Early death metal pioneers Obituary are currently touring North America to support their new self-titled album and I was lucky enough to catch them in Montreal on May 9th. The group brought an arsenal of supporting acts with them that were diverse and each had something different to offer.
My favourite types of metal shows are the ones that aren’t too high profile and are fairly diverse in terms of bands. The Obituary concert was one of those shows. My reasoning behind this affirmation lies behind the quality of the opening acts. Pallbearer, Skeletonwitch, Dust Bolt, and Untimely Demise are all fairly excellent metal bands, although they each fall into their own subgenres which will be discussed further below. Additionally, Obituary is one of those bands who are big enough to carry the ability to fill relatively large venues but they’re not popular enough that tickets are overly expensive and they end up carrying more mainstream, often boring acts along with them. For example, while Metallica killed it last summer and it was probably the best concert I’ve been to so far, I wasn’t too fond of paying a heavy surcharge on an already expensive ticket for another big name like Avenged Sevenfold to play for only 40 minutes. But I digress… Let’s go over the night’s events.
Untimely Demise, a band that I have not heard of prior to the tour announcement, warmed up the stage and played for about 30 minutes. The group hails from the close-by Saskatchewan and only played for the two Canadian dates on the tour, those being Toronto and Montreal. Its always a pleasure to see established bands like Obituary giving smaller groups the opportunity to expose themselves and play in front of larger crowds. Unfortunately, they played fairly early to compensate for the long list of bands to follow so there were only about 50 or so people at the venue during their set. Regardless, Untimely Demise delivered an energetic performance coupled with great audience interaction. The frontman also manned the group’s merch table for the rest of the concert which is always nice to see.
Dust Bolt, the first “official” members of the North American tour, took the stage next. I researched them prior to the concert and actually grew fond of their newest 2016 LP Mass Confusion and spun it a few times before getting to see them live. The German group falls into the new-wave thrash category and similar bands include Havok, Toxic Holocaust, and Municipal Waste. The group approaches their music with a more nonchalant, almost silly attitude (intentional or not) that is well-appreciated within the all-too serious realm of metal music. Dust bolt had by far the most blistering and energetic performance of the night as a result of vocalist Lenny Breuss’ animation, headbanging, and well-timed jumps. I think the group was a big surprise to most attendants and they will end up receiving increased recognition as a result of their exposure on this tour.
Finally, we make it to the bigger names of the lineup. Skeletonwitch, who play a fluid mix of melodic thrash, black, and death metal, were definitely one of the pull-factors of this tour. The most desirable element of this group in my opinion is their overall uniqueness. A lot of newer bands in modern times usually fit into a certain bracket and can be easily compared to various predecessors from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but Skeletonwitch undoubtedly brings something new to the table. The band’s most prominent factor lies behind frontman Adam Clemens, who replaced long time vocalist and fan-beloved Chance Garnette in 2016. Many Skeletonwitch fans are surely weary of the new singer’s ability, but I believe that he does the band justice.
Adam’s aforementioned vocals contribute to the “atmospheric” vibe that Skeletonwitch gives off. The vocalist’s prolonged screams are found prominently within the group’s music and his live performance is especially punishing. I felt his screeches vibrate through my heart in accordance with the drums and guitars. While I did not listen to any of the group’s material prior to attending the concert, I was surprised by how much I liked their music. They played roughly 40 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.
Pallbearer was the next band to take the stage. The general sentiment felt by my metalhead peers was that the doom group was an odd choice for a death metal headliner, especially considering the aggressiveness of the supporting acts. Although I’m sure some attendees still felt this way after the show, I found that Pallbearer’s trudging riffs and longer song structures offered a pleasant break from the full-frontal assault of guitars and screams that the previous bands had offered. Pallbearer took the stage for roughly 40 minutes and played 4 or 5 songs.
There is one diehard-looking metalhead that I see at most of the shows I go to. I’ve never had a personal encounter with him, but he looks like the typical thrash-enthusiast. Long black hair, wears a black baseball cap backwards with the end flipped up, and he sports a killer battle jacket (accessorized with two bullet belts around his body in an “X” shape. This dude looks like what my civilized self wishes I could look like. Anyways, I kept an eye on him and he was thoroughly enjoying the first three groups, headbanging away closer to the stage. However, about halfway through Pallbearer’s first song, I saw him boldly turn around and walk out of the venue with his head held high; he followed to return just before Obituary began to play.
