Decibel Magazine Tour at Rams Head Live

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, May 27, 2012

When this year’s Decibel Magazine sponsored tour was announced, the lineup was certainly impressive. Behemoth’s return after front man Nergal’s battle with leukemia along with Watain, The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude acting as support promised to be memorable. However, when I saw that the Baltimore date for the tour was being held at Rams Head Live I was skeptical as the past couple metal shows I’ve seen there have had questionable sound quality despite the bands giving their best effort. And sadly this proved to be the case yet again, but despite the sound issues it was still a fun show that was worth experiencing.

Evoken had been added to two or three dates of the tour on the East Coast, but sadly due to the unpredictable Baltimore traffic and some issues at the door led me to miss their entire set. What I heard from the lobby sounded fantastic though, and hopefully the funeral doom band will return to the area in the near future as I am still interested in truly experiencing them live. There was very little time between sets, which was a bit of a surprise considering that bigger venues typically allow the groups more time to get ready, but before I knew it In Solitude had already taken the stage. In Solitude is a traditional heavy metal band that has a Mercyful Fate vibe along with other influences, and their material has only gotten stronger as they have moved forward. However, despite the best effort from both the instrumentalists and lead singer Pelle Ahman the set suffered from technical difficulties as after a song or two the entire right side of the stage would cut out for 20-30 seconds at a time. It was quite jarring, but what could be made out from the times that the sound was working properly sounded great and Ahman sounds almost exactly like he does on the band’s albums. These guys are able to do heavy metal well, and while this performance was marred with issues that likely were out of their hands I hope that In Solitude returns on another tour and are given a slightly longer timeslot (25-30 minutes isn’t much when your sound keeps cutting out). They are still a band that I enjoy listening to quite a bit, and one bad experience won’t turn me away from their music.

The Devil’s Blood was the next act to perform, and while they may be much closer to psychedelic rock than metal their themes and aesthetics were perfectly suited for this tour. This group has stood out thanks to their ability to write memorable riffs that put listeners into a trance, and despite having 60s psychedelic rock and 70s hard rock influences the songs have had a feeling of their own. What I wasn’t aware of was that The Devil’s Blood made use of three guitarists, which added to the fullness of their sounds and allowed for some extended instrumental jams in their set. The sound wasn’t cutting out during their set, but as with Watain and Behemoth’s sets this one was plagued by muddiness. Now, this is something that you might expect for the other two groups as they play noisy riffs that have a tendency to blur together but for a band like The Devil’s Blood that is slightly mellower and has distinguishable riffs this isn’t a good thing. Thankfully because of the instrumental styles the material still sounded pretty good and it was clear that the guitarists all had a good deal of skill, but whoever was running the board didn’t seem to realize who was doing a solo at a particular moment as the volume would suddenly shoot up halfway into it. Vocalist SL/TDB/A-O (this is what she goes by) has an absolutely incredible voice, and I think it might actually sound better live than on record as her singing towers over the instrumentals and really steals the spotlight. She spent much of the set with her arms stretched outward, looking as though she was in a trance for the entire set and this really set the mood perfectly. Although the sound wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, considering the circumstances I believe The Devil’s Blood was the best sounding act on this show and really blew me away. I’ll be watching part of their set during Maryland Deathfest this weekend (if there wasn’t overlap with Deviated Instinct I would stay for all of it) so hopefully better sound will make them sound even better.

Chances are good that you have heard quite a bit about Watain’s on-stage presence, as they really go all out. This time around they didn’t have the same amount of animal heads and corpses that they had on-stage when I saw them at Maryland Deathfest in 2010, but this time around there were a lot of candles with incense. I had a general idea of what to expect, as previously Watain’s songs have turned into a wall of sound live and it is best to just take everything in and savor the experience (plus it helps if you know the material as your brain fills in the missing elements). The sound remained fairly muddy, but considering the nature of black metal this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing considering that the vocals were still razor sharp. However, one problem was that it didn’t seem as though the set was loud enough. This is a strange problem to have at a metal show, but Rams Head Live didn’t crank the volume up enough to allow the sound waves to wash over the audience, and as a result the set didn’t quite have the same level of energy as the 2010 one. Watain’s set was stacked heavily towards their newest album Lawless Darkness, and it seemed as though compared to what I had seen before that they chose numbers that had mid-tempo sections rather than going for all-out blasting. Despite the sound issues the band still sounded great though, and was able to replicate their albums in a live setting. However, it should be noted that this is really the type of group that one goes to see for the experience and atmosphere, as being in front of the band and their unholy rituals makes up for any nuances of their material that is lost in the noisy haze.

Behemoth took the stage to loud applause, and it was clear that fans were excited that the band was back in the U.S. Their stage show wasn’t overly elaborate, aside from the giant banner that was hung from the wall and spotlights that drenched the band in a white light as they were playing. It was one of those little details that worked in a big way, as it gave Behemoth a larger than life look and captivated me throughout their set. As for the sound, unfortunately it was still fairly muffled and despite the best effort of the instrumentalists the majority of what was audible was the drum work and front man Nergal. The guitar riffs got a bit lost in the mix, although there were moments where it was still evident just what song was being performed. I know that this entire review probably comes off as a bit harsh, but at one point during Behemoth’s set a guy wearing one of their shirts leaned over to me and asked “Is it me or does is the sound in here terrible tonight?” So it was clear that I wasn’t the only one having this issue, and even dedicated fans of the group were noticing that Rams Head Live really seemed to drop the ball on sound. But, despite the guitars being buried the set was still enjoyable thanks to the band’s incredible stage presence (they have so much energy) and Nergal’s killer vocals. I think this is simply a case of the entire tour being in a venue that just can’t quite handle the type of sounds the bands are trying to create. The Decibel tour is over by now, but don’t let this review discourage you from seeing any of these bands in a live setting because when they are in a venue that is able to accommodate them their material is great and even if the sound is simply average the stage presence and showmanship of these groups make them worth experiencing.

Photos by Cristina Gonzales (Bands Listed in Alphabetical Order):

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