A Sacred Performance: The Obsessed/Karma To Burn/Lo-Pan/Navajo Witch Live; Johnson City, TN. 5-10-17

 

Every fan of underground heavy music knows how the legendary ScottWinoWeinrich-fronted band The Obsessed are back in a major way currently, circa 2017. The band has been the centerpoint of mass focus and near hysteria since announcing their return in 2016. That announcement eventually led the band, with drummer Brian Costantino and bassist Dave Sherman alongside Wino, to sign with Relapse Records. From there, the guys went to work on writing and recording a new studio album, the band’s first since 1994’s The Church Within. Eventually, said album did manifest as the hugely successful ‘Sacred‘. Since that time in the studio, the band underwent a couple of membership tweaks, ones that have now settled with bassist Reid Raley completing the trio’s line up. As is the case with new records and oldschool legends, The Obsessed soon decided it was time to take things to the road and so they compiled a powerfully alluring touring package that included Karma To Burn and Lo-Pan. Others would join along at some legs of the trek like Fatso Jetson, Weedeater and Primitive Man so all in all, this was a tour that only a damn fool would miss. I had no intention of being that fool when I hauled ass over to The Hideaway in Johnson City, TN. back on May 10th for this Volunteer State stop of The Obsessed, Karma To Burn, Lo-Pan and Navajo Witch caravan.

NAVAJO WITCH

First up this night was the regional heavyweights and purveyors of pummeling sludge, Navajo Witch. The beloved trio of guitarist Allen Keith, bassist/vocalist Dylan Rutherford and drummer Ross Grindstaff are all well known fixtures within our area’s music community. The band itself now has two official releases under their belts with the 2013 Skinwalker EP and 2016’s full-length, Ghost Sickness. Tonight saw the trio unleash their heavily volatile but totally groove-fueled style of sonic abrasiveness. Navajo Witch are loud and very musically dense, they do not rely on any bells or whistles to augment what it is they do and what they do is savage. Melding a variety of tempos into their crushing stage delivery, they keep it tight and heavy with some alternating vocal stylings. So heavy in fact that you’d have a hard time believing they are a threepiece without seeing them yourself. The beast that is Navajo Witch also treated us to some new tunes this night, so new in fact that a couple are not even titled yet, ha! Their setlist consisted of the well known standards ‘Rites Of Divination‘ and ‘Ghost Sickness‘ but it began with what we will call ‘Untitled 1‘ and ended with ‘Untitled 2‘. There was also a titled new track in there too, one being called ‘Still We Rise‘..a bit of a misnomer seeing as how Navajo Witch‘s thunderous rumbling nearly brought down the room to rubble.

LO-PAN

Next up this night were the continually astounding Columbus, OH. quartet Lo-Pan. If you’ve seen these guys before then you already know that they are one of the tightest bands in all of rock and roll, seriously. Setting up in their usual unusual configuration with vocalist Jeff Martin toward the back behind drummer J. Bartz, bassist Skot Thompson and guitarist Chris Thompson, the guys tore it loose. The rhythm section of the band are nearly impossible to avert your gaze from when watching Lo-Pan and I’ve said it before but here it is again: Bartz & Thompson may be the absolute best in the business (outside of Clutch’s Maines and Gaster). A phenomenal sight to see and an even more powerful one to hear, the pair powers each Lo Pan song like some rhythmic dynamo. Meanwhile Martin croons some of the most solidly soulful vocals there are and, for the third time in a row of my seeing them, this was a recently acquired new guitarist in Chris. I say new but he’s fell right into place after providing the axe-work for the band for several months now and came on board around the time Lo-Pan recorded their latest effort, the In Tensions EP.

KARMA TO BURN

There is always more than just universal recompense ablaze when West Virginia’s Karma To Burn grace a stage somewhere. Tonight was no different either as guitarist Will Mecum, bassist Eric Clutter and drummer Evan Devine did what they do best onstage next. Exactly what that is must be witnessed to fully comprehend as these three have somehow harnessed the truest, most legitimate power of the trio. 99.999% instrumental, Karma To Burn are 1000% unbelievable and so finely tuned that they operate like a machine. I say that despite Will’s having some tuning issues once or twice but undetered, they blistered every ear within earshot with their furious onslaught of numerically designated songs. Always a spectacle to observe, the animated intensity with which all three of these guys go at it live is something that’s beyond merely impressive. Mecum’s maestro-like hand gestures are used to accentuate the guitar-fueled grooves he is constructing at that very moment while Clutter’s all-over-the place bass abuse nearly rivets your eyes in place. And Devine, you ask? He is like some unholy tempest upon the drum kit, furiously pummeling said kit in a manner befitting of someone with multiple appendages. No, I don’t mean the normal two or even four in his case, what he does only seems within the realm of possibility for someone that happened to be an Octa-ped.

