Tonight is the second night of Obituary’s ‘Rotting Slowly in Europe tour, for which the band is playing tracks exclusively from their first three barnstorming releases. In tow, are Illinois’ murder metallists, Macabre, and two Aussie bands in the form of Psycroptic and The Amenta. Given the interesting mix of death metal on the bill, expectations are high for an evening of bloody great music.
The drive to the venue takes a good fifty minutes, which on a weekday evening like this can be increased to an hour-and-a-half to two hours if really unlucky with commuter traffic. An additional aspect which doesn’t help with timing is the venue’s often conflicting start times (in this case, the tickets state 19:30 while the website offers 19:00). Okay, thirty minutes might not sound like the end of the world but factoring in journey times, traffic jams and a quick visit to the nearby burger joint, it’s very easy indeed to miss opening bands who you were hoping to see. Tonight things goes smoothly enough on the roads though due to my laissez-faire approach, The Amenta is on the last part of its final song by the time we arrive inside. A bit of a bummer, but by no means the end of the world having already caught them with Deicide and Vader some years back.
If I’m completely honest, I was far more interested in seeing Psycroptic anyway. The Tasmanians weren’t really firing on all cylinders the last time I caught them (at least one hang-over was to blame) which was a pity, as before that, in 2004, they absolutely blew me away. Tonight, everyone on stage looks sharp and when it comes to performance, there is absolutely no question that last time was a blip. Opening up with what I believe is ‘Euphorinasia’ from the band’s latest record, a torrent of groove displays their evolving approach to life, metal and the universe. ‘Carriers of the Plague’ and ‘Ob(servant)’, in contrast, contain a lot more of the speed and complex patterns that the band is known for; Dave Hayley’s face, in particular, demonstrating the physical and mental strain of performing such technical music. For that latter track, some dude shares vocal duties with Jason Peppiatt to give the tune an extra dimension of aggression, and the frontman a bit of a deserved break. At the start of the set, the crowd was forming a tentative semi-circle in front of the stage but by the closing brilliance of ‘The Colour of Sleep’, Psycroptic have them packed in.
During Psycroptic’s very good set, it became obvious that the subterranean confines of the Exhaus were going to be unbearable as the show progressed. Apparently a bomb shelter during World War Two, its cylindrical form – as much as I value the place – isn’t really ideal for watching a gig. On the one hand, there is a lack of oxygen combined with extreme heat, and on the other, a uniformly long, narrow line of vision to contend with. Unless you happen to be very close to the front or about 6’5” tall (which quite a few of the locals are), it can be impossible to see anything. On a night like this, with a band as well-liked as Obituary, the atmosphere was always guaranteed to be a challenge…
Luckily, by the time Macabre are ready to start, the majority of people seem to be milling about at the back where there’s a semblance of oxygen. With Macabre being as much of a reason as the headliners for coming to this gig, it was a relief that the front portion of the venue wasn’t yet rammed. The first thing to mention about the band is an unnerving lack of true mullets as they sound-check. Fortunately, any correlation between haircuts and musical awesomeness is dispelled as they launch straight into ‘Dog Guts’. Visually, Corporate Death embellishes his schizophrenic narratives with a range of lunatic expressions, while Nefarious simply conjures his bass lines in characteristically understated fashion. Obscured, Dennis the Menace hammers home Macabre’s twisted musical vision with his brand of crazed drumming. As the set unfolds, the unique range of their music is showcased: from the buoyancy of ‘Nero’s Inferno’ to rampaging monsters like ‘Night Stalker’ and ‘Dracula’. And it’s not long before an enthusiastic crowd gathers to revel in this surreal world of gloom and sadistic merriment.
