Epic Deli Serves Up Metal: Having Kittens, It Is Dead, Barren Heir, and Waterfall King 10/8/2022 (Photos, Interview)
For residents like myself of the farther-northwest suburbs of Chicago in McHenry County, the metal scene's liveliness here mostly hinges on whether or not I'm willing to travel an hour back into the city. I just moved here and while it's overall great, there's some downsides, lack of metal venues among them–and look, the number of QAnon bumper stickers I was hoping to see has been far exceeded. It's especially dire if you consider that neighboring Lake County apparently has a propensity for putting on Neo-Nazi metal shows.
Thus, I was pleased to learn that Epic Deli, a restaurant in McHenry primarily known for its absurd variety of sandwiches that range from delicious standards to obscene (but delicious) combinations, also serves up live metal on occasion, 100% Nazi free. This fact might have slipped under my radar had I not encountered Adam Thorsness serving as doorman for a dungeon synth show back in Chicago (which I'll note co-EIC Jon Rosenthal was playing at!)
It's one of those weird, cool convergences of interests and history that you get a lot of if you stick around in the Chicago scene long enough: turns out that Thorsness plays drums in two bands I dearly enjoy - Barren Heir, an atmospheric metal group that willfully defies further classification, and hardcore band Thieves. He's also a member of Bovice, a hardcore group who just released their first full-length this summer.
Spurred by the chance to explore a new outlet for gluttony and metal near my house, plus get another chance to see Thorsness pummel his one-of-a-kind Emperor-made, inverted-crosses-sporting drumset, I leisurely drove down to Epic Deli last Saturday, parked in a giant parking lot with no difficulty and paid $5 to see a show. Perhaps the greatest/only advantage suburbs have over the city for shows: parking.
Thorsness is one of the friendliest and most entertaining dudes I've met in the scene, so it was a no-brainer to grab a quick interview with him before the show. I sat down with Thorsness to talk about Barren Heir's new single "A Parade," plus their upcoming plans, and dug into some of the history of hardcore in the Chicago metro area (full Q&A located below).
After that chat (and, I should note, after scarfing down a six-inch "The Gambini"), it was time: Epic Deli switched from sandwich purveyor to metal venue. Pinball machines and TVs powered down, massive flood lights illuminated the stage, and standing around with beers became much more socially acceptable.
The Waterfall King was up first, a Chicago trio that mixes a stoner-doom core with a little bit of grunge and nu-metal influence to create huge riffs, chunky grooves, and spacious, reverb-laden vocals. The band has even tagged their last album as nu-metal on Bandcamp, so I'm using that comparison in approval: turns out you don't need to bring all of the dated trappings along if you can isolate aspects of what made nu-metal legitimately fun, especially if, like in The Waterfall King's case, you've already got a solid psychedelic-tinged doom sound going. The bouncier, breakdown-like bits, very much not-metal vocals, and skillful use of samples make the band's live show a killer trip.
Barren Heir took the stage, and the invisible Audience Buffer™ between the stage and audience halved: clearly, expectations were high and the crowd was warmed up. This new lineup has only played a few shows, featuring new material, but the chemistry is palpable: Thorsness serves as the energetic, aggressive core that ties together the band's hypnotic mixture of blinding aggression, noise, and pure, doomed bliss.
At points in the set when bassist/vocalist Eddie Limperis and guitarist David Kirsch turned towards their amps to dial in noisy ambience, Thorsness kept his double bass rolling, mixing in ride accents to string along the audience's heartbeat until the riffs came back. Though he's a drumming powerhouse and an easy focal point live, his playing is still practical enough not to overshadow everything else going on.
Although Kirsch's guitar provides a huge amount of the band's power-trio sound, he remains fairly constant, serving up riffs like some hair-shrouded melodic mystic. With Thorsness in stage center looking absolutely unhinged and Limperis busy screaming, Kirsch's appearance of stoic mastery is only intensified.
When I bought a shirt after the show, Limperis mentioned that Thorsness is pumped up both on and off the stage, helping get the band ready to record more material soon. So, while I'm a big fan of all incarnations of Barren Heir, I'm eager to hear what this iteration can put to tape next.
Before I got to the show, I wasn't actually sure what the name of the third band was, but I figured if I couldn't read the logo it was probably going to be good. I was correct: It Is Dead had trucked out from Milwaukee for the show, bringing along their "deathsludge": a deliciously old-school combination of death metal, black metal, doom, and, of course, sludge.
