Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Deicide / Marduk / Gorguts / Withered Earth
Pine Street Theater, Portland, OR, USA
May 12, 2001

Review by Michael De Los Muertos
Pictures and Additional Commentary by Ice Maiden

Marduk After a long absence, caused mostly by the unfortunate dearth of metal shows in our neck of the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest woods, Ice and I have returned! Like a bad case of herpes, you can't get rid of us, and as long as there are metal shows on this earth we'll return again and again for the benefit of our devoted readers, including our MOST devoted reader, Mr. Joel Thomas "Butch T." Bignell! (Ice Maiden's Commentary: We are sending some big ol' kisses your way Mr. Bignell!!! We know you missed us!) Now, without further ado, we take you back to the hallowed halls of heavy metal, attended by the twin flaming-winged cherubs of speed and power, blazing our unholy path into the glorious Valhalla of eternal steel.

I looked forward to this show with both enthusiasm and trepidation. I was extremely stoked to get a chance to see Marduk, but the thought of All Out War -- a hardcore straightedge outfit -- on the bill was a little disconcerting, mainly due to the contingent that such an act tends to bring out. Luckily as we filed through the dank dungeon of the entrance to the Pine Street Theater I spied a little sign above the doorway reading, "Please Leave Your Politics Outside." Good advice for militant straightedge kids who have been known, at least in Portland, to be disruptive at shows when bands that do not subscribe to their philosophy are on stage, as we unfortunately witnessed with our own eyes at that same venue last August. All politics aside, it turned out All Out War canceled, and had been replaced at the last minute with Withered Earth. Quite fortunate -- we had a 100% hardcore-free metal show!

Withered Earth Withered Earth started out pretty weak, but thankfully they got better as their set wore on. Their forté is fairly standard death metal, and while it's easy enough to get into if you like death metal, I wouldn't call it particularly innovative or noteworthy. I think these guys need a couple of songs to warm up, because the energy just wasn't there during the beginning of their set. Most of the crowd was fairly inattentive, wandering vacuously around the big open room of what's unfortunately left of the Pine Street Theater (about which I'll rant later) like lost sheep, many people still frustrated from discovering upon arrival that beer is no longer served here, and that even the bar down the street is closed. By the end of the set this band finally seemed to hit their stride and herded the wandering sheep back into the corral. While it was still mostly grinding riffs and growly vocals, at least it was catchy. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: Mr. Bignell, I could never see Withered Earth again and be completely happy, you know? Nah, I guess you don't know, because apparently you never get to see any good bands where you live. That's really too bad. I guess you'll just have to rely on my attempt at commentary when I say that "You didn't miss much with Withered Earth.")

GorgutsThe next band to suit up and take the stage was Gorguts, another brutal death metal act. I'd heard mixed things about this band, some very positive things as well as some pretty indifferent reactions. I was surprised when they began on a very strong groove and kept the energy very high throughout their entire set. A dynamic bassist and a pretty formidable frontman are chief among Gorguts' assets, and they used them to good advantage at this show. Vocals were of the standard death metal variety (of course), and while their sound offered nothing really new or innovative, these guys were certainly passionate about metal. A good attitude is half the battle at a metal show, so on the whole Gorguts gets excellent marks from me. Sometimes if you mean business, you can pull off a live set a lot better than even seasoned veterans (Deicide, take note!), and from that standpoint I'd put Gorguts at the second-best of the evening. The hapless frontman even managed to grin and bear it (or grin and quaff it, as it were) when, after appearing onstage with a beer bottle in hand, he was rudely berated from the audience for being the only beer-bearing "have" in an ocean of thirsty, metalheaded "have-nots." Shame on thee, Pine Street Theater! Class warfare is alive and well in metal, but it's all in fun. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: Gorguts was good, Mr. Bignell. I think you'd have liked them. Well, you'd have liked them if you like death metal. They certainly weren't mallcore, and I know you have an affinity for that, so maybe you wouldn't have liked them. I don't know, Mr. Bignell, now that I think about it, maybe you wouldn't have liked them. I think our tastes may be divergent. I'm sorry, Mr. Bignell -- I used the word "divergent" -- that's kind of a big and flowery word. It basically means "different". I think our tastes might be different, Mr. Bignell.)

MardukAfter Gorguts, darkness fell -- it's noticeable at the Pine Street, whose main chamber is illuminated by two grimy skylights which are essentially the only lights in the place, since apparently the management is too cheap to even pay their power bill. If so, Marduk's amps must have been plugged into some pretty big potatoes! (Anybody remember the "potato clock" experiment from seventh grade?) Excitement was high when the fastest axes in Sweden burst onto the stage, resplendent in black leather, bullet belts, gooey corpse paint and perspiration-smeared tattoos. The furious blast beats, moaning guitars and blistering vocals that showered the crowd like blood in a 1960s Hammer Studios horror film quickly put to shame any that had come before on this stage. Speed and punishment were Marduk's claim to fame. While they didn't break out anything from Panzer Division Marduk until midway through the set, you wouldn't know it, for the drumming of Frederick Andersson uniformly galloped at about the pulse rate of a hummingbird on crystal meth, and the rest of the band had no choice but to keep up. Predictably for the hordes of rabid black metallers in classic "FUCK ME JESUS" T-shirts, the highlight of the set, and indeed of the whole show, was "Christraping Black Metal." It was very easy to get lost in the churning, thrashing, blasphemous glee of a band that definitely knows what they're doing as well as Marduk does. This band was something that black metal bands rarely are: just pure fun! Well done, guys. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: Woohoo!!! These guys were lit! Fast, furious, and pissed off at any notion of god. I give them a big thumbs up, Mr. Bignell! Next time folks get into a discussion about image in metal, my example of why it can be great will be Marduk. They had the make-up, they had the upside-down crosses-not only was the music competently performed, but Legion, the vocalist, served as a great mini-stage show just by showing up. And then he was kind enough to snap pictures with his fans afterwards!)

