Occupation Domination Tour at Sonar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Saturday, April 28, 2012

My last couple of metal concert reviews have mentioned that there have been a lack of major touring packages in recent years, and it seems as though the last couple of shows I’ve been to have attempted to prove me wrong. The current tour I’m referring to is Occupation Domination 2012 which puts Origin, Cattle Decapitation, Decrepit Birth, Aborted, Rings of Saturn, Battlecross and a rotating slot for an additional opener. That’s an insane amount of bands on one tour, and I had the chance to check out the very first date at Sonar in Baltimore. Unfortunately this show didn’t seem well booked as there were three local openers added on in addition to the seven touring acts, so as a result I not only missed all of the local bands due to the early start of the show but also wasn’t able to stay for Origin. The crowd was also rather small at this particular date, which was a bit disappointing considering the quality of many of the bands but those who were in attendance seemed as though they made the most of it.

I arrived at the show right around the time that Wisconsin death metal band Face of Ruin began their set. As I mentioned earlier, on this tour there was a rotating opening slot that allowed different groups from across the United States to open up in regions outside of their hometown areas. This was a band whose name seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen it before. Face of Ruin plays heavy hitting death metal that mixes traditional chugging and mid-tempo moments with the complicated guitar arrangements of a technical death metal band. Despite the sound issues at the venue (more on that later), throughout the set the riffs were easy to make out and it was clear that these guys were more than capable of playing material that had the right balance between technicality and riffs that actually had some staying power. I think my favorite part of the set may have been the vocals of Matt Bishop, as he has one of those low pitched growls that is as aggressive as possible and really stole the spotlight. The only real issue that I had with Face of Ruin’s set was the use of sound clips on almost every song, as it sounded as though the clips weren’t always coming through as clearly as they could have and because the band was using them so frequently it detracted from the flow of the performance. But the instrumentals and vocals sounded great, and these guys seem to be a promising death metal group with plenty of potential so hopefully it won’t be long before they come back around.

Michigan based Battlecross has been getting a big push in the metal world over the last six months, thanks to a deal with Metal Blade and the release of their sophomore full length Pursuit of Honor last fall. Although melodic death metal and thrash combinations have become a bit too common in recent years and resulted in plenty of average bands getting overexposed, Battlecross impressed me more than I was expecting them to. The instrumentals have the right mix of fast paced riffs that hit hard with aggression and energy and melodic leads, resulting in songs that are catchy and have more hooks than one might expect. In addition to this, based on the material that was performed during their set it seems as though these guys have been able to offer more variation than your typical melodic death metal band as it never felt as though they were playing the same song over and over. One issue that popped up during Battlecross’ set and remained for the rest of the night was sound quality issues. Sonar typically has well mixed shows that get the volume right without turning on-stage performances into a noisy mess, but something seemed a bit off on this particular night. Throughout the set the lead guitar riffs weren’t loud enough and were continually overpowered by the rest of the instrumentals. I’m not sure if this is an aspect the band would really have control over or not, but if they could find a way to make their leads really stand out in their live performance I could see them really blowing people away. Lead singer Kyle Gunther has the right type of scream for melodic death metal/thrash, and while there isn’t anything in his vocal delivery that really stands out from the norm he sounded great and brought a lot of energy to the set. Considering that the crowd was so small and it didn’t seem as though a lot of them were familiar with the material, Gunther did a great job of trying to get everyone involved and into the set. Battlecross has a lot going for them, and with a few tweaks and some more tours under their belt I believe they could get a significant following.

Up next was Rings of Saturn, which based on the samples I listened to before the show seemed to be a mix of technical death metal and deathcore. This turned out to be the case, as their set quickly moved between fast paced guitar riffs that were reminiscent of bands such as Brain Drill and the chugging breakdowns that have been a staple in deathcore for years. Their sound was definitely a bit different compared to many of the other groups on the tour, and as a result some of the audience seemed unsure exactly what to make of their performance. A lot of death metal fans refuse to have anything to do with any band that has core influences of any kind, but I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the genre when it is done well in a live setting. With that being said though, Rings of Saturn just didn’t do that much for me as the technical guitar parts seemed to be setting up the breakdowns on many of the songs and there just wasn’t enough that really stood out. The sound quality seemed okay though and Rings of Saturn didn’t seem to be suffering from some of the issues that the other bands were in terms of live mixing. I must also admit that the vocalist had a decent range and had a style that was well suited for this type of material, and while this wasn’t a group that did anything for me I could see people that are much more inclined towards deathcore and technical death metal appreciating what they have to offer.

