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None more black: Dethklok at the Armory.

Photo: Joe Putrock

A Metal Education

By David King

Dethklok, Mastodon, Converge

Washington Avenue Armory, Oct. 25

 

Thousands of fans were crushed to death Sunday night in the Armory as Dethklok debuted their new jingle for Duncan Hills Coffee. “Scream for the cream,” growled lead singer Nathan Explosion as hundreds more fans were scalded to death by free samples of Duncan Hills’ finest brew. Then it got even weirder—naked merwomen slaughtered one another and their merchildren, epic battles took place between tunic- wearing druids on space eagles, bog demons were awakened from the deep. Thankfully, all of this all took place on screen as the fleshy members of Dethklok tore through their “ultra brutals” numbers.

Like “a Disney Ride, but with murder” is how comedian Brendon Small, the man behind the hit Cartoon Network show Metalocalypse, has described taking his fictional cartoon metal band on tour—and he is dead on. Dethklok are a perfect caricature of everything metal, served up in sickly sweet, tee-hee-hee Disney perfection, but in a totally evil sort of way.

Small, who can shred a guitar like a certified metal badass, was joined live on Sunday night by a backing band of musicians with real metal cred. These included drummer Gene Hoglan of Strapping Young Lad fame, but the real focus was on the screen behind the band, where the fictional cartoon members of Dethklok—Nathan Explosion, the brooding muscular lead singer; Skwisgaar Skwigelf, the blonde-haired Swedish lead guitarist who never parts with his Gibson Explorer; Toki Wartooth, the Norwegian rhythm guitarist who sports a Fu Manchu moustache; Pickles, the drummer and sometime backup vocalist; and Bassist William Murderface, whose self-esteem issues might just have something to do with his bass parts always being mixed out of the band’s tracks—got to show off their chops.

The live band would churn out three of their ditties about, well, death and then leave the stage for Face Bones, their iconic mascot, to help new metal fans. Face Bones invited female fans to get in line to sign a waiver for a chance to please the band sexually after the show. He also gave the audience a quick tutorial in moshing with the help of two scientists, who concluded that not helping someone up after knocking them down would be a “dick move.”

After Face Bones finished, the band members would return and dish out three more. It was metal in convenient portions. It helped keep everyone’s eyes from exploding from the concentrated metal brutality.

The music? Yeah, the music of Dethklok is simple but fast, aping metal styles and throwing them together into propulsive satire such as “Mermaider,” “Bloodrocuted” and “Hatredcopter.” As simple and absolutely dumb as some of the songs are (sample lyric: “Swords? Check./Saws? Check./Clubs? Check./Claws? Check./Hatred? Check./Anger? Check./Mermaid? Check./Murder? Check.”), they do something few metal bands these days do, something that Hoglan’s former band and metal-critic darlings Strapping Young Lad did very well when they were on: They display a real glee and passion for the power and joy of metal music. On Sunday night Small reminded me why I still like metal music, and through his satire reminded me why that is sometimes hard to admit.

Mastodon, a band who on most occasions would be the highlight of the night, trudged through their latest release, Crack the Skye. It was a dull affair. They utilized video screens too. Rasputin and Stalin battled in hell and space for something or the other, while a comatose man sat in a rocking chair. Think the video for Metallica’s “One” on acid. The band’s latest major-label release, produced by grunge master Brendan O’Brien, just feels monotonous live. The band’s newfound singing voices were strained and nasal over their usual stuttered progressive riffs. It wasn’t until they reached into their back catalog that things got interesting.

Old-school hardcore despair- mongers Converge spat vitriol over minute-long disasters. Then they got even uglier and howled over splintered dirges. It felt like pure spite. But it was delivered in an almost apologetic manner. After each song, lead singer Jacob Bannon announced how many songs the band had remaining, almost as if he knew his band’s rough edges might be too much for neophytes who had ventured out to see the cartoon guys play metal.

Those Feel-Good, Comfy Blues

Keb’ Mo’, Kristina Train

The Egg, Oct. 25

Trying to define the meaning of the blues gets tedious fast, but one thing it is not is life when it gets too comfortable. Keb’ Mo’, who hails not from the Mississippi Delta or Chicago’s South Side, grew up in California as Kevin Moore, where he landed a job in Los Angeles as a staff writer for Tijuana Brass leader Herb Alpert’s A&M label. After his apprenticeship in A&M’s pop shop, he harnessed his powerful baritone, mastered both acoustic and electric guitar, and reinvented himself as Keb’ Mo’, bluesman—and I use the term with reservations. Sure, the outward trappings of the blues are all there, but many of his lyrics tend toward feel-good, clichéd formulas that reflect little of the genre’s anguish, originality, and raw vitality. Notwithstanding the two-time Grammy winner’s impressive musical accomplishments, that’s why Keb’ Mo’s generously long set at a packed Egg ultimately fell short.

Backed by Reggie McBride on drums, Les Falconer on drums, and Jeff Paris on keyboards, mandolin, and harmonica, the tall, lanky Moore could do it all as a roots guitarist: play slide on his steel-bodied resonator guitars, fingerpick his acoustic with his thumb driving the bass strings like a piston, and toss off zippy single-note lines on his shiny red electric. And his vocals were just kickass-strong, clear, and unerringly on-key. He was an engaging showman to boot, setting out a notepad on the edge of the stage for the audience to come up and write their requests on, and then joking that he wasn’t going to play any of them (he did).

His lackluster songwriting, though, didn’t give props to his chops or his singing. Early on came “City Boy,” with its hackneyed theme of the urbanite yearning for greener environs: “ ’Cause I want to go where the buffalo roam, I’m just a city boy looking for a home.”

Yikes.

In “Whole Nutha Thang,” Moore disclaims interest in cocaine, weed, or whiskey, but confesses that jelly roll has possessed his soul. That’s an obvious rehash of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” He did redeem himself briefly, though, with a pristine solo version of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain.”

Opener Kristina Train, accompanied by an acoustic guitarist- keyboardist, was a dazzling young singer, and it seems likely that even though her maiden CD just came out, we’ll be hearing lots more from her. Train played the fiddle just passably on one song, but at her age she has time to woodshed. The highlight of her appearance was “Spilt Milk,” the well crafted, jazz-tinged title track of her record.

—Glenn Weiser

Live and Local

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

A few hundred music fans and supporters turned out for the second annual WEXT benefit concert Friday night at the Exit Dome (the WMHT studios in Rensselaer). This year’s lineup featured live performances from Troy power trio Super 400, solo-acoustic powerhouse Sean Rowe, chamber-pop ensemble Eric Margan and the Red Lions, and Railbird Jr., a truncated version of the band fronted by Sarah Pedinotti (pictured). Lest you forget why it’s OK for a radio station to throw a fund-raiser for itself, WEXT is listener-supported.

 

 

 



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