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Death to All Live at New York NY’s Best Buy Theater

—Photographs by Mathieu Bredeau

On November 30th, almost two years (!!!) to the day since the last time I had seen a metal gig that wasn’t some local yokels grunting it out at a bar, I rode the Harlem train line down from Suburbia-Land to Manhattan for a tour that could only exist in our little pocket of the musical universe. It’s virtually impossible for me to think of any other band (OK, maybe Nirvana) whose founder and sole constant member was so beloved—and taken far too soon—that an entire touring band could be built on nothing more than love, respect and dedication. The enthusiasm permeated Best Buy Theater’s soulless façade in a way I had never felt during previous shows there. Circumstance also found me solo in attendance, which gave me a unique focus on the performances that hitting up a show with friends never does.

I had never paid much attention to Massacre besides the From Beyond album, though the band’s history is steeped in metal lore. OG members Kam Lee and Rick Rozz were Chuck’s bandmates in both Mantas and Death, and bassist Terry Butler played on Spiritual Healing as well as currently pulling double duty with tour-mates Obituary. Maybe it was newish vocalist Ed Webb’s lack of stage presence, or perhaps just anticipation for what was coming after; either way, the band just came across as lifeless. A lot of their material is monotone by nature, and what works on wax doesn’t translate live without some passion and personality. The crowd looked like they felt the same way, as told by the telltale glow of smart phone screens lit up with social media throughout the room.

I’m not one to make demands of my favorite artists, but Obituary fucking owed me after the last time I saw them. Those Tampa rednecks must have seen that helmet-haired Long Island psychic before the show, because they delivered 110%. A revitalized energy from their great new album Inked In Blood carried over into the live show as Tardy Bros & Co. ripped through classics like “Infected” and “Back To One” as well as newer jams “Visions In My Head” and “Violence” with equal aplomb. The circle pit became a black chasm of sweaty t-shirts during closer “Slowly We Rot” and put everybody on the same satisfied page.

Watching curtains open on the Death stage banner had to be one of the most surreal moments of my metal-fan life. Here was a band that became known to me just as it was ending, and a few years later was (conceivably) laid to rest forever. Chuck Schuldiner lost his life just as heavy metal was beginning a second renaissance, and his body of work has inspired and influenced countless musicians and bands of the new generation. And now a few hundred of us were witness to Gene Hoglan and Steve DiGiorgio jamming together on “The Philosopher,” “Suicide Machine” and “Zero Tolerance.” Symbolic guitarist Bobby Koelble held down stage right while Cynic touring guitarist/Chuck doppelganger Max Phelps handled rhythm guitar and vocals. I don’t know of it was done purposefully or not, but it is downright eerie how closely Phelps resembles Chuck Schuldiner. Not only were his singing and playing chops right on mark, but his build, facial features, even the hair – I can confidently say no one else in the world can match what this kid pulls off.

The song selection was spread evenly across Death’s discography, from “Bite The Pain” all the way back to Scream Bloody Gore’s “Zombie Ritual” and “Baptized In Blood”. Hoglan and DiGiorgio beefed up those early songs enormously, giving them a full bottom end the original recordings never had. Encore closer and perennial crowdpleaser “Pull The Plug” brought the house down, and while the throng of jubilant death metal fans dispersed I couldn’t help but think: this is why we are who we are.

—Chris Rowella



Click through for pics of Death to All

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