Extreme The Dojo Vol.20 Special feat. At The Gates, Dillinger Escape Plan, Mayhem, Pig Destroyer & Into Eternity @ Shinkiba Studio Coast (10th May. '08)
Extreme The Dojo Vol 20
Let me start out with an apology. I am not a death metal fan. I entered Extreme The Dojo Vol 20 a jaded and cynical individual. I was lured into it by a friend who is a dedicated fan (Death metal? Of course death metal!) whose stories never fail to amaze me... The idea of travelling to the Czech Republic from Japan alone to attend a death metal festival had my imagination turning over... Why would you do this? Well, she explained, the ticket was cheap. Yes, only US$30 for three days of metal mayhem, who could resist? Forget the airfares, accommodation, and numerous other miscellaneous expenses, $30 is a bargain! That's only $10 a day!
So it was off to Studio Coast for me. I had been to AgeHa many times, but never to a live show under its daytime moniker before. I usually catch the shuttle bus there, and let's just say I'm usually a little under the weather on departure from a club night, so I wasn't certain I would remember how to trek from the station to the venue. Never fear, once on the train any worries I had of finding the place were displaced with worries about where to store my wallet for the remainder of the evening. Yes, 3000 death metal aficionados in a confined space will inspire you to this train of thought. But never fear, Japan is where we are, and these were amongst the nicest guys and gals you could meet.
I had been quite looking forward to New Jersey mathcore band Dillinger Escape Plan, but there was a lot to get through before they came on. Starting the evening's festivities was Canadian progressive death metal outfit Into Eternity. Unfortunately earlier commitments prevented my catching these guys, but by all reports they were "really heavy!" This description is not to be taken lightly coming from my well informed guide for the evening, whom I ran into completely by chance within five minutes of getting there. It's always a danger when you go to as big an event as this without a meet-up plan organised. After the show she noted to me that they were a good performer stirring up the audiences nicely, and the vocalist was cheerful, if a little too high pitched and "unrefined" for her tastes. I had failed to realise just how popular this genre is in Japan. It would seem that there is a very healthy industry indeed ticking around these bands. Pig Destroyer were next, coming on stage with the businesslike comment of "Let's get this done." I guess this is what three dates in three days will get you, the Tokyo show being the last. No matter, these guys put on a pretty impressive display. Nice intros and outros to each track. Some nice electronics coming courtesy of Blake Harrison, vocals from J.R. Hayes drums from Brian Harvey and the prolific Scott Hull on guitar, and justifiably proud of it! Announcing themselves as a "kick in the pants to God" (is that all?) they burst into their set with great energy, though the fans were less enthusiastic. Only a few lethargic attempts at crowd surfing, the mosh was looking like a tame place at best. The electronic samples were a highlight of their set, for me at least, with such memorable lines as "This is beautiful, this is ART!", the particularly ironic "They're all so different but all so great!" and oddly interesting computer generated voice narrating a hard core pornographic piece devoid of any emotion. Hmm.
Following these guys were Norwegian black metal outfit Mayhem. Arriving on stage with a real live (should that be real dead?) pig's head, their signature, framed with candles and a blow up globe with Australia the most prominently featured continent. Is this a new push for Aussie Pork? Surrounded by controversy in their early years, they have enjoyed a much more stable existence of late. Beginning their set with what sounded like a Nepalese chant, my guide confessed to me that it was Mayhem she was anticipating the most. They didn't disappoint, with vocalist Attilla Csihar attired as the grim reaper, and repeatedly sidling up to the boar's head throughout the performance. Nice bassy tracks driven by Necrobutcher on bass guitar and a wonderfully multi-percussive sound from the equally wonderfully named Hellhammer on drums, these guys were in my opinion much more interesting musically than Pig Destroyer. Csihar's deeeep voice going through what could have passed for rap in Latin, constantly caressing the aforementioned swine, he paused often enough to address the crowd in Japanese, much to their delight. These guys were quite the performers putting in a solid set. At the end the pig's trotters were flung into the crowd, though the head was left behind, possibly due to injuries in the past when discarded into the fans. Pity. There was so much promise there...
