January 21, 2007

Concert Review: Metal Church w/ Meliah Rage, Audible Thought, Downfire, Semblance of a Soul 1/20/07

A mix of the old and the new is what the night had to offer. A couple of local acts in support of a couple of road veterans. They all came together to deliver a night of metal that left an impression on all of those who were in attandance, which was sadly not as large as it probably should have been. Hopefully, the word will spread and more will come out to support the scene, both the local and the national.

As I got to The Chance Theater and got inside, they were still finishing up getting the opening act setup onstage. So, after a false start, a last minute addition to the bill began their set. They were called Semblance of a Soul, and they definitely had the semblance of something, and it most certainly was not a soul. One of the first requirements of playing a live show, or playing at all, is to have an instrument that is in tune. That is a rule that Semblance should keep in mind for future appearances. Their sound was so off and the songs so mind numbingly unoriginal that it was something of a struggle to pay attention throughout the set. If that wasn't bad enough, they tried to "set the stage" for a few of their songs, one of those set ups led to a "performance" of Metallica's "Ride the Lightning." While it was certainly a lowlight, and an offense to true Metallica fans everywhere, it also led to a comical highlight. A lone man entered the vacant pit, where he proceeded to circle madly swinging his arms like an epileptic screamo fan before jumping onstage to assist in the vocal duties. This was the kind of performance that if it was your first experience with the local scene, may be enough to make you swear it off for good. Fortunately, there were a couple of more local acts to follow, both which were more than enough to wash out the bad taste.

The first band to redeem and cleanse the stage was Downfire. These guys, unlike Semblance of a Soul, are a good reason to support the local scene. This was my third time seeing them, and you can see the improvement. It is a pure joy to watch a band that clearly enjoys what they are doing, and are good at it. There were a couple of guys standing near me wondering who the band was coming up, I told them who it was, and was questioned if they were any good. I said they were, and hoped I wouldn't be wrong. The lights went down and the theme song for The Muppet Show emanated from the speakers, introducing Downfire to the stage. They proceeded to deliver a solid set of hard rock and metel in the tradition of Black Label Society. It was not the smoothest start, however. I thought the mix was a little muddy to start, but cleared up after the first song, letting their high energy music shine through. The crowd clearly approved this step up in music.

After their set ended, I had the opportunity to speak with Downfire bassist Mark Parisi. He is a veteran of the local scene, and an approachable guy. He is very much in love with the stage and performing, and even without him professing it is plainly clear from his presence on the stage. Mark and I talked about the importance of motion during the performance. He is of the belief that the stage is a living thing and you should use it to your advantage, breathe life into the stage and you will breathe life into the crowd. Mark is passionate about the music, which is a great thing to see. This is the last Downfire live appearance until April, and Mark told me a little bit about what the future has in store. Over the next month and a half or so, they are going to work on a number of new songs, tighten up their performance and just practice, practice, practice in order to hone their live show for the benefit of the band and their fans. This writing phase will allow them to work with new themes and ideas in their songs, injecting a little political commentary and a touch of satire, things that will hopefully make the listeners think a little, while still being high energy metal entertainment. It was a great meeting him, after which I also met Dave Diaz (vocals/guitar) and Carlos Vega (guitars) who share his love for the stage. It will be interesting to see them again when they re-emerge on the stage.

