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Obituary + Persefone + Furnaze + Warlord UK @ O2 Academy, Birmingham - Sunday 7th March 2010

Review by Jason
Pix by Samantha Knight
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Birmingham’s Warlord UK was on stage when I arrived but because I was going back stage to interview Obituary’s Don Tardy, I had no time to grant them much attention. I did, however, catch the last two songs of their set. What I saw was all-things-90’s thrash and death: huge, aggressive chugging riffs, fast solos, and time signature and tempo changes aplenty, all masterfully delivered by adept musicians, fronted by Mark White, a giant of a man with a voice to match.

Furnaze – apparently “a band even Satan is afraid of” – wear their hearts on their sleeve and their love for 90’s thrash bleeds through every beat. (There’s a theme emerging here methinks…) Singer/guitarist Olivier Vermeersch looks like Kerry King and sounds like Tom Araya and Dave Mustaine. His custom-made flying V gets a pasting this evening as the band hit us with a set of old-school thrash metal, thankfully bereft of any compromise. Technically, the band is faultless. When Vermeersch breaks out for a solo, Andie Cayne (bass) and Adrian Erlandsson of Cradle of Filth, The Haunted, and Paradise Lost infamy (drums) hold the rhythm section down with a sound that never once threatens to give way. The band’s technical proficiency is matched by the wisdom that a band can’t rely on ability alone and needs songs. Their combination of melodic lines, speed and heavy metal influences sets this band apart from a whole host of retro thrash bands. And the audience, by this time in the evening beginning to fill out, responds in kind.

I’ve been wondering why Persefone are supporting Obituary because their styles are like day and night. Persefone is a melting pot, a concoction of 70s King Crimson and Pink Floyd with elements of NWOBHM, death metal, black metal, and the occasional haunting piano intro straight out of a horror movie involving huge gothic mansions and twisted, vacant-gazed children. Sandwiched between two 90s-thrash acts and death metal pioneers Obituary, the presence of a keyboard indicates a departure from what the audience have come to see and doesn’t bode well.

Their latest album Shin Ken is based upon ancient Japanese war-stories. I like it, mainly because it is ambitious in its attempt to combine a history and culture that is no doubt alien to the band (they are from Andorra, a small country in the Pyrenees between France and Spain) with diverse genres. There are the occasional moments in the album that make me wonder what they were thinking, such as placing a bland melodic section in the middle of a song that serves no other purpose than demonstrate instrumental expertise (and perhaps satisfy the keyboardist’s need to tinkle). But overall, it’s got as much, if not more to offer than most of the recent prog/metal/death albums out there at the moment.

Live, they play with the precision of Dream Theater and the power of Children Of Bodom with tons of fast guitar and keyboard fiddling. The set is suitably dynamic with the occasional breakdown to relieve tension and then smash it apart with breakneck riffs and black metal vocals. The vocals of singer Marc Martins Pia and keyboardist Miguel Espinosa Ortiz work well together but at times seem hindered by onstage sound. Guitarists Jordi Gorgues Mateu and Carlos Lozano Quintanilla are adept and perform the intricate and challenging parts they’ve conjured up with ease and conviction, and bassist Toni Mestre Coy and drummer Marc Mas Marti round out the meticulous sound. At times the keyboard parts sound out of place, even unnecessary, but it sits well within the band’s sound. Maybe in an album or two they’ll have integrated keys into their oeuvre more effectively.

The crowd response, I felt, was less than they deserved. Granted, this may be the wrong lineup for them to truly shine – as indicated by the cheer raised when they announced their last song – but they played a great set, tight, proficient, and dynamically challenging.

Obituary. What more need I say? This could easily be the shortest review I write because their set was flawless. Staying true to their sound from day one, Obituary delivers the performance you’d expect from the pioneers of death metal. From opener ‘List of Dead’ from their latest ‘Darkest Days’ (one of my favourites from the album, along with ‘This Life’, sadly not played this evening) to closer, the classic ‘Slowly We Rot’, Obituary hold their audience in the palm of their hand.

The band is relaxed onstage, talk to the crowd and raise mighty cheers as they play songs that span their whole career. The first four songs from 2005 to 2009 sit seamlessly alongside the next three from 1990’s ‘Cause of Death’ album. The set moves back and forth through their oeuvre and confirms why Obituary is a band to be heralded as both progenitor and benchmark of death metal.

John joins brother Don for ‘Blood to Give’ for some tribal drumming before returning to centre-stage beneath a mass of hair to grunt and growl. The perpetual debate as to whether he actually writes lyrics or just spits out semi-familiar ‘shapes’ has no relevance here. His vocals are as strong as ever; Don’s drumming is pure precision and force; and Trevor’s guitar sound – thumped out of his newly-acquired Stratocaster – is the same as it always has been. Terry Butler (of Massacre, Death, and Six Feet Under fame) is temporarily filling the recently-vacated bassist position and plays as if he’s been there since day one. Ralph Santolla – now a fully fledged member of the band – compliments Trevor’s work perfectly and his improvised solos match his dexterity with the band’s well-defined sound and give the fans a performance that they what they saw won’t be repeated and is all theirs. Every song gets a great reception from the crowd and particularly from the frenzied pit.

The encore begins with a huge solo from Don – huge in every way imaginable – and segues into ‘Slow Death’ followed by ‘Evil Ways’ and closing with what we all knew was coming: ‘Slowly We Rot’. Classic.

Set list:
List of Dead, Blood to Give, On The Floor, Face Your God, Chopped in Half, Turned Inside Out, Dying, Threatening Skies, Dethroned Emperor (Celtic Frost cover), The End Complete, Final Thoughts, Forces Realign, Contrast the Dead
Encore: Slow Death, Evil Ways, Slowly We Rot

In January, I wrote that Anaal Nathrakh could be my top gig of 2010. Obituary just knocked them off the top spot. It’s only March! If gigs are this good now, what’s in store for the remainder of this year? 

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