Review by Laura Wiebe; Photos by Adam Wills
Last year some of the original members of Florida extreme metal pioneers Death got together with special guests to play some shows. The all-star metal entity they created, Death to All, served a three-part purpose: pay tribute to the work of Death founder Chuck Schuldiner, increase awareness about musicians’ lack of health care benefits in the U.S., and raise some funds for Sweet Relief, a charity that offers financial help to career musicians with medical problems.
Death to All regrouped in 2013 to continue this quest, performing just over a dozen shows in North America. Genre-defying Vancouver artists Anciients, who released their debut album Heart of Oak this April, joined Death to All for every date but the final tour-capping performance in Mexico City. Hellbound caught the bands’ last gig together at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto.
Anciients took to the stage at 8:15 with album opener “Raise the Sun.” The guys’ band shirts represented a mix of citations, with singer/guitarist Kenny Cook donning a Death tee, drummer Mike Hannay a Rush shirt, bassist Aaron “Boon” Gustafson offering a visual shout out to Barn Burner, and guitarist Chris Dyck displaying a Sacrifice logo. He later appreciatively dedicated “Faith and Oath” to Sacrifice, members of whom were in the room.
Anciients’ set was a mix of technical intricacy and heavy groove, intense and laid back. The continual shifts between styles gave their songs a persistent forward momentum and the mix of instrumental and vocal towns guaranteed a rich palette of textures. They played several other tracks off Heart of Oak, including “Falling in Line,” “Overthrone,” and “Giants,” with more emphasis on doomy progressive death metal than on some of the more psychedelic elements of their sound.
Although it was the band’s first time performing in Toronto, they clearly have a loyal fan base in development, even provoking the makings of a mosh pit. Their set was heavy and solid, the only real weak point a couple of solos veering off in odd directions. Before Anciients finished, their tourmates attacked them with silly string, ensuring their finale was both memorable and light-hearted.
Death to All’s set began just shy of 9:30, after a slideshow lead-in featuring snapshots of Schuldiner with various other folks and a gradual build-up of dark and heavy atmospheric sound. Like a time machine, the tour brought together members of Death’s Human line-up – drummer Sean Reinert, bassist Steve DiGiorgio, and guitarist Paul Masvidal – with Max Phelps (Exist/touring member of Cynic) stepping in on vocals and guitar.
Reinert was the first to appear on stage but was quickly joined by the others, and aside from the guys looking a little marked by the years, it was like stepping backwards more than two decades to revisit a tremendously formative era in the history of death metal. Crowd appreciation registered immediately, with a pit breaking out during the first song.
The set list pulled from the first four full-length Death albums: Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Leprosy (1988), Spiritual Healing (1990), and Human (1991) – punctuated by a few short speeches reminding us what the night was about. With tracks like “Suicide Machine,” the band delivered an incredibly heavy experience, performing death metal distilled to its essential components. Phelps eerily evoked Schuldiner’s aura visually and sonically, but DiGiorgio stole the show in terms of visual spectacle, coming off as both entertaining and imposing, both aspects only heightened by his bass solo midway through.
After nearly an hour the band stepped out of the spotlight to turn our attention to a memorial video featuring clips of Schuldiner and Death. After this short interlude, Death to All returned to the stage to end the night with a few more brutally heavy tracks and a reminder of Death’s contributed to the early death metal scene. Though revisiting Schuldiner’s musical legacy meant the sense of collective loss was strong, the sense of fellowship was stronger. In the end it was less for sadness than a cause for celebration.