Orlando, Fla. May 30, 2007
by Jen Cray
"Let's make history tonight for the loudest crowd for an opening band at the House of Blues!" Kataklysm frontman Maurizio Iacono instigated the crowd.
And history indeed seems to have been made, as the audience went absolutely batty for both early act Kataklysm and fellow openers Unearth. The unprecedented response was well earned as the two bands quietly (or rather loudly, actually) stole the show from Norweigan black metal gods Dimmu Borgir, who, for all their makeup and put-on theatrics, couldn't quite accomplish what the first two bands accomplished without any smoke or mirrors.
For 15 years, Canada's Kataklysm have been dishing out blood-curdling death metal, though I had managed to stay in the dark about them until I saw them open for Danzig two years ago. They caught my ear that night, but this time they devoured it -- due mostly to lightning-footed drummer Max Duhamel. Fuelling the band's ire was the virgin presence of Iacono's son, who was not only seeing his Dad perform for the first time but attending his very first metal show. The band closed, to cries of objection from the crowd, with fan favorite "Shadows and Dust."
Unearth may have been a hard sell for non-fans whose only familiarity with the them was the band's prior metalcore works, but moments into their set even the most skeptical ears turned to listen. As frontman Trevor Phipps told me the last time they were in town, just a few months ago on the Slayer tour, the band has evolved out and away from the overdone world of metalcore and emerged wearing their thrash roots proudly. Pantera, early Metallica and Visions of Disorder seem to comprise the playlist for this nefarious band of longhairs. With those heavy riffs- turned up with the addition of a seventh string on both guitars, the hard hitting drumming of brand-new stickman Gene Hoglan (of Strapping Young Lad), the acrobats of guitarist Buz McGrath and the goofball wackiness of bearbong guzzling guitarist Ken Susi, Unearth are a band with all the right ingredients to be a headlining band. And the audience welcomed them as such.
All of this is not to say that the nearly sold-out audience was not primarily there to see Dimmu Borgir, because every time their name was mentioned -- during the opening sets -- the roars of approval were deafening. "I've been waiting for years to see this band!" was a frequent explanation I overheard. And when the time finally came, the circle pit paused just long enough to worship the painted up, KISS-attired band who stood onstage -- arms raised -- to soak up the adoration.
With all of the theatrical elements of the veteran band's music, I was expecting a production near Iron Maiden levels -- which, admittedly, was setting my sights a little too high. The corpse makeup, large organ and occasional lighting effect were the extent of the dramatics. Not that the audience seemed disappointed in the least -- the floor shook with unprepared fans exiting the pit for apparent fear for their lives as those willing to accept the abuse dove back into the chaos.
Once again it was the drummer who reigned supreme (I'm on a serious drum obsession lately!), as the appropriately named Hellhammer provided the bulk of the band's musical power. So long as there are drummers who could beat the devil at burning up a room, their will be metal worthy of banging your head to.