I got rolling a little later than anticipated, but still arrived with plenty of time, actually a couple minutes before doors. It's probably just that the back roads component winds around, and the part on 93 is such a huge pain in the ass, that it makes the drive feel longer than it is. On the way in, I got a ticket off Legion of the Dying; I already had one, but as discussed previously, getting tickets to a P2P show without going through the bands is like stabbing them in the back. There are equitable ways to do pay to play (maybe discussed in a later post), but requiring a band to front $400 to play at 6 PM to barely more people on the floor than on the stage is not one of them.
This settled, I got inside, got a beer, and started fielding questions and comments about my jacket almost immediately. This would be an ongoing theme of the night; there were a couple other guys in kuttes there, but mine as especially ridiculous seemed to draw consistent attention. I talked with the vocalist of La Strega initially -- he had a similar rig but out'grew' it -- and then one of Ravage's hangers-on later, before La Strega, who had a leather vest that patches kept falling off of. Folks, there are tailoring solutions to both these problems. If you get too rotund for your kutte, cut the seams out on the sides and shoulders, sew in a 3- or 4-inch spacer section of denim in all areas, then cover the spacing up with more patches so it looks more natural. And if you've got a leather vest, there are these things called leather needles that are sharp and strong enough to go through it. There's no way my jacket could survive the heavy use and abuse it gets if the patches were ironed rather than sewn on.
Enough with the metal homemaking tips already. On to the bands.
Legion of the Dying [4.5/7]
I was really going back and forth on this band, and ended up going with a split score, which I hate having to resort to. However, it turned out to be both necessary and accurate, because there are a fair number of hairs to be split on the first half of the bill. These guys did a decent job despite the fact that the audience never got up to even double the number of people on stage, working an odd but decent mix of power and black metal that probably doesn't owe as much to Bifrost as it sounded to me. It was a pretty good performance, though there's room for improvement in some of the material, and there's definitely a reason that this band was opening up this show rather than playing later. The other five metalheads who saw this set were probably equally entertained, but those who came in later did not miss much, either from this band or much of the first half of the bill.
It probably goes without saying that this is not the Norwegian black metal Troll, but a hard rock combo of the same name from New England. Their set was better than might have been anticipated; the drummer did use all of his forest of cymbals, and though any number of very negative things might have been said about the band based on their average age, none of them would actually have been true. The music was strongly hard-rock based, the kind of attack that the guys at BNR usually call just "'80s metal", and mostly well-performed. In spots I got the impression that I was watching My Pet Demon through a window into fifteen years in the future; I'm sure that the band won't be crazy about hearing this as if they're going to be stuck playing mediocre bar shows forever and not really getting any traction, but the reasons are more positive: a band resolutely swimming against the current, playing the kind of music that drives them, no matter what the trends are. For this reason I really have to respect this band, even though I'm not crazy about their music, and a lot of the local bands on this bill that had several older members, for sticking it out, playing metal, and continuing to put up with the bullshit of underground gigging and promotion despite moving forward in their lives.
La Strega [4.5/7]
I picked both a good and a bad spot to see this band from. On the positive side, I got right up on the rail to get an earful of their guitar. On the negative side, the guitarist was playing through at least a full stack, maybe a double stack, and I could barely hear anything else, and the vocals more or less not at all. The performance was pretty good, built mainly on classic melodic metal, but there were warts on it as well. The guitarist definitely has chops, but I'm not nearly as sold on his musical sense; no matter how kickass a solo is technically, and there were some really good ones in their set, it'll still sound bad if it's not in the same key that the rest of the band is playing in. Even though this was defined by only a bassist last night, it still bears remembering.
Red Right Hand [5/7]
I was having trouble placing these guys until I talked with this other dude at the bar; he commented that they sounded a lot like Exodus, and the light immediately went on. Thet did sound a hell of a lot like Exodus, putting a little more melodics into an aggressive thrash sound and topping it off with a singer spitting vitriol. They were the only band to play a cover on this bill -- how "Highway Star" dropped out of Metal Church's set is a tale told later -- and they did ample justice in ripping through Slayer's "Black Magic". You don't see too many bands reaching back to do stuff off Show No Mercy at the local level, even a cut as well-known as this one. All in all it was a pretty killer set; I scored a CD off them as well, and in this case it was direct support of the band, not, as with the two Troll discs I got, because the other bands didn't have their fucking merch setups out. I'm looking at you, Steel Assassin and Ravage; when you kick ass on stage, make sure you've got some dood in the back with the box of CDs so you can take money from the people you just pumped up.
