Death On The Vine Festival – 4/14/12

“Those of you that are cheering for this are sick!  You’re sick in the fucking head!”  -George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher

Do you know what I did on Saturday?  No, I didn’t go skipping through a meadow and pick flowers.  I went to the Death On The Vine festival that was held at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, Ohio.  If you’ve been living under a rock, the only reason why these bands are all performing together is because they are all on two separate tours that were able to meet for one night of devastating brutality.  When this show was originally announced I knew I had to be thete by any means necessary, and it did not disappoint.  While I think there are some serious problems with the running order of the show (how the hell does The Black Dahlia Murder get billing above both Nile and Exhumed?!), I will present them in how they appeared.

The show started at about 4PM Eastern, and because of other obligations (i.e. interviews) I walked into the club while Arkaik were already in the middle of their set.  I didn’t even know this band existed until I saw their name on the bill of the Cannibal Corpse tour, so I was certainly curious about what they sounded like.  What I did gather from the two songs I heard from them is that they would very much appeal to fans of the newer brutal death metal style who enjoys the sound of “Telesis” by Emeth.  They were a young band who had the chops to get a crowd moving, but it was their newly christened drummer (whose name I cannot remember, I apologize) that I found myself paying the most attention to, particularly during the last song.  While I felt that Arkaik‘s material left a bit to be desired, the band put on a spirited performance that won over most of the early crowd.

Next up was Hour of Penance, who are fresh on the release of their new album, “Sedition“.  This was one of the bands that I had come to see since I was a huge fan of their last two albums, so I waited eagerly as I watched the crew quickly change out the kits and band do their sound check.  As the band had gotten into their set I could hear that their technical riffs sounded a bit muddy most of the time.  The only real clear points was when the solos or bridges were being played, particularly during ‘Misconception’ and ‘Paradogma’.  The triple-vocal attack was executed well enough and the band was energetic and happy to be there.  Despite their garbled guitar tone, the crowd gave them a warm welcoming.  Also, I don’t think I have been called a “mother fucker” so many times at a concert by a non-local hardcore act, but Paolo Pieri (guitars, vocals) sure changed that.

Abysmal Dawn is another band that I know has been around for a long while, but I just never took the chance to get to know their material.  They seemed to be well-versed in their craft of atypical melodic death metal, but again, this seems to be a group where there were some great ideas, but rather lackluster in execution.  I do remember their bassist, Eliseo Garcia, was trying to do his best Ross Dolan (Immolation) impression by nearly hitting the audience with his long hair whilst headbanging.  Abysmal Dawn‘s music was pretty clear for the majority of the time with the audience was certainly into what they were playing and that’s what counts.

One of the most anticipated acts of the night had to be Skeletonwitch.  The reason for that is not only because people seem to dig their black/thrash metal mixture, but because they are my adoptive states hometown heroes, hailing from Athens, Ohio.  Because of this the majority of the venue was excited to see the band perform their 30 minute set.  I have to say while I was never that big of a fan of their studio material, they are an incredible live band, particularly because of frontman Chance Garnette (and brother to guitarist Nate Garnette).  He moved up and down the stage with the crowd in the palm of his hand, making sure the crowd knew who they are and what they were doing.  Because of Skeletonwitch‘s performance I may have to go back and see if there was something I missed in their studio albums.  They were definitely one of the highlights of the night.

About god damn time.  It was Exhumed‘s turn to destroy the stage with their gore-laden mixture of death metal and grindcore.  The last time I had seen Exhumed was eight years ago, so I was long over-do to see them live once again.  The band played an inspired set of material that spanned through “Gore Metal, “Anatomy Is Destiny“, and “All Guts, No Glory.  Wes Caley (guitars) and their new bassist (whose name I also cannot remember…) would switch off between high and low vocals so Matt Harvey (guitar, vocals) could mainly focus on his high-pitched Jeff Walker-esque screams throughout the set.  The highlight had to be when the band began to play the classic track ‘Limb From Limb’, and a crew member dressed in surgical attire wielding a chainsaw had come out onto the stage and let the audience hear the guttural rumbling of its engine, then running back off.  That same man would return during finale of ‘The Matter Of Splatter’ as he would run through the crowd with a severed head in a blood soaked cardboard box.  The only issues I had was I thought Danny Walker’s drums were a bit buried in the mix and I don’t believe the band played anything from “Slaughtercult“, but overall Exhumed definitely crushed it.

