As we rode a shuttle bus from the Itzehoe train station to the grounds of the Wacken Open Air Festival, the last leg of an eventful 36+ hour journey, I knew this would be an experience that bonded the 3 of us for life…I just didn’t know how exactly. Leading up to the festival, I read updates regarding the amount of rain they were getting, but for some reason I wasn’t concerned, perhaps because the measurements were metric and I’m not smart. Even on the bus, a group of people had been conversing on the excess of mud. I still saw no concern. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As the bus pulled in to the grounds, there were only 3 things to be seen: people, tents and mud…oceans of mud. Fortunately there was a solid bed of rock to step on as the 3 of us exited the bus. Looking back, as our feet crossed from the stability of rock to the infinite sea of mud, I was reminded of a young Archie Grahm in the movie Field of Dreams, about to permanently alter the course of his life as he stepped from the corn field to the baseball field. Things were about to change for us as well. I’ll save the longer story for another day. That weekend was a challenge to say the least, and yet, easily one of the best times of my life, both in terms of camaraderie as well as the music. We bought some rain boots, bought some beer and saw some of the most amazing performances. Obituary and Cannibal Corpse, pure, unfiltered old school death metal, were among the finest.
After returning home from Germany, we parted ways. Months later though, when the Cannibal Corpse/Obituary tour dates popped up on my radar, I felt it was the perfect occasion for a reunion. We convened at the Surly Brewery for some quality beer, quality pre-gaming and reflection on our Wacken travel. After which, we migrated to The Cabooze, a cozy little venue and pretty much the polar opposite of an outdoor European festival. I only have 3 words to describe the evening: absolutely, fucking and brutal. That’s it, honest. We’re talking about 4 considerably distinguished death metal bands with over 100 years of savagery between them (I’m serious, do the math). What could possibly be more metal than that? Perhaps the fact that the entire place was a colossal mosh pit continuously pulsating over the course of 5 hours. We held the stage left position most of the night, with the current thrusting us to the right occasionally. We couldn’t have been happier.
Abysmal Dawn and Cryptopsy were solid…brutally solid. Cryptopsy had also been at Wacken this past summer, but scheduling didn’t allow us to see them, something that had bummed me out, but this tour brought me piece of mind. Obituary stood out the most this night. Like previous, their set was as dynamic as it was relentless, destroying tracks across the entire spectrum of their catalog. What I love most about Obituary is the honest, gritty coarseness to the sound they’ve been churning for the last 30+ years. Cannibal Corpse was true to form as well. Their brand of horrifically brutal death metal never gets old. They tore through the full range of their catalog as well, intermixed with George’s life commentary. I always enjoy when some dickhead throws something on stage and George immediately lashes out with death threats. That too never gets old.
Over the course of the night, I had two epiphanies. First, death metal bands have the most elegant hair. I mean that as a genuine compliment. Every band has at least one member with ass-length, pristine, lush hair. As a man in the throes of a slow, painful balding, I would kill to have hair like that. Is a L’oréal sponsored tour out of the question? Agenda? Think about it.
The second epiphany, which was probably more of a reawakening, was the idea that death metal is timeless (which is obviously true for a lot of metal). It’s not something I didn’t know previously, but seeing 4 of the worlds finest death metal bands, back to back, helps rejuvenate and enlighten. Death metal doesn’t need to be anything other than itself. It doesn’t need to get faster, louder, more technical, more progressive, more deathy or anything…it just needs to be. I’m sure there’s a great Shakespeare quote I could reference, but alas, I hath not one. At it’s utmost core, death metal is brutally honest, and honestly brutal. In a universe comprised of countless sub-genres, most which I mingle with in some capacity, death metal has been my metal of choice. It’s the metal that’s shaped me most, not just with the brutality of it’s sound, but with it’s attitudes, it’s artwork and even the term death metal. I was 15 the first time I heard death metal. I have Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to thank for that. Cannibal Corpse made a cameo, playing what I would later find out was “Hammer Smashed Face.” I was all in at that point, and never turned back. 22 years later, the 5th time I’ve seen Cannibal Corpse live, and “Hammer Smashed Face” is still as relevant and brutal sounding as was back then. When Obituary plays songs off of Slowly We Rot (please forgive the lack of specifics), it engulfs you the same as it did back in 1987, if not more. The whole concept is so simple…yet so brutal.
Tonight was about 3 comrades reuniting for an evening of death metal. 3 dudes bonded for life after an extended weekend of surviving a mud-soaked heavy metal festival armed with only rain boots and beer. A bond that will hopefully bring us back to Wacken in 2017, but if not, will give us many more evenings of exceptional beer and deafening music. Tonight was also about my reunion with death metal, not that’d we’d spent time apart, but rather, taking the time to stop and appreciate a genre for what it truly is.