Saturday, December 22, 2007

2007 - a year in show reviews

I tried to pick out only one gig to officially designate the best show of 2007 (even though MPD's release show is still on the calendar), but unfortunately couldn't come up with any one gig that would get the nod, so instead, here's a brief review of the seven best gigs I went to in 2007, and what made them really stand out. These are selected from the 46 shows that I went to in 2007, in which I saw 282 individual sets from 204 different bands; this does not include three Autumn Above gigs, which would add another 11 sets and nine bands to the total, because until said indie-pop/prog-metal band gets their act together and starts doing more shows with post-hardcore bands, I go to their gigs much more to support them than for the overall musical experience.

#0/Honorable Mention:
Wacken, Schleswig-Holstein
W:O:A 2007
Wacken does not and should not count as a normal show for these purposes, especially as it's not something people in North America can generally get to. Regardless, this was about the top Wacken that I've been to; last year had debatably better music, with high flyers from Atheist, Emperor, and Amon Amarth, but this year was the best-managed festival experience, overall, and musically, there was the thrash Altliga-Cup of Destruction, Sodom, Sacred Reich, Possessed, and Sabbat, plus Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Immortal, and Cannibal Corpse headlining. "Stunning" is almost too mundane a word for it, but this is why it's worth the $1500 in ticket and travel expenses.

Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge
Watain, Angelcorpse, Nachtmystium, Cold Northern Vengeance, Witch Tomb
This was one of the more anticipated "mundane" gigs this year, and it definitely lived up to its billing. This was a difficult tour for Watain marked with several cancellations, and it may be difficult for them to come back given the amounts of animal blood employed in their set, but that just makes this performance, which was fucking ace musically as well, that much more special. Additionally, the whole of the undercard was really strong: Angelcorpse gave a headliner-quality set, Nachtmystium did probably the best performance I've seen from them, and both Witch Tomb and CNV brought their A-game, making this likely the signature show, or one of the signature gigs, of 2007 for both bands. The appeal of this bill is somewhat insular, but black metal as an art form seldom gets better than this.

Worcester Palladium
Summer Slaughter: Necrophagist, Decapitated, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, The Faceless, As Blood Runs Black, Ion Dissonance, Beneath The Massacre, In Dire Need, Zircon
There were some subpar bands on the bill on this one, but there was a lot of real quality as well; with the top four, this was probably the most technically intense show that I saw this past year. Necrophagist demonstrated just how far the gap is between them and the rest of the tech-death field, including a fantastic clinic in creative drum technique from Marco Minneman, and Decapitated absolutely blew the doors off the venue with the kind of incredible, perfect, skullcrushing sound that the Palladium occasionally manages to produce by accident. Though it doesn't lessen the impact of the tragic accident that has at press time put the band on infinite hold, this performance is a hell of a last memory to have of one of death metal's leading lights. Of the multi-band package tours that crawl around the US between June and August, substituting for real festivals, Summer Slaughter is the most promising: Ozzfest has a lot of crap, and Sounds of the Underground is trending that way, but on this bill, you're more likely to hear a very good band than a bad one.

Castle Greyskull, Allston
Despotic Robot, Revocation, Mechannibal
Beer, metal, pizza, and a hole in the ground; though Evil Army never made it out of Ohio, this one still makes it into the top three shows of the year. Basement shows have a special vibe all their own, and this was a very good one, with the locals creating more than enough thrash chaos to make up for the headliner's no-show. Directly or indirectly, this one also kind of lead to the purportedly very cool Benefit For The Advancement of Dudes series of thrash basement shows -- of which I have missed each of the three installments, usually due to being on the road. My new job doesn't require half as much travel, so catching more basement shows due to not being in Seoul or Texas or somewhere is an important side benefit.

DeeDee's, Quincy
Hell's Infinite 6, Baphomet's Horns, Hekseri, Martyrvore, Witch Tomb
This was one of the first gigs of the year, and one of the last at this venue, which looked like it was under partial demolition at the time, and was supplying itself with beer from a local package store rather than an actual distributor. The sound was of indifferent, the layout was weird, the night was excessively khold and grvm, and a bar that runs out of beer is of debatable utility, but in music and atmosphere, this was an excellent show, providing close to optimum presentation for a bill full of local black metal bands. If you don't understand the appeal of frigid weather and squalid accomodations, raw black metal like this is probably not for you.

Bedford, NH Mark's Showplace
Katatonia, Scar Symmetry, Insomnium, Swallow The Sun, Dreaded Silence, Tripmynd, Frozen, Eternal Embrace
There were almost as many bad moments as good at Mark's this year (much like every year), but this was debatably the best of the shows I caught there. While Tripmynd and Eternal Embrace were duds to a certain degree, DS and Frozen both put up very strong sets, and the headliners represented about the overall-best four-band tour I've seen at this place. Scar Symmetry was a little off, but Swallow The Sun was great, Insomnium made a good case for headlining on their next jaunt, and Katatonia simply outclassed the venue by further than about every other band I've seen here.

Worcester Palladium
Municipal Waste, Skeleton Witch, Toxic Holocaust, Doomriders
Probably the best non-festival show I saw at the Palladium this year, but then again, it seems like I only ever go to the Palladium for festival-type gigs (actually, it's about even). In the more confined space of the upstairs portion, this was like a mini-thrash-convention, showing four killer performances in a good atmosphere. Skeleton Witch may just be the best band to debut on Metal Blade this year, Doomriders almost convinced the audience that they deserved to go on next to last rather than opening for the touring bands, and of course the Waste just killed the hell out of everything. Toxic Holocaust seemed a little flat, but those who hadn't seen the classic lineup of Sodom playing essentially a headlining set two months prior probably didn't think so, and at any rate, Toxic Holocaust live is pretty goddamned special just of itself. The weather was shitty getting back, but the show itself was awesome.

Bedford, NH Mark's Showplace
1349, Goatwhore, Nachtmystium, Averse Sephira, Mortis Deveia, Aura of Aquila, Zircon, Cold Northern Vengeance
Mark's always has a hard time with consistency, but on this outing at least, the bill shaped up so direct and focused (even considering Mortis Dev) that it might as well have been set intentionlly rather than by the exigencies of who could sell tickets. Though Averse Sephira played a strong set, they had difficulty setting themselves above New England's best in a strong outing from both Zircon and CNV, and the other local openers definitely made a decent case for their inclusion (even if this wasn't the best set I saw from Aura of Aquila in '07). Nachtmystium was really good, and Goatwhore put out absolutely the best set I've seen from them; 1349 may not have been as on their game as when I saw them at Wacken later, but they put on a really good performance, capping debatably the second best show at Mark's this year.

There were, of course, a lot of other killer gigs along the way -- Suffocation and the victory over TNT, Amon Amarth roaring into the mainstream at the Palladium, Pelican in the fog at the Middle East, Nile and Cthtonic, that whole week at the end of June where the Skybar was on its deathbed binge, Lord Bacon supporting Finntroll, any show involving Goreality -- but in the end, these are the ones that came out best or most memorable. Counting Autumn Above and the MPD show next weekend, it'll be an even 50 shows on the year; on average, every weekend, I saw a metal show or at least a somewhat metal band, which is pretty impressive given that I spent two weeks in Korea and another two in Texas. I'm so glad I didn't have to move to Rochester, and instead can stay in this much more metal and less snowy part of the world.

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