Deceased/Savage Master/Death of Kings
August 6-7, 2018
It takes a special kind of dedication – perhaps insanity is a better word – to route an underground heavy metal tour through the Deep South in August. For starters, the heat and humidity are oppressive and relentless (particularly if your touring van lacks air conditioning, as is the case for Savage Master). To compound matters, most cities and towns in this part of the country are not known for being particularly robust metal markets, or for having any metal scene at all for that matter. I never expect bands I love to visit the region that I call home. And, unsurprisingly, they rarely do, which is why I travel so extensively for gigs and festivals. At the same time, it makes it all the more special and meaningful to me when a tour that I care about does make the effort to play here. So I was immensely chuffed to learn that one of my most favorite bands, Savage Master, would be playing a couple of gigs within easy striking distance of me as part of a short tour of mostly southeastern destinations (Atlanta, Chattanooga, Little Rock, Memphis, etc.) allied with death metal legends Deceased and Atlanta upstarts Death of Kings. Here’s how the two shows I attended went down …
Monday, August 6, 2018
The Merry Widow
It’s cause for celebration when a worthy gig occurs in my town of Mobile, Alabama, which (aside from my house) is one of the least metal places on Earth. It felt truly bizarre going home from work, changing clothes (wearing my red Manilla Road shirt in silent tribute to the late Mark Shelton), and driving 15 minutes to the venue. That never happens. I’m accustomed to concertgoing being an epic, Homeric struggle all the time, rather than a matter of simple convenience. Man, I could get used to this way of doing things, but I’d best not because it will likely never happen again. Tonight’s venue was The Merry Widow, a respectable downtown establishment that I patronize on a regular basis because of its outstanding happy hour drink deals and friendly staff. There’s really nothing remotely metal about the place, but they have a nice stage and regularly host concerts (although I’d never attended a metal gig here before). When I walked in at just past 7 p.m., they were doing trivia night, throwing in an occasional plug for people to stick around for the show. It was great to see the Savage Master family again, and to have some quiet time to catch up with them and sip inexpensive tropical cocktails (it was, after all, Tiki Week in downtown Mobile) before it was time to set up for the show.
For whatever reason, the local opener bailed on the gig, so there were just the three touring bands. (Being familiar with this local opener, suffice it to say I was not heartbroken by this development.) I had worried that the locals’ cancellation might cripple what was already likely to be an abysmal turnout, but Mobile actually did okay for an underground heavy metal show on a Monday evening. I’d guess paid attendance topped out at 30+, which is nothing to get excited about but not a total disaster either. It was nearly 10 p.m. when Atlanta’s DEATH OF KINGS took the stage to commence the night’s musical entertainment. I was not familiar with the band’s music before this evening, though I’ve heard Atlanta friends such as Hoyt Parris sing their praises for years. The four-piece impressed me with their dual-guitar thrash metal attack. Guitarists were tight, played well, and it was cool to see one of them rocking a B.C. Rich Mockingbird. Don’t see too many of those these days. Vocals, supplied by both guitarists, were quite harsh, and unfortunately the impenetrable live sound engineering by Merry Widow’s staff didn’t do Death of Kings any favors. Still, I enjoyed what I did hear, and the band were well-received. In a humorous note, their fog machine was perhaps too effective for its own good, as the entire interior of the venue was shrouded in thick smoke by the time Death of Kings wrapped up their 30-minute set.