Next up is a band that has been becoming one of my favorites on the local scene, Audible Thought. I have seen them a few times throughout 2006 and each time I saw them play, they kept getting better and tonight was no different. Their music is mix of crunchy heaviness, strong doses of melody, and lyrics that are personal yet accessible. As they took the stage, there was a noticeable increase of people in the pit in front of the stage. These guys have definitely come together and created a force to be reckoned with. This night, for a reason I cannot quite put my finger on, their sound was noticeably heavier than what I had experienced before, despite the early string break that Jim suffered on his bass, quickly switching to his backup. Perhaps it was the mix, perhaps it was myu increased proximity to the stage, or further evidence of the band's increased internal chemistry. Jim Norton was solid as always, I have seen him with three different bands, and he definitely seems most at home with Audible Thought, while on the other side of the stage guitarist Ryan Cady was making the most of his seven stringed weapon of mass destruction. Behind them, Carl Fogarty was creating some thunder on the skins, he has been improving greatly over the past year that I have been seeing them. I guess that leaves Lou West, singing great, despite having an absessesed tooth. Whatever the reason for the increased heavy, it sounded great, and there is definitely a bright future for them. The highlight of the night was their unveiling of a new song, "Can't Break Me." It is opening of a new future for the band. The song is epic in scope, running the gamut from the light to the heavy, letting all of the players shine. It definitely stood out against their other cuts, offering more melody and more technique in execution. Audible Thought is definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Before and after their set, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the band, primarily Lou West and Ryan Cady, while Jim Norton and Carl Fogarty passed through a couple of times. First off, they are a great bunch of guys, easy to approach and more than willing to talk about the music, or anything else for that matter. Since I was unprepared for an interview, much of what we discussed has already faded from my mind, but there is still somethings to say. Speaking with Lou and Ryan it was clear how much they love the music and have hopes to grow their fanbase. They are always looking to improve their presence and work on improving the music. Lou and I spoke about their writing process, where Lou would adapt prior writings to the current music early on, before getting to where the music would get setup prior to lyric writing. He also spoke of how there really was nothing absolutely set in stone, how some songs came together in as quick as fifteen minutes, while others would take 12 hours, there is no telling how long it will take for a song to become ripe. Looking to the future, much like Downfire, they have a number of new songs that are in preparation to join "Can't Break Me," and are set to be unveiled at a show on February 24th, where they will also be shooting live video for a DVD.

Now we make the leap from the local to the national. Meliah Rage is a band that I had heard of many, many years ago, but I never actually heard. They entered the metal scene back in 1988 with Kill to Survive. They released two more albums through 1990 before they took an extended hiatus until 1996, since then they have released four more albums. They are currently on tour supporting their latest release The Deep and Dreamless Sleep. That new album is the first introduction to them, and I was pleasantly surprised by the straight forward heavy metal that they delivered. It was nothing groundbreaking, but it certainly is a good listen. That being so, I eagerly looked forward to the opportunity to see them live. They came out to the stage, old school riffs playing, then the unexpected, at least to me, Paul Souza came out on stage. I was not expecting anyone with such an imposing presence. The guy is massive, pacing the stage like a madman, eyes wild with intensity as he grasped his microphone. I did not recognize the first few songs, but they were definitely a band that knew their way around the stage. Among the old songs played were "Bates Motel" and "Solitary Solitude." They also played the excellent instrumental track "Retaliation." They also played a trio from the new album, which made the show for me, as I actually recognized them, "Permanently Damaged," "Undefeated," and "Curse." While I may not know the older stuff, it was hard not to captivated by their stage presence and the solid sounds of old school metal that came off of it.

Finally, Metal Church took the stage to the applause of all. Metal Church is another band that I new about, but never really listened to. I remember listening to their debut album and to Blessing in Disguise. I also remember liking them, but I never owned them and have not heard them in years. It wasn't until 2004 when the band came through my town with up and comers 3 Inches of Blood, that I was reintroduced to the band. I saw them live and was quite impressed with the energy they delivered, it made me wonder why I never paid more attention to them back in the day. Anyway, when I saw they were coming through again, I knew I was going to go, and Meliah Rage being on the bill was just icing on the cake. I still don't know many of their songs, but it is more than easy to get into the music.

Led by vocalist Ronny Munroe, the latest incarnation of the thrash act has been releasing music which is on par with their earlier releases, from my faint memories, but where they shine is on the stage. They bring a dynamic heaviness to the stage. They don't cater to the new world of metal, but they respect where they came from without making they old school sound seem like a retro act. The five piece act comes to the stage, ready to deliver a dose of metal, and they definitely have their die hard fans, and are still bringing new members into the fold.

Tonight, Ronny told us that he was feeling ill, apparently he has a sinus infection and seemed to be ill, coughing in between songs. Still, they stuck it out and still put on a great show. He has a very good voice which has distinct touches of Rob Halford, without being a clone. His vocals, combined with the heavy riffs and solid drumming all added up to a fantastic show that capped a great start to the 2007 concert series.

Set list:
Light in the Dark
Fake Healer
Ton of Bricks
Start the Fire
Leave Them Behind
Watch the Children Pray
Mirror of Lies
The Dark
Cradle to Grave
Date with Poverty
Gods of Wrath
Beyond the Black
Metal Church

Highway Star


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