By Adrien Begrand
As tough as metal bands like to make themselves out to be, there sure aren’t very many who have the cojones to trek across the Canadian prairies in the middle of fucking December. Barring the odd exception (an entire generation of Canadian metalheads is indebted to Metallica for their winter ’86 tour), the only bands who dare to brave the snow, ice, and sub-sub-sub-zero temperatures out here tend to be either from Finland, Poland, or Quebec, so when Jamey Jasta and his merry crew of bands hit the city as part of the lengthy North American Decimation of the Nation tour, the show did not go by unappreciated, 500 frozen headbangers and hardcore kids making their way through the beyond brutal -30 weather to catch the last big metal show around these parts until spring.
With a bill featuring co-headliners Hatebreed and Cannibal Corpse, Unearth, “Sumerian-core” darlings Born of Osiris, and Hate Eternal, it makes for a rather odd mix of styles, but then again, this is just the kind of genre-bending fun that suits Jasta to a tee: he loves to make metal and hardcore inclusive instead of exclusive, and the more power to him. And there was certainly an eclectic mix of people on this night, from old school heshers, to skin-headed hardcore dudes, to scene children sporting their “pull the trigger bitch” shirts and hoodies, to women who looked like they just popped in from the cool tapas bar down the street. It was the sort of situation where you’d wish that if you asked four different people who they thought was the best band they might have named four different answers, but on this night, the answer was crystal clear by 9:15. Cannibal Corpse absolutely obliterated everything in its path.
It wasn’t even close. Hatebreed might have had the louder mix, the big drum riser, the garish backdrop, and platforms for Mr. Jasta to gaze upon his following, but give Cannibal Corpse the smallest stage space, and they’ll still come across as one of the most visually imposing acts in the entire genre. There’s never much to a Corpse show, just five guys who never leave their marks, long, sweaty hair obscuring their faces, churning out that distinct death metal sound they’ve been doing for more than two decades. No frills whatsoever, just pure brutality, and it never fails to floor audiences.
Aside from the odd twist (the uncharacteristically understated opener “Evisceration Plague”, Butchered at Birth nugget “Vomit the Soul”), it’s always so predictable with this band, right down to George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s banter, but like a Judas Priest show, that’s all part of the, ritualistic, almost liturgical fun. When he dedicates the next song to the ladies, we know what song is next. When he says the next song is their last song, we know he’s lying. Yet although we know they’re coming, “Fucked With a Knife” and “Hammer Smashed Face” ignite a room like nothing else, immediately inciting mayhem, Fisher’s psychotically fast windmills propelling the pit into even further fits of frenzy. “You can try to headbang as fast as me,” he says, “but you won’t win.” The man boasts, and he backs it up unequivocally.
If there was one band with the potential to come close to sounding as punishing as Cannibal Corpse, it was Florida death greats Hate Eternal, but plagued by a terribly early start time of 6:15 and a flaccid mix better suited to a band of local kids and not the supremely talented Erik Rutan, the band couldn’t quite get things going consistently enough, despite the guitarist’s spirited efforts on tracks like “Bringer of Storms” and “I, Monarch”. Born of Osiris had better sound, but since the deathcore band continues to struggle with the rather simple notion of writing a listenable song, it was a total lost cause, their half hour set tedious and lightweight. Always one of the most staunchly formulaic bands around, Unearth did their usual shtick for a good 40 minutes (catchy riff, indecipherable vocals, one-chord breakdown, repeat ad infinitum), yet they made it work because they’re just too damn charismatic. And in the case of beer bong-sporting guitarist Ken Susi, bizarrely compelling: the dude is disturbingly obsessed with expectorating, spitting at a prodigious, Zakk Wylde-esque rate of about twice per song, even catching one arcing loogie with his fret hand and, erm, slicking it in his hair. Lovely.
And then there was Hatebreed, the Bachman Turner Overdrive of metalcore. You hear one Hatebreed song, you’ve heard ’em all, and when the quintet brought out the ludicrous, hardcore-by-way-of-nu-metal “In Ashes They Shall Reap”, one of 2009’s true guilty pleasures, two songs in, yours truly was ready to join the mass exodus of Cannibal Corpse fans, but the more Jasta and his mates carried on, the more you had to mildly enjoy the festivities. Hatebreed is big, dumb, and constantly eschews eloquence in favour of much blunter, vaguer messages (“Live for this! Live! Live! Live for this!”), but Jasta is a tireless showman, doing everything he can to engage the crowd, from his onstage calisthenics to his numerous variations on the “put your hands in the air” gimmick (for the record: fists, open palms, two fists, the “hand of doom”, and the waving of hands from side to side). It was all very affable and workmanlike (“I Will Be Heard” and “Defeatist” are admittedly undeniable), but for many of us, our minds had been made up an hour earlier. Upon leaving into the bitter cold, one kid was lamenting the fact that his ticket said “Hatebreed” and not “Cannibal Corpse”. That’s all you need to know about who the better band was.