As a veteran of numerous SAVAGE MASTER shows, I knew exactly what to expect from the occult metal heroes from Louisville. They always bring high energy and killer songs, but tonight their attack seemed more concentrated and more powerful somehow. Perhaps it made a difference that Savage Master had a short, 35-minute direct support slot, rather than a headliner position. As a result, there was no time to waste, and the band just came out and leveled the City of Mobile with an intense, breathless assault featuring 9 of the finest songs from their repertoire. As always, it was awesome to see Stacey Savage lead her leatherclad, hooded, and chained minions through the set. Stacey has developed into a superb frontwoman, and has become quite skilled at interacting with the audience (lots of direct, searing eye contact) and her bandmates (a favorite move being when she clutches the rusty chains around their necks during the instrumental bits) as she lurches across the stage and whips the crowd into a frenzy. The perfectly constructed setlist captured the best, strongest and certainly the liveliest Savage Master material, with nary a moment to catch one’s breath. Songs like “Black Hooves,” “With Whips and Chains,” “Burning Leather,” and “Ready to Sin” always go down a storm live, and tonight was no exception. The closing salvo of “The Ripper in Black” (Stacey donning her signature black and red cape to stalk her prey during the song because if you’re not home by midnight, you won’t be back!) and “Death Rides the Highway” closed things out with a superb flourish. Somehow, I had prevailed upon a couple of decidedly non-metal work colleagues to come to the show and check out Savage Master. Much to my delight, they both really dug the performance. One of them was raving about the punk influences he was able to pick out of Adam Neal’s riffs and writing style, and the other one actually bought two of their CDs. It’s never too late to convert folks to the righteous path of Satanic underground heavy metal now, is it? Setlist: Black Hooves, With Whips and Chains, Satan’s Crown, Dark Light of the Moon, Burning Leather, Looking for a Sacrifice, Ready to Sin, The Ripper in Black, Death Rides the Highway.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen DECEASED live. I’m thinking it might go back as far as the time I saw them at the damned Jack Koshick New Jersey Metal Meltdown thing in Asbury Park, which must have been around 2001. (I’ve seen King Fowley’s more traditional-minded outfit, October 31, several times since then, but Deceased is a different story.) It was fun to chat with the always-irrepressible King before the gig. I know he rubs some people the wrong way, but his candor, his enthusiasm, his sense of humor, his encyclopedic knowledge, and his unbridled love of this music are all extremely admirable traits. Hard to imagine that 33 years into the band’s career, Deceased were playing their first-ever gig in Alabama tonight. Unfortunately, the difficult sonic conditions that plagued Death of Kings were magnified for Deceased, so much so that nearly all of the dynamics of the music were stripped out by a redlined wall of noise. King’s vocals were almost impossible to make out, and all the cool detail work in the guitars was buried beneath a thick coating of sludge. It was also loud to the point of discomfort, with my ears ringing intensely for many hours after the show despite wearing earplugs (as I always do). None of this is Deceased’s fault. It just made for difficult listening conditions for live death metal, particularly for someone like me who wasn’t acquainted with much of the material outside of the Fearless Undead Machines songs they played and also “The Premonition” (my favorite Deceased song). Deceased clearly gave it all they had tonight, but the technical factors beyond their control were something of a downer. Setlist: Night of the Deceased, The Premonition, Fading Survival, The Mausoleum, Silent Creature, Psychedelic Warriors, Graphic Repulsion, Morbid Shape in Black, The Triangle, Fearless Undead Machines.
After the show, I helped with load-out (somebody was passing around a box of moon pies – the quintessential Mobile snack food – for the band members to share), then hosted the Savage Master clan at my house. There was a late-night feast, along with loads of laughs and stories told. At some point, a bottle of silver tequila was discovered and consumed with ruthless efficiency. When the tequila was gone, things started to quiet down and somewhere around 4 a.m. I crawled into bed.
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
Things were rather less cheery when I tiptoed past my peacefully slumbering guests and out the front door to head into work at 8:00 a.m., but that’s the price one pays for rock’n’roll. I regret nothing. By late afternoon, it was time to hit the road for tonight’s show in New Orleans. Since the sudden closure of mainstay venue Siberia last year, attending underground metal shows in NOLA has not been a hell of a lot of fun. Local promoters have been casting about for a suitable venue, but options like Twist of Lime and Poor Boys simply weren’t satisfactory. And while Southport Music Hall is okay, it’s simply too large for Siberia-level shows like this. Tonight marked my first time visiting Santos Bar, which is located on Decatur Street at the eastern fringes of the French Quarter. I liked this place right away. There’s a huge black-and-white photo of Lemmy in full papal regalia behind the bar. In lieu of disco balls, they have spinning mirror skulls suspended from the ceiling and illuminated with white light producing a mirror-ball effect. Hanging on the wall behind the small stage is a neon sign consisting of lips and vampire teeth, in a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show motif, but covered with a see-through black cloth to make it all a little fuzzy and not overly bright. The between-bands musical entertainment consisted primarily of Venom, Mercyful Fate, and Motorhead tracks. Santos is, in short, a small, cozy, but basically clean and tidy heavy metal bar. This is most welcome news, and I hope to return frequently for shows. Attendance seemed to hover in the 30-40 person range, which isn’t terrible for New Orleans on a Tuesday.
