In the world of heavy metal, the most critical component for long-term success is a killer live show. Even back in the era before the record industry imploded, the bands that got the most devoted fan bases were the ones that could fucking bring it live. All of the shows below featured bands that did exactly that in 2011.
5. Weedeater, Zoroastor, Kvelertak
Echoplex, March 13th
Feedback, low-end rumble, and just plain heaviness epitomized the crushing set delivered by psychedelic doom-rockers Zoroastor. All of the above (filtered through a marijuana-fueled haze) was also delivered by abrasive Sabbath-stoners Weedeater. But we knew going into the show that those two would deliver the goods. The real revelation of the night came from Norwegian punk-metallers Kvelertak. Best described musically as a more death-metal version of Turbonegro, the sextet made a huge impression on their first visit to Los Angeles. In an era where some bands struggle to have one charismatic stage presence among their numbers, all six members of Kvelertak carry themselves like fucking rock stars. (NOTE: Kvelertak rocked so hard no one thought to capture video of their Echoplex set, so the above is from a performance in Finland last month.)
4. Gridlink, Phobia, Maruta
The August edition of the always-free Scion Metal Show series was a nonstop three-ring grindcore circus. Maruta opened the show by impressing a mostly unfamiliar audience in what may turn out to be their last visit to the West Coast. Phobia's twenty-plus years in the SoCal underground inspired the local faithful into wall-to-wall moshing to the point where no one in The Roxy was safe. The strategy of hanging out by the bar wasn't saving anyone on this day. Gridlink closed out the afternoon with a frenetic display of stage karate and insanely tight musicianship. The stage teetered precariously on the verge of collapsing from under the weight of their manic grind.
3. Scion Rock Fest
Fox Theater Pomona/The Glass House, March 5th
Twenty-five bands on four stages left hundreds of metalheads walking away with thousands of bruises and scrapes. A killer set from death-metal pioneers Morbid Angel left a capacity crowd unaware of the disappointment that would come when their new album came out. Blackened folk-metal greats Agalloch left many lamenting that the band doesn't make the trek from Portland to California more often. Genre legends like Obituary and Death Angel may have been the main lure for many folks, but newcomers like Nails, Dark Castle, and Wormrot also made lasting impressions on festival attendees. With free admission, this was easily the best bang-for-buck value in metal this year.
2. Animals As Leaders, Intronaut
We here at West Coast Sound have had plenty to say this year about Animals As Leaders. 2011 saw the band transition from burgeoning young bucks to a band that could be a leader of the genre for the next decade. The band's metallic-stained instrumental rock resonated not only with Guitar World subscribers and M.I. students, but also with the kids in the pit. The sold-out show at the Key Club indicated a group that has become confident in being what they are, and that energy translated to an enthusiastic audience.
Intronaut's performance earlier in the night also helped set the tone for the evening. The L.A. group's heavy brew of post-metal and stoner-doom set the room into a trance-like state of head-nodding. Tours with the likes of Mastodon and Isis have whipped Intronaut into a punishing live presence, one that will surely make new fans if the rumored tour with Tool goes down in 2012. (NOTE: Animals As Leaders also rocked so hard that no one thought to grab video of their set, so the above clip is from a set in Arizona two nights later.)
1. Power Of The Riff
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The second installment of Southern Lord's Power Of The Riff festival may not have been free like the first one, but no one walking out at the end of the night felt like they got a raw deal on their ticket price. Local metal-demons Harassor and SF crust-metal outfit Acephalix were so dark and evil that we forgot it was early afternoon and sunny outside at the time of their performances. Bands like Early Graves, hardcore giants Trap Them, and death-n-rollers Black Breath anchored the middle of the day's programming with exhausting displays of nonstop intensity.
As the sun went down, instrumental post-rock from Chicago's Pelican gave the sweaty masses a chance to catch their breath. Reunited '90s death-doomers Winter proved that the heaviest metal can also sometimes be the slowest. The moshers then reignited with a furious vengeance when New Orleans sludge-warriors EyeHateGod took the stage. The band's request to the Echoplex's lighting director to "turn off the fucking lights" incited the crowd to get even more reckless with their bodies. The band's raw nihilism translated from the stage, turning the crowd into the most violent pit of the night.
Pentagram closed the night by being the sheer opposite of EyeHateGod, even to the point of yelling at the lighting director to "turn the fucking lights on." The band that originally formed in the 1970s proved to be worthy of the renaissance they have received this decade, blazing through doom-rock fan favorites such as "Forever My Queen" and "All Your Sins." Bobby Liebling's vocals proved to be haunting yet comforting at the same time. The man has lost a lot to demons that kept him from achieving rock stardom decades ago, but his voice remains as powerful as it was then.