Nile, another legendary band had taken the stage.  I had never had the chance to see Nile live before, but I was excited to see what they would do since I am a huge fan of their music.  The crowd got antsy as we watched the members slowly come out one-by-one.  One thing that was really odd to the rest of the audience and myself was it seemed like the sound engineer was ignoring Karl Sander’s pleas for higher sound in both his microphone and monitor.  After several moments of Karl attempting to get the engineers attention, he would take his guitar off and went to the engineer to speak his mind about something.  He seemed very frustrated and I for one don’t blame him.

Even when the performance did start, Karl was having issues with his equipment, and he unfortunately had to sit out of the first song, ‘Kafir’.  Despite the technical issues, Dallas-Toler Wade (guitars, vocals) and Todd Ellis (bass, vocals) were quick to take over Karl’s vocal portions for the next couple of songs, which included ‘Sacrifice Unto Sebek’ and ‘Ithyphallic’.  Karl was able to play his guitar with those songs and was finally able to rejoin on vocals for the closing tracks of ‘Sarcophagus’ and ‘Black Seeds Of Vengeance’.  George Kollias was a monster behind his drum kit a usual, so that was no big surprise.  There were other members of bands behind him just watching in awe as George pummeled his kit with great force, speed, and surgical precision.  I was really happy to see Nile receive such a good reception and I thoroughly enjoyed their performance.

I mentioned above that I don’t believe The Black Dahlia Murder should have bigger billing than the last two bands because of how long they have been around, and if it weren’t for them then The Black Dahlia Murder wouldn’t even exist.  But, I digress.  One thing I will always give The Black Dahlia Murder credit for is their live performances.  While I have never been a fan of their material, the band has always sounded extremely tight and well-rehearsed when I had seen them other times, and that night was no different.  Trevor Strnad is a fantastic frontman who really knows how to get the crowd going (even if he does love to show off his dumb “heartburn” stomach tattoo).  Since they were in the last supporting slot they had a 45 minute set compared to the 30 that all of the previous bands had, so it was pretty funny to see a good third-or-so of the venue standing anemically with their arms folded while the rest were bouncing off of the walls.

This was the performance I had been waiting for all night.  Cannibal Corpse will never disappoint when it comes to their live shows, and with this being just over a month since the release of “Torture” I was looking forward to it more than ever.  When the band came out the crowd erupted into cheers, and the group already knew they had us at their mercy.  Without saying a word they played the first three tracks of “Torture” with great ease, and off George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher went, headbanging in his signature way.  I was so happy to see that ‘Scourge of Iron’ sounds so amazingly heavy in a live atmosphere.  They had also played ‘Crucifier Avenged’, ‘Encased in Concrete’, and ‘As Deep As the Knife Will Go’, too.  Scattered throughout the new material were fan-favorites like ‘Unleashing The Bloodthirsty’, ‘I Cum Blood’, ‘Born In A Casket’, ‘I Will Kill You’, and ‘Hammer Smashed Face’.  But, the real highlight of the performance had to be when Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder came out and did guest vocals on ‘Stripped, Raped and Strangled’.  I was skeptical when the monstrous “Corpsegrinder” announced him to the stage, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear his vocals fit very well into the music.  There really is never anything to ever complain about when it comes to a live set by Cannibal Corpse.  They have one of the most consistent stage shows in all of the music industry, and I dare for anybody to challenge that assertion.

This was the very first time a show like this has happened at Bogart’s, and they had vowed that if the show was sold-out they would put on another just like this one next year.  Judging by the way this show was, I hope they do it.  I can’t think of any real death metal festivals that stay within two hours of driving distance and I would gladly go to another one of these, especially if the line-up is as strong as this years was.  If you missed the Death On The Vine festival and you are a fan of about half of these bands, then I pity you.

-Jon Burkan