Show Review: The Metal Alliance Tour Crushes Cleveland
Now that’s it’s been active for a few years, The Metal Alliance Tour has established itself as a tour that changes its tune every year (to varying degrees of success). 2014’s run adopted a shorter lineup than previous years in favor of longer set times, crowned with a headline run by Behemoth in support of “The Satanist.” The tour rolled through the Agora Theatre in Cleveland and played to a nearly-packed venue last Thursday.
Though anticipation was high for Behemoth, I was actually most excited to see Reading’s Black Crown Initiate, one of my personal favorite up-and-comers. They ripped through the fiercely technical Song of the Crippled Bull EP with only mild trepidation; they’re clearly still a new band, but their tightness now seems prophetic of future greatness. Unfortunately, a muddy, unbalanced mix lessened the impact of the catchy guitar lines, and their stage presence was minimal at best. Vocalist James Dorton seemed a bit confused, wandering on and off the stage during instrumental or clean-vocal sections. I was skeptical about the band’s reception given that Black Crown were the only musicians with clean vocals and without makeup, but the crowd response was excellent.
Every time I see Inquisition live I’m worried that the duo might sound a bit thin, and every time, I’m proven wrong. The band know how to write music so that the empty spaces don’t feel empty, and so that the tracks breathe without gasping for air. It takes a live performance to remember just how ridiculous drummer Incubus is; Inquisition wouldn’t be so compelling if the instrumentation wasn’t so dense and complex. The minimal application of Dagon’s froglike vocals also helped showcase the band’s instrumentation. Stage presence isn’t super applicable to an Inquisition performance, but Dagon did a pretty good job of moving around while executing his instrumental duties.
That made for a smooth transition to Goatwhore’s trademark brand of blackened death, music pivoting between putrid grooves and searing shred. Like Inquisition, the fact that Goatwhore only have one guitarist resulted in a bass-heavy mix, which was tolerable but reached a mosquito-buzz level of irritation during the taut pulses of blast beats. Similarly, Ben Falgoust’s vocals were clipping during the entire set. But it didn’t matter too much, as the instrumentation’s tightness nearly compensated for the sketchy vocal sound. People seemed to especially dig the material from the band’s upcoming album, “Constricting Rage of the Merciless.”
Goatwhore’s all-too-brief interval onstage should definitely have been placed above the unconvincing set of 1349, a band I’m always surprised are still relevant. Their performance was riddled with clichés: disorganized passages of blast beats, gimmicky lighting and (mismatched) costumery, and dramatized vocals drenched in Yngwie levels of reverb. Ironically, the guitar volume was finally brought up, despite the fact that 1349’s music was the least technical of the night. The overpowering kick drum, an annoyance that had been growing all night, reached a climax here, rendering the set about as engaging as an Emmure B-side.
But all that was forgotten when Behemoth took the stage. It wasn’t just the elaborately shredded costumes, the near-perfect mix, or the hanging incense burners; it was the fact that there was nothing inauthentic about the band’s confidence and zeal. Nergal spat and stomped across the stage, cackling as he played with eyes closed and abandoned his pick in favor of chaotic strumming. Each performative touch accented the nuances of the band’s compositions, from the roadie joining in on the tom fill at the end of “At the Left Hand Ov God” to the jackal costumes the band donned for their double encore. Their performance had a definite trajectory, weaving through the band’s extensive catalog while allowing pauses for breath and audience interaction. Nergal’s come out of recovery stronger than ever, and it shows – it was easy to tell that he was having a good time as he tore his way through the dark, contemplative tracks off “The Satanist.”
Despite slight annoyances in overall live sound, the excellent performances by the majority of the bands were more than enough to compensate, making this the best Metal Alliance Tour I’ve seen yet. Hopefully the tour chooses an equally appetizing flavor of metal for next year.