THE OBSESSED

Now three bands in, The Hideaway‘s crowd had grown quite immensely and was gradually becoming a standing room only audience. But there would be no agitated wait like some shows, where some primadonna indulged their status and disrespected their fans with an unneeded, extensive wait. No, the legendary ScottWinoWeinrich and his bandmates in The Obsessed, Brian Costantino and Reid Raley commandeered the stage at this point. The trio instantly unfurled their critically-lauded new album’s glorious title cut, ‘Sacred‘, before veering right into one of their beloved classics, ‘Streetside‘. Hearing the crowd sing along to the lyrics and choruses revealed that those present in this house were familiar with output both past and present. With each new song rendered, ones ranging from ‘Blind Lightning‘, ‘Protect & Serve‘, ‘Decimation‘, ‘Climate Of Despair‘ and ‘Hiding Mask‘, The Obsessed seemed a band possessed.

Wino’s playing has increasingly become more and more fierce with each new set that I attend and knowing him as I do personally, I dare say that he is rejuvenated these days. Reviving his beloved band, new blood in it, new album from it, whatever the case may be, Wino seems to really enjoy himself lately and it shows. Another showing that comes shining through is that from the backline anchor, the man that holds it all down and in place, Brian Costantino. His concrete-like heavy handed, hard-hitting style of playing reverberates shudders across the airwaves with each strike laid. Plus, make no mistake, Reid Raley is a bottom-end monstrosity himself, generating visceral vibrations in such cuts as ‘Be The Night‘, ‘Skybone‘, ‘The Way She Fly‘ and ‘Streamlined‘. In fact, The Obsessed played most, if not all, of ’94’s iconic The Church Within along with a respectable number of tracks from Sacred.

Two of that latter album’s tracks were especially enjoyable for me personally as the introductory cut, the re-working of the band’s first-ever song release, ‘Sodden Jackal‘, is so damned heavy now. Even Wino commented about how he’s had the desire to revitalize that old tune for a long, long time and now that he has, Jeee-zus! The depth and density now permeating the song is nearly inhuman while another Sacred selection, ‘Razorwire‘, is just a lively, kick-ass good time of a song. Clearly I was not alone in that appreciation either as people all over the place lost it during its roll out. Playing somewhere near fifteen songs or so as only they can, The Obsessed showed all in attendance why they are the focal point of so much attention at this time. Sure, it is more than deserved by the threesome, they are great musicians and all that but also because Sacred was decades in the making so to speak. In some bizarro world, we might have never gotten this new album or worse, God forbid, a reformed incarnation of The Obsessed! But, thanks and praise to whomever you wish, we do have Sacred and more importantly, we have The Obsessed..and Wino, Brian and Reid.  And Karma To Burn, Lo-Pan and Navajo Witch as well!

All Hail! – Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker


Testament/Sepultura/Prong/The Convalescence: Easter Sunday Sunset Service At The Fillmore In Charlotte, N.C.

For many, Easter is all about church services celebrating the New Testament era of the bible and the savior Jesus Christ. However, I was party to a whole other kind of religion with a Testament all its own on this most recent Easter Day, April 16, 2017. Yes indeed, the Brotherhood Of The Snake itself, Bay Area oldschool thrash legends Testament were at The Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina and they brought friends. The revival of classic metal would also be preached by Prong, Sepultura and new converts, The Convalescence. Before the night’s electrified sermon would unfold, we had the opportunity to meet Testament for a signing session and brief interaction with the guys which was cool. And for the record, the guys currently in the long running powerhouse are vocalist Chuck Billy, guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, bassist Steve Digiorgio and drummer Gene Hoglan.

THE CONVALESCENCE

The evening’s events would kick off with a band totally unknown to me, the Toledo, Ohio sextet, The Convalescence. I’m not totally certain what genre you’d classify the act as since they incorporate some Metalcore and Death Metal (Deathcore?) into their sound. But oddly, there are keyboards, varied vocalization styles and yes….corpse paint! Now the band received decent crowd support and interaction, I’ll give them that but to be added to support this bill of oldschool acts was an ill-conceived plan on someone’s part I believe. I am sure it was some label employee’s big idea perhaps but a modern metal act like this would be better served on a more accommodating roster like a Van’s Warped Tour or Knotfest (do those still exist?). Being unfamiliar with The Convalescence, I’m clueless to what songs they performed but allow me to add that the band was not bad or terrible or anything…just a tad out of place in my opinion.

