My first foray into the suburban Montclair metal scene was a memorable one. Sure, Full of Hell delivered as violent, aggressive and insane performance as I could have expected. Primary opener Outer Heaven brought the heavy in an unexpectedly brutal set. Even the myriad of openers before them brought some unique elements to the show, from Dutch Guts’ untethered energy to the magnetic persona of Sunrot’s frontwoman (I was 90% sure ran the venue until she picked up the mic for their set). But much like the Big Apple in every metalhead’s favorite TV show, Sex in the City, the star of the night was the setting itself, the jewel of Montclair, The Meatlocker.
Let me give you a quick rundown on how I wound up at this grimy, dirty, dank and wholly magnificent venue. A late work switch meant that I would unexpectedly be able to check out the show that I didn’t think I’d be able to attend. So come Thursday morning I sauntered on down to where The Meatlocker was supposed to be to try and pick up a ticket. You see, you couldn’t by tickets for this show on Full of Hell’s website. You also couldn’t buy them on the Meatlocker’s website…because the don’t have one. Or a phone number. Their online footprint is limited to a lightly maintained Facebook page that is mostly just pictures of the bathroom.
Upon my arrival at what was supposed to be my destination I discovered that there was nothing there to indicate that the Meatlocker existed. I walked up and down the block a few times, unable to solve this complex riddle, before I gave up and looked up the exact address again, which pointed me to a restaurant that was most definitely not an underground metal venue. But alas! Next to said restaurant there was a door, simply labelled “Basement”. Through the window I could see the band sticker and graffiti covered walls that adorned the venue’s Facebook page. I’d arrived. Sure, there was no ticket office to purchase tickets, and there were no signs of life once I entered the door, and I didn’t descend the stairs into the venue at that time due to a life-long fear of getting stabbed, but at least I knew where I was going. I returned that night, paid the cheap cover charge (hence the “No Tickets” thing), and ventured into what can be described as simultaneously the best and worst concert venue I’ve ever experienced.
The Meatlocker is TINY. Smaller than any other concert venue I’ve seen. The combined space between both performance locations would be hard pressed to hold the line for the bathroom at most concert spaces. The space was so cramped that one crowdsurfing kid had to duck under a door frame as he was passed between rooms. I’d love to know what the maximum occupancy is, but I’m not sure the fire department would make it far enough into their inspection to make that determination before shuttering this place and bolting the door for good. There are exposed wires and steel beams as far as the eye can see. I took the corner of a raised power outlet to the shoulder blade during Outer Heaven’s pit. The venue’s alcohol policy seems to be “whatever you bring in is fine with us”. Despite the brisk October temperatures outside, the interior temperature was somewhere comfortably between 95 degrees and the temperature of hell itself. And it was fantastic. It was everything that I want in a metal venue and more.
Back when Stage 48 ruined the Fleshgod Apocalypse/The Black Dahlia Murder/Whitechapel show I attended last year, I was impressed by how ritzy, chic, and well designed the venue was. Not fitting for a metal show in the slightest, but nice. That carried it right up until the music started and I learned that they had no idea how to handle the sound for a metal show. The Meatlocker is the complete polar opposite of Stage 48. There is no glitz or glamour. There are no modern amenities (or amenities of any kind, for that matter, other than the single previously mentioned bathroom and three trash cans). But the venue oozes metal from every crack in the cement walls, from every rusted steel beam, and from every low-hanging wire that I accidentally caught with my giant forehead mid-headbang. The few speakers that could fit on the “stage” were pushed to their sonic limits by Full of Hell and Outer Heaven, but they gave their all in the name of metal, filling that tiny space with the crushing lows and piercing highs in a way that Stage 48 never could. It was, through all its wonderful imperfections, perfect.
That wouldn’t have meant much had the music not been good, but Full of Hell and Outer Heaven held up their end of the bargain. Outer Heaven took the stage (and the area directly in front of the stage, as the vocalist didn’t have room to stand with the rest of the band) and delivered a punishing set full of great riffs and bellowing vocals reminiscent of one of my favorite up-and-coming bands, Gatecreeper. The sight of a bunch of hairy, sweaty, chunky, mostly shirtless guys unleashing such a ferocious set was really the perfect complement to the venue. The band’s new album dropped the day after the show, and you better believe it’s been part of my regular rotation since.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Full of Hell live, but whatever expectations I had for them where shattered. Vocalist Dylan Walker has one of the most commanding on-stage personas I’ve seen recently despite handling all the samples and electronic elements at the same time as screaming his fucking face off. The set was a high-energy as it gets, and once they wrapped up you felt like you’d been run over by a truck (in the best way possible). While I only took up listening to the band following last year’s Trumpeting Ecstasy, but I’ll be doing a deep dive into their older stuff following that performance.
Still, the star of the evening was The Meatlocker itself, a throwback to the early days of rock and metal. I’ve never seen a concert space quite like it, and I can’t imagine there are too many more like it. During Full of Hell’s set the singer mentioned how he’d player there three years before and was shocked that the restaurant above hadn’t had them shut down. Everyone laughed, but there is a large chunk of truth there. How The Meatlocker exists, and especially in a swanky town like Montclair, is beyond me. But the metal word is better off as long as it does.