Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

CRADLE OF FILTH / KILLSWITCH ENGAGE / SHADOWS FALL / SWORN ENEMY

FRIDAY JULY 11TH, 2003
THE COMMODORE BALLROOM
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA CANADA

Live Review By Sean Cowie

Love 'em or hate 'em, Cradle of Filth is one of the most talked about "Black" Metal bands today. The band's critics gripe about Dani Filth's voice, the band "selling out" for a major label deal with Sony or a hundred other things. But to see this band live would surely change the opinion of anyone who directs a negative comment in its direction.

During their off days from the mammoth Ozzfest, CoF decided to play a few cities along the way that they have yet to bless (curse??) with their spectacle of absurdity. Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom was chosen as the venue to house the festivities for the evening with Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and Sworn Enemy tagging along.

Before the show, Cradle fans were treated to an in-store autograph session at the local metal shop, Scrape Records (www.scraperecords.com). Fans dressed head to toe in black and leather waited patiently in a line that stretched around the block in 30+ Celsius heat while inside the band signed any and all things that their faithful devoted presented to them. Such diverse items as a replica of former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Bernie Parent's mask, to arms, to the obvious CDs were passed down the line as Dani, Paul, Martin, Adrian, Dave and Sarah didn't bat an eye as I handed over my 7 CD booklets. In their street clothes and without makeup, the only thing that separated the look of the band from its fans was the table they sat behind. Otherwise, they looked like your average long-haired metalhead who would be staring back at them from the audience just a few hours later. The most interesting moment came when a rather squirrely-looking guy behind me asked Dani in all seriousness, "If I drank your blood, could I sing as good as you do?", to which the singer replied, "I don't know if you could sing, but you'll sure be piss drunk!"

This particular evening was a busy one for concerts in Vancouver. Country superstars and current "anti-American" poster girls, The Dixie Chicks were playing at GM Place and just 2 doors down from The Commodore saw Marilyn Manson and his traveling roadshow of bizarre burlesque at The Orpheum. As the two lines began to form outside the respective venues, Granville Street turned into a wasteland of fishnets, bondage gear, bustiers and facial piercings. Needless to say there were more than a few double-takes as people walked by with their jaws dragging in front of them! Perhaps the most horrific sight was the 40+ Goth couple who looked like a half-dressed Uncle Fester and his lady friend who should really have added pants to her ensemble of bra, heels and thong because it looked like someone took a meat tenderizing hammer to her ass. A collective "EWWWW" circulated like "the Wave" at a hockey game as the gruesome twosome passed the lineup.

The doors opened at 8:00 PM and once inside I checked out the souvenir booth and saw respectably priced (at least by concert standards anyway) t-shirts going for $35. I had to see if the band was still flogging their now infamous "Jesus Is A C*#t" shirt and I was not disappointed. Since it didn't come in a 3XL, I had to leave empty handed (and I was SO looking forward to wearing it to the office on Monday!!)

At exactly 9:00, Sworn Enemy came on stage. This NYC hard core band is similar in style to Hatebreed (whose frontman Jamey Jasta produced their CD, As Good As It Gets) with the shaved heads, baseball caps and chest thumping machismo found among any group of 17 year old males. I was a bit curious why they were included on the bill since they are so far away from the audience who would come to see a CoF show but I went in with an open mind. They played a tight 30 minute, 8 song set and did a pretty good job of keeping the audience interested. Bass player Mike Couls was the most energetic of the bunch swinging his head around and throwing in the odd spin kick. Vocalist Sal Enemy stomped around the stage spouting anger and venom while Paulie Antignani beat the hell out of the drums. Such songs as "I.D.S.", "My Misery", "Fallen Grace", "One Way Trip", "As Real As It Gets", "Never" (with a nod to Metallica's "Damage Inc." thrown in for good measure) and the title track convinced me that we haven't heard the last of Sworn Enemy. Good job, guys!

With the help of scurrying roadies, the changeover for Shadows Fall was quick and in 20 minutes the Massachusetts natives hit the stage. I am still new to this band having picked up their new CD, The Art of Balance, just a week earlier. With The Art of Balance getting excellent reviews (including a damn fine cover of the Pink Floyd classic, "Welcome To The Machine"), I gave it a couple of spins and was impressed with their blend of genres from the dreaded mallcore, to old school thrash, to death and clean vocal trade-offs. I was genuinely looking forward to seeing this band but unfortunately they didn't sell me on their live set. Singer Brian Fair was overshadowed by his knee-length dreadlocks flying around and the rest of the band was just very bland. Each song seemed to sound like the last and with minimal introductions, many people in the audience were left to guess the songs. I did recognize "Destroyer of Senses", "Thoughts Without Words" and "A Fire In Babylon" since they are from the new CD.

