Decapitated vocalist Rasta riled up a sweaty, mosh-ready crowd at In the Venue. Photo: Megan Kennedy
Lamb of God
In the Venue
with Decapitated, The Stranger Beside Me
Thursday night, black-clad fans from all over the state waited anxiously in a line that stretched almost a full city block to be patted down and herded into In The Venue. We arrived early, but apparently “early” is a subjective term; the line was already so massive that it took us 40 minutes from the opening of doors to get inside. This was gearing up to be a crazy night, and rightly so. It’s been a long while since the legendary Lamb of God has stopped in our fair city, and even longer for supporting act Decapitated, whose last show here was in a dinky bowling alley. Both of these bands have soldiered on through some pretty heinous obstacles: a year after the bowling alley show, Decapitated was involved in a terrible bus crash that claimed the life of their immensely talented drummer, as well as putting their lead singer in a coma, recovery from which has effectively put his career on indefinite hold. And there are few metalheads unfamiliar with the unfortunate legal strife Randy Blythe of Lamb of God has been through this last year, having been arrested in the Czech Republic for manslaughter over the death of a fan at a show. We watched helplessly from the States during the months of proceedings, but Blythe was acquitted and allowed to return home. I was surprised when they almost immediately announced a headlining tour, and then elated to find oaut they were stopping in SLC. Plus, this is one of the bands that draws all my otherwise grown-up friends out of the woodwork, and there’s nothing like being surrounded by good company at a good show.
The show kicked off at 7:45 with local opener The Stranger Beside Me, absolutely one of my favorite native metal acts, and one that fate has always prevented me from getting photos of. Not this time, fuckers! This time I succeeded. The band was full of energy and obviously very stoked for the opportunity to open for this great show. They had a huge following of local fans in the crowd that showered them with love after every song. The only unfortunate part of their set was how crowded the stage was, as both Decapitated and Lamb of God’s equipment was already set up and waiting, leaving The Stranger Beside Me about half a corner on which to squeeze their five-member set up and play. I really hate to see that happen, especially to a band who puts on an energetic show. To their credit, they made positive use of the situation and didn’t let it at all dampen their presentation. Plus, the photographer in me was glad I could actually see and get shots of the drummer, which almost never happens when you’re five-foot-nothing in a photo pit. These dudes represented SLC proudly with their polished and professional post-metalcore sound, and even debuted a new track for their fan base. This is one local act that’s going to explode, so hop on the fan bus now so you can brag to everyone how you were there from the beginning.
The sun was setting as Decapitated took the stage, making their intense light set up and heavy smoke even more ominous. The band was wrapped in a nightmarish ambiance that only complimented their extreme sound, and they jumped right into the set with very little banter. This is my first date with their new singer and drummer, having been fortunate enough to have seen Vitek and Covan before the accident, and of course they didn’t disappoint. Lead singer Rasta has a truly impressive mane of dreadlocks that only make him look more like a giant man-lion than he already does. He has a presence that absolutely dominates the stage, almost to the degree that his fellow bandmates sort of blend into the background. Frankly, playing their highly technical style of death metal doesn’t lend itself to much crazy movement in the first place, so Rasta’s aggressive presence is a fantastic counterbalance. They covered a lot of material from their newest album Carnival Is Forever, but also visited older records with songs like “Mother War” and “The Fury.” And like true showmen, they closed with their infamous epic of brutality, “Spheres of Madness,” which made this little darkheart so very happy. This tour has such an interesting range of genres, especially considering the ever-changing local openers; it was such a nice mix to go from The Stranger Beside Me’s post-metalcore to the ruthless and unrelenting chaos that is Decapitated. The Polish wizards of death metal got a lot of love from the crowd, for which I was glad. Considering Lamb of God’s sound is so different, I wasn’t sure how the fan base was going to react to this deeper level of darkness, but they ate it up in the pit.
Finally it was time for Lamb of God, and the crowd was restless with anticipation, beginning chants and cheers long before the techs were finished with their stage set-up. I’ve seen these guys a shitload of times, and this is by far the most polished and showy set-up I’ve witnessed. Chris Adler’s kit was on a riser, flanked by two video screens and light banks. The stage had a giant rug with the band’s logo emblazoned on it. These dudes have stepped up their game in the show presentation for sure. It was an antsy half hour or so before the lights finally dropped and the place went nuts. The members came out and jumped straight into “Desolation” off their newest record, Resolution. I will say it’s hard not to notice that these dudes are getting up there in years, but they really haven’t lost any energy on stage and seem very much to still passionately enjoy what they’re doing. That goes double for Randy, who was looking fit and happy, soaking up the endless crowd love as he did his trademark tiger-in-a-cage pacing around the stage. After single “Ghost Walking,” Randy spoke briefly about how glad he was to be back from what he called an “interesting year,” and several times throughout the set, he showered as much love on Salt Lake City as he was getting, talking about how their shows here are always so amazing, how he sees dudes in shirts from The Heavy Metal Shop all over the world, and how happy he was to be visiting again. Their presentation was really phenomenal and polished. Even with the banter, every transition was smooth and seamless with hardly any downtime between songs, which kept the energy at a steady high. Much kudos to their stage techs who helped facilitate this by having new instruments at the ready when Mark, John and Willie slid backstage momentarily to change up during Randy’s banter, it was as flawless as a theater production. The only hitch was during “Undertow”; metal sites around the net had passed on an open letter from Randy before the tour which stated in no uncertain terms that after dealing with the tragedy of losing a fan, the band was not fucking around with safety any longer. No one would be allowed on the stage, and if someone was being reckless, they would stop playing until it was fixed. So when some drunk moron on the bar balcony began climbing into the steel rafters, the show came to a halt until security got it settled, and they started again without any more fuss.
The aforementioned video screens were used to show creepy shots of old nuclear tests and war footage that fit well with their ambiance but didn’t overpower the actual musicians, which I think is better form than video dominating the show. Guitarist Willie Adler had some awesome interactions with the fans in front of him and chucked out every single one of his picks, making sure not to neglect those of us in the bar when he did. Musically they were perfect, and fed the crowd every single one of their most popular tracks, touching on every album they’ve put out in their career (with the exception of the Burn the Priest years, of course). Fans eagerly chanted along to “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For,” “Walk With Me In Hell,” and “Laid To Rest.” Randy made a touching tribute to Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman and dedicated the performance of “11th Hour” to him, a fitting and somewhat dark tribute; the song is about alcoholism, and Hanneman’s recent death was related to liver failure. But that’s one of the definite charms about Lamb of God: they don’t pull any punches, and they support and love without whitewashing over the dark parts that exist. Their music, to me, is one of the more honest representations of American metal that has existed. They bring in traditional sounds born of Southern roots, and combine it with Randy’s intelligent lyrical commentaries to create something that says that they truly love their country and culture, but will burn it to the ground to save it from the predators that are poisoning it. They respect and honor the soldiers (“Now You’ve Got Something To Die For” was dedicated to them, along with a video show of LOG fans in the military) while railing against the idiots who are throwing them to the wolves. They express the modern American conundrum with bold and brilliant candor.
They closed the show with a classy 4-song encore that surprisingly included “The Passing” from Wrath, a beautiful acoustic interlude, as well as “Redneck,” finishing with their ultimate mosh pit track “Black Label.” It was a smooth, incredible show, a fitting comeback after what was undoubtedly a shitty year for the quartet, but it’s clear that everything that has happened has been but a detour, a bump in the road. Lamb of God is as strong as ever.
Check out the photo gallery here.