Morbid Angel, Dark Funeral, Grave; listening to metal in my early teens and twenties, I never imagined such an excellent lineup would roll through my hometown of Des Moines, IA. When this tour was announced, I found myself checking the dates on several websites just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things and that there really was a Des Moines stop scheduled. This would be my first time seeing all three bands, and being that all three bands are legendary (at least as far as my own personal metal pantheon is concerned), I was just as giddy at 33 as I would’ve been at 18 had this lineup desecrated Des Moines back then.
We arrived early to the venue and were able to secure a booth in an elevated position just off to the side of the stage as our “home base;” I’ve been to shows at People’s where they’ve charged $50 for the privilege of sitting in these booths, so it was nice to see this area open to us plebeians without having shell out our hard-earned (and limited) cash. Also, we’re old and out of shape and therefore like to have the option of sitting down when the knees and feet start sending those inevitable pain signals. Local black metallers Agrinex warmed up the crowd with a brief set of traditional black metal, replete with spikes and corpse paint; it’s nice to see Des Moines’ metal scene sporting its very own BM horde, and these guys could have some potential if they tighten up their songwriting.
Of Stockholm-style death metal’s “big four” (Entombed, Grave, Dismember, Unleashed) , Grave have remained the most consistently crushing, weathering numerous lineup changes and sporting a solid back catalogue of ten full length albums going back to 1991. They’re currently touring behind Endless Procession of Souls (review here), their first album back on Century Media and the most decimating thing they’ve released since coming back from a six-year hiatus in 2002. The band took the stage and immediately launched into “Amongst Marble and the Dead,” the opening track from the aforementioned new album, flattening the audience with their patented rumbling Swe-death assault. “We’re Grave from Sweden, and we’re here to rock your socks off!” said guitarist/vocalist/founder Ola Lindgren between songs, and while that might’ve sounded like sarcasm, he wasn’t kidding, because for all their debilitating heaviness, the quartet most certainly rocked.
Pummeling their way through a set that was a potent mix of tracks from Endless Procession… and older classics such as “You’ll Never See…” and “Morbid Way to Die,” Grave were by far the evening’s most bulldozing band. One of my favorite aspects of their sound has always been the deep, sludgy grooves they tend to pepper their songs with, and those parts are even heavier live, optimized for maximum neck-wrecking. Lindgren and co-guitarist Mika Lagren’s guitars eviscerated the crowd with that sickening buzzsaw-sound that has come to be the signature of Stockholm-style death metal, stopping only to unleash some whammy-bar abusing leads that sounded like their guitars were vomiting blood while being tortured relentlessly (trust me, this is a good thing). The rhythm section of drummer Ronnie Bergerstahl and bassist Tobias Cristiansson held down Grave’s low-end to the point that they probably could’ve leveled downtown Des Moines with a little more volume.
Grave closed out their set with “Into the Grave,” preceded by an intro that consisted of the first verse of “Black Sabbath.” Of course, every metal band in existence owes something to Black Sabbath, but with Grave it is palpable; their doomed grooves and morbid atmosphere taking Tony Iommi’s vision to its logical extreme. My only complaint regarding Grave’s killer set is that it wasn’t just a little bit longer.
Up next was Dark Funeral, who were my most hotly anticipated band of the night (yes, you’re reading this sentence correctly). I’ve seen Dark Funeral get slagged often, but I never understood this; for me they are the epitome of straightforward, blasting, no-frills black metal, and this is not a bad thing. They were one of the first bands I latched onto when I was beginning to explore black metal in the late nineties and early two-thousands and I found myself drawn to their simplicity, their purity and their unapologetically over-the-top Satanic approach; I still do. They were for me a seminal band, but I never thought in a million years that I’d get the opportunity to see them in the corpsepainted flesh.
Dark Funeral haven’t released an album since 2009, so it was even more surprising to see them out on tour with nothing to promote; I can only assume this is their way to get their name back out there in preparation for a new album, as the band recently signed with Century Media. They’re also sporting a new vocalist in the form of Nachtgarm, a German who also does time in the excellent Negator when not fronting Dark Funeral. It should be noted that he is a positively bewitching frontman who can easily go toe-to-toe with former screamer Emperor Magus Caligula and definitely adds to the band’s mystique.
