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Destroying Chicago: Cannibal Corpse, Power Trip, and Gatecreeper at Thalia Hall


It’s been a long time since your pal Jon here has seen a death metal show. I guess you could say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a bigger-budget metal show in general, but death metal? I recall a period of time which traversed high school and college when I would go to every show. That was an era of dedication, when I would drive all the way from whichever suburb I lived in all the way to Mokena, Illinois (remember the Pearl Room?), multiple times a month. It’s hard to connect that excitable teenager to my current self, who I guess people consider grumpy. Sure, I’ve been a bit of a homebody this year, and maybe it’s time to try and make some sort of outward change.

“What the hell,” I thought. The new Cannibal Corpse album is pretty damn good, and I can only assume how fun Gatecreeper and the ripping Power Trip could be onstage. So, last night, off to Thalia Hall I went.

First off: Thalia Hall. Oddly enough, I’d never been here before. Getting to Pilsen from my carless stronghold on the Northwest side is a bit of a hassle. I fucked up, friends. What a venue! What used to be a theater (which had been abandoned for years) had been so beautifully restored by local celebrated venue The Empty Bottle owners. Vaulted ceilings, balconies, gallery and box seats. I recall the Congress Theater reflecting a similar sort of grandeur, but to a much lesser degree. This? It feels out of place, entering such a magnificent room knowing the acoustics will help echo “I Cum Blood” in just a few short hours. It was wrong, but it made me feel as if I would be in the presence of royalty.

“Hey, what’s up. We’re Gatecreeper and we don’t know how to read.”

One beer in: sonoran death metal. Gatecreeper opened this stacked lineup with their increasingly putrid, doomed death metal madness. Hot off the release of a new 7″ (Sweltering Madness), which was $10 (and I feel dumb about not buying it), these Arizonans were all intensity without relenting. Having researched live videos which traverse their career, frontman Chase Mason has slowly evolved into Entombed frontman LG Petrov, and this show may as well have been the apex. Twisting and churning onstage, this American had gone full-on old-school Swede.

I guess I’ve gotten so used to the “no fun” aesthetic of black metal vocalists, so this intensity was refreshing, maddening, intoxicating. Guitarist Eric Wagner took this stage madness to the a further extreme. Calling out individual audience members for not being violent enough, motioning for circle pits during ambient interludes? The madman! Donning a full horseshoe mustache which connected with his sideburns, Wagner was a death metal military leader. A harbinger of pit victory and bruised concert euphoria. A friend and I declared him “Ulysses S. Mosh.” Gatecreeper was this putrid mass of slimy grime, left in the Sonoran desert to let the slime dry into a cracked crust. If you haven’t listened to them, you’ve fucked up.

Two beers and a shot of tequila: Power Trip. Friends, I was feeling great at this point. I was ready to take on the goddamn world. It was probably at the fault of the Cruz Azul, and maybe some of the whiskey we had managed to sneak in using a bladder flask, but it was time to get violent. I could feel it, and the impending thrash metal could only make it worse. I’ll be straight with you, friends: I have never been a Power Trip fan. Crossover/thrash metal was an important part of my high school years, but I just sort of… stopped listening. It’s funny how our tastes change over the years. I’m not saying these bands are bad, but some styles are not for me. At least, in private listening.

As it turns out, thrash is the best thing ever in a live setting. It just doesn’t stop moving. Not for you, not for me, and I don’t even think the band can control themselves after a certain point. These Dallas maniacs recall the meth-and-coke-fueled madness of 1980s thrash; however, what’s with everyone calling them “crossover”? These guys have crossed over entirely — even their slower, more hardcore moments sound like goddamn Anthrax. Does anyone call Anthrax a hardcore band? It doesn’t matter, I was so lost in riff madness, listening to songs about killing robots and executioners sharpening axes. The whole room was just so lit.

I couldn’t resist, and so, for the first time in a decade, I found myself in a goddamn mosh pit. Lost in my personal heaven of two-stepping and throwing elbows, none of my problems mattered, everything just seemed so far away. Oh my god. Oh my god. I’m a hesher again!. It’s so wonderful and innocent and ridiculous! Ow! FUCK. OW!

I was scooped off the floor and thrown into the middle of the pit. My knee still hurts. I lasted thirty seconds.

The madness doesn’t stop, it never does. I was kind of bummed there weren’t any Proud Boys who took advantage of frontman (and microphone stand acrobat) Riley Gale’s open invitation to their guest list. Part of me hopes some show up later on, if just for the comedic effect of watching the not-very-large Gale beat up a bunch of guys in Fred Perry polos.

Three beers, a shot of tequila, and an unknown amount of whiskey:Cannibal Corpse. I sort of saw Cannibal Corpse on the Kill tour, but Dying Fetus played for 90 minutes, and when Corpse played a then-new song, my ride decided it was time to make the trek from Milwaukee back to Palatine (or was it Schaumburg? Eleven years is a long time). This felt like a rite of passage, seeing the legends onstage and losing my mind to the most ridiculously offensive death metal (not goregrind or any of that hentai stuff, mind you. Gross.) on the planet.

Make no mistake, Cannibal Corpse are professionals. The idea of a “professional death metal band” existing is a strange notion, but these guys are practiced. Not a missed or slipped note to be found, and George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, the all-around Instagram family man, never lost his signature growl. These are showmen, people who play for the crowd and are unafraid to play choice cuts from their entire discography. “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled”? Done. “Pounded Into Dust”? You better believe it. “Gutted”?! Yes! “Scourge of Iron”? It just keeps going, and “the Corpse” never relented for a full hour.

For all the death metal I saw in my teens and early twenties, no one did it quite like Cannibal Corpse, but having a frontman who balances charisma and imposition like Corpsegrinder truly pushes them over the edge. He just seems like a real person, joking with the crowd (“This guy up front asked me to show him my neck. Rest assured, you will be seeing more of it during this next song!”) and dedicating songs to fallen friends. This is the same man who windmills enough to provide electricity to a small town? Sometimes death metal musicians are pretty cool.

Oh, and the mosh pit? I might have braved Power Trip’s, but you wouldn’t catch me dead in this one. Much more compact now, Cannibal Corpse fans slammed together to become a pan of boiling water, and probably just as caustic. It was absolutely gnarly, and errd on frightening. I couldn’t help but watch this truly violent display, and, during “Scourge of Iron” a familiar, lumbering shape dino-stepped his way through the pit with fists raised high. Nothing could take this monster down. Oh my god. It’s Ulysses S. Mosh!

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