Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fear Factory with Suffocation, Hypocrisy, and Decapitated [Worcester Palladium, 11/17/2006]

If you live with a reasonable drive of central New England and missed this show, your loss; front to back, this was one of the best gigs I can remember.

It was a good thing that I was uncertain when doors were (thanks, random RTTP poster with incorrect information!), as I ended up leaving for this show a few minutes after 5, and needed every minute of it to get down by doors, allowing me to get down right on the railing (not exactly front and center, but I had to get a beer to wash the stale hard taste of car-filtered air out of my mouth -- this was some hard driving from 128 onto the Pike). I wasn't hugely up for Decapitated, but it'd be cool to see them up close, and I would have no chance of getting a decent spot for Hypocrisy (well, without throwing elbows around like a dick) if I didn't. Fortunately, they didn't disappoint, and set the tone strongly for the underground portion of the bill to come.

Decapitated [6/7]:
As with practically every opening band at the Palladium, their sound was a little off, but they made the best of it and also turned the crowd around. The energy was a little low at first because it was only the real diehards who were down front, but it built steadily through the set thanks to an extremely solid performance. Some of this is probably due to the music; Decapitated's style is built around fairly avant-garde guitar leads, without a rhythm guitar to help the bass set up the riff structure, and this can be tough to get into live until you get a feel for how they're playing it tonight, and they didn't have quite the PA support for their ridiculous technicality that Suffocation did, which confused the music a little until the soundboard got them somewhat dialed in. The pit was fairly calm, but those of us who were up front were into it, and overall this was a kickass performance that should have been better. "Should have been better" solely because it should have been longer; they got barely half an hour, which is one of the leading arguments for the contention that I'm going to make at the end of this review.

Hypocrisy [7/7]:
This is what I came for, and Peter et al delivered more or less exactly as anticipated. Their sound was better than for Decapitated, but this may have been more of an artifact of style; Hypocrisy is strongly groove-oriented rather than focusing exclusively on technical fireworks, and this demands somewhat less out of the PA setup. Of course, I was in the fourth or fifth row (from the stagefront, I was right on the rail but spread out wide to the side stage right) and thus getting most of the sound straight out of the backline rather than from the PA, which was going mostly over my head, but still. The set was pretty much greatest-hits material (as listed below, no "Carved Up" or "Buried" and nothing off Fourth Dimension), but when you have only 45 minutes to distill a 15-year career into, you'd fucking better play greatest-hits, or your fans are going to throw eggs at the headliner's tour bus for screwing them out of their favorites, and they'll blame you. Still, of course, it was incredible; I mean, come on, it's fucking HYPOCRISY. I'm still hoping to see them at Wacken one of these years (probably this year or next given their history with the fest), but this was still a tremendous, tremendous experience.

Hypocrisy's setlist:
Fractured Millennium (surprised they didn't open with War Path, it's a badass opener as well as from the current record)
Adjusting The Sun (pit went bananas from the first riff)
Osculum Obscenum (only pre-Abducted song)
War Path
Roswell-47 (lots of people singing on this one)
The Final Chapter (no idea why they didn't swap this and Knife, it's just about the best death metal set closer ever written)
Let The Knife Do The Talking (new song, so the crowd didn't wholly catch on to the "kill...kill...kill..." bit right away)

Suffocation [7/7]:
There were slightly fewer people down front for them as opposed to Hypocrisy, but this just meant more room for the pit. People were going balls-out; on a couple songs there were at least two independent pits going on, including at least one basically in the front row. I spent about a quarter of the set facing basically into the crowd, acting as a shock absorber to keep people from being thrown into the railing. Good times. Also, Suffo's sound was FUCKING UNBELIEVABLE, incredibly thick and sharp, probably the best and cleanest that I've heard live, and at least the best that I can remember. The band was really on their game, and Frank, pressed for time (again, same situation as Hypocrisy, they got about 45 minutes), at last kept his jabbering between songs down to a reasonable level. The only pick points on this one were that at the start, the bass was a little too loud and Terrance Hobbs' guitar wasn't really cutting through on his solos on my side (he was stage left most of the show), but they fixed this and gave Mike a little more power on his toms, and all was good. Actually, all was FUCKING INCREDIBLE, but that's what happens when you give a great band on a peak night great sound and an enthusiastic crowd.

