High on Fire/Eyehategod/Corrosion of Conformity/Magrudergrind/Strong Intention/Ilsa at Ottobar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Music fans are used to seeing plenty of great bands on summer festivals and traveling tour packages, but it isn’t quite as often that a one-off show in a city near you has an extremely stacked lineup. So when I saw that Ottobar was hosting a concert with High on Fire, Eyehategod, and Corrosion of Conformity all on the same bill I knew it was definitely worth checking out. This show attracted quite a few people from out of town and sold out the venue, and for anyone that made it out they were able to see some great performances.

Ilsa started the night off, but the crowd was still a bit sparse at this point. The group had a fairly short set and a lot of people were still just getting in the door as they finished their set, but that didn’t stop the Washington D.C. death/doom band from delivering another high energy set. I’ve seen Ilsa play quite a few times over the past few years and they’re always one of my favorite bands from the area as the level of intensity that are delivered by their instrumentalists and vocalist Orion are always top notch. One of the reasons that Ilsa has always made such an impression on me is the sheer weight of their instrumental work, which is amplified in a live setting and each note seems to hit harder than the last. Typically the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy when these songs reach their peak but things did stay noticeably tamer this time around, but I’m guessing that may be due to the fact that this audience may not have been as familiar with the material as the last few performances I was at. It seemed like as soon as they started the band was already done playing, but once again they gave it their all and sounded even heavier and dirtier than on album. I do prefer seeing Ilsa at venues slightly smaller than Ottobar where the crowd can really enhance the experience, but will still check them out any chance that I can.

Strong Intention took over shortly after Ilsa had finished. While the group has been around for quite some time, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I saw them for the first time. The headliners of this show may be oriented towards sludge, but Strong Intention goes for straight up grind and powerviolence and flew through a set of fast paced and short tracks. Although these guys are definitely high energy, I have to admit that they didn’t really do a whole lot for me this time around. It may have been because the crowd didn’t seem to react that much either and remained fairly tame for the majority of the set, as that can really be a deciding factor to the energy level of a set. Nothing sounded bad and it continues to be clear that these guys have been doing this for a while as they are a bit more precise than some of the others out there, but the lack of crowd response and similar feel between songs didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Grindcore/powerviolence has a tendency to be fairly underground compared to most forms of extreme music, but Magrudergrind has gotten a boost in recent years thanks to a Scion EP release. The Washington D.C. band definitely deserves it though, as not only do they have the speed and slower breaks that the genre is known for but there are individual riffs that actually grab your attention. Once the group took the stage the energy level shot up as well, as the crowd immediately started moshing and vocalist Avi Kulawy capitalized on this energy by jumping around the stage and delivering his trademark high pitched screams. Kulawy’s vocals continue to be one of the elements that make Magrudergrind distinguishable from some of their peers, as the higher ranges are almost overwhelming at times and come through even better live. This isn’t always the case with grindcore and powerviolence as sometimes the sheer wall of sound created by the instrumentals completely buries the vocal work, but every time I’ve seen these guys play Kulawy steals the spotlight. Magrudergrind continues to offer everything that I love about this style of music and their live performance never disappoints, and no matter what slot of a show they are on they’re capable of getting the crowd fired up.

Unlike a normal tour date, this one-off show gave headline length sets to Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, and High on Fire (COC played for almost 50 minutes and Eyehategod and High on Fire both played for a little over an hour). This is a lot of material to take in at once, especially after three openers, but these three acts are definitely capable of keeping your attention. The last time I saw Corrosion of Conformity was two years ago, shortly after they had released their self-titled album. I’ll always love the releases that had Pepper Keenan as the lead singer (Deliverance is a disc that finds its way into my stereo on a regular basis), but have had a great deal of appreciation for the group’s earlier crossover thrash and punk sound as well. What works so well about this version of COC is that they haven’t simply gone back to the Animosity sound, instead blending the crossover and punk elements with the southern rock and sludge elements of their later albums. This gives the group a different feel when compared to some of the others out there, and it’s a mix that works extremely well in a live setting. COC may have originally formed in 1982 but they haven’t lost any of their energy, as they didn’t let up for a moment throughout the entire 50 minute set. The instrumental work was spot on, and the quick transitions from fast paced crossover into slow sludgy grooves continue to win me over every time I hear it. Lead singer Mike Dean brings a very different sound, especially if you’re not overly familiar with the material he’s been the primary vocalist, and while there were a few moments during the set where his singing was a little shaky he’s always able to bring it right back and keep things going. It wasn’t quite my favorite set of the night, but I definitely enjoyed seeing COC again and they’re still a great live band.

I’ve now seen Eyehategod more times than I can keep track of, and am starting to think that they’re a group I prefer better live than on record. That’s not to say that the albums aren’t good, but there’s something about having the band’s noisy, bottom heavy riffs played on-stage at an extremely high volume that’s a bit more appealing. It also helps that every time Eyehategod seems to put on a great show and is able to get the crowd going right from the start. This time around they did seem to run into some technical issues that cut into the middle of a song or two, but it didn’t stall things for too long. Aside from these minor issues I think this was one of the best sounding set I’ve seen from these guys, as even fairly far back in the packed venue you could make out the heavy grooves and Mike Williams’ aggressive vocals. In the middle of a sold out crowd, Eyehategod’s chaotic material leads to plenty of stage diving and waves of moshing, which only helps to add more energy to their performance. Their set list continues to be full of familiar tunes, but considering how well the riffs in these particular numbers translate live I can’t fault the group for continuing to play what works the best. With their first full length record in 14 years due out at the end of the month, expect some newer songs to be worked into the mix if you see Eyehategod in the near future, but no matter what they play you can be sure that they’ll deliver an intense performance every single time and don’t ever seem to have an “off night” even with the occasional technical quirk.

I was hoping the crowd hadn’t exhausted all of their energy during Eyehategod’s set since I knew High on Fire would be playing another headline length set, but they picked things right back up as soon as the band started playing. At this point I had retreated a little farther back in the venue, and did notice that at the spot I was at the vocals weren’t always easy to make out, but considering that Matt Pike’s has a lower, gruff pitch it’s not that surprising that it would occasionally get drowned out by the sheer wall of sound. This isn’t that big of a deal though, because man those riffs are definitely what comes through the most in a live setting. High on Fire has consistently hooked me from one album to the next with their crunchy sound that really makes an impact, and when it’s at a volume where each note is reverberating in your eardrums that feeling is definitely intensified. It was clear that these guys are seasoned road veterans, as they played for an hour and fifteen minutes and every song was air tight as I didn’t notice any element that sounded off. Despite how often this particular band tours this was my first time seeing them (I actually managed to see Sleep before seeing High on Fire thanks to last year’s Deathfest performance), and they impressed me quite a bit with their performance. Next time they come through I’ll try and grab a closer spot so I can hear more of Pike’s vocal work, but I would definitely recommend checking out their set if you’re a fan of all things sludgy.

It was a tiring night by the end, and the last half of High on Fire’s set is admittedly a bit of a blur to me thanks to a significant amount of alcohol, but the sold out crowd got their money’s worth from this concert. Seeing Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, and High on Fire put on sets that are on par with what you might see from a single headliner on any given night isn’t something that happens very often when you’re not at a festival, and I was happy that it took place in Baltimore.





High on Fire- http://www.highonfire.net/
Eyehategod- http://eyehategod.ee/
Corrosion of Conformity- https://www.facebook.com/corrosionofconformity
Magrudergrind- https://www.facebook.com/MagrudergrindOfficial
Strong Intention- https://www.facebook.com/STRONGINTENTION
Ilsa- https://www.facebook.com/ILSADC

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