Despite the best efforts of two strategically employed security guards on either side of the club’s stage, incursions cannot be prevented; with one bald guy, in particular, repeatedly crowd-surfing and then hanging upside-down from a lighting rig like some demented primate. I suppose good death metal can (and evidently does) have that effect. Aside from the potential dangers involved with such behaviour, the constant intrusions upon the small stage also appear to be the cause of problems at the end of the set, with security constantly having to march over guitar pedals to intercept them. Most annoyingly, Corporate Death’s guitar is cut-out completely during ‘Hitchhiker’. Although soon resolved, with the band piling seamlessly back in from the second verse, their final track, ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’, is similarly affected. This time the rhythm section continues playing while the six-stringer struggles to recover his sound. Despite such setbacks, nothing can detract from Macabre’s excellence – not for myself or the many other fans who turned out to see them. With a heavy emphasis on material from the ‘Sinister Slaughter’ album, they do not disappoint.
And so, on to the esteemed headliners, Obituary. By this stage in the evening, the venue has become a most surreal environment for a late November evening. In contrast to the cold outside, a sweltering mass of humanity is stinking out the Exhaus with smoke, and other things. Preempting the band’s arrival on stage, the kitchen roll-like tube of a venue is packed almost end to end with excited metal heads. Deciding to hang out towards the back seems the less hectic option although even then it’s a tight fit, with stage visibility virtually nil beyond the undulating wall of craniums up ahead. And it isn’t until a good few seconds into the opener, ‘Stinkupuss’, that I am able to tell who is in the line-up. To stage-left, as expected, stands Trevor Peres, with John Tardy at centre-stage and apparent man-mountain, Terry Butler, on the right. Evidently Ralph Santolla is no longer a member of Obituary – a fact which is probably common knowledge, though given how he leaves bands and then pops up again, I had no idea of the contemporary situation. In the event, a second/lead guitarist would have been superfluous as Peres nails everything perfectly on his own.
Driven by Donald Tardy’s no nonsense brand of drumming, the band kicks up an absolutely gargantuan wall of immaculate sound – something which before tonight I had kind of forgotten to fully appreciate. With the emphasis on the first three albums, the first-third of the set belongs to 1989’s benchmark debut, ‘Slowly We Rot’, with ‘Intoxicated’, ‘Bloodsoaked’, ‘Immortal Visions’ and ‘Gates to Hell’ belted out in succession. As with many of the greatest bands there is virtually no between song banter, just a deluge of head crushing music to do the talking. In linear fashion, tracks from 1990’s streamlined, James Murphy-fied ‘Cause of Death’ follow the raw opening assault. ‘Infected’ leads the way, with the title track, a medley of ‘Chopped in Half/Turned Inside Out’ and ‘Body Bag’ rounding out the second-third. Although the medley – specifically the anthemic ‘Chopped…’ – arouses perhaps the greatest ‘sing-along’ of the night, it’s interesting to observe how dedicated some of the band’s fans are. Bearing in mind that this is not a country of native English speakers it was more than impressive to see a guy close by who knew all of the lyrics.
‘Part three’ of the set naturally consists of material from 1992’s ‘The End Complete’. Kicking off with the phenomenal ‘Back to One’, Obituary’s Celtic Frost overtones really come alive during this segment. From what I can recall, ‘Killing Time’ and ‘Dead Silence’ were both aired, with possibly another track in-between these two. Given how disgustingly hot, oppressive and sweaty the venue had become, the satisfying tones of the closing track, ‘The End Complete’, come as a relief – both in terms of getting closer to fresh air, and also due to the fact that this is the one song I really wanted to see Obituary perform. The best way I can describe the track live (as I hadn’t previously seen it) is like having a tide of heavy fuzz blissfully encompassing your brain. Rounding off the set is a brilliant encore of ‘I’m in Pain’ and, of course, ‘Slowly We Rot’.
Obituary closed tonight’s show in absolute style. As well as a crushingly tight performance, the choice of setlist certainly made this one to remember. Like Malevolent Creation’s last tour on which they almost exclusively concentrated on their first two releases, this was a chance to travel back in time. For fans too young to have caught Obituary in their early years (such as myself) it really represented the band at their most vital; for the older guys (such as Infernal from Desaster, who could be seen going back and forth through the crowd) it was evidently an enormous blast too. Add another legend like Macabre to the equation and what you have is an essential night out. Or perhaps more accurately: an education in death metal. 11/10
Review Jamie Wilson
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