Concert Review: Vader, Abysmal Dawn, Hideous Divinity, Vitriol, Desolate at Jewel Music Venue (Manchester, NH)

New Hampshire is the fly over state of New England when it comes to noteworthy metal tours. Most bands book their New England dates at one of the countless options in Massachusetts; there are more highly frequented venues in the greater Boston/Cambridge area than the region’s other five states combined, at least for metal shows. Connecticut and Rhode Island have their fair share of traffic from the tour circuit, and when a metal show makes its way up to Northern New England, they usually stop at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland, Maine or one of a revolving list of venues in Burlington, Vermont.

There have been exceptions over the years in Manchester (New Hampshire’s most populous city), namely a tour featuring Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, Carnifex, Betraying the Martyrs, and Structures at the now defunct Rocko’s. It was one of the few local shows I was able to catch in high school that featured bands from “my” scene. Since then in my adult years, I caught Dying Fetus at the Bungalow, only to find out it was the venue’s last show, and Eyehategod and Come to Grief at the Shaskeen, a date that was likely booked based solely on the fact CtG are based in New Hampshire. I’ve grown accustomed to driving an hour down to Mass. for shows over the years, something that’s grown more difficult and less desirable to do in my post-college years with a regular work schedule.

All this to say that I genuinely appreciate what Jewel Music Venue is doing in Manchester. Being able to drive less than a half-hour roundtrip has made it feasible to consider buying tickets for concerts I actually want to attend, rather than seeing yet another tour poster released with no New England dates or one on a weeknight down in Mass. This concert was my first time at Jewel, but I’ve already locked in to seeing the Devastation on the Nation Tour (Rotting Christ, Borknagar, Wolfheart, Abigail Williams, and Imperial Triumphant) in April and I’m considering buying tickets to see Possessed and Pestilence later this year.

As is usually the case during February in New Hampshire, it was bitterly cold as my friend and I waited in line. Even 25 years of living in winter weather doesn’t totally alleviate the feeling of standing in sub-20 degree temps. Thankfully, we were warmed by metal puns from our fellow attendees:

“Man, it’s freezing out here. I hope I don’t get Celtic Frost bite.”

Nice.

Despite the weather and small-city venue, I was impressed by the turnout and how quickly the room filled up. Naturally, more people arrived the closer we approached Vader‘s set, but the room was still decently full as we filed in to see the opening act. I was particularly excited about this considering the act I was most excited to see, Vitriol, was the first national opener and deserves all the attention they can get.

Desolate

Before the touring acts took stage, my friend and I made our way to the bar to grab a beer and found a spot to see what the local opener had to offer. Unfortunately, Desolate was already part-way through the penultimate song of their set. Apparently there was some confusion and disagreement between the bands, venue, and tour promoter that ultimately caused each band’s time to be moved a half-hour earlier. This also affected Vitriol’s set, which was especially disappointing.

That said, I enjoyed what I heard from Desolate. They were much more on the black metal end of the “blackened death metal” spectrum from what I heard, with songs driven by tremolos and steady blast beats. On a subsequent Facebook thread about the show, Jewel apologized for the situation and offered to have Desolate come back to play a future show. I hope that bears out and I’m able to catch a full performance from the band. In the meantime, if you’re in the area, you can see the band play at Ralph’s Rock Diner in March.

Vitriol

The band I was most excited to see smashed all my expectations. Last year, Jonathan and I heaped as much praise as we could on Vitriol’s excellent debut album, To Bathe From the Throat of Cowardice. They take a “Hate Eternal 2.0″ foundation and dial up the intensity and aggression higher than virtually any of their contemporaries. That translated seamlessly into their live set and was arguably even more potently on display as the band stomped through an all-to-short set of highlights from their debut. Even when bassist Adam Roethlisberger and guitarist Kyle Rasmussen traded off vocal duties, they still maintained an incredible amount of energy while thundering through their intense, technical instrumental duties. Fellow guitarist Mike Ashton brought a menacing presence as well, and despite being hidden by his kit, drummer Scott Walker’s immaculate, blistering performance spoke for itself.

It was also fantastic to see how much people vibed with what the band were doing. The crowd at most of metal shows I’ve been to typically don’t get into the swing of moshing until halfway through the bill. But Vitriol’s final song stirred up the night’s first pit, and had the band’s set not been cut short, I guarantee the crowd would have grown more intense. I’m not sure what I’m more excited for: Vitriol’s sophomore album, or the next time I’ll get to see them play. It was just such an excellent set.

