Let me preface with this; I’m not well-versed in older metal. This includes bands that existed before I was alive or before I even knew what my taste in music was. Perhaps it was due to being raised on early 2000’s Metalcore and slowly expanding from there, I was seldom graced with the forethought to listen to them, or the exposure. Luckily for myself and many other younger metal fans, bands that stand the test of time tend to do so by continuously putting out new material, and those albums tend to be gateways for the younger crowd to appreciate and look to for the origins of their favorite bands.
So goes the story with, well, all but one of the bands that performed at Gas Monkey Live on the evening of February 13th. With every band but Harm’s Way hailing from across the world, it was a night where nostalgia for the old mixed with appreciation of the new.
Harm’s Way, a hardcore band based out of Chicago, opened the night. Having little exposure to them prior, I went in with next to no idea what to expect. It was obvious from the start that this band didn’t fit the old school European Death lineup at all, yet I and many others couldn’t deny the urge to bob our heads throughout the set. Though I don’t follow most hardcore, occasionally a group of the genre will come along that just knows how to write catchy, appealing jams that cater to my senses. Harm’s Way knows how to do just that. Their set was filled with heavy, catchy, and aggressive tunes. I ate it up. The vocalist jumped, kicked and punched his way through every song, enforcing the intimidating vibe perpetrated by the music. The guys brought some serious energy, with the vocalist, guitarist, and bassist taking turns punishing the mic, and spinning around like mad men with their instruments. A handful of brave young moshers took to the open pit, flinging their limbs in any and every direction. Harm’s Way dominated that stage and set the energy level for the evening.
The lights dimmed, the dynamic of the room shifted, and the crowd seemed to suddenly wake up. Taking the stage next was The Haunted, a thrashy super group formed in the mid 1990’s by members of many well-known European metal acts such as Adrian Erlandsson and Jonas Björler, also current members of At the Gates. The newest notable member of the group is Ola Englund, a guitar idol of mine from well known acts Feared, Six Feet Under, and Jeff Loomis. It was hard to contain my excitement after watching so many of his guitar and gear demos. Wasting no time, they launched straight into relentless thrash beats and face melting guitar riffs. Though the music consisted of more groove riffs than technical ones, it was apparent the decade and a half of the band’s experience had paid off. Everything was as tight as could be and well put together. The inactive standing area on the floor erupted into a swirling push pit orchestrated by the vocalist, and it stayed this way for the majority of their set. There’s something to be said about bands that can play a crowd well, and The Haunted kept everyone on their feet thrashing about. They played a range of their catalog, opening with the songs “No Compromise” and “99”, and with later highlights being “Time (Will Not Heal) and “Bury Your Dead”. Others in attendance were chanting every word with their fists in the air. The Haunted were a joy to watch. They inspired me to look further back through their discography, as they’re a band I think of when I picture quality, solid melodic thrash metal.
Following shortly thereafter was Decapitated. It was a tie between these guys and At the Gates as my most anticipated band to watch perform that night. They took the stage with little to no delay, and launched into the opening track “Exiled in Flesh” from their new album “Blood Mantra”. Windmills and head banging galore. They played a few more from the new album, including my two personal favorites “The Blasphemous Psalm To the Dummy God Creation”, and “Nest”, then went into older material with a highlight being the songs “404” from their album “Carnival is Forever” and “Spheres of Madness” from their hit album “Nihility”. Decapitated is another band that totes solid, groovy, fast, and tight music, with sections held out and allowed to breathe, or change on emphasis; it’s simple yet complex, and truly a work of art. It was clear they were having fun too, with their faces portraying everything without saying a word. The mutual enjoyment really heightens the experience by being able to break down that barrier between band and audience. At the end of the set, they finished up by asking the audience for a group photo, something to commemorate the experience with. Hundreds of fists and metal horns went up in the air.
At long last, it was time for At the Gates. Having either inspired or set the path for a good portion of today’s Metalcore, it was easy to see why they were headlining and why a band that had a 19 year gap between albums drew such a large crowd. Opening with the title track of their newest album, “At War With Reality”, they took the stage by storm. It’s still difficult to grasp a band that had stayed inactive for so long could do so easily, but as the vocalist adamantly stated, “We’re back”. No momentum seemed lost, either. As their music portrays, they are an unstoppable force, and they hammered through each track like they’d stayed on tour the entire time. Weaving through the crowd, it was hard to find someone who wasn’t mouthing the words along with the vocalist, and it was clear that At the Gates still maintains quite a grasp on the metal community. Be it the haunting guitar parts, the calmer and cleaner bits, or those riffs so undeniably catchy that you find yourself humming along, without a doubt this band is due the accolades and fan base they maintain. I found it quite easy as they continued through their set to understand how they’d maintained the longevity so well. These songs were simply just excellent. Eventually they led back into the intro for their newest album, one that I’ve kept spinning on my record player for a while now, with the song titled “Death and the Labyrinth”. The visualizations on the projection screen behind them played out with dark minimalistic art like a story boarding for the song, a feature that was brought back at the closing track and my personal favorite, “The Night Eternal”. The visual aid along with the light show really helped set the tone of the song, with the lengthened ending slowly fading out to a dull humming note and the screen behind showing a starry night sky. It was one of those awe inspiring, goose bump giving moments. I realized at this exact moment, if you’re a fan of any genre of metal, this is a band you absolutely NEED to see before you die.
All of the bands that performed on this tour package were beyond impressive. They all clearly enjoy and love what they do, and it shows. To have gone on for so long, with the youngest band reaching their 10 year formative anniversary this year, it really goes to show that when you put love into something, and if you truly believe in it, it isn’t insanity to believe you can do almost anything.
This tour is one of those “DO NOT MISS” packages, with each band demanding your attention with their tight, aggressive, and individual nature. Though I’m not well versed in every detail of the band’s histories and discographies, each band has a hook to really ensnare you and pull you in by their own means. I found myself air drumming, playing air guitar, head banging, and throwing the horns up involuntarily all night, a feat not often achieved by bands I’m not already heavily invested in.