Before I get to reviewing what should have been a phenomenal concert experience featuring three metal heavyweights, allow me to hoist myself upon the proverbial soapbox for moment and tell you about what is now my least favorite venue in the New York/New Jersey area, Stage 48.
I’ve been to some pretty marginal venues in my 5+ years on the East Coast. Terminal 5 has all the personality of a soldering iron and the sightlines of a pre-teen watching their very first horror movie through their fingers. The Knitting factory is the size of a shoebox, meaning that 95% of the floor space at a metal show is taken up by the pit. And the Starland Ballroom, while great in theory, is out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by only a veteran’s center and a shady Dunkin’ Donuts. But each and every one of them is higher on my list right now than Stage 48, which, for all of its cool design and modern amenities may have the worst speaker system of any concert venue I’ve ever visited (worse than Fiddler’s Green out in Colorado, which if you’ve ever seen a show there you know that’s about as bad as it gets).
Whether or not this all falls on the venue or splits the blame with the sound guy for the artists, it was impossible throughout 4 bands and 5+ hours of live music to hear ANY of the vocals (side angry note: it would have been 5 bands, but it took an eternity and a half to get inside the show. Sorry Shadows of Intent). This is a semi-common occurrence at metal shows, but I’ve never seen it so consistent from band-to-band, making me think this is a venue issue. And if this is a consistent problem for them, then they shouldn’t be hosting metal shows. I’ve waited a LONG time to see Fleshgod Apocalypse live, and even now I still feel like I haven’t thanks to the horrible vocal levels. So yeah, I’m a little bitter.
One more “Old Man Yells at Cloud” moment and then I’ll actually review the show. When there isn’t stage security at a venue, DON’T TAKE THAT AS AN INVITATION TO RUN UP ON THE STAGE!!! I’m sure you feel like you’re cool, and I’m sure you’re all sorts of excited to be that close to the band, but it’s really annoying for everyone in the audience who is trying to watch the performance. And even if you are going to do it, for the love of all that is unholy, don’t go up there just to take a selfie. I’m a self-hating millennial now thanks to the behavior of some assholes in the crowd who felt the need to get a selfie with Trevor Strnad, or even worse, the one guy who felt compelled to take a video of himself stage diving. Fuck you, random kid. Nobody likes you, and you should feel bad.
Okay, that felt good. Very therapeutic. Onto the show itself.
Aversion’s Crown fall very neatly in line with any generic deathcore band. Nothing about their show separated them from your Rings of Saturns, or Slaughter to Prevails, or any of those other dime-a-dozen bands. There was nothing inherently bad about their performance, but nothing even remotely noteworthy about it, either. The lead singer seemed to enjoy being up on stage though, so that was nice to see. I like happy metalheads.
Vocal issues aside, Fleshgod Apocalypse delivered the performance of the night. I had no idea how their brand of symphonic death metal would transfer into a live setting, but holy hell did they make it work, both from a musical and theatrical perspective. The band’s old-timey costumes, complete with corpse paint, added a perfect amount of absurdity to their show. The opera singer, when not delivering inaudible vocals (once again, get fucked Stage 48), piled on dramatic flair by trouncing around the stage with a fanciful staff, perfect for a zombie princess. Musically, the band was every bit as good as I could hope for, and bonus points for playing classical tunes in the set break beforehand to get everybody in the mood for their set. I won’t hesitate to say that seeing this band it a must for any fan of theatrical metal.
The Black Dahlia Murder drew the short straw of playing first among the co-headliners, but I realized later on that this worked out much better for them. While they weren’t immune from the audio issues that plagued the entire night, vocalist Trevor Strnad’s voice came through better than any other singer. The played their newest album, Nightbringers, in it’s entirety, although they sprinkled in a few classic tracks during the album and also finished their set with a couple of older tunes.
As far as quality? Holy shit, these guys are great. Nightbringers was one of my favorite albums of 2017, and it was every bit as good in a live setting (for some tracks, even better than the studio version). The crowd was into each and every song of their set, although I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that the older tracks got a slightly better response than the newer stuff. The gold star of the evening goes to Strnad, who is the happiest and highest metal singer I’ve ever seen live before. Throughout their entire set (which mostly just involved him casually pacing back and forth across the stage with one arm permanently stuck in the air showing “the horns”), Strnad had an absolutely ENORMOUS grin etched on his face. Seriously, he was singing tracks with lines like “Ye unholy fiends from depths of black // Turn every fucking cross you see to hell // Defecate in holy waters // Instill much fear and poison every well” with a giant shit-eating grin on his face the whole time. I said before that I enjoy happy metalheads, and Strnad may be the happest metalhead I’ve seen before, which in turn made the band’s performance even more fun.”
I didn’t realize until the day before the show that Whitechapel was playing their 2008 album This is Exile in full. Unlike The Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel didn’t sprinkle in any material from their other records during their set, which was a bit of a letdown for people like me who weren’t all that familiar with This is Exile. I had given the album a listen through the day of the show, and while it sounds like a good album it’s really tough to familiarize yourself with any album in the span of a day. But I’ve seen Whitechapel live before, and I knew how full of energy they were live, so I had no doubts that I’d be into their set. However…
Things got off to a very bad start when the band took the stage and it was very clear that a solid 30%-40% of the crowd left after TBDM. I mean, I was there primarily for The Black Dahlia Murder as well, but I wouldn’t dream of leaving a show before the headliner even takes the stage. But the floor went from “Subway Train in NYC during Rush Hour” crowded during TBDM to “Community Park on an 85-degree day” crowded, which is a pretty severe downgrade. Still, the people who were there were very into the set. Until…
The freaking audio went COMPLETELY out. Not just the vocals, but each and every instrument. Mid-song. There’s no better way to take the crowd out of the flow of the show than having to stop down for five or six minutes to fix technical difficulties. It also happened during “Somatically Incorrect”, which was the one track that really stood out to me during my one listen. They ended up just punting on the rest of the track once the audio was fixed. The larger issue, however, was that this seemed to knock the band out of their element. Another couple of songs later the band left the stage AGAIN, this time having what looked like a somewhat animated powwow in the hallway to the right of the stage. My theory? I have no evidence to support this, but it really seemed like the douche-nozzles that kept running up on stage were getting under the band’s skin, especially singer Phil Bozeman. After this second stoppage, there looked to be additional people watching the ingress points to the stage and trying to keep the crowd, you know, in the crowd. Where they belong. Their set finished without incident, but the tension in the crowd was palpable, like when Mommy and Daddy fought at the dinner table when you were young. You weren’t old enough to understand what was going on, but you still could tell that something wasn’t right. Despite everything that went wrong, Whitechapel still put forth a really good show, and I’ll be giving This is Exile another few listens on the strength of the performance.
So there you have it, a pretty fantastic night of metal undermined by a shitty sound system and/or an incompetent audio tech. Kudos to each of the bands for soldiering through it, and kudos to the crowd for still bringing the energy despite the obvious anger over the issues. And Fleshgod Apocalypse? Come hell or high water, I will be seeing you again…