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Live Review: Pestilence/Vital Remains and others at the Gramercy Theatre, 6/17/2010

Jeroen Paul Thesseling and Yuma Van Eekelen

Immediately following their Maryland Deathfest appearance, Pestilence embarked on their first North American tour in 16 years, sweeping clockwise through the South and the West Coast, then cutting across the Middle States and parts of Canada. However, this plague’s final destination was the teeming Northeastern stronghold of New York City — incidentally, a region that was originally colonized by the Dutch, even bearing the name “New Amsterdam” before being captured by English battleships.  Were Pestilence going to cast down one last biological warstrike on downtown Manhattan, planting The Netherlands’ flag atop the piles of corpses to vindicate that territorial loss 400 years ago? Local hessians were overwhelmingly doubtful of this prospect: the post-Consuming Impulse albums are generally not appreciated here, least of all the newest one Resurrection Macabre. But some people seemed to register that this tour of America was fairly exclusive and unlikely to ever happen again, so out of a mixture of loyalty and curiosity they soldiered on over. And, hey!– it would at least be a great chance to pick up a Consuming Impulse shirt without getting utterly sodomized by the current Dollar-to-Euro exchange rate.

Praetorian: This band was allegedly tacked on to the bill at the very last minute because it was believed that Sacrificial Slaughter would not be able to make it to the venue. But, lo and behold!– the band showed up, and it set in motion a grievous, snowballing scheduling problem that would end up ruining the night. As a latecomer, this reporter can’t comment on how Praetorian’s set actually went over, though; they most likely played to an empty house, as it were.

Patrick Uterwijk and Patrick Mameli

Sacrificial Slaughter: Though they’re touted as a death metal and grindcore hybrid, Sacrificial Slaughter sound more like speed metal in the vein of Carcass’ Heartwork (an album which, contrary to popular opinion, is not at all grindcore and is hardly even death metal), or your average late-period Kreator album or something of the sort. Besides the lead guitar being rendered completely inaudible, this performance wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, and there were some cool allusions to Master in some of the more hardcore parts.

Enfold Darkness: Just your garden-variety “black/death”, but the songs are structured much more in line with metalcore rather than the aforementioned neoclassical styles. Not much else to elaborate on, except that this reporter could not look away from the vocalist’s Burt Reynolds-esque moustache. (Weren’t at least some parts of Deliverance also filmed in Tennessee?)

Vital Remains: Also known as Rhode Island’s token death metal band, Vital Remains at first crafted Morbid Angel-inspired epics awash in the chilling miasma of black metal, which was something of an anomaly in the Northeastern scene. But as time went on, they degraded into a toss-up between “brutal death” and “Gothenburg melo-cheese” — and then they got really popular! Indeed, Vital Remains seemed to be the audience’s most anticipated act on the bill, partially exemplified by the amount of squealing that went on once Tony Lazaro’s hulking figure crossed the stage. Because Vital Remains’ songs regularly clock in at least six minutes or longer, they could only treat their fans to a handful of material, so logically they focused on their later albums, especially the crowd-pleasing Dechristianize. As is tediously the usual, Lazaro was surrounded by new faces in this lineup; the new vocalist, while not particularly compelling, seemed to be of the genuinely amicable sort, and even tossed a free DVD to some overjoyed kid in the pit. Close to the end of their set, the band members suddenly turned their backs to the audience as the stage went dark, while the PA began playing “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana–  it was almost refreshing to hear that motif employed in a non-ironic context, for once. They ended with one of their latest tracks, “Hammering the Nails”, which reminds us of the issue: how many death metal songs about crucifying Jesus can be written before the concept descends to the same platitude as your average love-ballad or beer-anthem?

Jeroen and Yuma, again.

Warbringer: A good swath of the audience picked up and left after Vital Remains made their exit, but there was still a healthy crowd of self-styled “thrash metal” guys waiting out for Warbringer. The fans were not at all disappointed: Warbringer burst out with their namesake bellicose energy, immediately inciting the small crowd up front to start brutalizing one another. Though they certainly have attitude to their credit, their songwriting is as bland as to be expected from any other big name in the newfangled Thrash Revival movement: the riffs might be cast from the same ore as the classic ’80s bands, but the end products fail to shine with the same spirit that earned those bands their accolades.

Warbringer only got through perhaps five short songs before being told that they had to leave the stage to keep the show on schedule. The audience was clearly not pleased, and started up with chants of, “One-more-song! One-more-song!”. And when that failed to work, they resorted to, “Gramercy-sucks! Gramercy-sucks!” Then finally, the rallies degenerated into an enraged, “Bull-s***! Bull-s***!” At this point, the frontman ran back on stage and announced that Pestilence were OK with Warbringer playing one more song (was this out of magnanimity, or was it to avoid incurring the wrath of the crowd?). So, yes — they were able to rip through another short number, but they did so at the expense of a foreign, more time-honored band who were sacrificing much just to complete an exclusive U.S. tour. The stench of injustice hung acridly.

Pestilence: Insultingly, still more attendees left the venue as Pestilence got ready to make their appearance, and the floor emptied out into eerie sparseness save for a fringe of diehards clinging to the frontlines (strangely enough, there were still a lot of people sitting around in the back; these must have been the really old-schoolers who were taking it easy so they wouldn’t throw their backs out). Frontman Patrick Mameli seemed to be under a particularly morose spell — probably an admixture of fatigue and disappointment at the scheduling bungle and the dismal turnout. His and Patrick Uterwijk’s guitar tones did come out with that classic Saharan aridity, but the mix for the night flattened them into oblivion, so the rhythm section came to dominate the acoustics. Bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling played circles up and down the fretboard like a zombified Jaco Pastorius, though his high-strapped, herky-jerky jazzman stance caused some onlookers to scoff amongst themselves. Brand new drummer Yuma Van Eekelen was the most charismatic of the performers, pummeling away at what seemed to be a fairly utilitarian kit whilst headbanging à la a young Dave Lombardo.

Pestilence circa 1989

The setlist was exactly the same as for Maryland Deathfest VIII, except of course this time it was abbreviated quite a bit, which meant that the Resurrection Macabre songs took prevalence (aargh!). The new material fell largely on unenthusiastic ears, but the fans up front went wild for the few older songs that were featured: “Dehydrated” (with the agonizing inclusion of “Dehydrated II”), “Chemo Therapy”, and “Land of Tears”. The catch here, though, is that Pestilence took undue liberties with the arrangement of all these songs; only “Land of Tears” actually benefitted from this, as that cloyingly-sentimental synth break in the middle was cut out completely. After coursing through barely a half hour’s worth of stage-time, Mameli sadly informed the audience that there was only time for one more song, and surely enough it turned out to be “Out Of The Body”: at this point the guitars finally broke out into their proper volumes, supplying the aural terror to that nightmare scenario of parasitic infection. When Pestilence exited, the fans also expressed their disgruntlement, but they didn’t put up a fight like the Warbringer crowd did and were easily cowed out of the room by security. “Disappointing” is the word that best describes this performance; Mameli and crew probably felt the same about most of the tour, and so it’s not likely that they’ll be tempted into crossing the Atlantic again. Plus, being blown off stage by a band like Warbringer has to be humiliating.

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