The good thing about the Swedish quintet not having a new album out is that we were treated to a set full of classics going all the way back to 1996’s Secrets of the Black Arts. My personal favorite Dark Funeral album is Diabolus Interium, and when the band unleashed “The Arrival of Satan’s Empire” as their opening song, I pretty much lost my shit. They also aired the slow-burning “Goddess of Sodomy” and the ripping “Hail Murder” and “An Apprentice of Satan” all from that album. The sonic maelstrom the band was able to whip up throughout the set was impressive; the guitar tandem of Dark Funeral founder Lord Ahriman and Chaq Mol has been stable for some time now and it showed in the precision with which they let loose their soul-withering tremolo riffs. Drummer Dominator is an absolute beast behind the kit; granted one would have to be in order to play in a band like Dark Funeral, but that doesn’t make his inhuman stamina and blasting ability any less impressive.
Whereas Grave’s set left me hungry for more, Dark Funeral’s set left my appetite for relentlessly obliterating black metal more than sated. I look forward to them finally putting out a new album and once again blasting all the haters to smithereens. Satanic war! Fear the return!
Finally, Morbid Angel took the stage. David Vincent announced the band as “The Undisputed Kings of Florida death metal” (I may be paraphrasing slightly), his on-stage persona falling somewhere between OTT rockstar and professional wrestler, before the band tore through what was basically a greatest hits set. They did air two songs from the much-maligned comeback album Illud Divinum Insanus (you can read me maligning the living shit out of it here) and I have to admit that “Existo Vulgore” and “Nevermore” sound much better when unhindered by the sub par production of Illud… not to mention the other piss-poor songs that surround them. But I digress, I come to honor Morbid Angel, not to bury them; after all this is a band I’ve wanted to see since I was a teenager. In this respect they did not disappoint.
Obviously the highlight of seeing Morbid Angel live is witnessing the ungodly shredding might that is Trey Azagthoth. I’m pretty sure the dude is from some other dimension, where Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones taught him otherworldly guitar techniques. Seriously, the man can do things to a guitar that makes it sound like Cthulhu himself collapsing space and time; after seeing it in person I still don’t fully understand how he does it. Granted, his co-guitarist Destructhor (ex-Zyklon, Myrkskog) is no slouch, but Azagthoth is the goddamn fountainhead, probably neck-and-neck with Evil Chuck for greatest death metal guitarist of all time honors. His riffs and leads on Morbid Angel classics such as “Chapel of Ghouls” and “Maze of Torment” are elevated from holy shit awesome into the realm of religious experience when one witnesses them live.
Morbid Angel most definitely delivered the goods, and much like when I saw Cannibal Corpse a few months back, a euphoria washed over me during their set as they ripped into songs such as “Where the Slime Live” “Rapture” and one of the first death metal songs I ever heard, “God of Emptiness.” There is something very special about finally seeing a band live after cherishing their music for years, a feeling that you’ve somehow come full circle, and on this night I felt that feeling many times over.
At this point you’re probably asking: “why are there no pictures of Morbid Angel?” The damn camera died. Hey, these things happen.
Grave / Dark Funeral / Morbid Angel remaining dates:
Oct 8 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
Oct 10 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon
Oct 11 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theater
Oct 12 – San Francisco, CA – Slim’s
Oct 13 – Sacramento, CA – Ace Of Spades
Oct 14 – Anaheim, CA – The Grove
Oct 15 – Tempe, AZ – Marquee Theatre Oct 16 – El Paso, TX – House of Rock
Oct 17 – Dallas, TX – Trees
Oct 18 – Houston, TX – Scout Bar
Oct 19 – San Antonio, TX – Backstage Live
Oct 21 – St. Louis. MO – The Firebird **DARK FUNERAL and GRAVE only**
Oct 22 – Lansing, MI – The Blackened Moon **DARK FUNERAL and GRAVE only**
Oct 23 – Buffalo, NY – Broadway Joe’s **DARK FUNERAL and GRAVE only**
All photos by the lovely and talented Mrs. THKD.
Special thanks to Nikki Law and Century Media for helping make this live report possible.