Death DTA

support Abysmal Dawn + Loudblast
author AP date 22/03/15 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

It’s rare, at least in Denmark, to experience a weekend boasting concerts by two legendary artists. Amager Kulturpunkt, which includes the venues BETA and Amager Bio, had nonetheless managed the feat with Corrosion of Conformity rejoined by Pepper Keenan on the Saturday, and the ‘tribute’ to the late Chuck Schuldiner that is the Death DTA collective on the Sunday. This review of course concerns the latter, which for every Copenhagen or Malmö based death metal connoisseur should have been an unmissable event, but which alas did not manage to sell out the 1000-capacity venue.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Loudblast

Our trusty metal professor Ellis ‘EW’ Woolley may have slaughtered this long-running French death metal institution in his review of this same tour, but although I do agree to some extent with his observations that Loudblast’s style is quite derivative, and lacking in true standout moments, it’s admirable, the enthusiasm shown by the four musicians despite facing a practically empty hall. Vocalist/guitarist Stéphane Buriez seems completely unfazed by the circumstances, doing his utmost to incite a reaction from the handful of early-comers, a good portion of whom happily oblige. There’s a number of patrons sending cries of ”Woo!” into the air, and showing their appreciation with head banging when Loudblast vary the shred-attack with bouts of cool rhythm patterns by drummer Hervé Coquerel in second track “The Bitter Seed”. Buriez and Coquerel, as well as bassist Alex Lenormand & guitarist Drakhian play the material with the utmost tightness, and carry themselves with a professional’s class, but regrettably, the group’s recorded material isn’t inspired or inspiring enough to generate a particularly strong reaction from myself nor, by the looks of it, most of the other people now steadily pouring in. Props for the willpower, and in particular the consistently engaging performances of Coquerel, whose ideas and maniacal pounding of the skins often deliver the buoyancy needed to keep Loudblast afloat. But there is no escaping the fact that even the best tracks, such as “Disquieting Beliefs” aired towards the end of the set, offer little excitement. A decent showing, but seriously lacking in A-ha! moments.

5

Abysmal Dawn

Formed in 2003, the Los Angeles, CA based technical death metal crew Abysmal Dawn are perhaps best known for their frontman Charles Elliott assuming Schuldiner’s role in the first incarnation of these Death DTA tours, and as such, it is no surprise, their inclusion as main support on it now. Mind you, the mental shred patterns, thundering blast beats and elegant grooves that comprise the band’s music are an instant and vast improvement from the opening act’s shenanigans. Track two “Inanimate” combines with finesse passages of headband-inducing riffage and sections of dizzying technical prowess - an approach reminiscent of Immolation - while the brilliant tremolo melody and confounding extremity of “Rapture Renowned” later on also has me mesmerised. The band, completed by guitarist Andy Nelson, bassist Eliseo Garcia & drummer Scott Fuller, perform with an almost arrogant sense of authority, remaining firmly in their fixed positions, yet sparing no energy in swinging their hair, brandishing their instruments, and grinning widely.

Indeed, Abysmal Dawn’s zest is infectious, which is manifest in the scarce, but violent moshpit which forms halfway through the set, and then continues for its duration. And, end of tour as this is, the band of course falls victim to a fantastic prank, with the entire tour crew invading the stage during “The Inevitable Return to Darkness” and engaging in a variety of random acts such as juggling tennis balls, ironing Death merchandise and throwing it into the audience, slamming cymbals with coat hangers, and even a ‘solo’ performed with an ironing board by the tour’s sound technician (Ironing Maiden? har har…). This hilarity combined with Abysmal Dawn’s convincing performance lifts the audience from its Sunday spirits once and for all, and as a result “In Service of Time”, with its deep groove and superb, textured drumming, concludes this support slot in grandiose manner, and to booming applause and cheers. The only things dragging Abysmal Dawn’s concert down tonight are their relative rigidity when it comes to expression, and the lack of intimacy upheld via very little interaction between band and audience.

