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Live Report: Obituary, Pallbearer, Skeletonwitch, and Dust Bolt in Philadelphia

German thrash bands are reliable as a geyser, and even though it sometimes helps, they don’t have to be old to be faithful. Dust Bolt rampages at a gallop that probably materializes better as a third-generation copy on a Maxell 90-minute cassette than any other format.

Mike Dreher of Lich King filled in on bass for Ben Münzel, but this is thrash metal we’re talking about. The barbed wire riffs and Lenny Breuss’ throaty grunt only ever need a basic rhythm section to get the point across and three shows into the tour, he handled the job just fine. It’s nice to hear a raging reverence for the old school in such capable hands.

Skeletonwitch are Schrödinger’s Band. They are two simultaneous but contradictory things – an established group starting over in many respects. Longtime drummer Dustin Boltjes left the band earlier this year. Jon Rice, who came to prominence with Job for a Cowboy, is filling in just as he did for Behemoth’s North American tour last summer.

More importantly, the band just finished recording the first album with Adam Clemans. Although Devouring Radiant Light doesn’t drop until July, the day of this show was ironically the release date for The Monuments of Ash & Bone from Wolvhammer, the other band he sings for. Although he has been with Skeletonwitch since original vocalist Chance Garnette was dismissed three years ago, the forthcoming album – the last for Prosthetic under the current deal – makes you think band have something to prove.

With a trip through tracks spanning the band’s entire history, it was evident they did just that.

What separates Skeletonwitch from other bands is that they are not easily classifiable, even over a decade after they emerged with Beyond the Permafrost. They are fast and thrashy, but were not part of that revival a few years back. Tonight, the band’s death metal side was most prominent, but even that is atypically rollicking and triumphant. One new song, “Fen of Shadows,” was unveiled in the middle of the set: eight grandiose minutes that showcased how the Ohio natives incorporate black metal atmosphere into the alloy.

A jarring contrast to both of the preceding bands and the mid-pace of the eventual headliners was Pallbearer’s gloom. The group has never shied away from being the slowest band on a bill. As they likely know by now, it makes their already-study dirges exponentially heavier and foreboding.

On the last album Heartless, the group expanded on the doom metal blueprint, putting a greater emphasis on prog and psychedelic rock. In the live setting, “Thorns” showcased the subtle change, especially with the bleak acoustic slow dance break that was sandwiched around Devin Holt’s expressive leads and slow, southern-style riffs as classic as anything Skynyrd ever put to tape.

Even as the Arkansas foursome expands their sound, they never lose sight that they were born into this world a doom metal band and likely won’t leave as anything else. There’s majesty to Pallbearer, the sublime, organic way the songs flow, like a glacier impeding on solid earth, creating lush valleys and towering peaks in their wake. Hop aboard one for a hell of a ride that won’t require a few thousand years to end though at times it might feel like it.

There’s something completely appropriate about Obituary going on the stage to Pat Travers’ shit-kickin’ “Snortin’ Whiskey.” There’s nothing cosmopolitan about this band and no pretense to the contrary. They emerged from Florida swamps and are probably more at home on a porch drinking bathtub gin than backstage fishing cans of Coors out of an icy tub. This was probably the main factor for them breaking up in 1997.

It was funny to see John Tardy excitedly announce that his beloved Tampa Bay Lightning just defeated Boston in overtime because it was the only time he broke character. When not onstage, Tardy hides his hair in a trucker hat and probably holds doors for little old ladies; when on it, his hair cascades in blonde waves and he unleashes the most primal, guttural voice death metal has ever heard.

Although Obituary obliged convention by playing four songs off last year’s self-titled record – standouts being the hardcore groove and subterranean mosh part of “Straight To Hell” and “Sentence Day” which speeds up the band’s classic mid-tempo nicely – the way they split up the catalogue cuts raised an eyebrow. Not a single track from any of the band’s four other post-reunion albums was performed. No “Redneck Stomp” from the Frozen in Time comeback, not a note from Inked in Blood or anything in between.

This omission was more than mitigated by just how amazing those Roadrunner years were for Obituary and death metal as a genre. John Tardy’s voice, that trademark thick guitar tone, the way the band just swings (no really; check out “Chopped In Half” as it melts into “Turned Inside Out,” or the Lombardo-like break of “I’m In Pain” and even “Turned to Stone” from the new album and tell me it doesn’t) – all of this was pioneering three decades ago and is still unique today.

In the mid 1980s when Obituary formed, speed ruled the underground. “Slowly We Rot,” which was played for the encore, is still a revelation; the grinding guitars played at doom metal-speed, dive-bomb leads kicking into a different gear, Tardy grunting what to this day still sounds like “volleyball, join me” during the chorus and introducing yet another lead by screaming, appropriately enough, “guitar!” (I mean, it wasn’t a bass solo) – this, evidently, is death metal perfection.

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