November 27, 2013
Better than: Beavis and Butthead may have led you to believe.
Thanksgiving Eve is a beautiful time for San Francisco. The Indian summer officially gives way to roughly five minutes of fall's crisp yellows and browns, and there's a hell of a lot of parking. The holiday migration makes the city feel roomy and it's actually a damn good time to go out and do things besides nesting with your family: every bar, restaurant, and venue seems to sigh in relief, catering to local San Franciscans enjoying long-ish respites from work.
In a weird way, this psychic cleft is the perfect space for experiencing a legendary event
in death metal. Scene founders Morbid Angel are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Covenant, the first death metal release on a major label and a widely-renowned high water mark for the genre. It's a big deal and it becomes a bigger deal in the context of this normally frazzled city's pre-feasting siesta.
Openers Blasphemous Creation hit the stage a full minute prior to the show's 9 p.m. start time (in front of Morbid Angel's massive banner). They are a visual and aural anachronism: studded wristbands, tattoos, and full stacks presenting a frozen-in-amber
mid-90s death metal assault. The mosh pit starts early and earnestly. Blasphemous
Creation talk up the headliner shamelessly. Oakland-based Rude hit next and holy hell, are they savage. Again, they're anachronistic as all get-out, replete with Marshall stacks and angular BC Rich guitars. However, Rude's energy is open-throated, earnest, and impossible to ignore. Who knew the East Bay hosted such great old-school death metal? Keep your ears peeled for these guys.
Morbid Angel hit promptly at 10:45, presenting Covenant in its entirety to the slavish delight of all. Despite this author's thoughts about metal reunions and their squandered potential, there's no denying the visceral thrill of a band revisiting a seminal album with the avid throng that helped put that album on the map. Great albums are a two-way street and simply need an audience in order to achieve their stature. Despite the script these endeavors follow, it's endearing to see Morbid Angel's audience express their enthusiasm back to the band. A way of, um, giving thanks...
From the spidery opening riff of "Rapture" on through the fading doom-esque strains of "God of Emptiness" (both MTV videos and the "singles" from this record), there's nothing Morbid Angel can do wrong tonight. The album unfolds punchy and relentless without being numbing in any way--a testament, perhaps, to its decidedly restrained form. Covenant is a fairly thoughtful and dynamic record relative to other death metal records. It holds back, it breathes, and its surprisingly poppy. The violently abstract melodicism of Trey Azagthoth's guitar and the "wayward demon" vocal narratives of David Vincent fit elegantly into a traditional verse/chorus structure, with song lengths that rarely exceed the four-minute mark.
After Covenant ends, they issue, in Vincent's words, "one song from each of the other albums," including (bless his heart) the ones he didn't play on. Highlights are Formulas Fatal to the Flesh's savage "Bil Ur-Sag" and the now-iconic "Fall From Grace" from 91's Blessed Are the Sick. With no encore, the band left the black-clad assembly to exit Slim's and blend into the night, sated and sore, filling a holiday-bare S.F. with dreams of black magic.
Shout-out to Vincent's personal security guard and de facto point man for the Slim's security staff. Looking part Mad Max and part Karl Urban's wizened twin brother, he eighty-sixed unruly fans from the mosh pit with ardor and panache.