Recent weeknight metal shows at Warehouse Live have been a tad hit-or-miss as far as attendance goes--mostly miss. Whether it's been the hassle of driving downtown on a school night or simply fans cooling a bit on the genre as a whole, heavy touring acts have done well to fill the venue's lounge area halfway of late.
When I pulled up to Wednesday's gig headlined by the Black Dahlia Murder, though, it was clear that this night would be different. The packed-full parking lots behind the club were the first clue that this tour had been circled on the calendar by more than a few Bayou City metalheads.
The floor was already crowded for early openers Hour of Penance from Italy, and by the time Ohio's Skeletonwitch took the stage, the venue was packed. Judging from the crowd's enthusiastic response to whipping death/thrash songs like "Of Ash and Torment" and "Crushed Beyond Dust," Skeletonwitch made enough new fans Wednesday to potentially fill Warehouse Live on their own the next time through. The group certainly appeared prepared for that eventuality -- its merch setup towered over those of the headliners.'
The crowd started to get really antsy, though, when roadies began setting up the stage for Nile's set. Having risen to very pinnacle of the death metal heap over the past two decades, the Egyptology-obsessed group from South Carolina is possessed of a speed and technicality matched by few in the extreme-music ranks.
So hotly was their performance anticipated by the audience that huge cheers went up during their load-in, particularly when the crew wrangled drummer George Kollias' titanic rack of toms and cymbals on to the stage. Stretched out flat in order to maneuver through Warehouse Live's doorways, the setup resembled some sort of evil millipede as it was hauled under the lights.
Nile's music is deliberately cinematic in scope, and the crowd was prepped for the onslaught to come with what sounded like the soundtrack to a forgotten Lawrence of Arabia sequel while the band set up. It reminded me a little of the tracks that would play over hidden speakers while I waited in line for Batman: The Escape at Astroworld as a kid.
As soon as Nile struck their first note, however, the real roller coaster began. A massive mosh pit opened up instantly as the band pounded out monstrous blast beats and shredded their throats into microphones. The Warehouse Live lounge fairly exploded in mayhem.
"I'm feeling the fucking power tonight, how about you?" snarled the band's guitarist/vocalist Dallas Toller-Wade. Power was precisely what the roaring crowd seemed to crave, and Nile delivered.
Songs such as "Hittite Dung Incantation" and "Permitting The Noble Dead To Descend To The Underworld " from the group's 2009 album, Those Whom the Gods Detest, mixed in the sequenced sounds of gongs and other ancient, evil instruments with Nile's punishing guitars to create a death-metal sound unique from the genre's also-rans.
The capacity crowd ate it up. The set's closer, "Black Seeds of Vengeance," amounted to something resembling a sing-along among those audience members not putting their full effort behind ripping one another's heads off in the pit.
The most furious moshing, though, was saved for the closers--The Black Dahlia Murder. The Detroit metal outfit has ascended the metal ladder to the top of the pecking order in the U.S. over the past eight or nine years thanks to its potent blend of melodic death, thrash and metalcore influences. Unlike their classic death forebears, Black Dahlia is unabashed about their desire to have a good time, and Wednesday's assemblage of longhairs was absolutely on the same page.
"We're all fans here, Houston, so let's fucking party!" shrieked BDM screamer Trevor Strnad.
The crowd definitely did its bit. The largest, most vicious pit Warehouse Live has seen in some time detonated as soon as the Black Dahlia Murder hit its first downstroke. The jumping, bumping, pushing and slamming didn't let up until the house lights came on.
It may have been a perfect Spring evening on the streets outside the venue, but the air inside the lounge quickly began to resemble the middle of a Houston August, thick with dopesmoke and dudesweat. The massive, relentless mosh pit simply would not stop as the band tore through tunes from its latest album, Ritual.
During one extremely well-received song, possibly "Miasma," a petite young woman near me in a Black Dahlia t-shirt took off for the pit only to return a moment later, laughing "Fuck that." Boys were becoming men in the middle of that floor. Guys would get knocked down and immediately picked back up by their comrades, only to be accidentally catapulted into some dude's running forearm. It was quite the spectacle.
Through it all, Strnad seemed to conduct the chaos, waving his arms over his head and beating his chest with a big, dopey grin on his face. Grimaces have no place on stage at a Black Dahlia Murder show--instead, the group was all smiles and energy. Relentlessly, they egged the moshers on.
"I wanna see the bottom of your fucking cowboy boots on this one!" Strnad would shout. "I wanna see a pit shaped like a banana!"
It was bananas, all right. BDM clearly does not believe in leaving an audience wanting more. Instead, the band wrung the audience completely dry with its long, punishing set. It was marathon of brutality that left more than a couple concertgoers with sore necks, aching backs and bruised kidneys. And big, dopey grins to match Strnad's.
After witnessing a couple of less-than-impressive crowds turn out for heavy music on Wednesdays at Warehouse recently, it was great to see a packed house go off hard for some of the best acts on the road last night. Hopefully, the huge energy on display will carry over through the summer as more acts roll through town.
Otherwise, we're going to have to do whatever it takes to get the Black Dahlia Murder and friends back in Houston as soon as fucking possible.
Personal Bias: I can remember fans complaining years ago that both Nile and Black Dahlia Murder weren't "real" death metal. Now these groups rule the roost.
The Crowd: Black t-shirts.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "Did you get pushed into that pit? Me too! I didn't want to go in!" (Yes, you did.)
Random Notebook Dump: It was interesting to see the mix of moshing styles on display. Older 'heads preferred the classic pushing and shoving, while younger BDM fans mixed a few windmills in. At least a couple of guys were slam dancing like they'd just caught American Hardcore on Starz.