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Live Review: Disma/Arsis/Immolation at Webster Hall in NYC, June 28 2010

Immolation’s Bob Vigna (L) and Ross Dolan (R) cast down a token of malice.

Immolation‘s official headlining tour for Majesty And Decay was not even to begin until the onset of autumn, but since neither of the planned New York State shows were going to be hosted anywhere near the City (and no one hates commuting more than a New Yorker!), the band offered a one-off local performance in the close-quartered and mercilessly humid setting of Webster Hall‘s basement crawlspace. The last-minute addition of old school supergroup Disma to the billing made it clear that it was to be no ordinary Wednesday night for refreshing and unwinding after a long day of slavework: this was a gathering of the New York Death Metal faithful– a tribal ceremony to invoke the restless spirits of the dead from their unearthly torment in the netherrealms. So it was too damned bad that Virginia’s clinical tech-metallers Arsis had to be in the middle of it all! But enough with the tedious exposition; here’s the review…

Craig Pillard and Daryl Kahan of Disma

Disma: Although Disma have only been around for so many years, their promise of traditional doom-laden death — performed by decorated veterans of Incantation and Funebrarum, no less — spread the word around the Northeastern underground like a fatal contagion. New Yorkers were especially stoked, as a fair crowd had already gathered for Disma’s opening slot; most conversations centered around Craig Pillard, whose abysmal vocal chords have gained such legendary status that almost every concertgoer fell to respectful (or dumbfounded) silence when he approached the stage. A man of few words or even gestures, Pillard’s startling array of tattoos spoke volumes enough with their cryptic semiotics: there was hardly any banter as Disma got down to the business of crushing, grinding, and annihilating all that stood in their path. However, the sound mix was typically weak for an opening band, so the guitars’ subterranean sludge could not be rendered at their most potent decibels; drummer Shawn Eldridge ended up being the star of the show for his deafening percussive work, steamrolling over fast, Swedishy d-beats and crawling doom passages alike with equal ferocity.

“So I heard there’s a revival of old school death metal…,” mentioned Pillard in one of the rare moments that he was possessed to speak. He went on to remind fans about the upcoming split EP with fellow supergroup Winterwolf (featuring Pillard’s Finnish counterpart, Antti Boman), and then commenced with a live tasting of the two new songs that were to be featured. Altogether, it was a short but decisively punishing set, and one that featured the entire body of work that Disma have to offer so far. From here on out, we can only anticipate whatever full-length concept that the band is currently conjuring up back in their New Jersey hideout…

Arsis. They could shred, I'll give 'em that.

Arsis: A band representative of the past decade that saw the once-earnest putridity of death metal become some sort of Acrobatics Guild, Arsis consists of the stuff that guitar nerds drool over. It’s precision metal purveyed by Berklee valedictorians who know all the best riffwork by mid-period Kreator, mid-period Death, and mid-period Emperor, and can slice right through them with the ease of a hot knife through an exposed abdomen. But what about songwriting talent? Unfortunately, that isn’t something that can be learned at music school. It follows that this hour-long set felt like it stretched on for ages, because it was basically a peep show for all the technical musicians in the audience who apparently can never get tired of the same old weedly-weedly-weeeee. Immolation couldn’t get up there soon enough!

Ross Dolan and Bill Taylor of Immolation

Immolation: It’s funny how New York’s most ancient and honored deathcult — who’ve built their foundation on as grim a topic as total loss of faith and the existential agony that comes with it — can still carry themselves without a hint of pretension. Frontman Ross Dolan could even be described as exuberant as he thanked the crowd multiple times for maintaining their patronage of the authentic and the old-school… on a work night (he teased, “I don’t know about you guys, but I have off tomorrow!” Rueful groans abounded). It was Immo’s first small-scale show in a long while, and more than a few noteworthy locals had shown up: Ross conducted a roll-call of sorts, identifying original drummer Dave Wilkinson (from their demo-days as Rigor Mortis, 20-odd years ago) as well as Danny Nelson of Malignancy (but where was Ron Kachnic? Probably at home, practicing his pinch-harmonics).

As this was supposed to be a precursor to the main tour for Majesty And Decay, the chosen setlist displayed a marked bent for the last four albums– this is also obviously the material that newest drummer Steve Shalaty is most comfortable with, since he only joined the band around late 2002-ish. The mid-’90s fare didn’t make the cut at all, but Immo had specifically included a few numbers from the classic debut Dawn Of Possession, and also the scathingly epic “Father, You’re Not a Father” from Close To A World Below– each of which Ross made a point to dedicate to the grizzled old-schoolers in attendance. In contrast to their genuinely affable day-to-day dispositions, Immolation — as performers — are nothing short of ruthless: bass-wielding Ross, with his impressive length of hair evocative of an elder god, castigated Christ with the weight of 2000 years of deception behind every growled word; founding guitarist Bob Vigna did not “play riffs” but rather scorched everything in sight through his adept pyromancy, with Bill Taylor following closely in line as the second axeman. There was hardly a lull in their onslaught, and though Majesty And Decay is admittedly not the strongest release they’ve come out with, even these songs gained an extra dimension of viciousness thanks in large part to the visceral battering of Steve’s drumwork. As they left yet another audience brutalized, disfigured, but in a state of total awe, it all served to further prove that Immolation shows are not merely to be “seen”; they are to be survived.

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