Children of Bodom/Devin Townsend/Obscura/Septicflesh

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, July 18, 2011

Whether you still actively listen to them or not, chances are that if you’re in my age range Children of Bodom was one of the first bands that broke you into metal and started to refine your tastes. Albums such as Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper were prominent parts of my collection in the early 2000’s, and while the group’s last few releases haven’t impressed me nearly as much Children of Bodom was still an act that I wanted to see in a live setting. Thankfully that opportunity presented itself as the band announced a headlining tour, and were playing two days at Jaxx in Springfield, VA. Since the second day fell on a Friday, I braved the rush hour commute and headed out for a night of metal.

This tour was unique because there were no local openers. Jaxx has become a venue that is known (and sometimes disliked) by some people because their primary booking agency likes to throw on three or four local acts on top of a tour that might already have five or six national acts. I have nothing against local bands and quite a few of them are talented, but having that many groups performing on a single day can often be quite tiring so it was a nice change of pace to get in the door and immediately be greeted by a larger band. Another thing worth mentioning is that this tour has a wide variety of genres represented, as Bodom brought along Septicflesh, Obscura, and Devin Townsend along.

Septicflesh was the first band of the night, and they’re a group that I discovered fairly late. The Greek symphonic black metal/death metal band has been around since 1990 and initially disbanded in 2003, but reformed in 2007 and has put out two albums since then. These two efforts, Communion and The Great Mass, were the reason that they came to my attention and I’ve been working my way backwards through their discography since that time. I was interested in finding out how their recent material would translate over to a live setting as it incorporates a lot of orchestral and choral elements that can’t be brought over with them, but as it turned out the pre-recorded bits were mixed in well enough that it was just as strong as on the records. As expected, Septicflesh’s short set was focused around songs from the newest two albums although I was a little disappointed that “Lovecraft’s Death” did not make an appearance. The instrumentals sounded great and despite my initial reservations about how all of the elements would translate live everything was balanced fairly well and it was easy to make out the recorded orchestral and choral parts despite the extremely loud guitar riffs and drum beats. Spiros “Seth” Antoniou has just as powerful and distorted of a growl as he does on the group’s albums, and while there were a few moments where he was drowned out by the sheer volume of the instrumentals he still did a great job. The crowd was already quite large at this point and reacted accordingly, even pulling off a wall of death when asked to do so. Admittedly I got the impression that the group could have cut out some of the talking and constant requests for devil horns to fit in one more song, but this is a minor issue and as a whole I was very impressed with their performance.

I would argue that Obscura was easily the heaviest band on this tour, and thought it would be interesting to see how they went over with the crowd. As it turns out, the German technical death metal group was able to get the pits moving and crowd pumped up just as well as Septicflesh. Their material is full of twists and turns and the occasional progressive tendency, and because of this the band played a set that only consisted of a handful of songs but was still quite lengthy. Much of their set was focused around their two best known albums, Cosmogenesis and this year’s Omnivium and their technical ability and energy were on par with their recorded output. It is always amazing how instrumentalists in bands of this type are able to play arrangements that are this fast and complicated without missing a beat, even in front of a couple hundred attendees. To give you an idea of how technically proficient are, let me give you an example. Drummer Hannes Grossmann was positioned off to the side of the stage, and depending on where you were watching from you may not have been able to see him because he was behind a stack of amplifiers. After the band had finished playing I ran into some friends, and one of them asked me if Obscura had been using a live drummer or if everything was pre-recorded using a drum machine. He couldn’t tell that Grossmann had been playing the entire thing perfectly, and I suspect the machinelike precision could have tricked quite a few people. The group definitely played a great set, and unlike some of the other technical death metal bands out there it is actually possible to tell one song apart from the next which makes it fun to listen to these guys tear through their material. I can understand how the wall of sound between the riffs and vocals could be too much for some people, but the majority of the crowd seemed to be feeling Obscura and gave them their full support.

Devin Townsend may be best known for his work with Strapping Young Lad, but this is only scratching the surface of his discography. In addition to his numerous solo albums Townsend has also released an album under the moniker Ziltoid the Omniscient which he used to create a humorous rock opera about a space alien. I was curious as to what his solo performance would entail, as a lot of his recent solo work has featured instrumental only arrangements and a number of different guest vocalists. Like Septicflesh, Devin Townsend used a lot of pre-recorded parts that were mixed in seamlessly with the live instrumentals and gave the feel that the album really was being played directly in front of you. There were two elements that made this performance so exciting: the diversity of the material and Devin’s on-stage persona. With so much material to choose from, it was clear that there would be a lot of different sounds to take in and it was nice to see that Townsend chose material from various points in his discography (he even included a Ziltoid song). Although his recent work has been slightly more subdued when compared to Strapping Young Lad, in a live setting it is still quite loud and energetic and you can really feel the wall of sound all around you. Devin is also one hell of a performer, as he not only runs around the stage grinning like a madman and getting as close to the audience as he can, but he frequently jokes around in between tracks and provides a running commentary of sorts as he is performing. It’s certainly one of the more unique performances I’ve witnessed, and the crowd seemed to feed off Towsend’s energy for the entire set. I’d argue that even after all of these years he is at the top of his game, and if I remember correctly he said on stage that a headlining set isn’t too far off so it will be great to see even more of his work in person in the near future.

Even though this was the second night of the tour, Children of Bodom managed to pack Jaxx and while I am not sure if the show was sold out or not it seemed as though it was close to that point. No matter what you think about their recent work, there’s no denying that these guys can draw in large crowds and rile them up into a frenzy. Almost as soon as the band took the stage and began playing, the entire floor of the venue turned into a warzone. After only one or two songs I saw several people retreating from the mosh pit that was taking up almost all of the floor space (thankfully Jaxx is divided up into a floor and two raised areas so it is possible to move away from where all the action is). Children of Bodom clearly understand their audience, as they played a lengthy twelve song set with a two song encore that spanned various points in their career. I was satisfied with the amount of older material that they dug up, and the keyboards/guitar work is still just as mesmerizing as it was the first time I heard it. In terms of the vocals, Alexi Laiho’s performance was about what I expected as he sounded great on the older tracks where he screams and slightly iffy on the newer ones where he adopts a cleaner style. But considering this is how I felt about his work on the band’s recorded material, this is on par with what I expected in a live setting. It has always been a point of debate as to where this group fits into the metal spectrum (I personally lean towards a combination of melodic death metal and traditional heavy metal), but when you watch these guys perform and invoke such passion from the crowd all of this goes away and you’re left with a band that embodies the energy and technical prowess that all metal embodies. Even if you’re more of a casual fan like I am, I can recommend Children of Bodom live as they definitely put on a great show.

Links:

Children of Bodom- http://www.cobhc.com/
Devin Townsend- http://www.hevydevy.com/
Obscura- http://www.obscura-metal.com/
Septicflesh- http://www.septicflesh.com/

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