Heart of Steel: Concert Review

Headbanger's Ball Tour

November 14, 2003
Line up: Killswitch Engage, Shadow's Fall, Lamb of God

Review by Lord of the Wasteland

The Headbanger's Ball Tour passed through Vancouver on November 14th and I had to pleasure of checking it out. For those who don't know, The Headbanger's Ball is a program that airs on MTV and features an hour of (mostly) metal videos. The show was on the station in the 80s when metal still got played and then was removed during the grunge years only to reappear this year. To promote the program, MTV sponsored this tour that features Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God and God Forbid. Despite being sponsored by MTV, this line-up is considered by some as a "who's-who" of North American metal that doesn't rely on radio play or gimmicks to sell records. They aren't nu-metal or mallcore. If such a term exists, they could be called the "New Wave of American Heavy Metal". Young bands who won't sell their souls to the highest bidder or produce an album of "hits" to get on the radio. In other words, this is what metal SHOULD be!!

It's always a treat to see a multi-band bill where ALL the bands are personal favorites. You aren't hanging out at the bar during a set or having to show up late to "miss" the opening acts. These 4 bands are all solid. Killswitch Engage's ALIVE OR JUST BREATHING and Shadows Fall's THE ART OF BALANCE CDs were two of my favorites releases in 2002 and Lamb of God's AS THE PALACES BURN is high atop my list of favorites for 2003.


God Forbid

As for the fourth band, I had only heard of God Forbid by name before this night, but they quickly won me over with their chugging blend of metal and hardcore. What instantly makes this New Jersey band separate from the rest is that 4 out of 5 members are African-American. Not that skin color makes a lick of difference in whether or not a band can rock or not (Living Color, Bad Brains), but in the metal world, it is certainly a rare thing. Lead growler Byron Davis, who is a hulk of a man, stalked the stage glaring at the audience from behind is shoulder-length dreadlocks. Though I was unfamiliar with most of the songs in their 30-minute set, two that stood out were "Broken Promise" and "Better Days". Most of the crowd seemed familiar with "Broken Promise" and sang along to this ultra-heavy track, while the small but impressive moshpit went wild. This was God Forbid's first date as support on the tour having replaced Unearth. Before the final song of their set, Davis announced the band have a new album coming out in February 2004 and I just might pick it up based on their performance here.


Lamb of God

After a quick 20-minute changeover of sets, Lamb of God stormed out to a very enthusiastic crowd. Singer Randy Blythe is a tall, wiry guy with a haircut that reminded me of The Misfits but when he screams into the mike, his size is of no hindrance. He ran around the stage bellowing into the mike and got right into the crowd for a sing-a-long during the title track from the new album. Guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton trade riffs back and forth with Chris Adler offering up some double-bass drumming that was just as impressive as his foot-long goatee. Lamb of God is one of my favorite new American bands and they don't embarrass this continent with chants of "JUMP…JUMP" or any trace of mallcore in their brutally heavy music. Local metal guru Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad) co-produced the new Lamb of God album with the band and Randy Blythe gave thanks to him and the Vancouver metal scene dedicating "Black Label" to us. The band's 45-minute set was an even mix of songs from their two albums 2000's NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL ("Black Label", "The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion") and this year's AS THE PALACES BURN ("Boot Scraper", "11th Hour", "As The Palaces Burn"), with a rarity from the band's early days when they were still known as Burn The Priest ("Duane").


Shadows Fall

Much to my surprise, Shadows Fall was NOT headlining the show and came out next. I found out later that Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God rotate between the opening slot on each date of the tour. This was my second time seeing Shadows Fall in 4 months and though they didn't impress me as much the first time around, they more than made up for it this night. The 50-minute setlist was, of course, heavy with tracks from THE ART OF BALANCE including "Destroyer of Senses", "Idle Hands", "Stepping Outside the Circle", A Fire In Babylon" and "Thoughts Without Words" but the band also included material from their major label debut, 2000's OF ONE BLOOD ("Revel In My Loss"). This last track features death metal vocals from rhythm guitarist Matthew Bachand and is certainly one of the band's heaviest songs. Shadows Fall also features something that has become a missing piece of American metal: guitar solos. Lead guitarist Jonathan Donais can alternate between shredding and clean solos on a dime and really shines on "A Fire In Babylon". Singer Brian Fair (he of the four-foot long dreadlocks) screams bloody murder into the mike and wasn't shy about getting the crowd to help him with choruses and even sampled some of our infamous "B.C. bud" offered to him by a guy in the front. I'm glad Shadows Fall made a better impression on me the second time because they are an excellent band who bridge so many genres with their music that after being so impressed with their CDs, their previous live show left a bad taste in my mouth.



Killswitch Engage



My favorite band on the bill wrapped up the show: Killswitch Engage. These guys are from Massachusetts and really impressed me when I saw them in July. They had a lot to live up to and they met and exceeded my expectations. Once again, towering guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz was the most eye-catching presence on stage with his pork chop sideburns and missing eyebrows. Perhaps what made him most noticeable was the fact that as he bounded on stage, he lost his footing and fell flat on his ass…and didn't miss a beat! The band kept playing as well despite cracking up at Dutkiewicz' spill and repeated replaying of the event. With Dutkiewicz vertical again, the band powered through a 45-minute set featuring "Numbered Days", "Life To Lifeless", "Fixation On the Darkness", "The Element Of One", "Self-Revolution" and "My Last Serenade". Vocalist Howard Jones (again, not to be confused with the British synth-pop cheeseball from the 80s) admitted being sick on this night but hid it well as he spit out each tune with increasing venom and flew around the stage. Joel Stroetzel once again let his massive hair do the work as he headbanged along while riffing on rhythm guitar. Bassist Mike D'Antonio also plays a big part in the sound of Killswitch Engage, as his low, rumbling bass is always evident. The band's best-known track, "My Last Serenade", featured the sadly half-full Commodore singing along to the chorus with Jones. Chants of "KILLSWITCH…KILLSWITCH" remained unanswered, as the band did not re-emerge for an encore.

While making my way towards the door after the show, I ran into Brian Fair and Randy Blythe enjoying a cold one with fans. I asked for a photo with the two singers who politely obliged which ended the evening on a real high note. Though the band's sets were all relatively short, the crowd seemed generally pleased with the show. The headbangers and moshers were kept busy with Lamb of God, Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage, while the metalcore enthusiasts gave God Forbid a nice welcome to the bill. The Headbanger's Ball Tour showcased some of the best young bands American metal has to offer. Don't let the MTV sponsorship discourage you from seeing this show if it hits your town because this ain't no rap-fuelled mallcore, my friends.