Heart of Steel: Concert Review

Dimmu Borgir / Nevermore /
Children Of Bodom / Hypocrisy

The Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver, BC Canada
Monday, December 1st, 2003

Review and all pictures by Lord of the Wasteland

Vancouver metalheads have seen more than our share of metal shows in 2003. Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Strapping Young Lad, In Flames, Soilwork, Ozzy Osbourne, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall…we're pretty lucky 'round these parts. The latest and greatest package tour to roll through our fine city was comprised of Norwegian black/goth metallers Dimmu Borgir, American thrash legends Nevermore, the Finnish melodic/speed/power kids in Children of Bodom and Swedish death metal pioneers Hypocrisy. This bill was every underground metalhead's wet dream offering the theatricality of Dimmu Borgir, the stunning musicianship and vocals of Nevermore, the guitar prowess of Children of Bodom and a unique blend of old and new from Hypocrisy.

For a Monday night, The Commodore was surprisingly full. The lineup circled around the block, as everyone was eager to get inside. The diversity of the bands on the bill brought out everyone from a half-naked girl in a corset to the ubiquitous long hair/black t-shirt crowd to the corpse-painted Goth kids. Even drum god Gene Hoglan, a staple at EVERY Vancouver metal show, was among the crowd.

Hypocrisy opened the show, still touring in support of their poorly-received album from 2002, CATCH 22. Despite a 9:00PM set time, the floor was ¾ full and most people seemed pretty fired up to see the legendary Peter Tagtren, Mikael Hedlund and Lars Szoke. Hypocrisy's first album, PENETRALIA, hit the streets way back in 1992 and despite a semi-retirement in the late 90s, the band has steadily produced an album at least every other year. Owing more to the Florida death metal scene of the early 90s than to the melodic sound of their fellow Swedes, Hypocrisy never stagnates and each album has been different than its predecessor. The multi-talented Tagtren is a workaholic who, between releasing Hypocrisy records, also produces, mixes and does engineering for such bands as Immortal, Marduk, Children of Bodom, Destruction and Dark Funeral. Then he has his side-project, Pain, too. He is the Swedish Devin Townsend! This being their first time in Vancouver, Hypocrisy faced high expectations and their criminally short 30-minute set left the crowd wanting more. In their short time on stage, the band cranked out "Pleasure of Molestation", "Destroyed", "Killing Art", "Roswell 47" and a new song called "Eraser" from their forthcoming release, THE ARRIVAL. The band had a second guitarist on stage but I have no idea what his name was. They had no stage setup whatsoever either. It was the 4 of them and their instruments-THAT'S IT! I've been a fan of Hypocrisy since '95 and finally seeing them live was a real treat.

 

After a speedy 10-minute changeover, Finland's Children of Bodom stormed out to a massive reception. This was also the band's first time in Vancouver and their steadily increasing following coupled with the fantastic new CD, HATE CREW DEATHROLL, had the locals fired up. Wunderkind Alexi "Wildchild" Laiho should be a guitar hero based on what he can do. His (and Roope's) blistering solos are a highlight of CoB's music and he was in full guitar god mode tonight. He did the guitar-spin-around-the-neck trick, the finger-tap solos, the synchronized full band head bang…EVERYTHING that 80s metal had to offer. Laiho is a confirmed 80s metal junkie and his influences were on full display throughout their brief 30-minute set. New guitarist Roope Latvala (who replaced Alexander Kuoppala in July of this year) held his own against Laiho but there is no denying that this is Laiho's band. The guys opened with "Needled 24/7" from the new CD and played their classic "Every Time I Die" from 2001's FOLLOW THE REAPER CD. Also featured was "Silent Night, Bodom Night" and "Hate Crew Deathroll". I missed a couple of tracks while I was taking pictures but the fans were eating up everything the band did. When Laiho said that they only had time to do one more song, the fans reacted with loud "BOO"s. He said that they would definitely be back and even after the band left the stage, fans were chanting "C-O-B…C-O-B". I was really surprised at how warmly the fans responded to CoB. I thought their heavy use of keyboards, soloing and tongue-in-cheek lyrics would not go over well with the darker crowd, but Vancouver has proven me wrong!

