Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Immolation Fitzgerald's May 10, 2013
By the time the clock struck 9 p.m. at Fitzgerald's on Friday night, it didn't appear possible to cram another black T-shirt into the place. Longhairs were already stacked up past the rafters inside the old club on White Oak, even as a steady stream of the same continued to file up the stairs.
Are there casual fans of death metal? I didn't see any on Friday. The Decibel Magazine Tour's opening night, featuring a fearsome triple stack of extreme-metal icons, was more than a concert to many of these folks. It was a celebration of an entire gore-obsessed lifestyle. Adherents showed up expecting the sickest, sweatiest, hairiest show of the year on Friday, and that was exactly what they got.
After Austin' Mammoth Grinder warmed the crowd up, New York death merchants Immolation arrived onstage to steamroll them flat. The band's punishing live chops have been honed by 25 years of shrieking and shredding, and they were fresh and ready to flay. As always, Immolation's set was highlighted by the astonishing riffage of guitarist Robert Vigna, for whom the term "ripping lead" must have been coined, specifically.
Decades after helping to codify the sound of death metal, Vigna is still managing to push his talent and technique into exquisite new contortions. On Friday, he sounded fierce.
When the band finished up its too-short set with "All That Awaits Us," the epic, final track from their brand-new album Kingdom of Conspiracy, it was hard to believe that the night's ferocity had only begun. Already, the funk of hundreds of metalheads smashed into one another was beginning to rise into the balcony, and with Napalm Death due up next, the intensity could only escalate.
Predictably, an outrageous mosh pit exploded in the middle of the packed floor as soon as Napalm struck their first mangled note. The action was equally intense onstage, where vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway managed to immediately take out a drum monitor in the tightly crowded space.
A less dedicated audience might have grown surly at the interruption as the band and its roadies struggled to right their equipment, but the crowd was all smiles, instead, chanting "Napalm Death! Napalm Death!"
The godfathers of grind soon rewarded their faithful scumdogs by destroying them with "From Enslavement to Obliteration," the breakneck title track from the group's second album. The mosh-pit survivors barely had a chance to catch their breath before Napalm lit into "Suffer the Children," which sent cascading waves of intrepid stage divers crashing into the faces of their fellow concertgoers.
Drummer Danny Herrera's sticks often became a disconcerting blur as the band moved into material from last year's Utilitarian album, including "Leper Colony" and the hardcore meat-tenderizer of a single, "The Wolf I Feed." The audience thrashed with abandon throughout, but went at one another with particular viciousness during Napalm's beloved rendition of the Dead Kennedys' anti-fascist screed, "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."
The band capped off its excruciating excursion through its lengthy back catalogue with "Scum" and the one-second song "You Suffer" from their classic debut LP. It had been an explosive set that left the thrill-seekers in the pit bruised and battered, howling for more.
If there'd been any question as to the sustainability of the crowd's energy for Napalm Death, it was immediately put to rest when Cannibal Corpse took the stage. The club's floor became a roiling sea of screaming headbangers and soon as the band's darkened silhouettes appeared, and once the metallic onslaught began, Fitzgerald's no longer felt like a particularly safe place to be.
After a stage diver managed to topple over on to lead guitarist Pat O'Brien during "Edible Autopsy," the frustration with the insanity was plain on the face of front man George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, who helped the guy offstage with a big boot to the butthole. Cannibal's set had only begun, but already it was threatening to spiral out of control.
"If you want to stage dive, that's fine," said the imposing singer. "But don't touch that set list, or I'll fucking murder you."
Fisher is a large man, and the crowd appeared to believe him. The hysteria relaxed into brutal elation as the band carved out charming ditties such as "Addicted to Vaginal Skin" and "Disfigure." Each was an athletic challenge for the musicians: Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz grimaced as he strained his tendons past human limits, and O'Brien's fingers worked the neck of his axe with a speed and dexterity that would pop Liberace's eyes out of his skull. (Ooh! New song title!)
The banging heads in the crowd did their best to keep up with Fisher, who pin-wheeled his hair like the tail rotor of a Blackhawk helicopter every second he wasn't belching gruesome horrors into the mic. In the pit, kids moshed violently with their phones out, no doubt recording the wildest mosh of the year for Facebook posterity.
After a long set from Cannibal Corpse drained the audience of every ounce of sweat, dripping metal freaks filed out to discover a spectacular lightning storm raging above the skyline of downtown Houston. I'm not sure whether the light show was a sign of God's approval or fury with the Decibel Magazine Tour's opening salvo. But it sure as shit seemed like he noticed.
Personal Bias: Listened to Andrea Bocelli on the ride over.
The Crowd: Death metal, man. Death. Metal.
Overheard in the Crowd: Grrooooooooooo!!!
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Random Notebook Dump: Some shows, you can't help but wonder how sturdy the Fitz balcony really is. If it didn't come down on Friday, it's probably staying put.