Onslaught and M:pire of Evil
McGuffy’s, Dayton, March 31

Man” Dolan and Mants, perhaps better known as members of seminal metal legend Venom. The band set the tone for their set by opening up with the Venom classic “Countess Bathory,” and from there on out M:pire performed with all the snarl and attitude you would expect from guys who’ve played in that seminal band. The sound was great, guitarist Mantas threw down killer riffs and solos and Dolan’s vocals sounded fantastic for both the Venom hits in the set as well as the M:pire material. The trio ended things on a high note by closing their set with two of Venom’s most popular tunes, “Black Metal” and “Witching Hour.” Needless to say, I spent those six minutes headbanging nonstop. The only thing that would have been better is if Kronos had been there and Venom itself was laying waste to McGuffy’s on this Saturday night.

Closing out the evening was headliner Onslaught, perhaps Britain’s oldest and most influential purveyors of thrash metal. I’ve never been super into Onslaught so I wasn’t expecting a whole hell of a lot from these geezers. But holy shit if they didn’t rock my face off! The band’s chops were tight as hell and the quintet spent the majority of its 60-minute set musically running over the audience at breakneck speeds and just generally plowing through the eardrums of the couple hundred faithful who came out to hear some killer, old school thrash. Vocalist Sy Keeler sounded particularly great, still able to belt his heart out and hit those coveted high notes that most vocalists of older age are simply not capable of singing. I was happily surprised with how much I enjoyed Onslaught’s live show, and since then I have come around to better enjoy their classic records.

Behemoth, The Devil’s Blood, and In Solitude
Alrosa Villa, Columbus, April 11

It’s rare that there’s a package tour where I’m keen on all the bands playing, but when I heard about who all was going to be on the Decibel Magazine tour, I was stoked that it was coming so close to home. Being the first night of the tour with a bunch of bands from overseas there could have been major hiccups for the bands involved. Twas not the case, as all the bands delivered killer sets. In Solitude kicked things off with their uniquely dark take on traditional heavy metal. I was a big fan of their 2011 release, The World. The Flesh. The Devil, and the well-executed live renditions of some of my favorite tunes from that opus definitely kicked ass. For good measure, the band tossed in one from their rare first album and closed their all too short set with the 15-minute long epic, “On Burning Paths,” an unexpected live selection that was certainly welcomed.

Next up was Swedish band The Devil’s Blood, who showed up onstage caked in (probably fake) blood and immediately cranked into “On the Wings of Gloria,” a highlight from their 2012 epic, The Thousandfold Epicentre. The Devil’s Blood for all intents and purposes could probably be lumped in with the so-called occult rock movement that seems to be gaining popularity thanks to bands like fellow countrymen Ghost. The hallmarks are there: early-70s styled hard rock with infectious melodies and soaring vocals, which in this instance are courtesy of frontwoman Farida Lemouchi. In the live setting, the band’s sound was hypnotic and mesmerizing, and the more I hear The Devil’s Blood, the more I dig them.

Topping the bill was blackened death stalwarts Behemoth, all the way from Poland. Behemoth tour The States quite frequently, but there seems to be a renewed sense of purpose for the band’s triumphant return to playing live due to band mastermind Nergal’s well publicized battle with leukemia and the bone marrow transplant surgery that he underwent last year. Thankfully, Nergal’s metal mettle is so great that he not only recovered fully, but was able to start rocking again in an amazingly short amount of time. Led by the now short-haired singer, the band stuck to fan favorites from the last decade or so of their discography, although they did sneak in one of their older tunes, “Moonspell Rites,” a rather surprising but ultimately rousing addition to the band’s headlining set. With shredding guitars and jackhammer drums, Behemoth was just that: a huge sounding beast of tightness and ferocity.

Mutilation Rites and Mortals
Blind Bob’s, Dayton, April 22

For once, we got some touring metal in my hometown and current residence, and at my favorite local watering hole. Blind Bob’s. Tonight was not one but two bands from Brooklyn, a place I called home for five years. Mortals was the first of the two touring acts, and having never seen them before, I was surprised to see that the band was comprised of three women, who cranked out sludgy, heavy and nasty metal with deep-throated, snarling barks for vocals. The trio certainly caught me off guard with their venomous attack, and they were real crowd pleasers.

Next was Mutilation Rites, a quartet who recently dropped their debut LP for Prosthetic Records. I really don’t get why metal snobs wanna hate on black metal from New York, and Brooklyn in particular. Mutilation Rites proceeded in whirlwind fashion, with a barrage of lightning speed tremolo picking, bashing drums and howling lead vocals buried in the mix. I like their new album quite a bit, but live they were so much more intense. It was like being asphyxiated by the wall of noise coming out of their instruments. Let the haters hate, they’re the ones missing out on some killer sounds that match up with most any good black metal from overseas.

Alrosa Villa, Columbus, May 17

While most of you probably caught Watain this spring as part of the aforementioned Decibel Magazine tour, those of us in Central Ohio missed out on the Swedish black metal maniacs as their visa issues forced them to miss the first handful of dates. As a make-up, Watain decided to play a headlining show in the very city where I originally missed them, so I was quite pleased to see this show happen. While unfortunately we weren’t treated to the full on Watain live experience, which includes butchered animal heads on stakes, Columbus still got some patented Watain sounds featuring tuneful, well-written songs of blasphemy that tempered furious blast beats with catchy melodies and guitar harmonics that echo Dissection’s classic works from the ’90s. This was all topped off by the Satanic snarl of lead barker E, who was also playing guitar this night. Apparently, a member of the audience decided it was a cute idea to mess with the bass player’s gear, an idea not shared by the band, who had no problem confronting the prankster. Nevertheless, Watain still put in the time and gave Cowtown a great live show to write home about.

Mares of Thrace
Blind Bob’s, Dayton, May 20

Another Sunday night metal show thanks to the good folks at Blind Bob’s, and boy did Mares of Thrace rip shit up. Hailing from Calgary, the Mares are yet another quality entity out of Canada, but calling what this sludgy, doomy duo “entertainment” isn’t all that accurate. Actually, I would say what Mares of Thrace did on Bob’s stage that night was more like a gnarly, downtuned catharsis of bad vibes and darkness. Lead guitarist and growler Therese Lanz was the sole player of a fretted instrument, and the distorted nastiness coming out of her guitar amp was anything but pretty—certainly not a bad thing when you’re playing metal. The drummer did plenty of damage himself, pounding the cymbals and skins as if they owed him money and as a whole the Mares just sonically beat up the crowd for its rather brief 30-minute set.
Gary Spencer