Hideous Divinity

I’m glad Jonathan covered Hideous Divinity‘s new album Simulacrum for Death’s Door last year, because I slept it on hard. When the Italian quintet took stage, I really had no concrete expectations. My very first impressions: their matching black-button-up-and-jeans outfits certainly made them the best-dressed group of the night. The atmospheric, spoken word intro created a suspenseful air in the room, which led me to believe they’d have a more “refined” sound compared to the sonic bludgeoning Vitriol had unleashed.

Once they started playing, it was clear the most accurate descriptor was “dynamic,” or perhaps “balanced.” Their set included pockets of melody, atmosphere, and prog flirtations, though there was still plenty of pure, crushing death metal. Vocalist Enrico Di Lorenzo had incredible stage presence throughout the band’s set, capping it off by balancing the mic in his mouth and screaming from the deepest depths during the band’s final song.

What struck me most about the band’s set is how well-suited their songs were in a live setting despite the melodic breaks. Some bands I’ve seen, like The Contortionist, write songs that feel unbalanced when played live, with the heavy parts opening up the pit and the jarring shift to quieter passages leaving everyone standing around confused. Hideous Divinity’s song selection made for a varied set that remained consistently engaging, and I was left with an anxious need to check out their back catalog.

Abysmal Dawn

I often use new albums from veteran bands as an excuse to revisit or check out their discography. The usual “their old stuff was better” crowd might scoff at this mindset, but the prospect of discovering an AOTY contender and using it as an excuse to dive into the band’s prior releases has worked for me in the past (most recently with The Mountain Goats). If Abysmal Dawn‘s performance was an accurate indicator, their new album Phylogenesis will be one of the highlight death metal albums of the year.

Though I haven’t followed the band closely over the years, I spun Programmed to Consume (2008) and Leveling the Plane of Existence (2011) a fair amount when I first started exploring my interest in death metal. Along with bands like Trigger the Bloodshed and Psycroptic, Abysmal Dawn offered the kind of fast, technical death metal from the early-2010s that I was all about. Roughly a decade later, the band haven’t lost their touch whatsoever. Their set had a couple mid-paced, groovy cuts, but the majority of their time on stage was spent churning out flurries of riffs, blast beats, and solos with exceptional precision.

The rest of the crowd was equally impressed. The mosh pits started coming more frequently during the Abysmal Dawn’s set, and the relatively small space made it so everyone in the immediate area was well aware it was time to throw down. Similar to Hideous Divinity, the band was able to balance the various tempos and moods from their discography, and it made for yet another fun performance on the night.

Vader

Though I haven’t listened to Vader nearly as much as other death metal veterans, they were instrumental in spurning my love the genre in the first place. One of my high school friends would make me “mixtapes” (via flash drives) of metal songs he was digging, ranging from goregrind to folk metal. Given my obsession with deathcore at the time, he started focusing more heavily on classic death metal tracks in an attempt to “convert” me to “real” death metal. It worked, and soon I found myself spinning tracks like. Suffocation‘s “Infecting the Crypts,” Deicide‘s “Scars of the Crucifix,” and all the shockingly-titled greatest hits from Cannibal Corpse.

Of all these tracks, the shock value and bombast of Vader’s “Helleluyah (God Is Dead)” left a huge impact on my perception of death metal. I thought deathcore was the newer, heavier, faster version of death metal, yet here was a track that delivered on all these traits in a way that was arguably more impactful than all the deathcore bands I’d become so infatuated with. From start to finish, it was some of the best metal I’d heard up to that point.

Of all the bands I saw at this show, I left feeling most invigorated to check out Vader. They had just as much energy and personality as the younger bands that preceded them and made tracks that came out decades ago sound completely fresh alongside the contemporary death metal that was played that night. I’d highlight each of the band member’s by name, but frankly, each of them helped create one of the most fun, engaging sets of the night, and easily one of the most vibrant sets from a veteran metal band I’ve seen live.

The crowd’s reaction to their set was by far the biggest surprise of the night. At most shows I’ve been to, audience interest has waned once older bands take the stage. When I saw Morbid Angel headline Summer Slaughter a few years ago, the intensity of the mosh pit took a noticeable dive compared to the energy during sets from newer “-core” bands earlier on in the evening. It could be fatigue, but the drop-off has always seemed stark.

But not at this show.

Holy shit, the crowd reaction during Vader’s set was fucking crazy. I lost count of the times someone screamed “FUCKING VADER,” and the mosh pit seemingly never took a break during their set. People were throwing down and shoving each other from the moment they played the first note of every single song on their set list, and the pit progressively grew in size over the course of their performance.

I hung up my moshing shoes several years ago after I had a pair of glasses smashed in a pit (nerd alert), but I totally appreciated the passion people exhibited for a legendary death metal band. For all the excellent new death metal that comes out each year, it’s great to have young metal fans appreciating the bands that helped launch the genre in the first place.

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