 

Another quick changeover brought out Seattle's Nevermore. Despite only being allowed 45 minutes, the band covered songs spanning their eight year, six album career. Formed from the ashes of the underrated Sanctuary in the early 90s, Nevermore was touring in support of their latest album, ENEMIES OF REALITY. Vocalist Warrel Dane came out and seemed to be a bit loopy on something, as just brushing the hair out of his face seemed a difficult task. Despite any imbibing, Dane's voice was in top form as he hit all the high and low notes perfectly, especially on "The River Dragon Has Come" and "I, Voyager". Lead guitarist Jeff Loomis is unbelievable. His 7-string guitar creates a wider range of sounds and his impressive solos are also very unique. New second guitarist Steve Smyth (formerly of Testament) is unfortunately overshadowed by Loomis but his presence is necessary to capture the sound made by the band in the studio. Jim Sheppard's thumping bass on "The River Dragon Has Come" was also a highlight. Standing a mere 3-4 feet away, I could actually feel my pant legs move! Van Williams is a double-bass maniac who seemed like an octopus behind his enormous drum kit. "The Seven Tongues of God" and "Engines of Hate" are two of my favorite Nevermore tracks and I was glad to hear them, but I was a bit disappointed they didn't play "Tomorrow Turned Into Yesterday", "Believe In Nothing" or (unless I missed it) ANYTHING from the DREAMING NEON BLACK album?!?! I was most shocked to hear the band drag out their horrendous cover of the Simon & Garfunkel folk classic, "The Sound of Silence".

SETLIST

Narcosynthesis
The Seven Tongues of God
Never Purify
The River Dragon Has Come
The Sound of Silence
I, Voyager
Engines of Hate
Enemies of Reality

 

After 25 minutes, the headliners hit the stage for a lengthy 1¾ hour set. Dimmu Borgir has often been criticized as black metal sell-outs or Cradle of Filth "wannabes", which is completely preposterous. They dress all in black, wear corpse-paint and sing about the evils of religion within wordy song titles. While they have abandoned the primitive cacophony that a "true" black metal band is supposed to adhere to, Dimmu Borgir still plays black metal but with a twist. Why this is a problem, I have no idea, but the 1,000+ fans that packed the club and went nuts as the house lights lowered to make way for Dimmu Borgir didn't seem to mind either. The band came out, stood at the edge of the stage bathed in blue light with their arms raised, and the crowd went crazy as the band launched into "In Death's Embrace". Naturally, the setlist was filled with material from their latest album, DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON. "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse" sounds just as bombastic live as it does on record and Vortex's clean vocals were spot on. "Cataclysm Children" is another personal favorite that the band played from the new album and it was just as good as the original. They even dusted off a couple of oldies for the encore, 1994's "Raabjorn Speiler Drangheimens Skodde" and the title track from the following year's STORMBLAST album. I was hoping to hear "Reptile" or "Tormentor of Christian Souls" but left unlucky. Dimmu Borgir is a band whose sum does not equal its parts. Each member is CRUCIAL to the overall sound of the band. Nicholas Barker's drumming is a sight to see, as this massive mountain of a man is an absolute blur behind his kit. Shagrath creates an ominous presence with his long, black hair, leather and corpse-paint, however keyboardist Mustis has to be the creepiest looking of the bunch. He actually LOOKS like walking death!! His atmospheric keyboard parts create the perfect backbone on many of the band's tracks. Galder's powerful leads coupled with Silenoz' driving rhythms rounded out the crowded stage. Dimmu came out for one encore and I'm sure the fans wanted a second and a third but the 1:30AM curfew time was upon us.

Dimmu Borgir's last appearance in Vancouver was a complete disaster. For their March 2002 date, the promoter booked a rave club for the show on a Friday night but it had to be over by 10:30 and everyone out so that the club kids could come in with their visors and soothers. Problems began when the promoter didn't have keys to the club and the crews couldn't get access to it until 4:00 PM when the show was supposed to begin at 7:30. Opening acts were Krisiun (who didn't even get to play) and Cryptopsy (who played with 1 PA because the promoter didn't have any of the monitors or equipment). Cryptopsy hit the stage at 8:45, played for 10-15 minutes, and by the time the set was changed over, Dimmu got to play a total of 4 songs (20 minutes). A near riot broke out (no thanks to Shagrath) and I thought we had seen the last of the band around these parts! Luckily, a new promoter booked this tremendous bill (no one has heard from the idiot who booked the last show-I'm sure he's at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean somewhere J) and things went off without a hitch.

SETLIST

Intro
In Death's Embrace
Lepers Among Us
Cataclysm Children
Vredesbyrd
Kings of the Carnival Creation
Progenies of the Great Apocalypse
IndoctriNation
The Insight and the Catharsis

ENCORE
Spellbound
Raabjorn Speiler Drangheimens Skodde
Stormblast
Mourning Palace

One funny note about the evening: Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Testament, Death, Strapping Young Lad) appeared at the side of the stage at one point, only to be refused admittance by the security staff to the press area to take a picture! Hoglan played drums on Galder's side project, Old Man's Child's 1998 album, ILL-NATURED SPIRITUAL INVASION. Not good enough to get by the thick-necked thugs, I guess!!

As the show ended, we all left completely blown away by the 4 bands that mesmerized us for the previous 4½ hours. It is a rare occasion that a large bill has ALL top-drawer talent that can keep a crowd's attention throughout but they did just that.