It’s 9:30 on Tuesday, January 13th. No, not as you are reading this, but where I am in my mind. I’m standing outside the door to Lincoln, Nebraska’s Vega venue, wondering if I should cross the threshold. From inside, a mass of distorted, grating, sound is blasting through the entrance.
Lincoln’s 20 year veterans of death metal, Ezra, are on the stage. But let me back up a little further…
Several weeks ago, I watched Ezra for the first time at the Bourbon Theatre with Deadechoes and Laughing Falcon. I was drawn in enough by their production to stay through the whole set. They have an elaborate setup. Homemade risers for the drummer, and one on either side for the bassist and guitarist, or for the “actors” that made a few appearances through the performance. It’s so cool to see a local metal band that is invested in making their show a “show.”
But alas, on a smaller stage, with only the stage wash lights on, and the messy onslaught of B-grade death metal being blasted at high levels, my suspension of disbelief was shattered.
Not quite soon enough, Ezra’s set was over, and Night Demon from Ventura, California, took the stage. All of the stage lights go dark, and epic horn and vocal music start coming over the PA. All of a sudden, the three-piece blasts into action. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleased to hear the stripped-down, classic, NWOBHM sound coming from the stage.
Night Demon’s guitarist and bassist both play flying V guitars and it looks great! Both had killer tone, the bass tone was crunchy to fill sonic space when the guitar was playing single note parts. Justin Leatherby, bass/vocals, played some sick basslines and covered the ground that is required in a three-piece metal outfit. No screaming vocals from Leatherby; I got a bit of a Danzig vibe from his vocals actually. Big, baritone lines with catchy choruses and a healthy dose of “Oh, Oh, Oh’s.” At one point, trying to get a fist-pumping chant of “Hey, Hey Hey!” going, Leatherby jumped out in the crowd and pointed out individual concert-goers getting them pumped up. Very charismatic frontman, a ton of fun to watch.
Guitarist Brent Woodward and drummer Dusty Squiers were no slouches either. Woodward had some great leads right out of the rock and roll playbook. Squiers was not flashy, but tight, and delivered a backbone of a beat that could have come right out of the early 80’s.
The next band, Elm Street, from Melbourne, Australia, launched into action on the Vega stage. Nearly immediately, lead guitarist Aaron Adie kicked off some absolutely hot-s*it guitar licks. Elm Street, like the other touring bands that played, is also heavily influenced by 80’s metal. These guys delivered a delightful blend of old-school thrash and “traditional” heavy metal.
Ben Batres, ultra-charismatic frontman #2 of the night, uses a gruff yelling/singing style that is right up my alley. It’s a great bridge between the traditional and modern styles of metal. Guitarist Adie and bassist Anthony Longordo join in on some choruses and add a fist-pump inducing gang vocal.
Fast and thrashy, shreddy and precise, it was an absolute pleasure to be in the presence of Elm Street.
After these two great bands, what more could the headliner possibly offer? Turns out, a lot.
Skull Fist attacked the stage next. If Night Demon references the early 80’s NWOBHM sound, and Elm Street the mid-80’s thrash, Skull Fist is a reflection of high-octane hair metal. Think Nitro, not Winger.
It starts with their appearance and stage presence. As they were setting up, I noticed that drummer JJ Tartaglia had his crash and china cymbals far above his head, so it was a full-arm extension to hit them, and it looked awesome during the show. Tartaglia went bare-chested through the set, but the other members wore leather jackets, tight jeans, and bassist Casey Guest even wore cowboy boots. They looked like they belong in the decade of rock n’ roll decadence.
The songs are slick, and Zach Slaughter’s voice soars over the expertly arranged music. He sings very high, and with lots of vibrato. It’s rare, and a joy, to hear a male vocalist sing like this, especially at a metal show in 2015.
But perhaps even more impressive than Slaughter’s voice is the guitar work. Around every corner is an absolutely BURNING harmonized lead guitar line. The tightness between Slaughter and co-guitarist Jonny Nesta is jaw-dropping.
Every detail of Skull Fist’s live performance is thought out. From the look, to the song order, to how they do banter between the songs, there’s just no clunkiness to be found. And there better not be, especially for the finale where Jonny Nesta gets on Zach Slaughter’s shoulders and they play a back-and-forth guitar solo.
But you aren’t going to see this s*it if you’re at home painting your nails on a Tuesday night…
… so get out and pay some cover charges f*ckers!