Shadows Fall wrapped up a 40 minute set and at 10:50, Killswitch Engage came on stage to the greatest fanfare of the evening. Like Shadows Fall, I was new to this band but they won me over quickly with their sound. Vocalist Howard Jones (not to be confused with the New Age/pop keyboardist from the '80s) let us know in a hurry that they were appreciative to be on this bill. The band tore through a set that was unfortunately marred by the vocals being too low and for some reason, the sound guys never bothered to fix it. The vocals could barely be heard during the songs and the between song banter was almost completely inaudible! The frustrating thing was that they were the most chatty of the 3 bands so far but no one could hear a bloody thing they were saying! Sound issues aside, these guys have a real stage presence. Guitarist Joel Stroetzel has a 'fro like King Buzzo of The Melvins and he didn't stop banging his head through their set. Lead guitarist Adam Dutkiewics bounced around the stage, licked his guitar neck and created general mayhem, which was later revealed to be due to "liquid courage". Don't hold it against these guys that are on "the label formerly known as metal", Roadrunner Records. This isn't "mallcore". Killswitch Engage could be one of the best new metal bands out there, so check them out! I was disappointed that their set was so brief (30 minutes) but I'm eager to hear what else comes from Killswitch Engage.

As the midnight hour neared, chants of "CRADLE, CRADLE, CRADLE" began echoing through the venue. The masses were getting whipped up for the headliners and at 11:50, the lights went down and so began the spectacle known as Cradle of Filth. After a minor hiccup during the pre-recorded intro of "A Bruise Upon The Silent Moon" (which had to be repeated), Dani & Crew burst on stage amid a blinding sea of strobe lights directed towards the crowd. Besides being one of the smallest men I have ever seen, Dani Filth has got a voice which I was curious to find out if it was created through studio trickery, or if he could actually hit all those highs and lows. Amazingly, the piercing shrieks and guttural growls emitting from this tiny man are the real thing. His between-song banter is extremely witty and he even threw a dedication to Canadian metal bands, Sacrifice and Strapping Young Lad, while toasting legendary drummer Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Death, Testament, Old Man's Child, Strapping Young Lad) who seems to be in the audience of every metal show that comes through Vancouver.

"Sensory overload" could best describe the CoF portion of the show. "Cthulu Dawn" and "Her Ghost In The Fog" brought out a strange-looking she-devil thing on stilts that proceeded to stalk around the stage and do a neat little jig along to the music. Another character to grace the stage can only be described as looking like a cross between a giant tarantula spider and "The Gimp" from the film, Pulp Fiction. These two chased each other around the already crowded stage without any relevance other than for the audience to ask each other, "What the f*@k?!?!" True to form, I'm sure this was the band's intent. Between the Cirque du Soleil shenanigans, CoF played some old ("Ebony Dressed In Sunset", "Nocturnal Supremacy", "Dusk and Her Embrace") and some new ("Cthulu Dawn", "Her Ghost In The Fog", "Thank God For The Suffering") with such technical precision that even a non-fan couldn't help but appreciate what was being presented before them. At stage left was the band's background vocalist, Sarah Jezebel Deva, whose soaring operatic soprano only adds to the atmosphere and is the perfect balance to Dani's harsh vocals. Former At The Gates/The Haunted drummer Adrian Erlandsson brought his skills to the band on 2000's Midian CD and he showed me that he is a worthy replacement for Nicholas Barker in a live setting, too.

When the lights went up at 1:25 AM, I was left feeling exhausted, partly because I had been up since 6:00 AM that morning, worked 8 hours, raced to make it to the in-store and then was at the venue for another 6 1/2 hours, but also because of what I had just witnessed. These 4 bands were surely the most eagerly-anticipated bill that Vancouver metalheads had seen since the ill-fated Dimmu Borgir/Krisiun/Cryptospsy show of March 2002. A little hardcore, a little thrash, a little death and a whole lot of Filth left this city with something to remember. Of course, the papers will have a lavish spread reviewing the Dixie Chicks show with commentary on the controversy around them but those in attendance at The Commodore know where the real evil dwelled on Friday night.