You say Skeletonwitch, I say bangover. You add Withered and Landmine Marathon, and I say call me an ambulance. This combination of bands is an invitation to a mangled neck. The lineup was traveling under the banner of the “North American Skullsplitter Tour,” and didn't plan on coming anywhere near New York City. Toss recent Metal Blade signees Ipsissimus onto the bill, and I had an excuse to extend my Thanksgiving weekend with a roadtrip to New Haven.
I'd been to Toad's Place in New Haven once before, over a decade ago. This show took place on the floor above Toad's, in the quaintly named Lilly's Pad. The space bears an uncanny resemblance to a corporate midtown Manhattan bar and appears to be an incongruous spot for a metal show. There's no semblance of a stage, and the bands' backs are up against a bank of windows that look out onto the street. If there's anything I've learned lately, though, it's that compact spaces equipped with stacks of amps make for metal magic.
Connecticut black metal warriors Ipsissimus kicked off the show. I saw the band perform recently, opening for Black Anvil at their record release gig in Manhattan. Ipsissimus produced a much fuller sound on this night, benefiting from an excellent mix in the cozy confines. Their rampaging and resonant take on traditional black metal was appreciably audible. The trio seemed completely at ease on their home turf, unleashing a blasphemous storm of unhallowed disdain.
Ipsissimus have an album coming out next year on Metal Blade, and the killer performance only upped my anticipation for the LP. The band played tracks off their triumphant 2008 EP, The Three Secrets of Fatima, as well as material old and new. Bass player and vocalist Tichondrius is a hell of a showman, conveying a commanding but gregarious presence behind the mic. Guitar player Ryan Adams (AKA His Emissary) looked to be having a blast while ripping out some blistering riffs. These guys are going to melt ears when their new album drops.
Landmine Marathon are renowned for their scorching live performances. I managed to miss their entire spin through New York in the spring, so this was my chance for redemption. Ripping straight into “Bile Towers” off Rusted Eyes Awake, the band more than lived up to their reputation. Grace Perry was every bit as maniacal as advertised, screaming in our faces and threatening to smash our skulls with wild gesticulations.
Sovereign Descent has stuck with me throughout the year, and I was glad to have several of its tracks jammed down my throat. “Exist” showed off a band capable of crushing cohesion. The sound was quite excellent for Landmine Marathon's set, and the blast-furnace heat of the album's guitar tones was in full effect.
The crowd was animated but ultimately polite. While nearly every head was banging with hair flying in all directions, a pit never developed. I can't tell if the band was grateful for this fact or not, given our intimate proximity. Nevertheless, Grace Perry provided more than enough physical danger of her own accord. Sovereign Descent's riff-laden closer, “Rise With the Tide,” ended the stunning set. It was a satisfying and draining experience. I highly recommend a Landmine Marathon beating.
I was probably most excited to see Withered play on this night. Their new album, Dualitas, is an unbelievable sonic statement and certainly amongst my favorite albums of the year. The band dove straight into the windmilling madness and galloping groove of “From Shadows.” I'd seen the band live once before, and their set suffered from a muddled mix. That memory was instantly wiped away by the glorious precision and crushing distortion staring me in the face.
The band beckoned us to move closer, and the crowd obeyed to the point where our flying hair was in danger of tangling with theirs. Withered seem to be perpetually on the road, and their live show reflects a symbiotic ability to kill as one. Guitar player Mike Thompson managed to tear through reams of tortured riffs while roaring out searing screams. New guitarist Dylan Kilgore seemed perfectly incorporated into this pulsating organism, contributing vocals on the new tracks as well as older songs like “Purification of Ignorance” and “Like Locusts.”
Withered dragged us down into a fathomless abyss, and I enjoyed every second of the journey. Mike Longoria's bass was delectably mixed, featuring the same caustic bite it sports on Dualitas. Beau Brandon's brilliant drumming was also a joy to witness in person, directing the din with fiery rhythms. “Extinguished With The Weary,” “The Progenitor's Grasp” and “Aetherial Breath” finished off the set with enough force to dissolve our souls. I can't wait to see this band play again.
No matter what you think of Skeletonwitch, there's no denying their ability to destroy in a live setting. They played a headlining show in Brooklyn last winter that is amongst the best concerts I've ever seen. Be that as it may, I'm also a huge fan of the band's recorded music. Breathing the Fire blew me away last year. There's just something about their style that invokes immediate and involuntary headbanging from me.
The 'Witch were in fine form this evening. Nate Garnette and Nate Hendrick traded godly thrashing riffage and melodic leads with precision and skill. The crowd was jammed right up in front of the band, and several times I thought I might receive a tracheotomy from Chance Garnette's spiked armband. The set carved a wide swath through Breathing the Fire and Beyond the Permafrost. I was particularly pleased to hear the anthemic “Stand Fight and Die,” which I hadn't yet seen the band perform. The band dug up “The Skull Splitter” from their first LP, At One With The Shadows. It sounded devastating, and I personally think the band should reissue that album.
My only regret was that the two hour drive required complete sobriety on my part. Skeletonwitch just taste a bit better with beer. My sober state didn't stop me from injuring my neck, however. Although the crowd failed to produce a pit (which might have been deadly in the Lilliputian space), every head was banging. It's a week later, and the vertebrae in my neck still grind like Cap'n Crunch. In the end, this soul pummeling lineup delivered the goods, and the show was well worth the drive. It's just a shame the fleeting glory of this tour had to end so soon.
Justina Villanueva has an excellent set of photos from this show over here.