Swedish Metal Titans Motivate NY's Disenfranchised Teenagers
In Flames, totally pissed that all these stores are closed
In Flames + Trivium + DevilDriver + Zao Webster Hall February 15, 2005
I was imagining that today's entry would tie in pretty well with yesterday's, but not really. There wasn't a lot of skulls/dragons/Satan iconography to be seen at last night's Webster Hall metalfest; the night wasn't about escapist fantasies; it was about motivational speaking. "Meet everything in your life, everything in your fucking life, meet it head-on," said DevilDriver's Dez Fafara early in that band's set, and it wouldn't be the first time we'd hear that sentiment. High on Fire, who I'd seen a couple of weeks earlier, stick with the dungeons-and-dragons stuff, but their audience is older: metal lifers, curious hipsters, Terry Richardson (he was standing next to me). The crowd last night was different: fifteen-year-old kids mostly, nowhere near as overwhelmingly white as the average indie-rock show. I'd seen stuff like this before. At the Subway around the corner from Webster Hall, the kid in front of me in line had drawn Iced Earth and Dimmu Borgir logos on the back of his black leather jacket in Wite-Out, just like the punks I knew in high school did with Crass and Aus-Rotten. With a few signifiers switched around, the metal scene I saw last night looked almost exactly like the punk scene I grew up on, misfit kids finding something huge and primal and fierce, getting clarity from music when they can't find it anywhere else. When I was fifteen, this stuff was a revelation to me: empowering rather than self-pitying, sharp and vicious rather than logy and morose. The same thing was going on when Trivium's Matt Heafy, a kid himself, said stuff like "This song is about living your own fucking life." Turns out that someone telling you directly and earnestly that you're OK works a lot better than goblins and hellfire. It was moving.
All three opening bands made sure to pay tribute to headliners In Flames, yelling the veteran Swedish band's name in scrunched-up metal voices, treating them like visiting deities. But beyond a huge backdrop banner and an amazing light show (berserk strobes, perfectly coordinated laser-spotlights, ghostly beams coming up from the floor), the band wasn't much to look at: five thirtyish dudes with long hair and skate shorts and sneakers, singer Jesper Stromblad rocking blonde dreads and a tie. The real show was on the floor: kids climbing over heads to sing along, almost tramping each other to execute show-offy videogame moshpit ninja moves. Seems like every In Flames song is a roaring celestial anthem, all soaring choruses and surges of imperial cheese-guitar melody. The guttural snarls and frantic blast-beats were there, but the expected brutality wasn't. Tempos would switch up, but the changes were there to serve the songs, not to showcase the players' chops. And occasional bursts of absurdly lush electro-house keyboards kept everything sounding very, very European. Two hours of this stuff was a bit much, but all the pageantry had a genuine sweep to it; In Flames uplifts way more than it pummels.
Stream: "Take This Life" video
Much better were young Floridian next-big-things Trivium, whose earnestly triumphant almost-emo moments almost overshadow their massive jackhammer howls. Take away their blast-beats and wheedley twin-guitar solos and demon-screams, and they're basically Thursday. (Kelefa Sanneh called them "Sweden for TRL," which sounds about right even if I'm not totally sure what it means.) Even if his stage banter did tend toward time-tested cliches ("We'd like to thank the fucking bone-crushing [metal-voice] DEVILDRIVER!"), Heafy takes a visible and infectious joy in being onstage. And it was impossible not to root for the band after its Pantera cover made the floor erupt into absolute chaos (Heafy: "I don't care if you love us or you fucking hate us, you will pay your respect to Dimebag!") There's a lot of "new Metallica" talk surrounding Trivium these days, and I don't know about all that, but it's easy to imagine these guys becoming huge without defanging their thunderous churn, and that's something I'd like to see.
There wasn't much artful about old-school thrashers DevilDriver, but their trebly machine-gun steez did make for great spectacle, Fafara goading the crowd into one of the biggest circle-pits I've ever seen: "I told everybody you guys could beat Detroit, which is almost impossible." The band's coordinated headbangs were truly impressive, especially the drummer's; he managed full-mane 360s without missing a beat. I'm just reading now that Fafara once led nu-metal second-stringers Coal Chamber, which could explain why he held the stage with more charisma than anyone else on the bill; he's been on big stages before, though it'll be a while before DevilDriver advances past opening-act status.
Tubby Christian shriekers Zao had nothing like Fafara's natural ease onstage. Their mathy crunch-core was monochromatic but effective, but the singer spent most of the set kneeling in front of the drums and barely looking at the audience while he croaked away. Lamest heckle-retort ever: "It seems to me that we're on tour with In Flames and not you."
Stream: "The Rising End" video
Voice review: Phil Freeman on Trivium's Ascendancy
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.