During some of the more psycho parts, I and a few other people were helping prevent someone's kid brother -- looked like 11 or 12 -- from getting totally killed by the encroaching pit. There were a couple other kids in the floor crowd as well, which was cool, though unusual, as it really calls into question the sanity of the people who brought them in there. We don't need security standing on the stairs, next to a sign that says "You must be THIS tall to go on the floor", but for the sake of common sense, if you're gonna bring a kid onto the floor at a brutal show, GET THEM ON THE DAMN RAIL! From the first row, they can see the band without us six-foot, 250-pound behemoths in the way, and they additionally are in significantly less danger of getting seriously injured by someone breaking through the pit wall, or trampled accidentally by someone trying to keep the wall where it's supposed to be. By all means, bring your sprogs and younger siblings to the show, but don't put them in the middle of the floor until they've gotten their main growth spurt.

Funniest moment from Suffocation: Frank calls out shout-outs to the other bands on the bill. "All the way from Poland -- DECAPITATED!!!" The front of the house yells a lot. "Our good friends from Sweden -- HYPOCRISY!!!" The front of the house yells more and throws the horns a lot. "We are from Lon Giland Noo Yawk, and we are SUFFOCATION!!!" The front of the house yells a lot and throws the horns some more. "And coming up, FEAR FACTORY!!!" A giant roar goes up from the BACK of the house, and some people up front clap some.

Fear Factory [5.5/7]:
This ought to give the lie to any developing impression that national headliners automatically get great scores just for showing up. A seven is a seven is a seven, whether by a local band at a local show or an international legend headlining Wacken, and this set, despite being by a recognized band headlining a major club, would still have pulled a 5.5 whether it was delivered at O'Brien's or on the Party Stage. If I had to pick three words to describe this set, they would be "competent", "loud", and "boring"; some of this is probably lingering aftereffects of the underground portion of the bill, but seriously, Decapitated played a couple songs that were themselves more technically challenging than Fear Factory's entire set. Hell, HYPOCRISY played some songs that were more technical than Fear Factory's entire set, and they're hardly known for being bruisingly technical as a death metal band. Of course, music need not be technical to be good, but Fear Factory here was trying to play nontechnical music while still coming off as technical and brutal by virtue of pure volume. Unfortunately, they were too loud for the hall and crushed their actual sound, while still not managing to cover up the fact that Christian would go for minutes at a time without changing his fingering, just changing where on the neck his hand was. If I could actually be bothered to learn to play Fear Factory songs, even I could do that; emulating the other instrumentalists on this bill would require a significant talent transplant and approximately five thousand years of practice.

The pit was nice and turbulent for Fear Factory, but I wasn't in it, and there was precious little especially appealing about their set. It was well-executed, and the band was on their game, but the standard of execution here is necessarily lower because the songs are a lot easier to play. It was still a good performance, but it followed a long night of balls-out incredible performances by the nominal openers, and necessarily felt like somewhat of a letdown. This leads into the contention in the next paragraph, but first it must be mentioned that before going on, they played Iron Maiden's "The Number Of The Beast" in its entirety. Nu-metal is officially dead and buried; I thought they were going to just steal the Vincent Price intro, but no, they stole Iron Maiden's thunder and their complete whole classic to get the crowd up for them. I was singing along and lolling inside, much the same as the other undergrounders around me who had pulled up onto the carpeted area to give the FF fans the floor.

The core contention here is that Fear Factory maybe shouldn't have played this at all. Granted, I'm not sure that either Suffocation or Hypocrisy could have filled the Palladium on their own, and there isn't really a club between that and the Middle East in size for them to play in Massachusetts, but as far as Hypocrisy's catalog goes, there's a lot of stuff that just plain got left out, and the way Suffocation was just crushing along, they could have gone on for two hours and no one would have really cared. This was a kickass show, but it would have been flat incredible with one or two local openers, Decapitated getting 45 minutes, and Hypocrisy and Suffo coheadlining at about an hour each, flip a coin while the local guys are going on to decide who's closing the show. The lesson of course out of this is to PUMP UP THE FUCKING UNDERGROUND, so that a tour like this is economically viable. Continue supporting brutal music, and make sure the bands know that we want them to stay heavy, stay underground.

Even so, it's fairly admirable of Fear Factory to put together a package like this; it shows both their confidence in their own ability to control the attentions of their fans, to provide a good experience so that their people will still see them as a highlight even when they get technically shelled by the support, and their continuing commitment to the brutal underground, because no matter how much they try to call themselves "heavy alternative", it's still metal fans buying their albums. As Seth Putnam's said in the past, "face it, you're a metal band". Fear Factory are facing up to this, and also showing some integrity by paying back dues to the brutal bands who were around with them when they got their start. Good intentions didn't necessarily make their set any better, but they deserve credit for it all the same.

Working hard on the second book, which is going to be less metal but more brutal; next show is probably Blind Guardian due to family holiday commitments.

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