We started out the evening in growing energy; fans steadily rolling into Manhattan’s Gramercy Theatre on March 3. NYC had not seen Deicide perform since their tour with Belphegor in 2011, and overhearing the outside smoker’s section conversations, I could tell the crowd arrived knowing exactly what to expect; the headliners were going to bring the night to a roaring, evil finish. A sea of long hair and black t-shirts, the theater piled up with an array of varied fans: young kids on a path to the discovery of some of the heaviest metal out there, middle-aged European and Latin American immigrants yelling obscenities in between songs, and a multitude of well-behaved 20-somethings respectfully nodding their heads to the heavy thumps of the opening artists. This was your standard crowd for a show as eminent in metal conjecture as this line-up had in store.
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Hailing from South Carolina, under-the-radar openers Lecherous Nocturne greeted fans with blackened death metal occupied by frenzied blast beats, knife-edged guitars in varied high-speed black metal chord progressions, and vocalist Brett Bentley’s explosive bark. Their 30 minute set aroused liveliness through unexpected stops and sudden starts, and incessant tempo changes.
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Abigail Williams has survived a series of line-up changes since they formed in Phoenix in the year 2004. Down to a remaining 3 members, their set on Saturday night remained melodic, and did not disappoint with their now gloomy and foreboding sound. Their haunting ascending and descending guitar riffs and never-ending progressive sequences made up for what they almost entirely lacked in stage presence. Somehow, they persisted in entrancing us with their melodious compositions without making us feel as tired as they looked. Closing out their set with “Beyond the Veil” off of their 2012 studio release Becoming, they were met with a foreseen tremendous approval from the crowd.
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Earlier in the night I overheard fans anxiously awaiting Jungle Rot to take the stage. One teenage boy’s exact remark was “It’s going to get crazy in here! It’s a hell of a live show.” So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when things began to heat up as the Wisconsin foursome assumed the stage. Accompanied by lyrical themes of war, survival, torture, and death, the death metal ensemble fronted by Dave Matrise created a battlefield in the standing room. It began with a legion of precisely timed head-bangers that quickly evolved into a tremendous pit encouraged by Matrise. It became apparent at an early point during their set that Jungle Rot is a live act, to be experienced in the pit and in the flesh, because the music in and of itself was hardly fantastic. Regardless and despite the anticipation for headliners Deicide, upon the end of “Strong Shall Survive”, a song off of fifth studio album Warzone, the crowd cheered in unison for one more song.
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Glen Benton finally took the stage just minutes before 10 o’clock to an expected greeting of cheers, growls, bear claws, signs of the horns, and even chest pounding fists. Anyone who has heard Deicide’s albums or has had the pleasure of seeing a live performance could anticipate that once they commandeered the stage only pure, offensive, unadulterated evil would resonate through Gramercy Theatre’s speakers.
So when Benton addressed his fans with a pleasant “hello” and announced that he has been suffering from a cold but “did not want to be a pussy and cancel the show”, no one could have predicted what happened next. When the first verse of “Homage to Satan” began, Benton shocked people with a low, baritone, operatic cry that brought all attendees to near tears. Laughter erupted at the awkward incident, and even Benton himself had emitted a quiet chuckle and slight shrug as he stepped away from the microphone and let guitarist, Jack Owen, take the torch. There Benton remained, out of the spotlight furiously strumming his bass in the shadows, for an unprecedented measure of the show. From that point on, Owen took the spotlight attempting vocals to the best of his abilities, but largely due to his screechy vocals it felt much like listening to a particularly talented Deicide cover band. After the finish of their first played song, Benton took hold of the microphone once again to apologize to his fans and make lighthearted jokes such as, “Well at least now you can go on YouTube tonight and sing along shamelessly”.
The songs remained mostly instrumental after the mishap with “Homage to Satan”. Owen would chime in here and there for a verse or two, but the crowd really lost control when Benton returned for a few lines during “Once Upon the Cross”. It was short lived, but that was all that fans needed to be reminded that they were still, in fact, in the presence of death metal’s legendary Deicide. With a little encouragement, fans attempted to fill in the missing vocals by singing along to familiar chords and riffs. The theater maintained its energy until somewhere around the middle of the set when four or five songs in a row were performed entirely instrumentally, and you could see what once was a legion of rioting multitudes was finding themselves getting a little bored. With added effort on the stage presence front from Benton, energy was restored and the performance did not appear to disappoint Deicide supporters, leading to a conclusion of the evening that included an encore.