PRONG

Next up were a band I have had a long, ongoing love for over many, many years…Prong! My seeing the band, albeit with differing line ups, dates back to their touring cycle for their third release, 1990’s Beg To Differ. Tonight would see band founder and frontman/guitarist Tommy Victor joined by drummer Art Cruz and bassist/bkg. vox Jason Christopher. If you are a fan of Prong‘s then you should be well aware that this band are on a roll and they only get better with each new album, and each new day it seems. Clearly, there was a venue full of Prong fans here too as people were singing right along to classic tracks from the trio. Songs like ‘For Dear Life‘, ‘Beg To Differ‘ and ‘Unconditional‘ elicited energetic sing-alongs during their oh-so catchy choruses. Other, more current songs like ‘Cut And Dry‘ and ‘Sense Of Ease‘ from 2016’s critically acclaimed X – No Absolutes were also well received but the most involved tracks were the one-two-three punch of some really well known selections. Just like how they unfurl on 1994’s landmark Cleansing record, the trio of ‘Another Worldly Device‘, ‘Whose Fist Is This Anyway?‘ and ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck‘ nearly brought down the house.

SEPULTURA

The legendary Brazilian metal band Sepultura would take the stage next and I have a confession to make concerning them. I was an avid fan of the earlier era of the band, seeing them numerous times when Max and Igor Cavalera were still present but I kind of lost touch with the act many years back. No particular reason other than my tastes changed and as most people know, so did the iconic band’s membership. Currently, only longtime guitarist Andreas Kisser and bassist Paulo, Jr. remain from those early days and they’re joined by vocalist Derrick Green and drummer/percussionist Eloy Casagrande. Sepultura has thrived in the years since I saw them last, releasing several albums and furthering the legacy of the beloved band. In fact, 2018 will make twenty years that Derrick has fronted the band so truth is, he’s as much a part of that legacy as anyone else at this point.

Fans in attendance at The Fillmore were more than ready for the Sepultura onslaught too as the band opened with back to back tracks from their recently released fourteenth studio album, Machine Messiah. ‘I Am The Enemy‘ and ‘Phantom Self‘ activated the crowd and they remained involved for a flurry of songs from that same record like ‘Sworn Oath‘, ‘Alethea‘ and ‘Resistant Parasites‘. For me, the most interesting moments came when the band played the earlier era’s material such as ‘Desperate Cry‘, ‘Inner Self‘ and the set closing ‘Roots Bloody Roots‘. Hearing these songs that I knew so well being done by band members I’d never heard them performed by previously was a somewhat surreal experience. Needless to say, for me, Sepultura circa 2017 are just as impressive now as the band was back a few decades ago and clearly able to stand on their own merits.

TESTAMENT

Then the time had come for one of the Bay Area’s most enduring thrash band’s to bring their aural legacy to the stage. Speaking of which, Testament‘s debut album, 1987’s The Legacy, turned 30 years old this past week on April 21st. The current incarnation of the band is 3/5 of the one that recorded 1999’s The Gathering, a much heavier-oriented album and that same heavy vibe comes through in the live line up as well. The guys immediately unleashed a quartet of tracks from their more recent albums with ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake‘, ‘Rise Up‘, ‘The Pale King‘ and ‘Centuries Of Suffering‘. Chuck’s vocals bellowed throughout The Fillmore as the crowd’s excitement went off the register and during the latter track, Peterson performed a scorching guitar solo. That set things up nicely for the catchy, melodic hooks of ‘Electric Crown‘ from the band’s 1992 album, The Ritual. Alas, the melodic moments were soon obliterated by ‘Into The Pit‘, a song proceeded with Chuck sharing a tale of about a night of too much booze in Texas back in the day. That, and them going to check out an up and coming band that night, Pantera. Another flurry of songs ensued including the death metal-ish ‘Low‘, ‘Throne Of Thorns‘ and ‘Stronghold‘. The latter was prefaced with Chuck’s commentary supporting the Standing Rock protesters and went out with yet another intense guitar solo, this time by Alex.

A return to that aforementioned 1999 album came with The Gathering track ‘Eyes Of Wrath‘ and then came a jaw dropping spectacle to behold: A furious drum solo by GeneThe Atomic ClockHoglan! One of the unquestionably best drummers on earth unleashed upon that kit like a man possessed before the band returned to the stage for a volatile delivery of ‘First Strike Is Deadly‘. From there another astounding event to witness, Steve Digiorgio‘s unhinged bass solo! In case you don’t know it, Steve has nearly four decades under his belt playing bass..and playing bass like only he can..and like he does. It cannot merely be described, it must be observed to comprehend and then come another block of fantastic songs: ‘Urotsukidôjí‘, ‘Souls Of Black‘, ‘Seven Seals‘ and the set-ending ‘The New Order‘.

Of course just as soon as Testament exited the stage the thundering chants of “Test-a-ment! Test-a-ment!‘ erupted in the auditorium. The call went forth, building and building until the guys came back out and hit us with staggering one-two of ‘Practice What You Preach‘ and ‘Over The Wall‘. The crowd was in a frenzied state by the time the band wrapped up these two favorites and there was no escaping the feeling that we had been subjected to some of the best oldschool metal on this planet…which we had of course.

Disclaimer: I am not a photographer. Bear that in mind when viewing the pictures included in this show review but then again, one thing I learned at Metal Nexus is that anyone can call themselves a photographer..even if they really aren’t! :)

– Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker