Cannibal Corpse With Behemoth, Tribulation and Aeon House of Blues, Dallas Saturday, January 31, 2015
Metal is a young man's game. A genre defined by youthful aggression and an "us against the world" attitude, metal can impose severe growing pains on veteran bands. Typically, these acts are left with two options: Either try to adapt to what's in vogue in order to save some sense of relevancy, or tour as a legacy act and rehash your older material.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. On Saturday night, co-headliners Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth visited Dallas and proved emphatically that a metal band can hold its credibility for 20-plus years and still fill a venue of the House of Blues' caliber.
It hasn't come easily, though. While Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth are institutions in the extreme metal world, both have had to overcome massive obstacles even after achieving worldwide notoriety. Cannibal Corpse had a creative and commercial slump in the early 2000s that led to the departure of a founding guitarist, while Behemoth's problems were more severe. Frontman Nergal (Adam Darski) not only battled Leukemia between 2009's Evangelion and their most recent album, 2014's The Satanist, but he also faced two separate trials in his native Poland on blasphemy charges, which could have landed him serious jail time.
Behemoth's credo is the power of the will, and it completely permeates their live show. Dressed in a black-metal-meets-Mad Max hybrid of cloaks, chains and leather, the band cut an imposing figure. On a starkly lit stage filled with cast-iron ritualistic symbols, vocalist and guitarist Nergal lurched around with the ease of a seasoned performer. He held the audience in his hand, and his performance alone made it plain why Behemoth's live show is so renowned.
But while Behemoth's stage setup created an all-encompassing experience, and their technical ability was extremely impressive, one had to wonder if their performance was almost too refined. It was polished to the point of being cheesy, even including synchronized stage moves, costume changes and the ever-ubiquitous encores. It was hard to connect with Behemoth's set with all of these distractions in the way -- a shame considering the emotion and energy the band put into it.
For every bit as polished as Behemoth was, Cannibal Corpse was almost their polar opposite in lack of ceremony and bombast. Backed only by a plain logo banner, the band strolled out on stage and systematically tore through their set. The members played with the tenacity and energy of a band 20 years younger, and their workmanlike, stripped-down approach to their set gave them a "one of us" relatablility.
Their set list covered the entirety of their career, and the band paced the show expertly. Opening with the churning lurch of "Scourge of Iron", they held the audience at attention by shifting between their more manic early material and the more rhythmic approach of newer cuts. The clarity of the House of Blues' PA system gave Cannibal Corpse's set a level of force that is sorely lacking at the smaller venues they typically play. Especially noticeable was Alex Webster's bass, the band's secret weapon since their inception. His bass lines add another dimension to the band's sound, and it cut through with sheer force.
Part of what makes a Cannibal Corpse set so enjoyable is the tongue-in-cheek way they can approach gruesome songs like "Addicted to Vaginal Skin" and "I Cum Blood" (sadly missing from Saturday night's set). Vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher played every bit the part, growling through their set with equal parts grimace and impish glee. His connection to the audience makes the crowd feel they're a part of the experience rather than simply watching it from afar. It's a smart move from a veteran act, and a reason why the band still remains relevant in the largely ephemeral world of metal.
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The two openers of Saturday's stop each had a piece of the puzzle missing. Sweden's Tribulation had the aura of a great metal band but was lifeless; fellow Swedes Aeon had aggression in spades but somehow lacked impact. Kudos is due to Tribulation for subverting expectations, though. They used volume and dynamics deftly, rolling it back when needed to give their set some variety. That's pretty ballsy when your audience is hundreds of screaming metalheads.
If Tribulation offered something a little different, Aeon reverently followed the death metal formula. You know what you're in for when the band's set starts with the drummer running a solo-blasting exercise. Because they had the same elements as any other death metal band, Aeon didn't make a strong impression. Familiarity can be an asset, but only to a degree.
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