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CHIMAIRA, TESTAMENT DEMOLISH SOUNDS OF THE UNDERGROUND

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Sounds of the Underground seems like a headbanger’s wet dream: a minimum of fifteen bands playing general admission venues all day long at a third of the ticket price you’d pay for Ozzfest? Short of a multi-day festival, how could it possibly be any better?

Unfortunately, a series of lackluster performances this past Saturday at the Starland Ballroom’s parking lot in New Jersey turned Sounds of the Underground into a tour that seemed better on paper than it actually is. Luckily for metal fans, Chimaira were once again on hand to save the day with a performance that can only be described as unforgivingly brutal.

Vince and I arrived at the venue just in time to catch Amon Amarth rip through “Cry of the Black Birds,” the most recent single from their latest album, With Oden on Our Side, before set closer “The Pursuit of Vikings.” Vocalist Johan Hegg proudly stalked the stage shirtless, with no regard whatsoever for the fact that he has just about the least photogenic torso in metal. But the band’s exuberance, defined by their signature synchronized windmill-style headbanging, is undeniable. These Viking-metallers really do make you want to sail the seven seas on a massive ship, raping and pillaging wherever the wind takes you.

Unfortunately, things went down hill from there, performance-wise. For all the hype surrounding Job for a Cowboy, the band doesn’t seem to have yet figured out how to give a decent live performance. They sound alright and there’s plenty of movement on stage, but it all comes across as somehow robotic, lifeless, unenthralling; songs from the band’s debut EP, the pig-squeal-heavy Doom, came across as significantly more powerful than material from the band’s recent Metal Blade LP, Genesis, as evidenced by the surge in moshing when the band played any of its “older” material.

Next came “death rapper” Necro, who, from here on out, shall be referred to on this site only as “Crapro” or “Suckro.” This ass-clown is completely lacking in anything resembling talent, and actually resorted to trying to get the distinctly un-hip-hop crowd to chant “DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!” in an effort to warm them up to him and his “posse.” When that didn’t work and someone in the crowd started heckling him, Suckro had the cojones to ask the crowd to scream “FUCK YOU FAT FAGGOT!” at the poor kid. Somebody needs to Tupac Shakur this cum stain ASAP.

This might have been the most moronic thing we heard all day, if not for the fat fuck in a Hatebreed shirt standing in front of us in the food line from hell (seriously, the thing never fucking moved; say what you will about Ozzfest, but at least they have ready access to food and drink). “I’d rather get AIDS than fuck with a rubber,” this hardcore-loving, karate chopping lard ass proclaimed for anyone within ear shot. If you’re reading this, dude, we’d just like to go on record as saying we agree: we’d rather you get AIDS than fuck with a rubber, too.

We then stepped off of the static hot dog line to go watch All That Remains doing a special guest performance, and while it was pleasing to see that merch-chick-turned bassist Jeanne Sagan and rhythm guitarist Mike Martin have grown in their physical performance capabilities since last year’s underwhelming Ozzfest gig (indeed, lead guitarist Oli Herbert and drummer Jason Costa were at the top of their game as well), singer Phil Labonte’s vocals sounded shot – and were way too low in the mix, to boot. We’re still waiting to see this band give a live show to match the intensity of their recordings.

And what of Shadows Fall? These dudes need to go do a proper headlining tour, and they need to go do one, like, yesterday. Even with lead guitarist Jonathan Donais suffering from food poisoning, the band sounded top-notch, and vocalist Brian Fair was typically amusing in his stage banter; but the band played a nearly-identical, shockingly short set to the one they played on this past Spring’s Jagermeister tour. And before you start whining about how all festival sets are abbreviated, be aware that Suckro has been alloted a much longer amount of time to rock the mic. This was, frankly, total bullshit.

Every Time I Die were completely forgettable. And I say that as someone who has enjoyed their albums in the past.

By this point, “underwhelming” seemed to be the theme of the day – until the mighty Chimaira took the stage. When singer Mark Hunter felt the crowd wasn’t giving the band its all during a call-and-response section of the show, he chided them “That was about as loud as The Sopranos series finale was good,” but his bullying was wholly unnecessary, as those in attendance were pretty much foaming at the mouth throughout the band’s half-hour set. All karate kicking, ska dancing, endlessly irritating hardcore-style moshing ceased as soon as the first notes rang out, and the crowd took to simply beating the living shit out of another, just the way Kerry King taught us to (Vince’s sunglasses were amongst the casualties of this particular war). After ferocious set opener “Nothing Remains,” the band concentrated mostly on material from their most recent release, Resurrection, unleashing jugular-ripping good versions of “Black Heart,” “Needle,” and the title track before closing with their classics “Power Trip” and “Pure Hatred.” I defy anyone to NOT feel some sort of catharsis after screaming “I. HATE. EVERYONE!” with 10,000 of your fellow Chimaira fans. This band’s live performance is not to be missed.

Next was another guest appearance, this time by the living legends in Testament. Like Chimaira, they had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands as they tore through classic tunes like “Practice What You Preach,” “D.N.R,” and “Into the Pit.” They’re a little older, fatter, and grayer than you might remember them, but that hasn’t really dampened the force of their live performance; frontman Chuck Billy’s pipes still sound pretty damn good, Alex Skolnick can still shred with the best of ’em, and drummer Paul Bostaph, a recent addition to the ranks, proved once again why everyone from Slayer to Exodus has acquired his services at one point or another.

GWAR closed out the night just as the sun was setting, and I’ll say about them now what I said about them a decade ago, which is that they’re fun for a few songs, but their shtick gets real old real quick. But the Oderus-faithful didn’t seem to mind; conspicuously adorned in white t-shirts meant for permanent staining, they rushed to the front, only too-happy to get sprayed with fake blood, piss and semen as the band sang about sex cows. As for me personally, I’ll wait for Chimaira to come back to town.

-AR

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