After the local openers, Death of Kings hit the stage and played another strong set of ripping thrash metal, although they were once again hampered by a subpar sound. SAVAGE MASTER performed the same setlist as last night in Mobile; however, tonight’s gig was even better. It surely helped that some audience members showed familiarity with the tunes. Stacey put the mike in front of me to belt out a chorus of “Looking for a Sacrifice,” which was cool. At another point, she hopped offstage and into the audience for a brief period. The Savage Master set hit hard and completely slayed. Being able to see them for two nights in a row like this is a gift, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Particularly with all the touring they’ve done this year, Savage Master are a stronger and more potent live act than ever before, and in my mind there’s absolutely no question they’re one of the very best bands on the traditional metal circuit today.
The biggest difference between last night’s show and tonight’s show was with DECEASED’s headlining performance. In contrast to last night, there were minimal sound issues tonight, so I was able to hear the band properly. Wow, they sounded fantastic! The amiable, heavyset King Fowley (wearing backwards ACID baseball cap) still possesses a vicious, yet somehow charismatic and distinctive death bark, with many of the lyrics being audible. The guitarwork was superb, with both axemen playing up a storm. Rhythm section sounded quite locked-in, and it was cool that the bass player contributed a significant chunk of backing vocals. As for the songs, it was the same set as last night (except that “The Mausoleum” was deleted tonight) but everything sounded so much clearer. The opening punch of “Night of the Deceased” into “The Premonition” was outstanding. “Silent Creature” crushed. And the epic “Fearless Undead Machines” closed things out in fine fashion. For Deceased’s first-ever gig in New Orleans, this one was a triumph, and most of the crowd stuck around for their set even as the hour grew quite late for a weeknight. One especially amusing anecdote emerged from this Deceased show. New Orleans is notorious for its, ummm, wacky denizens. Exhibit A: young woman in a pink crop top with short striped shorts and a baseball cap. There was nothing metal about her. She was obviously in the wrong place, and she appeared completely out of her mind, whether because of overindulging in French Quarter intoxicants or whatever else. Anyway, drunk chick spent the entire Deceased set directly in front of the stage, mere inches away from King Fowley. She had a seemingly endless variety of what I would characterize as rapper dance moves and hand gestures, and she quite enthusiastically segued from one to the next, sometimes accompanied by a very large female companion wearing a Marshall Tucker Band sweatshirt. Early on, King Fowley seemed a bit annoyed with these antics, but as the set wore on and it became evident that drunk-rapper-dance-moves chick wasn’t going to leave, King began interacting with her, giving her the microphone, and occasionally even mimicking her dance moves. He decided to ham it up and play the whole thing for laughs, and it was brilliant. I stood a few feet away with Adam Neal of Savage Master, watching this entire spectacle unfold. We were dying laughing. When King did “the robot” right after she did, I laughed until tears welled up in my eyes. Occasionally, he would make eye contact with us and mouth things like, “What the fuck?” It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at a metal show, albeit completely par for the course for New Orleans. When it was over, Adam put his arm on my shoulder and said, “I’m so glad we got to share that.” Hahahaha.
One unfortunate fact of life about club shows in New Orleans is that they tend to run quite late, which can be inconvenient if you have to work the next day and are facing a 2+ hour drive home. When the Deceased show concluded at around 1:30 a.m., it was time to say quick goodbyes to our friends, walk back through the still-buzzing French Quarter to get the car, and make the solitary drive back home, finally pulling into the parking space after 4:30 a.m. Suffice it to say that work the next day was not fun, but it was totally worth it. All hail Savage Master, Deceased, and Death of Kings for touring the Deep South in August. You all rule!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~