The Return to Roots Tour Mixes the Old Blood with the New
As I reported last Friday, the brothers Cavalera’s 2017 version of the Return to Roots tour was making a stop in my dusty little town, and Max and Iggor were bringing Immolation and Full of Hell along for the ride. Although I knew I couldn’t miss Immolation’s first ever stop in my city, I was intrigued to see Full of Hell’s notoriously frenetic live presence. The biggest question for me, however, was whether or not the weight of nostalgia would be sufficient for me to get down with the aging Cavaleras’ groove.
When I got to the venue promptly at 7:00 pm, the alleged show start time, a local band was finishing their set. I never caught the band’s name, but they played a mixture of doom and grind that, with a few year’s practice and some songwriting finesse, could easily hit like a ten-ton hammer. The band was certainly better than most of our local acts, but I needed a beer, so I sashayed over the bar and snagged a Texas IPA. When Full of Hell took the stage, I’d be ready.
*Note that because my photography skills are practically nonexistent, I’m going to be
stealing sharing images of each band taken by others much more talented than I.
Full of Hell
Beer firmly clutched, I worked my way to the front of the still paltry crowd and took a spot next to some local college kids and scene girls with neon hair just behind the stage barricade. After a brief tune-in and introduction that saw the band bathed in blood-red light and cloaked in a thick morass of swirling electronic noise, vocalist Dylan Walker triggered an unrelenting, 30-minute avalanche of grind riffs and blast beats. Although the setlist drew from the far-flung reaches of the Maryland quartet’s surprisingly deep discography, the collaboration with Merzbow seemed to feature heavily in the track list; the band played both “Gordian Knot” and “Thrum in the Deep” from the impossibly heavy album.
During the band’s set, I found my eyes most drawn to drummer Dave Bland. While guitarist Spencer Hazard and bassist Sam DiGristine chugged, shredded, and juddered through starts and stops dictated by Walker’s frantic shrieks and glowering sneers, Bland blasted away with reckless abandon. His energy was palpable as he rolled his way through fill-heavy sections and devastating groove, only taking brief respites for a between-track feedback loop or audio sample to set the stage for more cosmic violence. By the end of the set, I felt exhausted just looking at Bland, though this easily could have been a side effect of how compelled to headbang the death metal-tinged grind left me. It was a short set, but it certainly set the tone for the whole evening, and although the crowd was slim to start, by the end of the show Walker’s energetic stage presence and commanding snarl had brought in a sizeable fraction of the full attendance that night.
After a brief pit stop and a trip to the bar for a second beer, I made my way back up to the front of the room because there was no way in hell I was going to miss Immolation up close. Immolation’s load-in time took a bit longer than expected, but it turns out that the roadies were setting up the Roots stage behind the Yonkers quartet because the Cavalera bros. were running late due to a bus incident, so everyone wanted to make sure that the next set would begin promptly. Guitarists Rob Vigna and Alex Bouks made the most of the time by strumming silently along to Marilyn Manson‘s “The Beautiful People” as it played over the loudspeakers and engaging the true-blue deathheads against the barrier with friendly smiles.
Finally, the lights dimmed and bassist Ross Dolan introduced us to Immolation, informing us that this was the band’s first appearance in their 29-year history in my city. Amid of a cacophony of percussion, the band then volleyed into new track “The Distorting Light,” opener from the soon-to-be-released Atonement. This track, with its absolutely massive sound and howitzer-grade bottom-end, established the tone for the band’s entire set. In fact, the setlist, which you can see below, hinged largely upon the four new tracks and other, more recent content. Notably, the only track the band played from a release prior to Harnessing Ruin was the self-titled ravager “Immolation.”
Despite the distinct lack of classic material from unquestionable records like Close to the World Below, Immolation’s set was 100% killer; every song sounded gigantic, tactile, and downright sinister. The mix was perfect for Vigna’s off-kilter, extraterrestrial leads to creep in and out of the gaping holes punched in our brains by Steve Shalaty’s precision rhythmic work. Dolan and Bouks maintained the energetic bar established by openers Full of Hell with their blasphemous growls and swarming riffs, and the band maintained a lock-step, inhuman accuracy and mechanization throughout the show, even as Immolation’s trademark and sporadic rhythmic and riff changes kept the crowd guessing.
Dolan maintained a distinct air of deference and respect throughout the set. Between songs, the bassist (with accompanying nods of agreement from Vigna) thanked the crowd (now almost at capacity) for their attendance and interest. He also made a note to point out what an honor it was to be playing with the Cavaleras and hinted at the influence the death metal veterans had on the Yonkers legends themselves. Props were also given to Full of Hell, bringing the entire night of comradery full circle even as the death metal act brought the house down with their destructive currents. It was an incredible set that, despite its 45-minute or so run-time, left me wanting more. If I get a chance to see Immolation (and especially Vigna’s equally jovial and inhuman playing), you can be certain I won’t miss it.