Belgian death metal/death grind veterans Aborted was the next act to perform, and it had been a few years since the band had last been able to tour across the United States. Their set ended up being cut short by quite a bit as not only did they run into issues during sound check, but also had to stop after playing only one song due to a problem with the drum triggers before continuing. This led to an awkward moment where some of the crowd began shouting “Fuck triggers, just play!” and it was unfortunate that Aborted was the only band of the night to really run into these issues, but once they were able to perform the material sounded on par with my expectations. While the crowd had gotten a little bigger since the beginning of the night it still barely filled a quarter of the room overall and as a result the mosh pit that formed during Aborted’s set had four or five people in it at the most. There were banners on either side with the artwork for the group’s new album Global Flatline, and while the they did perform a few tracks off of the release it seemed as though much of the abbreviated set was focused on 2003’s Goremageddon to satisfy the audience. Sound in the venue was still making the instrumentals run together more than usual, but I did find that for the type of music that these guys play that actually worked to their advantage. The highlight of the set for me was lead singer Sven’s vocal work though, as he has always stood out with a mix of extremely low growls and high screams that give a surprising amount of diversity to the material. His vocals were just as strong in person as they are on the band’s albums, and despite the fact that the instrumentals were running together the vocals tore through the sound and stole the spotlight. I was a bit disappointed at the length of the set, but can understand running into some technical issues on the very first night. Apparently someone ended up stealing one of the large album art banners that were on-stage at some point in the evening, so I hope that Aborted has better luck on the rest of the dates.

Decrepit Birth is a band that I have always heard a lot about, but never listened to so this show seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to make a first impression on me. And what a first impression they made, as after only a song or two I was completely blown away by the amount of energy and technicality that was present in their material. From what I could tell Decrepit Birth performed material that encompassed their three full lengths and there was a nice balance between technical, melodically oriented riffs and all out blasting that got the mosh pit going. While the sound still was a bit muddy the guitar riffs were still able to breathe and this really allowed me to hone in on what the instrumentalists were doing and really appreciate the technical ability that was present on the stage. Vocalist Bill Robinson has a downright terrifying growl, and after listening to some of the band’s recordings more in depth after the show I have come to the conclusion that he sounds even more intense and in your face in person. His banter in between songs is also extremely amusing, and considering that this concert was in 4/20 Robinson had plenty to say about the subject. It was clear that Decrepit Birth gives their all when they perform and at the end of the set the band even included a Death cover (which I believe was the bonus track from their newest full length Polarity). These guys were definitely one of my main highlights of the evening, and I would gladly see them perform any time they come through.

The first time I saw Cattle Decapitation live was a few months after The Harvest Floor came out, and they put on a performance that topped all of the bands that they were supporting on that tour. As they were the second to last group to play, Cattle Decapitation was given plenty of time and they made the most of it by including songs from various points in their discography. I have found that their last couple of full lengths have been some of the better death metal and grind combinations out there, and the songs have translated over fairly well live. At this point in time it had been generally accepted that no matter what the sound guys at Sonar did the instrumentals of every band were going to blur together to some extent, but I think in this case because I was familiar with a lot of the material that the group was performing my brain filled in the parts I couldn’t hear. It sounded great from my perspective, although I did hear a few people say that the sound was too blurred together to make out some of the individual elements. Travis Ryan continues to be one of the reasons that this band stands out, as it’s unbelievable just how many different types of screams and growls he is able to pull off and there are a number of them that sound inhuman. Ryan is able to prove that this isn’t just studio wizardry either, as every pitch and distorted scream is duplicated live and towers over the instrumentals. While the crowd was still fairly small, those who were in attendance seemed as though they were into what Cattle Decapitation had to offer and it was great to see the band put on a performance that was on par with a headlining quality act (even if they were technically the second to last group on this tour). Others may try to have graphics or videos accompanying their on-stage performance, but this band takes the stage and lets their music speak for itself.

Although I did want to see Origin, it was already 12:40 A.M. and the band had not yet taken the stage and after a day at work and six other metal groups it seemed wise to depart a bit early. Origin seems to be touring a lot at the moment so hopefully they’ll be back around, and on a slightly smaller tour package. Occupation Domination features a lot of great acts though, and while this first date had a few too many openers and some technical issues along with a crowd that was far too small it was still a lot of fun. Even if you don’t like every band on the tour Cattle Decapitation and Decrepit Birth put on such incredible performances that they are worth the price of admission alone, but newcomers such as Battlecross also may surprise you.

Links:

Face of Ruin- http://www.faceofruin.com
Battlecross- http://www.battlecrossmetal.com
Rings of Saturn- http://www.facebook.com/RingsofSaturnband
Aborted- http://www.goremageddon.be/
Decrepit Birth- http://www.facebook.com/decrepitbirth
Cattle Decapitation- http://www.facebook.com/cattledecapitation

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