Next up were Dillinger Escape Plan. These guys certainly didn't disappoint, and came on stage in a flurry of activity. Lead vocalist Greg Puciato was straight out into the crowd within the first track, taking the mic with and not dropping a single syllable as he surfed amongst them. This was the ticket the crowd needed and they took his lead, with chaos reigning in the mosh throughout their performance. It was not unusual for Puciato to reach out and high five the surfers as they reached the front, and in fact towards the end of the performance they dragged a bunch of appreciative fans up on stage with them. "43% Burnt" was a favorite of the crowd, with the band putting on one of the most active stage performances I've seen in a long, long time. These guys certainly know how to have fun as they play, looking like punk and sounding like metal. During "Fix Your Fucking Face" it was guitarist Jeff Tuttle's turn to take a break from summersaulting and leap into the crowd while playing. Hats and bottles flying, it was a dangerous place to be, but he pulled it off near perfectly missing nary a beat. The onstage antics continued with the band running around like idiots almost constantly, pausing only to strike that rock god pose... all except Liam Wilson on Bass, who was always in rock god pose! Guitarist Ben Weinman took a break from his playing duties to pass his guitar to the crowd, getting them to "play along", and I use that term in the loosest of its possible interpretations. It was refreshing to see these guys on stage, a flurry of colour in a genre dominated by black. Tracks like "You're being a liar" were almost melodic, and their sound comes close to classic Faith No More at times. Slower tracks peppered the latter part of their show with almost decipherable lyrics, before they were back into the frenzy with "Sugar Coats Sour". To finish, the band went out with "The Mullett Burden", Puciato once again amongst the crowd, and Gil Sharone's drums building to madness. Holy shit.
Rounding out the fest were Swedish melodic death metal band At The Gates. These legends of the scene promised good things, and for me, certainly delivered musically. My friend had admitted to me that these guys were bottom of her list for the evening's entertainment, so I was not really expecting great things, even though they are legends of the scene. But their stage show was lacking in presence, particularly so following the hard-act-to-follow DEP. They certainly are poseurs, and they certainly have the hair to pose with. Adrian Erlandsson on drums literally backed up the quartet of vocalist Tomas Lindburg, flanked by Anders Bjorler & Martin Larsson on guitar, rounded out by Bjorler's twin brother Jonas on bass. These four assumed the internationally approved metal pose of left foot forward, long hair thrashing back and forth. And that way they stayed. A good thing the light show was well above average, as there wasn't much to keep your vision focussed on the stage. There was a lot of thrashing about in the mosh, but only a little surfing. Maybe the crowd had done their dash with DEP? Musically however it was a different story, with well structured and layered tracks, these guys were able to show us how they have been able rise to such exalted status in the genre. Tracks like "The Swarm" and "Suicide Nation" had the crowd warming to them, as they never broke formation but for Lindburg, wandering a little across the stage, but only a little. It was during "Windows" that I noticed the mosh had died down to little more than nodding, and barely had I had the chance to make the observation when the guys from DEP decided to liven them up by screaming out from backstage and launching themselves into the crowd. This happened sporadically throughout the rest of the show, but for now it sparked the crowd back up again in time for "The Burning Darkness" and the biggest crowd pleaser of their set, "No Fear". It was about this time that my friend remarked to me that she was "so very happy!" A short encore rounded out the show with "Kingdom Gone", and finally the crowd surfers realised this was their last chance. Spurred on by the DEP, they were suddenly as excitable as at any stage of the night. It says something that by the end of the night, my friend noted to me that though At The Gates started out a distant fifth in her rankings, by the end of their set they had risen to a firm #1. High praise from the mistress of metal that she is!
It was time to file out. Calm queues formed for the exit, the lockers, the train ticket machines and to get on the trains. I think Japan has the nicest death metal fans in the world. I needn't have bothered worrying about anything at all!
Metal Mayhem Extreme The Dojo Vol 20 feat. At The Gates, Dillinger Escape Plan, Mayhem, Pig Destroyer, Into Eternity : (10th May @ Shinkiba Studio Coast) Off The Beat'n Track Rodrigo Y Gabriela : (30th Mar. @ Shibuya Duo Music Exchange)