If you want to understand what’s really happening in today’s metal and hardcore scenes, you have to go to the bathroom.
In one trip to the head at the Los Angeles stop of the massive Sounds of the Underground tour, I found more truth than I could find in a thousand mosh pits. Pissing is, of course, a form of catharsis. When you’ve been listening to double-kick drumming, piercing guitar distortion and high-pitched screams for five hours straight, a trip to the bathroom comes as blessed relief. Most of the kids at the urinals were letting out whatever fluids they still had inside them after a vicious set by gore-metal extremists Cannibal Corpse. One guy next to me squealed, “Cannibal Corpse! That shit was tight!” Others announced their arrival with smiles and roars, aping the indecipherable bellowing of Cannibal Corpse’s vocalist. But the most telling bathroom moment came when I heard some random fan behind me yell, “All you metalheads, I love you! And you can suck my dick, hardcore kids!”
This year’s Sounds of the Underground Tour was an essay in the love/hate relationship between metal and hardcore, two very broad genres united by a preference for distorted guitars and screamed lyrics but little else. Up until the late ’90s, the two were sharply divided. You’d never see a traditional hardcore band such as Terror playing on the same bill as Cannibal Corpse. And despite the recent bumper crop of bands that fuse metal’s decimating nihilism and hardcore’s breakdown-heavy, fist-pumping solidarity, the rift remains.
Part of the problem is the bands themselves. Despite a handful of decent thrash riffs and an energetic screamer who yelped “Fucking shit! Let’s fucking headbang motherfuckers!” the members of the early-slotted Evergreen Terrace haven’t figured out how to successfully integrate their gravelly hardcore riffs and girlfriend-pleasing modern-rock choruses. But the other problem is the metal fan base, notorious for its protectiveness. Exhibit A: The members of melodic metalcore quintet As I Lay Dying were greeted by a hailstorm of empty beer cups as soon as they walked out for their dynamic headlining set.
Still, the idea of uniting these two scenes is noble, if impossible. Sounds of the Underground’s organizers were wise to recognize that the tour couldn’t be everything to everyone. The short set breaks, plentiful merch booths and myriad band signings kept the eight-hour affair moving along, so even if you grew tired of Trivium’s uninspired Gothenburg retreads (I certainly did), it wasn’t long until someone else had taken the stage. Beer also helped. And so did the knowledge that Gwar was going to be on stage soon (more on that later).
The August 12 Los Angeles date was the last stop on the month-long, cross-country tour, and a number of bands took the opportunity to let it all hang out. As I Lay Dying’s Tim Lambesis suggested that fans bum-rush the stage before launching into the last song of the entire tour; Terror’s charismatic frontman Scott Vogel pled for fans to “get the fuck up here, let’s destroy this place!” while his jersey-clad bassist twirled around and did tae kwon do kicks in time with their energetic, straight-ahead hardcore.
Not every band was so happy to attend the tour’s going-away party. The members of Swedish road-dogs In Flames sounded depleted, plodding through their set of electronics-aided melodic thrash with uncomfortable pauses between songs. Normally chipper vocalist Anders Fridén wore his customary dreadlocks and skinny red tie but otherwise seemed nothing like the man who won the hearts of a sold-out crowd at the Wiltern this past January. And the Black Dahlia Murder’s potbellied, half-naked screamer Trevor Strnad just sounded upset, screaming annoyingly at the audience to “C’mon you fuckin’ pussies, wake up!” over the band’s impressive, harmonized death-metal shredding.
Those brief falters aside, Sounds of the Underground offered up one memorable metal moment after another. Trivium’s spot-on cover of “Master of Puppets” made it a little easier to swallow its arena-rock posturing and got the evening’s biggest crowd response. Cannibal Corpse’s George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher announced, “For all you women out there, this one is called ‘Fucked With a Knife!'” — a comforting indication that the band members don’t take themselves nearly as seriously as their fans do. And at one point, In Flames’ lead guitarist played a beautiful solo while surrounded by mist and illuminated in a soft blue spotlight, providing the tour’s most picturesque scene.
And then there was Gwar. Billed as “special guests,” this quintet of evil space-monsters had taken over the venue well before its designated start time: The band’s retinue of mostly naked slaves chatted up the concertgoers outside and lead alien Oderus Urungus hacked Terror’s bassist to death with a gigantic sword at the end of Terror’s set. Words cannot possibly convey how amazing Gwar is in concert, so suffice it to say if you don’t approve of the ass-first impalement of porcine policemen, the torture and prolonged death of religious figures swaddled in giant swastikas, and endless streams of fake bodily fluids, you have no need for Urungus’s gargantuan papier-m’ché schlong. Surprisingly, Gwar has become a pretty competent thrash band after twenty years of extra-terrestrial debauchery. But that’d be pretty easy to miss if you spent most of the set dodging the blood spurting from a freshly decapitated effigy of President Bush.
But the best set by a landslide came from the group that came the farthest to be at the Gibson. The Polish black metal veterans in Behemoth looked amazing, windmilling their ass-length hair while decked out in corpse paint and gothic concoctions of leather chaps and metal spikes. And they sounded even better — the flexible, grinding guitars tickled and sped along in perfect lockstep with the drummer’s blast-beat barrage, and ringleader Nergal’s ferocious bellow crashed and roared into the musical maelstrom. Nergal didn’t have to win over the audience’s attention; his very being demanded it. He smiled devilishly at us during his solos and uttered charmingly translated pep-rally phrases such as, “Together we can conquer all motherfuckers!” and “Keep the flame alive! Chaos-fuckers!” When Nergal politely requested that we raise our devil horns, the audience was all too happy to oblige. It was the least we could do.
Bands on the bill:
As I Lay Dying: http://www.asilaydying.com/
In Flames: http://www.inflames.com/
Cannibal Corpse: http://www.cannibalcorpse.net/
Black Dahlia Murder: http://www.blackdahliamurder.org/
Evergreen Terrace: http://www.greenterracehxc.com/
Through the Eyes of the Dead: http://www.throughtheeyesofthedead.com/
The Chariot: http://www.thechariot.com/