Max and Iggor Cavalera
During the brief intermission, I made one last trip to the bar to close my tab before moseying over to Immolation’s table. I briefly spoke to Vigna and bought the new album Atonement before introducing myself to Walker from Full of Hell. In a pleasant, twist, Walker informed me that he’s checked out our site a couple times and thinks it’s pretty cool. I let him know that the band had definitely made me a believer before making my way back into the crowd to see if old Sepultura material still holds up.
Nostalgia is an interesting thing. In many cases, it can blind us to the despoiling effects of time, making what could be admittedly embarrassing interests from our youth still bearable as adults. It can also leave us cripplingly disappointed when the things we loved as children don’t withstand that same passage of time. Nostalgia was definitely in play tonight judging by the number of grey-hairs present. As I stood waiting for the Cavaleras, accompanied by guitarist Marc Rizzo (curiously sans backpack) and bassist Tony Campos (of Fear Factory, Static-X, Asesino, Stench Price, etc. fame), to take the stage, I wondered which side of the coin nostalgia would deal me. Sepultura were certainly an important band during my formative metal years, but it has been quite some time since I really enjoyed anything put out by that band or Soulfly or Cavalera Conspiracy, and as I’ve found myself ascending further and further up metal’s progressively twisting extreme butthole, I return to my groove metal roots less and less.
My doubts seemed to dissipate as soon as the band roared into “Roots Bloody Roots” with the entire crowd singing along and throwing their horns in the air. Groove metal may do little for me on record now, but this landmark album in the genre certainly sounded huge live, a fact which the band verified over the next hour or so as they worked their way through Sepultura’s classic work. One thing I was worried about during this show was whether Max and Iggor would still be able to deliver the aggression and tension evident on Roots, especially after seeing how decisively Immolation and Full of Hell brought it. Despite Max’s voice definitely showing some age, the band captured the rebellious spirit of the original album, aided by vigorous performances from both Rizzo and Campos and Iggor’s surprisingly dexterous and heavy double bass and fill-work.
Roots itself isn’t a perfect album, but the band was able to navigate their way through some of the slower parts with thoughtful injection of tribal drumming, crowd interaction, and guest performances. In fact, the band welcomed a young attendee who looked like he was probably born well after 9-11 to play the drums on one of the tracks (“Dusted,” if memory serves), and the kid absolutely nailed it despite working behind a kit a little too big for him. The Cavaleras were able to maintain their momentum throughout the evening, and by foregoing the thirteen-minute jam session at the end of the album in favor of a series of covers paying tribute to the artists who inspired them, including Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Slayer, the band kept the crowd in the palm of their hand.
Blogging for metal, it’s easy to get pretty jaded. The charms of metal fandom that seem so alluring when you’re first exploring the genre often seem to vanish like vapor in a foggy venue when you’re constantly searching for the latest and greatest thing. If you’ve ever spent any time on an online metal forum, it should be obvious that the alleged brotherhood of metal is often little more than a facade. Old favorites slip to the wayside as you seek newer and newer forms of extremity, and even the live performance itself can feel like a slog as age and exposure slowly rob you of your youthful naivety.
And yet, this show, the third stop on the Return to Roots tour was a celebration of many of these various aspects of metal. Full of Hell showed that the genre keeps pushing newer and more daring heights while also venerating its elders. Immolation showed that the old guard is still alive, strong, and reliable while also acknowledging the place for both the old blood and the new. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t see everyone, from the teen scene girls with bright hair to the jaded deathhead with the Insect Warfare backpatch to the grizzled hesher in the Harley Davidson shirt, bouncing and shouting along to “Roots Bloody Roots.” Both the past and the present of metal was affirmed at the show, and despite everything going on in the world, for one night in Texas, that was enough.
You can still catch the Roots tour at one of the dates below.
02/17/2017 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade Tickets
02/18/2017 Columbus, OH @ Alrosa Villa Tickets
02/19/2017 Baltimore, MD @ Soundstage Tickets
02/20/2017 Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall Tickets
02/21/2017 New York, NY @ Gramercy Theater Tickets
02/22/2017 Rochester, NY @ Montage Music Hall Tickets
02/23/2017 Chicago, IL @ Portage Theater Tickets
02/24/2017 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room Tickets
02/25/2017 Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall Tickets
02/26/2017 Salt Lake City, UT @ Metro Music Hall Tickets
02/27/2017 Billings, MT @ Pub Station Tickets
03/01/2017 Seattle, WA @ Studio 7 Tickets
03/02/2017 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater Tickets
03/03/2017 San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s Tickets
03/04/2017 Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory Tickets