This was as good a set as I've seen from Ravage in a long time; Al seemed really on, and the sound guys had his vocals dialed in perfectly, which has not been the case in the recent past. Of course, the last time I saw Ravage was at a disco in Saugus, so there's definitely an explanation here. They did all new material -- off their two albums, no Curse of Heaven stuff -- and all of it sounded great. They did have a banner of the Spectral Rider guy, but it was draped over the front monitors rather than hung in the back (as it probably was on their Euro dates). This is probably just as well, because Steel Assassin had some problems with their banner, which are kind of to be expected when you're tying it to the ceiling rather than to a truss. The guy they got to fill in of Howie (who recently quit) on bass did a competent job, but stayed mostly at the back, probably indicating that he's just filling in on a temporary bassist, and the Ravage bassist search will continue.
Steel Assassin [6/7]
Several people commented that of the undercard, these guys stole the show. I don't necessarily agree with that -- the last three supporting acts were largely even, maybe incremental steps in advancing order, in my view -- but I can definitely see where that assessment would come from. They did a strong set of Maiden-inspired power/thrash metal, and really got the crowd churning up. Again, my position may have cost me some of the impact -- I was up front, but leaning on the stage left bass tubes -- but I was still seriously impressed, and hope to catch this band sometime else when they have merch.
Meliah Rage [6/7]
Finally, the touring bands came up, and the impact showed it to be worth the wait, even for those somewhat mental people who didn't enjoy a very good lineup of local openers. Meliah Rage played with a fire and intensity that seemed deliberately intended to belie certain assertions made about them being D-level generic thrash and unable to gain traction. The music itself was fairly typical, built heavily around ideas originally explored by Metallica, but the performance more than made up for the relative lack of originality in composition; there is nothing wrong with doing stuff that others have done before, as long as you kick ass at it and put on a good show, which was absolutely the case here. They played a good mix of old and new material, and always with a fanatic energy; the singer stagedived three times, and fortunately all three times was caught and returned. This is by no means a sure thing, as he's kind of a big dude, and Mark's has a no-mosh policy, so the first leap may have caught a few people by surprise. It was an awesome performance, but if it ran late (I wasn't watching the clocks), it might come out as a negative....for reasons to be documented a little further on.
Metal Church [7/7]
This is not solely a psycho fanboy reaction to finally hearing Blessing In Disguise stuff live. The key word in that one is 'solely'; hearing this lineup do "Fake Healer" is definitely one of the highlights of my year so far and will probably continue to be even after we get out of January. I don't know whether it's audience- or copyrights-driven, but this set, unlike their performances at Wacken, this set covered the band's whole career, though weighted early, if only because there's just so much awesome material on Metal Church and The Dark. They brought out a couple dancers from the strip club part of the building for "Fake Healer", and while there were a few dollars thrown on stage, I probably wouldn't've noticed even if they had, at any point, taken any of their (minimal) clothes off. Save the chicks for some other number if you want people to look at them, this is FAKE FUCKING HEALER! This set was debatably better than when I saw them on the Party Stage, but was unfortunately cut short before the encore -- "Highway Star" as mentioned earlier -- due to club curfew. The astonishing lameness of this is difficult to comprehend, but this of course isn't the band's fault; the problem lies with the club, and indirectly with the promoter for booking them here...and then via multiple indirection, with whoever booked their tour through New England Concerts rather than trying to get them into Boston. It was still an awesome set even without the encore -- and really, there would probably have been no complaints had they just gone on for another half hour, even with the snow and the condition of the roads outside.
I've now recovered all my hearing damage, and have the newly purchased Metal Church pin affixed to my jacket; next show's probably out in Worcester, Metal Thursday starting off Metal Winter Break, which has gotten a little more potential fill. I probably won't go up to Mark's again to pay Diecast to see Mortis Dev and Frozen on Friday, but I'm mulling over trying to get into this party Mark Fields of You're Fired is throwing Saturday. On the plus side, metal + party. On the minus side, I'm not sure that I could even survive partying out with Anal Cunt and assorted dudes, and it'd be a fucking shame to miss the rest of Metal Winter Break due to being dead or in jail or in the hospital or something. We'll see how this shakes out.