Skeletonwitch and Havok
Better Than: Drinking alone
At the Whisky A Go Go last night the average patron was barely old enough to be out on a school night, let alone imbibing. The kids (and not a few aging heavy metal casualties) showed up for headliners — Havok (of Denver) and Skeletonwitch (of Athens, OH). Touring partners Mutilation Rites and a gaggle of young local bands rounded out the night. The result? Face-melting thrash with a progressive, technical edge that would keep a Berklee-trained jazz musician on his toes.
With so many opening bands, getting any crowd to stick around until the end is a minor miracle. By the time the headliners took the stage the crowd was not only present, they were anxious, energetic and eagerly awaiting the thrash brutality only double bass drums and high gain pickups can provide.
Before Havok ended their sound check the Junior Heshers Legion chanted the band's name, leather-clad fists pumping in the air. When the opener “Covering Fire” — from their 2011 release Time Is Up — blared out of the amps, potential energy became kinetic. A circle pit the envy of any punk show erupted. Heads banged hard in unison as a furious cyclone of hair and Hirax back patches swirled before the stage.
Everyone in Havok can play their ass off, but the rhythm section stands out. Bassist Jessie De Los Santos furiously strummed his bass sans pick, beating the strings as if trying to teach them a lesson. Drummer Scotti Fuller plays a gargantuan six drums and 12 cymbals kit with a surgical precision.
“I don't listen to a lot of new thrash,” Fuller said, commenting on the band's technical style. “I like other bands doing technical stuff, things I haven't seen before.” One would be hard pressed to find a repetitive part of a Havok track, with time signatures shifting several times in a single song while maintaining an unrelentingly furious pace.
By the time the band played “D.O.A.,” a track about the dangers of drinking and driving, the energy reached a fever pitch. Young bodies hurled themselves at one another, climbing on each others' backs to scream the chorus (“Dead… on arrival!”) at frontman David Sanchez. The brief but powerful set left the sweaty crowd craving more.
Havok created a high bar for Skeletonwitch, but they didn't disappoint. A mish mash of various metal subgenres including black metal, thrash, death metal and doom, the band shifted seamlessly from brain-damaging riffage to mournful, minor-key soloing. Vocalist Chance Garnette resembled a heavy metal barbarian with his long, flowing hair, chest-length beard and spiked leather gauntlet. A versatile extreme metal vocalist, Garnette displayed equal comfort with grunting guttural death growls and the screechy, scratchy vocals that characterize black metal.
For a band as fast, heavy and furious as Skeletonwitch, they demonstrated a strong sense of melody and, indeed, songcraft. “Beyond the Permafrost,” the eponymous song from their 2007 album, boasted a strong, catchy chorus only made stronger by a crowd full of angry young kids seeing who could scream along the loudest.
But Skeletonwitch didn't use hooks and choruses to drive their set. If anything was the centerpiece, it was the punishing drum skills of Dustin Boltjes. His legs got more work than his arms, creating a loud, constant, helicopter-like drone of double bass reverberating through the room. It would be amazing for a lone man to play what twin guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick play in unison. Evan Linger's fat, heavy Rickenbacker bass sound cemented it all together.
It was all over as quickly as it began. Kids fought their way to the front in search of set lists, picks and drumsticks before hanging out outside bumming smokes and waiting for rides. Dance music might be ruling the hearts and minds of young America in 2012, but there are still some places where rock and roll is king.
The Crowd: A gang of teenagers apparently hijacked a time machine from a 1986 Nuclear Assault show.
Random Notebook Dump: Havok's lead guitarist nearly lost his axe to zealous young metalheads when he held it out to the crowd.
Set lists below
Skeletonwitch set list:
Reduced to the Failure
Erased and Forgotten
Submit to the Suffering
Skin of Deceit
Crushed Beyond Dust
Upon the Wings of Black
Choke Upon Betrayal
Beyond the Permafrost
Vengeance Will Be Mine
Brings of Death
Sacrifice for the Slaughtered
Of Ash and Torment
Cleaver of Souls
Shredding Sacred Flesh
Within My Blood
Havok set list:
Point of No Return
Scumbag in Disguise
From the Cradle to the Grave
Time Is Up