DeicideStrangely it was the younger metalheads, and the hardcore and mallcore kids in the crowd, who seemed to be most looking forward to Deicide. I must say, while I doubted they'd live up to Marduk's energy, I was very curious to see Glenn Benton in the flesh, and experience an undisputed pioneer in the blasphemous death metal frontier. At first blush I was completely appalled by Deicide. Their techies must have been snoozing, because the first two songs were so muddy that virtually nothing was audible except the bass -- even the screeching of Mr. Benton was lost in the mix. Luckily the levels were adjusted (at Glenn's own suggestion), and the rest of the set was at least intelligible. I do have to give Mr. Benton and his band credit, in that their experience and competence in old school, early 90s death metal is plainly evident. There was power, there was aggression, there was speed, and even a catchy riff or two that had the crowd moving, churning and frothing as you'd certainly expect at a Deicide show. Classics like "Serpents of the Light," "Deicide" and "Bible Basher" were indefatigable crowd-pleasers, delivered with the skill that you'd expect from a band that's been around as long as Deicide has. However, the band severely lacked energy and enthusiasm. Glenn Benton was Glenn Benton -- that's what he does best -- and I confess he wouldn't be who he is without being at least a little arrogant and self-assured. Unfortunately I think it was taken a little too far, because on the whole Deicide came off as being very nonchalant. There was a "ho hum, all in a day's work" quality about their entire performance. The audience was very dynamic, but you had to work hard to get really excited about Deicide, and I confess I did not. So, definitely, credit where credit is due: good songs, good playing, good material, but listless execution. Disappointing, for Deicide's first show in Portland in 12 years! (Ice Maiden's Commentary: Yup, looking back I wouldn't have minded leaving after Deicide's first song, Mr. Bignell. Their performance was lackluster, and I'm not a huge fan of Deicide's stuff anyway. I'm not trying to be pompous by saying that Mr. Bignell -- I leave all pomposity to Glenn.)

Most of us left the show reliving the glory of Marduk, and even Gorguts in a few cases; Deicide topped few people's list of the best bands on stage that night. Still, on the whole this show was a lot of fun, and definitely worth it.

The crowd at this show was much lighter on mallcore kids than I expected, given the fact that Deicide, like Pantera, is a true metal band that has an inexplicable appeal to the young'uns in their Shitknot T-shirts (in Deicide's case it may be the result of promotion by their soon-to-be-former label, Roadrunner Records, home of such atrocities as Soulfly). Luckily, though, there were enough genuine old school metalheads to tip the balance in our favor. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: We even got some local "celebs" out for this show. Some high honcho of the Church of Satan appeared with his rather pale cohort.) I must, however, make special mention of one kid who truly makes you mourn for the youth of today. Despite his Incantation T-shirt, this fellow -- a short-haired tyke -- had his face painted in the style of (I can barely bring myself to type it) Mudvayne. I've seen some stupid shit at metal shows, and while this loser doesn't quite take the cake from the mustachoied female Jonathan Davis look-alike I saw at the Neurosis show in June 1999, the Mudvayne toddler comes pretty close. Get over it, kid -- you're not evil, you're just a doofus. If we can't have our flaming-winged cherubs swoop down and smite the unworthy, can we at least have security toss them out for flagrant breaches of mosh-pit etiquette? Oh, I forgot -- this is the Pine Street. They can't afford security!

And finally, I have to bitch about the venue. Forgive me. The Pine Street Theater should simply be condemned. No lights! No beer! No motorcars! Not a single luxury -- like Robinson Caruso, as primitive as can be -- merely a crumbling shell of a building that used to be a great venue (La Luna), but what now may be the shittiest metal venue in the Pacific Northwest. When a venue makes the Arnada Café look like the lap of luxury, it's time to close the doors. It's simply unfair to subject fans, or bands, to the kind of conditions that are now the norm at the Pine Street, especially bands like Marduk that come halfway across the world to play in Portland. Is this how we want our metal scene to be represented?

If you're reading this review looking for a recommendation, here it is: if you have a chance to see Marduk, jump at it! You won't be disappointed. I suspect Deicide is hit or miss depending on the night, and you might hit a good one. I had fun at this show, and that alone made it a success, because that's the most important thing. Even an unenthused Deicide is a hell of a better time than sitting around drinking latté and listening to avant-garde jazz ... right, Mr. Bignell?

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