On paper, the 2007 Sounds Of The Underground tour is aptly named. Many of the bands are lesser-known, but for some, their performance at this showcase could mean bursting out of the underground and into fame and fortune. At the July 20 Milwaukee show, several acts blind-sided concertgoers with their masterful sets, while others disappointed or just didn’t fit into the lineup. However, it all added up to a day of aural abuse that only a select brethren can tolerate and even fewer crave.
If you’re from the Milwaukee area, you already know the Eagles Complex, which contains four stages, isn't the best structure for a metal concert. The two platforms designated for SOTU's bands are separated by a flight of stairs and a rift of sound quality. The Rave is a smallish room with a horseshoe balcony that seats about 400. The walls resonate badly, making heavy music sound about as detailed and delicate as a sledgehammer to the face. Because of this, many nuances in metal bands’ sounds are lost in the translation. However, the Eagles Ballroom, reserved for the night's top acts (which were debatable, but we’ll get to that later), offered prime acoustics and enough space to bang one’s head from here to the hospital.
This Is Hell opened up the afternoon around 1:15 p.m., offering an unexpectedly impressive set of New York metal/hardcore/punk that was, unfortunately, mostly lost on the sparse early crowd. In fact, the venue's other two stages were featuring local talent, and much of the early attendees chose that route. Next up was Goatwhore, which fell victim to the bad acoustics and an undeservedly young playing time. Yet it managed to pump up the growing crowd with its unbelievable heaviness despite the Rave's room rendering its performance a muddled cacophony.
The practically unknown Heavy Heavy Low Low took the reins next, and from the beginning it was clear that most of the crowd wasn’t buying what these guys were selling. This brand of weird, experimental noise-metal failed to sustain Goatwhore’s momentum, and as a result lead singer Robert Smith (no, not that Robert Smith) showed his frustration in dignified fashion by flipping off the crowd and mock-masturbating on the front row. It could have been part of the show, but he definitely appeared uncomfortable. Meanwhile, goofy guitarist Danny Lee Rankin, clad only in boxers and a T-shirt, danced, boogied and generally got funky to his own abrasive and scathing guitar work. The dancing (and tongue-in-cheek pelvic thrusting) provided an entertaining alternative to the sneering Smith, and saved face for the band.
The Acacia Strain was the first of the better-known bands to appear (not including Goatwhore); it stormed the stage with an early command of the crowd and the energy to back it up. The set was not astronomical by any means, but what the songs lacked, lead singer Vincent Bennett made up for with crowd interaction. He orchestrated the largest circle pit of the night thus far, and deserves credit for his vocal tenacity and so-called leadership skills.
The good will didn't entirely hold for The Number Twelve Looks Like You, whose chaotic death/grind/jazz/math metal was a hard drink to swallow for some. But those familiar with the band know it played damn well. The crowning achievement was its rendition of “Jay Walking Backwards” from new CD “Mongrel.” Despite an atmospheric (and fantastic) melodious guitar introduction, the crowd stayed interested and formed an impressive pit at the onset of the song’s abrupt, joltingly heavy blast. Alexis Pareja's guitar work was notably awe-inspiring, and his playing implied he was the band’s most quirky but talented metal-playing jazz lover.
The Devil Wears Prada offered an energized set, which seemed to appeal to the younger generation of fans more than most other bands. They jumped, flailed and paced, all without losing their skin-tight pants (though their Underoos were about 20 percent exposed at all times.) They conjured a small pit, but attendees were primarily off preparing for the oncoming Swedish onslaught of melodic death masters Amon Amarth. A Christian mini-sermon between songs didn’t help the cause whatsoever. The feeble impression it made was likely forgotten when AA destroyed the Rave stage with its brutality, live technicality and no-frills, no-fucking-around attitude. It eclipsed every previous—and subsequent Rave band in heaviness, crowd involvement and pure adrenaline 10 times over. Thirty minutes was merely a tease for a set that included songs from latest record “With Oden On Our Side.” Amon Amarth was definitely the stars of the second stage, and some would argue that it superseded the main-stage attractions.
Despite the big shoes Amon Amarth laid before it, Darkest Hour rocked very impressively. After the unbelievable pit its predecessor caused, vocalist John Henry decided he wanted a piece of the action too and kept calling for moshing. Unbeknownst to him, a 350-pound security guard clad in a yellow shirt decided to plant his ass right in the middle of the pit, putting an end to the fun. After violently “escorting” several of the more rowdy characters to undisclosed locations, the crowd finally grew some balls and moshed around the tubby bastard. Point: Darkest Hour.
Job For A Cowboy finished off the Rave stage in raging fashion, playing songs from its EP “Doom” and new LP “Genesis.” The band definitely won the T-shirt race, with those fans and more filling the crowd in matching high numbers. The set was strong, fast and heavy, providing a good cap to a second stage marred by muddled sound. So we can't figure out why the fuck Necro got to kick off the bigger, better-sounding Eagles Ballroom instead of JFAC. In fact, Necro should have been billed beneath This Is Hell. The “band” is really a rap group that somehow landed a metal tour. It claims metal legitimacy by dropping big names and initiating shout-backs with the first and last names of serial killers. The crowd saw through this incredibly weak façade and nearly booed the trio offstage. The performance, which commenced for about 35 minutes too long, ended with Necro’s main man defensively talking shit like a whiny middle-schooler. Whoever booked SOTU this year should be fired for this.
Shadows Fall took way too long to appear, especially considering that all their instruments were set up during Necro's waste of time. However, Boston's heroes were a welcome change and provided a heavy, funny and exciting reintroduction to the music form known as heavy metal. Their stage time seemed a little short at 35 minutes, but the anticipation of the bands to come kept the show’s momentum. Successor Every Time I Die felt a bit out of place surrounded by the likes of Goatwhore and Chimaira, but most seemed to like what they heard. The band got its biggest response for “The New Black,” which has gained notoriety from its inclusion in "Guitar Hero II." All in all, a decent set from a group that worked hard to win over the fans of heavier music.
Chimaira’s entrance signaled a transition from the show being a somewhat lighthearted fest to a serious, no-holds-barred metal meltdown. The band had the night's best lighting effects, creating an aura with fog machines and green lights that added to the intensity of the performance and framed Chimaira beautifully. The band borrowed bassists for the show due to a death in member Jim LaMarca’s family. Stand-ins included “the human form of Beefcake the Mighty” and the bassists from Shadows Fall, Every Time I Die and members of the crew. They all fit in seamlessly, and the crowd, many of which it seemed came for Chimaira alone, simply went ape shit.
Headliner GWAR is in a league all its own, though. After an eternity of setup (more like 45 minutes, actually), the band arrived to an unbelievable uproar. It pounded through songs and skits, and everyone within a 100-foot radius of the stage paid the price. Blood cannons; giant, squirting dildos; and an ensemble cast of the decapitated, disemboweled and dismembered covered the crowd, the ceiling and the floor with their odious liquids for more than an hour. To reveal any more would cheat real GWAR disciples out of the surprise that comes with the territory, but let’s just say that if you’re offended or unimpressed, you shouldn’t be at a GWAR show in the first place. Not to discredit the other great bands of SOTU 2007, but GWAR alone is worth the ticket price. Grade-fucking-A.