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Cannibal Corpse & Behemoth Defile House of Blues

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Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth House of Blues January 29, 2015

More than 25 years into their surprisingly rigor-resistant career, death-metal archetypes Cannibal Corpse still relish their status as outsiders. Thanks to their gore-soaked and gleefully offensive album covers and lyrics, the group has battled a long legacy of censorship around the globe, with bans on their work in Germany and Australia lifting only recently.

Even today, when Cannibal enjoys status as elder statesmen of a global death-metal scene that's as strong as ever, they're still rankling powerful gatekeepers. Just last year, the band had the plug pulled on them by the authorities at a gig in Russia and once again found their artwork and lyrics outlawed.

If that all seems like kind of a big fuss over a band that comes up with bonkers song titles like "I Cum Blood," you probably haven't seen the band live. The potency of the band's music and the sheer dexterity of their performances makes them easy to take seriously. As purveyors of death-metal spectacle go, they're pretty hard to top, and not just anybody is capable of sharing a stage with them.

On Thursday night, Poland's Behemoth did their very best to wrestle the stage at House of Blues away from Cannibal Corpse entirely. No strangers to controversy themselves, the long-running black/death-metal troupe were themselves unceremoniously tossed from Russia last year. Calling their trek "The Russian Satanist Tour" must have raised a few eyebrows.

The band arrived in Houston with their many devilish trappings intact, including flickering candles, ghoulish facepaint and a sartorial style that brought to mind a Mad Max dystopia based around guitar amplifiers and ritual sacrifice. Lit blindingly by lightning strobes, Behemoth certainly offered up a metallic feast for the eyes up there.

They sounded pretty great, too, especially the nimble drumming of, er, Inferno, who snuck some really slick ride-cymbal patterns into his constant cannonade. Guitarist Seth let loose with a large number of big, evil, meathead riffs that had heads banging from the photo pit to the back bar as front man Nergal vomited forth a steady stream of darkness. Between songs, sacramental mockeries were performed over pagan folk interludes. It was all very bizarre and theatrical.

At its heart, though, Behemoth's music is only rock and roll. Over and over, Nergal bid us to pump our fists, to clap, to yell "hey." They even pulled off a planned encore, even though Cannibal Corpse was the ostensible headliner. As hundreds of cameraphones shot up to capture the group's final, devil-horned incantation, it was difficult not to conclude that Satanists nearly always make for some great rock stars.

Story continues on the next page.

There was no elaborate stage dressing for Cannibal Corpse; just a massive black banner with their logo scrawled in blood on it. When that baby was unveiled, it was clear that the candles had been snuffed for the remainder of the evening.

Cannibal doesn't put on a death metal "show," exactly. They simply appear onstage and embody death metal. The only special effect they bring to the table is the constant, chiropractor-defying headbanging of front man George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. The impossibly burly singer, one of the mightiest and most imitated metal vocalists, set the pace for the fans below, who snapped their necks like rubber bands and growled along with every wretched word.

There's a certain hypnotic quality to the brutality of Cannibal Corpse's crushingly old-school sound. Even if they weren't headbanging, faces in the crowd couldn't help but bob along as one to the relentless pounding. At one point, the fingers on bassist Alex Webster's right hand fluttered over his strings so fast that it looked like he was playfully scratching a kitty's tummy. That might have been during "Stripped, Raped and Strangled." Hard to recall now.

The band played at least one new tune, the thrashy "Kill or Become" from last year's A Skeletal Domain, but most of the evening's selections (if you could tell them apart) came from their deep catalogue of classic death-metal touchstones. "Addicted to Vaginal Skin" and "Skull Full of Maggots" were certainly among the sickening highlights, and if you can't get down to "Hammer-Smashed Face," death metal probably isn't your thing.

The crowd inside House of Blues, naturally, loved it. There are no "casual" Cannibal Corpse fans, and probably too few sane ones. In the middle of the floor, a mosh pit raged that likely left at least a couple of people with PTSD by the end. As I watched a crowd-surfer take a selfie before falling down to what I can only assume was his death, it was hard to escape the notion that the crowd is at least half the show at a Cannibal Corpse concert.

They are the real outsiders to whom the likes of Cannibal Corpse give voice. A completely unintelligible voice, sure. But as long as it continues to piss somebody off, we can rest assured that it's being heard.

Personal Bias: Anti-censorship.

The Crowd: The most metal dudes from your high school, 1994-present.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Groooooooo!!"

Random Notebook Dump: Merch was a hot seller at this one. Both bands do solid business outfitting the metal masses in horror and blasphemy.

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