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Bands on display at Worcester Rock and Shock festival

By Daniel Ortner

Section: Arts

October 17, 2008

The Rock and Shock festival in Worcester is an annual three-day celebration of horror films and heavy metal. Just as horror films run the gamut from silly satire to dark brooding scare fest and from gorexploitation to sublime psychological masterpiece, so to did the range of bands and musical performances offered at this festival. I choose to only attend on day of the festival, because Sunday night was headlined by a band I had no interest in seeing (Insane Clown Posse) and I had already seen Saturday nights headliner, the violent and hilarious Gwar, several times lacked interest in any of the other bands playing that day. Friday night on the other hand offered something for all metal palettes. From the genius progressive explorations of Between the Buried and me to the lead driven smashing sound of Children Of Bodom and the heavy plodding death metal of the legendary Obituary.

I missed the first two opening bands in the process of trying to get my Press Pass for the show, Interviewing JB Brubaker one of the guitarists of August Burns red, and as I went over to the next door horror convention to meet Between the Buried. The members Between the Buried and Me were modest and down to earth and it was a pleasure to get to talk to them about their music and influences. This was a pretty lame convention overall, with lots of no name celebrities trying to charge 20 dollars a pop for a signed picture. I got to meet, Chris Sarandon who plays the voice of Jack Skellington in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas as well as Brian O’Halloran who plays one of the Clerks in Kevin Smith’s iconic films, which was pretty exciting. However, the festival lacked interesting give-aways, events or a feeling of excitement and happening which makes for a truly worthwhile festival.

By the time I got back to the Palladium, August Burns Red had just gotten on stage. Their aggressive metal core styling carried pretty well. As promised, there were no singing parts and the sings were focused on the metal and very aggressive end of the spectrum. The crowd was responsive and the pit had a lot of momentum and energy. Though this audience was far from the typical one that would attend one of their shows, August Burns Red probably won over quite a few new fans with a very solid performance. There were a couple of nagging weaknesses however. While lead singer, Jake Luhrs, put on a pretty solid performance he was lacking in crowd interaction and didn’t really engage the audience very much. Moreover, he asked the audience to sign along if they knew the words to parts of songs but never turned over the microphone to actually capture the crowd’s singing. He lacked real gravitas or presence and didn’t elevate the material to a higher level of quality.

I feverishly awaited the performance of Floridian death metal titans Obituary. Coming from the Sunshine State, I suppose I have a special affinity for this brand of metal no matter how cliché or overblown songs can be. Moreover, Obituary just last year put out a one of the best records of their discography (Xecutioner’s Return) after their early 90’s masterpieces. Obituary however let me down thoroughly and completely. Their performance was plodding and they absolutely failed to invoke energy from the crowd. Lead singer John Tardy let his vocals blend into the music so thoroughly as to eviscerate the chance of a single memorable sound. The guitar solos became muddled under the bass playing. The highlight of this set was, sadly, a Celtic Frost cover which says quite a bit about the sound of the bands original material. Playing Slowly We Rot, one of their oldest as best known tracks, as a final song was pretty appropriate, both because it was one of the few solid songs on the set and because it seemed to literally describe the stature and impact of this band slowly dissolving as they continued to play lifelessly. I’ve heard good things about Obituary’s live performances in the past, so I can’t say if this was the result of poor technical work or the venue, but I was incredibly disappointed by this set.

Between the Buried and Me, however, has never let me down in the five times that I have seen them live. Last time I saw them, in the progressive nation tour with Dream Theater and Opeth they played a somewhat strange set that involved a mix of songs into a single song without discernable breaks. I found it quite amazing but a bit jarring and not nearly as incredible as seeing them play their whole Colors album from start to finish. This set was more traditional with a mix of songs of their Colors and Alaska albums. BTBAM played a pretty solid set of five songs, which is quite lengthy considering that their average song extends to beyond 7 minutes.

Unfortunately, no tracks from the incredible Silent Circus album were played nor any from their self titled debut. Additionally, hearing songs from Colors played out of order is a somewhat strange experience. Because each song has a transitional intro and outro connecting to the prior and next song, listening to songs out of order felt like being dropped on the ground running. Still, this set was a treat. Opening with the pummeling track All Bodies, BTBAM’s music struck the perfect blend between incredibly technical and destructive. The crowd ate up their music and danced along in worship and appreciation. Epic closer White Walls truly blasted the crowd with an amazing and eclectic diversity of riffs and sounds.

Singer Tommy Rogers gave it his all, as did each and every member of this band and they delivered an incredible set.

The Black Dahlia Murder always have had a killer sense of humor, and they decided to dress up as Mystery Inc. The lead singer came out of stage in a Scooby Doo costume and wore it throughout the set. Having seen TBDM many times over the past years, I can safely say that this was among the best performances of theirs that I have experienced. Since I last saw them, they released the powerful and pummeling Nocturnal and their set list was buttressed by the awesome tracks. In the past, their felt drawn out and filter filled, but tonight ever note hit home squarely in the neck as I furiously banged by neck. This band has only gotten better over time, as they are driving the modern American metalcore movement into a more vicious and technical direction. Their vicious riffs and tempos were swallowed up by the crowd and it responded with destructive circle pit dancing and arm swinging.

Unfortunately, I had to leave half way through Children of Bodom’s set to catch the commuter rail. I was pretty pleased with what I go to see, however. The newer albums of COB have not done much for me, but live the songs came of quite well. The band had some serious technical difficulties earlier with a non-functioning keyboard that had to be changed several times. A few songs in, however, the bands sound solidified. I was really pleased to hear a couple of songs from my favorite COB album, Hatebreeder, including the very rarely played Bed of Razors. Overall, seeing COB live revived a waning interest for me and will make me more likely to give their newest material another chance.

Despite the monumental Obituary to my death metal dreams, this show was pretty intense and worthwhile. Between the Buried and Me and The Black Dahlia Murder delivered in a big way and left my neck sore for days, while Children of Bodom reinvigorated my interest and August Burns Red won over a new fan.

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