What’s up with that? I mean I guess its not a mortal sin to dislike a band that’s playing and to use the opportunity to take a break and maybe I should mind my own business, but I just found it to be weird. You can appreciate the most abrasive of music styles complete with guttural screaming and rough guitar-playing, but a slower, more melodic band takes the stage and you have to excuse yourself from the building? The situation immediately reminded me of a comment a well-respected moderator of the Reddit metal community made where he stated to never trust a music enthusiast who only listens to metal and can’t at least appreciate other forms of song. I do believe that the quote was meant partially as a joke, but the sentiment remains true in my opinion. I just found it odd that the guy is so dedicated to music that he grows his hair out and takes the time to create a battle vest, complete with two bullet belts do I remind you, and has to walk out of the venue when a doom band with soft vocals comes on. It just mildly perplexed me and I thought the topic warranted a little discussion.
With that being said, Pallbearer killed it. The group’s slow immersive riffs filled the room and the scattered vocal inclusions really set the atmosphere apart. At various points during their set I looked around and I could tell that most people were into the music as all the heads in front of me moved slowly in unison to the music. The band themselves were very humble and laidback which fit well with their musical presence. Overall, Pallbearer was an amazing inclusion to the tour and people who are on the fence about the band should make sure not to miss them during the show, they’re well worth it.
Now for what we all came for in the first place. I just saw four bands play, all of them young and giving it their all in order to standout amongst each other and in comparison to the headliner. Let’s see how Obituary, a 30 year old group made up of some members approaching their fifties, stacked up against their nimble competition.
Obituary’s performance was incredible. For what they lose in dexterity and animation as a result of age, they make up for with experience. Vocalist John Tardy looked like he was sincerely having a blast on stage, which is always nice to see. He kept smiling after the applause following every song and verbally admitting his admiration for the fans that came to see the show. Its just one of those things that warms your heart to see that someone who’s been involved with the scene for so long is still having fun. The rest of the group performed flawlessly and enthusiastically.
The audience was one of the most energetic collections of metal fans I have ever seen. The applause and cheers from the crowd were astonishing and people were clearly enjoying the show. From where I was standing I got a good view of the moshpit, and it was intense. The room was complete with crowdsurfers who one of which got the lucky chance to high five John Tardy’s stretched-out hand halfway through a song.
The group played three or four tracks off of their newest album, which all translated well in live format. They played tunes from a wide range of albums and the setlist was incredibly varied. They also included songs from their two most well-received records, those being Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death. Long-time Obituary fans will be able to appreciate the broad setlist that takes tracks from most of their discography, and fans like myself who are only familiar with their most well-known albums will undoubtedly enjoy the show as well.
There are two things, however, that were relatively undesired from the group’s performance.
Firstly, their setlist was static throughout the entire tour. It was nonetheless varied, featuring songs from most of their discography, but its always nice to see a group having fun with their nightly performances and changing it up a bit. With that being said, its incredibly hard to play a 90-minute show every two nights and also make sure that you rotate your setlist between dates. I wouldn’t be able to take any of the band members’ positions if I tried, but its just nice to see that a band is putting some effort into offering a varied setlist to different audiences for the sake of shrinking potential monotony; it just adds that extra layer of respect I might have for a group I’m seeing live.
Secondly, John Tardy optimized his various screams and growls with a technological enhancer that prolonged his vocal deliveries. He did not necessarily overuse it, but its inclusion to the performance was fairly prominent. Again, as stated above, I’m not overtly against using tools like this to enhance your overall output, and I wouldn’t say that he necessarily relied on it to deliver a good show but using something like that takes a bit away from the performance in my opinion.
These are of course minor gripes that really don’t amount to much negativity; the concert was amazing.
In conclusion, the show was an all-round success and had a lot to offer in terms of acts. Untimely Demise and Dust Bolt rocked the house with unrelenting thrash and Skeletonwitch undoubtedly scratched all of the black metal fans’ backs while definitely scaring those who hadn’t heard them before. Pallbearer brought a slower, more mid-paced doom atmosphere with their performance that served as a well-appreciated break from the ferocity of the other acts, and finally, Obituary truly put the last nail in the coffin. Fans of any of the five bands discussed above should attend this tour or see them in the future, as they all made the night worth it.