn Your World—one of my favorite local bands). As some readers know, King Parrot is crazy, a band that raises the standard for extreme music. Wolvhammer, again according to my friends, seemed dull by comparison. I'll bet. Wolvhammer does have loyal fans and their latest release has generated some positive press. Still, I was not exactly drawn in by their set. The music is interesting enough, but the overall performance lacked energy, never connecting with the bulk of the audience. There were some pretty good riffs coming out of the guitars, but the overall set was, I'm sorry to say, less than engaging.
Abysmal Dawn, the next band up, seems poised to make a pretty big splash. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about millions of albums sold and moving t-shirts and other merch like it was a day-after-Thanksgiving sale. What I am saying is that this band puts on a convincing show, the kind that not only plays good songs, but also gets the audience involved. I've been enjoying the band's latest album, but seeing this band live was all I needed to count myself a big fan. From the beginning, Abysmal Dawn played with gusto and looked like they were having fun. Though each band member played well, I have to give special mention to Charles Elliot, lead guitarist and vocalist. Not long ago, he played on one of those Death to All tours, the tribute to the music of Chuck Schuldiner and Death. Though Abysmal Dawn isn't doing exactly what Death did, I can see the connection. Elliot plays the guitar really well and his technique appears to be excellent. I enjoyed listening to him play solos and other lead parts. He's a guitarist to watch. Incidentally, he once played in a band that opened for Death. I can't mention Elliot alone here, though. Andy Nelson's guitars were equally brutal; the parts the guys played together were even better. This band isn't messing around. If any readers don't know Abysmal Dawn, they're worth a listen.
The next band was Origin, a technical death metal band out of Kansas. I've never seen Origin before but I will never forget their set. Those who know Origin and their music will know that it's hard to capture the experience of seeing them live, at least in only a few words. The band members simply go at it, performing several technically difficult songs effectively while, at the same time, sounding like the soundtrack to a riot. I had to laugh at all the times Jason Keyser (vocals) pleaded with the audience to start a mosh pit. He begged and begged, even used a little guilt, but the audience wouldn't budge. I've seen plenty of moshing here in town, so what was the problem. Honestly, I have no idea, but part of the answer has to do with the sheer spectacle of watching Origin perform live. Mike Flores's bass playing was especially hard to turn away from. He moves with a kind of constant blur, as though trying to model for a cubist painting, the kind that shows motion and multiple points of view all at the same time. They put on a great set—but an exhausting one.
Finally, 1349, a band named for the year the plague came to Norway. Simply put, this is black metal done right. Each band member was decked out in either corpse paint or a robe (the bass player, in his robe, looked like an evil monk discovering the power of music for the first time). The band played for about an hour and crushed every song. I don't know how else to say it. 1349 is one of the greats, a band well worth checking out.
So, yeah, I've been to Area 51 and sure, I heard the strange noises in the night and probably experienced some lost time—but it was all worth it, even if some of my sanity is gone. I won't say I was abducted, but I was definitely fascinated.