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Live Review: Lamb Of God/Anthrax/Deafheaven @ Aragon Ballroom

| January 20, 2016

Lamb Of God – 2016


Concert Review: Lamb of God / Anthrax / Deafheaven
Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
Jan. 30, 2016
by Jason Scales
Lamb of God’s latest album VII: Sturm Und Drang contains a few songs about singer Randy Blythe’s imprisonment in a Czech prison for the accidental death of a fan at a show, an incident for which he was eventually brought to trial in Prague and ultimately exonerated.

But it would be unfair to accuse Blythe of profiting creatively and monetarily from this young man’s death through the writing and publishing of tracks “512” (nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance) and “Still Echoes,” which speaks to the horror Blythe endured while imprisoned. As he writes in his memoir of the ordeal–entitled “Dark Days”–he is a man of honor and would have served his proposed 10-year sentence willingly and eagerly if found guilty.
This sense of honor combined with Lamb of God’s unflinching dedication to their brutal form of thrash metal are two reasons why they have built a rabid following, on full display at a near-capacity Aragon Ballroom. During the entire 90-minute set, the crowd moved as one, head-banging and swaying to the crushing rhythms–it was total crowd buy-in that is rarely seen at any show, regardless of genre.

The band opened with “Desolation” then quickly transitioned to classic track “Walk With Me in Hell,” with images of Armageddon playing on twin screens. Rather than using unsteady monitors for his perch, Blythe frequently jumped up on a platform at the front of the stage to growl out his orders: “Pray for blood / Pray for the cleansing / Pray for the flood / Pray for the end to this wide awake nightmare.”

“512” and “Still Echoes” were played, but it was tracks like “Ruin” that really got the double mosh pits frothing and even combining like two twisters meeting. Footage from cult debacles including Jonestown and Waco, Texas, played on the screens as Blythe and the crowd sung together the ending words to “Ruin,” a mantra of a warning about the evils of cult deception: “Fear, pain, hatred, power.”

“Now You Have Something To Die For,” a staple at any L.O.G. show, whipped the crowd into another frenzy as slideshow images of U.S. military servicemen and women scrolled on the screen, all in a tribute to their service.
The first encore included “Blacken The Cursed Sun,” during which the entire crowd was ready for every call-and-response moment, answering “Hell, no!” to every question Blythe barked at them, including: “Is there still hope for us?” and “Is any of this even real?”

Oh, it was real, and the crowd won’t soon forget this show.
“Redneck” closed the second encore, but not before Blythe declared during “Vigil”: “Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.”

As long as Blythe and L.O.G. are shepherding, this crowd would have followed them to hell and back.

Set list for Lamb of God:
“Walk With Me In Hell”
“Still echoes”
“Walk The Faded Line”
“Now You Have Something To Die For”
“Set To Fail”
Encore #1
“Blacken The Cursed Sun”
“Erase This”
Encore #2
“Laid To Rest”

Original “Big Four” member Anthrax still holds a relevant place in metal, opening for L.O.G. in advance of forthcoming album “For All Kings,” to be released Feb. 26, a date the crowd was reminded of no less than six times during the set.
They opened with “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” from 2011’s Worship Music and also played “In The End” from that album as a tribute to deceased metal legends Ronnie James Dio and Dime Bag Darrell.

The band’s 50-minute set was full of polished arena rock posturing, which was a nice juxtaposition to Deafheaven’s at times awkward stage presence (more about that later). Classics “Caught In A Mosh,” “Antisocial” and “Got The Time” showed the aging thrashers are still fun-loving yet defiant,  and new tracks “Evil Twin” and “Breathing Lightning” were also introduced with warm reception from the crowd.

The best moment came during the last song–1987’s “Indians”–during which the song came to an abrupt end mid-thrash. Drummer Charlie Benante (who is originally from Chicago while the rest of the band hails from NYC) wanted to make sure his hometown crowd was having fun, and lead singer Joey Belladonna (who couldn’t quite hit the high-pitched Native American-inspired wails in the song) encouraged the twin most pits to merge once they restarted the song where they left off. The crowd did its best to oblige.

Set list for Anthrax:
“Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t”
“Caught In A Mosh”
“Got The Time”
“Evil Twin”
“In The End”
“Breathing Lightning”

Pitchfork-endorsed hipsters Deafheaven did its best to engage the early-arriving crowd, but its brand of death metal may be a tough sell to those who haven’t heard the studio albums, which are chock full of subtle and beautiful movements amid the crushing tempos and blood-curdling shrieks from lead singer George Clarke.

Clarke, although wearing all black, doesn’t quite embody the mannerisms of a death metal singer. Starting with opening song “Brought To The Water” from latest album New Bermuda, he head-banged his short-haired head in short bursts, waved his arms like a conductor over the crowd and moved about the stage like some awkward interpretive dancer.
The other four band members (three on guitar and bass, and a drummer) were also all in black, and largely stationary in the shadows as only green or blue spotlights barely illuminated any stage activity during the 35-minute set.
The California band hit a comfortable groove during the second (and less brutal) half of “Luna.” The crunchy power chord riffs of “Come Back” were another high point for the band trying to find its niche with the diverse metal audience in attendance.

“Dream House” closed the set with Clarke theatrically banging on his chest with two fists and wailing into the din–the vocals were mixed much louder live than on studio recordings where they are more of an eerie, ghost-like presence.

Set list for Deafheaven:
“Brought To The Water”
“Come Back”
“Dream House”

Power Trip, from Texas, opened the evening with a short set of songs that showed influences from punk, hardrock and thrash in the vein of classic Metallica.

-Jason Scales


Lamb Of God
Aragon Ballroom
Jan. 30, 2016

The first significant heavy metal tour to come through Chicago in 2016 caters to a wide range of head-bangers. Thrash titans Lamb Of God are headlining this bill in support of last summer’s release of VII: Sturm Und Drang. This is the first opportunity for local fans to hear songs from this album live, including tracks “512” (nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance) and “Still Echoes,” which shed light on singer Randy Blythe’s stint in a Czech prison.

Original “Big Four” member Anthrax open, no doubt to drum up interest in upcoming album For All Kings, to be released on Feb. 26. These legends, who built their reputation in the early days of thrash (late 1980s) competing with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, may take a slight backseat to more relevant L.O.G., but the NYC crew will be sure to bring the “Madhouse” to the Aragon. “Evil Twin,” the first single from the new album, continues in the hard-rocking vein of the last album, 2011’s Worship Music.

Pitchfork-endorsed hipsters Deafheaven also appear, rounding out a line-up of emerging and past legends. These death metal shoegazers, the most alternative of the three, are arguably the most intriguing on the bill, especially as 2015’s release of New Bermuda showed more polish and focus compared to 2013’s jaw-dropping effort Sunbather. How will their brutal-beautiful dichotomy be accepted by fans of the other bands?

That’s just one reason this show is a must-see for metalheads.

Ticket availability HERE

– Jason Scales

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