Death DTA

The opportunity to watch Death live, and the prospect of any new recorded material from them ceased to exist in 2001, when the metal community lost one of its most important, revered and loved musicians, Chuck Schuldiner, to brain stem cancer. But in 2013, former members Sean Reinert (drums), Paul Masvidal (guitar) and Steve DiGiorgio (bass) recruited Charles Elliott of Abysmal Dawn and Matt Harvey of Exhumed to share vocal and additional guitar duties on a benefit tour dubbed Death DTA; thus giving many a connoisseur of death metal in the United States the long-awaited chance to relive (or in some cases, watch for the first time) the legend of Death in the band’s somewhat original capacity. That trek was swiftly followed by a sold-out three-week European tour later that year, with Max Phelps of Cynic at the helm, as well as multiple performances at various festivals on the continent the following summer paying homage to Death’s 1991 album “Human”. So successful were these ‘re-union’ shows, that Death DTA opted to hit European roads again this year to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Death’s “Symbolic” LP; a booking opportunity smartly taken by the Danish 3rd Tsunami Agency, and the reason, of course, for everyone’s presence at Amager Bio this Sunday evening.

It is thus no small amount of anticipation that lingers in the air of the now-packed downstairs area of the venue, and the release is understandably cathartic when the incense is lit and “The Philosopher” pours out the sound system. The four musicians constituting Death on this tour - Phelps, DiGiorgio, the legendary Gene Hoglan on drums, and Bobby Koelble on guitar - play the track with such authority and supreme confidence that the band’s relatively static demeanour never strikes me as an issue. For to experience the music that inspired virtually every death metal band that came after Death, to hear the unbelievable skill of songwriting underlying the songs, to witness the inhuman precision and prowess with which the gentlemen handle their instruments… There’s nothing else like it. Indeed, as the set segues into one of my personal favourites from the Death discography, the title track to 1988’s “Leprosy”, and then medleys into “Left to Die” from that same record; it occurs to me that Death DTA sounds fresh and inventive even though their ideas have been copied and reproduced thousands of times by now. “Overactive Imagination”, off 1993’s “Individual Thought Patterns” still remains death metal perfection; its melodies, riffs and solos far surpassing what any of their spawn have been able to muster. No surprise that the audience is boiling in ecstasy.

What truly distinguishes the music of Death, is how easy it is to appreciate despite the underlying extremity. The thick groove of a song like “1000 Eyes” plays like a subliminal call to head bang, while the dual tapping in “Without Judgment” would make any guitarist salivate in a mixture of envy and awe. It is a song that explains the existence of bands like At the Gates and The Haunted, both revered in their own right, yet miles behind the songwriting prowess of Schuldiner. The music here is brutal, technical, melodic, groovy, and catchy all at once, assembled into a nigh perfectly balanced setlist in which barely a weak song is aired. Indeed, the only thing one might be pressed to criticise is that Phelps, DiGiorgio, Hoglan & Koelble leave most of the brunt to be borne by the music, offering very little in terms of an animated performance to catch the eye. But that’s alright - I’m willing to living with less show and more musical quality when it’s as stupefyingly excellent as the title track “Symbolic”, or the two picks off that record which follow: “Zero Tolerance” and “Bite the Bullet”. For these three tracks, Steffen Kummerer, known for his frontman role in Obscura, takes over from Phelps with a more shrill style of growling - a nice touch adding variety to an already diverse setlist highlighting the entirety of Death’s 11-year spanning repertoire.

Kummerer’s appearance also marks the conclusion of the ordinary set, and after a brief pause of ground stomping and loud cheering, the encore begins, fittingly, with a medley of two of the first songs ever written by Schuldiner: “Zombie Ritual” and “Baptized in Blood” - both off 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore” LP. It’s always a special thing to witness music released the year one was born, and indeed the duo provides, for me, the icing on top of a very, very tasty cake. Another stage invasion by the tour crew and the other two bands on this tour ensues in celebration of Phelps’ birthday today, before the proceedings are wrapped up in convincing style with “Crystal Mountain” and “Pull the Plug” (featuring Charles Elliott on vocals) from 1995 and 1988, respectively. The tour crew then unites once more for a collective bow as the venue roars in appreciation of what it has just beheld, and Death is returned to its sweet slumber once more (for now, at least).

Setlist:

  • 1. The Philosopher
  • 2. Leprosy / Left to Die (medley)
  • 3. Suicide Machine
  • 4. Overactive Imagination
  • 5. Trapped in a Corner
  • 6. 1000 Eyes
  • 7. Without Judgment
  • 8. Spiritual Healing / Within the Mind (medley)
  • 9. Lack of Comprehension
  • 10. Flattening of Emotions
  • 11. Symbolic (feat. Steffen Kummerer)
  • 12. Zero Tolerance (feat. Steffen Kummerer)
  • 13. Bite the Pain (feat. Steffen Kummerer)

—Encore—

  • 14. Zombie Ritual / Baptized in Blood (medley)
  • 15. Crystal Mountain
  • 16. Pull the Plug (feat. Charles Elliott)

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