As I Lay Dying – [Live]

Friday, 30 November 2007

The writing on a t-shirt that a kid in line for this night’s show was wearing said it all: "Exhume the wretched body from its timeless slumber." The death-roars that singers of metalcore and death metal bands use is the voice needed to awaken the dead. Tonight I was going to witness a perturbed spectacle, an obvious oxymoron of musical and spiritual intrigue—a Christian death metal band (hardcore genre-ists, please forgive me if you feel I am generalizing the use of this term). I've listened to a variety of metalcore and death metal bands over the past few years and actually enjoy the technical intensity and moods of gloom these orchestrations generate. I am by no means an authority that understands all that these musicians are trying to achieve with this music. That said, let me say that after this night of music, I could discern a difference in the air from what it feels like to listen to Christian death metal compared to secular death metal.

The evening started promptly at 7:31 with South Carolina secular deathcore band Through The Eyes of the Dead. Honestly, I thought this was one of the most amazing opening bands I have ever seen perform. The precision that these band members use when moving around the stage and the power-inducing, low-squat stances they take when they solo in unison sent virtual shockwaves of intensity into everyone. I think they must channel their energy straight up from the core of the earth into the power chords and doom-filled rhythms they send into the room of mood-hungry warrior fans. The four front members move with military precision across the stage with a fluidity that exhibits practice and a type of spiritual unity. Their set included the songs "The Deep Dark Skies," "To Wage a War" and "Pull the Trigger."

Haste the Day came on stage at 8:12 with a much different energy and sound. They play a more melodic form of Christian metalcore with two guitarists and a drummer singing harmonies and back up to the death-roar shouting of lead singer, Stephen Keech. In comparison to the orchestrated and precise stage movements of TTEOTD, these guys seemed sloppy and uncoordinated, lacking a focus of energy in their movements. Regardless, these longhaired rockers got the crowd moving and raising their hands in salutes to one lord or another. One thing that blew my mind was when the guitarist did this extreme back bend while he soloed, then pulled up straight and went into this maniac head banging—never losing a beat. The flavor of sound in the air definitely took on a sweet aroma. One lyric I actually understood was, "Why are you so afraid? What are you afraid of?" Another memorable line was, "I will fight this war forever, until I die!" The natives were getting into the spirit. The waves of the tide in the body of followers were gathering strength.

At 9:02 All That Remains took control of the room and brought the energy level to an amazing new level. Lead singer Phil Labonte acted like a combination manic-reprobate cheerleader, coach, quarterback and circus barker, running and bouncing all over the stage. Thankfully his longhaired guitarists were adept at extreme head banging. The way Labonte wore his oversized baseball cap and kept doing chest and arm thumps to the crowd while he roared almost led me to believe this band had hip-hop influences. Also amazing to me is that the audience knew the words to so many of ATR's songs. Labonte would shout out the names of songs so everyone could then join in with their own moderated death-roar chants. Their set list included, "This Calling," "We Stand," "Become the Catalyst," "The Air That I Breath" and "For Salvation." At one point he shouted out, "Do you guys like death metal? Well, we are NOT a death metal band." Another time he shouted out, "Do you know what a circle pit is? Then open this place the fuck up!" That was all it took. The waves of the tide of the body of followers became tidal.

There is something soothing about these doom-ish melodies. The darkness echoes with the pain we carry in our bodies, our souls, our memories. There are times I actually feel moved to tears when this music loosens the things inside of me I no longer need to own or carry. With roars that would rattle the bones of the dead back to life I imagine that this is what Jesus' voice would have sounded like when He called for Lazurus to rise from the dead. Is that a hidden intent of those that shout Christian death metal songs? To awaken the dead in spirit from their slumber? I chatted with a man in the audience, Noah, a member of the Christian death metal band The Tristar Embodiment, and he epitomized this roaring voice as a "battle cry."

At 10:16 the waves inside Slim's went tsunami. As I Lay Dying came on stage and I became witness to the most professional stage presentation and refined (yet completely chaotic) performance I have ever seen at this venue. These men come out with a power and confidence I've never seen before. Truly, like warriors standing at the edge of a battlefield, they wield their weapons of destruction and shout with voices empowered by a belief that they have already won this war.

Tim Lambesis is a hulking presence, dark, but only menacing to his enemies. I kept having flashes of visions of "Eric Draven" (from the movie The Crow) in my mind when I looked at Lambesis stand tall and brooding over the edge of the stage. Despite the fact that I was very familiar with their newest album, An Ocean Between Us (Metal Blade), had it not been for Lambesis announcing the titles of songs before singing them I was unable, for the most part, to recognize the songs. The volume they pumped out in combination with the roars of the audience singing along inside of this small venue turned into a messy blur. Their set included "Within Destruction," "The Darkest Nights," "Forsaken," "Meeting In Tragedy" "I Never Wanted," "Comfort Betrays," "The Sound of Truth," "94 Hours," and closed with "Meaningless." At the beginning of the last song Lambesis invited everyone to climb up on stage and sing along. Crowd surfing had been going on all night but now there was a flood of people climbing on stage, prancing, singing and leaping back into the crowd. One young woman even lifted her shirt and flashed the crowd!

I wish I was younger and stronger and felt well enough to swim in the body of humanity with the crowd during this performance—there was so much love and excitement in the room it was almost tangible in the air. I have never seen Slim's have such a full audience before and from my vista point in the rear balcony I could not see an inch of space where people stood that did not vibrate and move and dance in accord with the power of this music and these lyrics. It seemed to me to be a modern version of Christian revival meetings of old where the Holy Spirit descended upon the crowd and brought them insight, healing and rebirth. This music, through the intent of these performers, sets these people free. Oh, and I never got a whiff of pot smoke in the club all night.

Through the Eyes of The Dead:
Haste the Day:
All That Remains:
As I Lay Dying:

Download – "94 Hours" from Frail Words Collapse – [mp3]

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