Since I started listening to Chimaira almost ten years ago(!?), I have really enjoyed watching them evolve from a relatively crappy nu-metal outfit to a straight up metal behemoth. With the exception of their self-titled album, which was decent but in no way topped their 2003 masterpiece The Impossibility of Reason (how could it?), they have literally been getting better and better with every single release. Say what you want about Chimaira, but they do not let their fans down. Ever.
And from the looks of things circa 2011, they never will.
After releasing and touring behind what was surely a creative high-water mark for the “classic Chimaira lineup” in 2009’s The Infection, the band lost half of said lineup in the blink of an eye. This could have been a crushing, if not crippling, blow. But Chimaira somehow came out the other side leaner, meaner, and dare I say BETTER on all fronts by adding Austin D’Amond (Bleed The Sky, The Elite) on drums, Emil Werstler (Daath‘s lead guitarist) on bass, and Sean Z (Daath’s vocalist) on keys/samples and backing vocals. All of a sudden Chimaira are a fucking supergroup?! Go figure!
Later this year we will find out how these personnel changes affect their sound in the studio. But I can tell the fans, after witnessing Chimaira’s first ever show with this new touring lineup last week, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. They are tighter and better-sounding live than they have ever been. No bullshitting…and I’ve seen Chimaira play quite a few times.
Part of this may be due to the intimate club setting—The Machine Shop in Flint, MI—which is tiny as fuck, it was like seeing the band play a house party. But they absolutely destroyed the place, playing a set that included “The Venom Inside”, “Power Trip”, “Empire”, “The Disappearing Sun”, “Secrets of the Dead”, “The Flame”, “Pure Hatred”, “Destroy and Dominate”, plus a few more that I missed (had an hour and a half drive home and they didn’t take the stage until 10:45).
I paid very close attention to Austin D’Amond in particular, who had the unenviable task of taking the drum throne held by the mighty Andols Herrick (and the just-as-mighty Kevin Talley). But he was up for the task, playing all the parts perfectly but adding a dose of human groove and hitting harder than a motherfucker. You could tell he was stoked to have the opportunity, and he stepped up and seized it fully. However, this should surprise no one who has ever paid attention to Bleed The Sky, a band who had an awesome debut but then hit the sophomore slump HARD-Austin was/is the MVP of that band (Are they still together? Not sure).
It’s also pretty cool that they now have Emil Werstler, one of the most hilariously talented guitarists out there these days, playing BASS. It definitely crossed my mind how awesome it might have been if they had moved rhythm guitarist Matt DeVries to bass, and put Emil on second guitar with Rob Arnold. Think of the trading solos and dueling guitar shit they could do, man! But then again, I really enjoy the Hetfield/Hammett dynamic that DeVries and Arnold have. DeVries is a fucking ace rhythm guitarist, and Arnold has always been amazing at crafting memorable leads and solos with just the right amount of tasty shred. The fact that Werstler could bury both of them on guitar doesn’t mean it would necessarily be the best thing for the band. And it looked like Emil had an absolute blast on the bass, enjoying the lighter responsiblity and rocking the fuck out. Occasionally he stepped up and doubled the guitars on a few licks-like the techy part from 3:10-3:36 in “The Flame“, something that Jim LaMarca most definitely did not do on the recording or live in the past. I loved LaMarca, but I think it’s safe to say they have traded up in the bass department.
The same can be said about Sean Z replacing Chris Spicuzza. Definitely a trade up, at least in the live setting. He hit the right buttons at the right times to trigger the samples and such, which isn’t saying a whole lot. But his biggest addition to the band is his backing vocals-while Spicuzza did a decent enough job, Sean Z absolutely roars. I was hoping they would cut him loose to do a double frontman thing with Mark Hunter on a song, or let Sean take a verse or two by himself somewhere. But he stayed behind the keyboard and let Mark handle the bulk of the vocals-and Mark did so in typically kickass fashion, which is just fine by me at the end of the day.
All in all it was a great performance, and despite playing to smaller crowd, Chimaira had a new fire about them and really had fun on stage together. They were genuinely happy to be playing live again and very appreciative of the fans. Despite the recent changes, the future is once again very bright for these guys. Be sure to catch them live when they do a full U.S. tour this fall, and check out their new album when it drops. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will totally slay.