Their malevolence comes in a bare-bones configuration: drums, guitar, and vocals, with no frills to get in the way of one sick riff after another that run the gamut of extreme metal. Think back to the earliest, nastiest iterations of death doom and that's a good starting point for their unabashedly anti-facist, extreme metal offering. While the rest of the band donned face coverings with a bit of an anarchist flair, vocalist Shawn Page let his OSDM-vocalist-length hair flow free, often entirely shrouding his face as he screamed into the mic. "We are Antifa - we are anti-fascist," he declared, before starting into a song I'm pretty sure was called "Fuck the Right."
If you google "It Is Dead Milwaukee," the first result isn't this band - it's the Medical Examiner's office. I'm not sure if there's any possible more metal search engine ranking than that. Please, never change this.
Admittedly, I was more familiar with the final band Having Kittens through their cat-laden Instagram account rather than their actual music. Fortunately, in addition to posting great cat content, they also deliver a ripping set of crossover thrash-punk. Breaking the trio precedent set by the last three bands, they crammed five members on stage, got started, and effectively never stopped. Their set centers around energetic vocals and dual-guitar madness, though the rhythm section is what keeps the insanity surging forward.
It's the type of music custom-built for live performances, where vocalist Dustin can assail the crowd and stomp around while the rest of the band cheerfully tears through their set, half-starting ill-advised covers when his back is turned. As the last song settled into its coda, members of the band abandoned the stage, converting to audience members while the drummer, vocalist, and bassist (breaking his low string at just the right time) wound things down.
Whether or not you're making the trip out for a metal show, Epic Deli is easily worth a visit. It's going to take you a half-hour of dedicated study to get through the menu, so if you're trekking up from Chicago, grab a sandwich there, get one for the road, and enjoy your time in the land of slightly cheaper gas prices.
Keep reading for an interview with Adam Thorsness (Barren Heir, Thieves, Bovice) and keep scrolling even further for photos from the show.
Barren Heir recently put out a single, the first thing that you recorded with the band. Can you tell us about "A Parade"?
I guess their drummer Nick, he quit, he just had other things to do and didn't want to do it, Eddie came over and asked me and I was like "Yes, let's do it!" And then we started jamming, just kind of fucking around, because Thieves played with them a bunch of times and I always enjoyed seeing them and then I was stoked when they asked me. Eddie had some riffs, and he sent them to me with EZDrummer and shit like that, and then I would just kind of put my own shit on it, my own flavor, you know.
But that came about because we were just jamming through it and we just had riffs, but then we got asked to play a show -- Thieves got asked to play a show, but they just couldn't do it, I was like, "Yo, Barren Heir can do it," -- I was like "Alright guys, we just can't keep jamming riffs over, we should probably get structure and figure out shit like that."
Well, yeah, we just recorded that with my buddy Dylan, he runs Emperor Cabinets. He's been a homie for a while and we've all got Emperor shit, so it's like, he's just a homie, he wanted to record it. Yeah, we did it, got it mastered by Spiral Sound, I think? And that was the single. But that's like the first complete song that we wrote together, and then other ones, the whole set or whatever, just kind of organically came from that. When we record next it's gonna be at Bricktop, with Andy Nelson... I think it's gonna be five songs. It's all just kind of one movement, but it's like divided into five segments.
So you come from a - would you say mostly hardcore background?
Well, definitely punk, I've always been told I was like a punk drummer or a hardcore drummer or whatever. I mean like metal, shit like that, when I was growing up I loved fucking Vinnie Paul, fucking Lars Ulrich and shit like that, because it just sounded good and easy, I could mimic it and shit. But you know, I just like punk music and shit, Strife or 88 Fingers Louie, Lagwagon, even Newfound Glory shit like that, power punk, you know, if you're feeling very emotional, you're going through a breakup... "ooh, baby..!" [Laughs]
When you're coming over to Barren Heir, are you bringing that hardcore style with you, or are you trying to reinvent stuff for performing for this band?
I've been told I have a very aggressive style, very animated - I play hard, because it's like how you have to play if you're playing extreme music or heavy music or whatever. The drummer's always got to stand out, I think. But then I would say I definitely brought my influence of playing in Thieves and Bovice to Barren Heir for sure, but it's like such a different flavor because I have to adapt that chaos to Eddie's meticulated, particular weird time signature shit that makes Barren Heir -- that gives them their sound, and I'm stoked that I can complement them with my own flavor and being able to have Eddie explain the riffs and break them down to me.
It's very easy for me to understand, and play through, and I think it shows with that one recording. They didn't really know what to put in it, but I was like, "Yo, this would be cool right here and you do three times this way or whatever." But yeah, I definitely bring a lot of the aggression I normally present when I play. I'm normally a chill guy, but when I'm playing I'm very like "raagh!" That's the only time to release and express your consciousness by other people. I'm stoked whether if people are standing around or moshing or whatever. But yeah, man. Pretty cool.
How long have you been involved in the scene here in Chicago?
I've been playing shows since like, 1999, but I'd say active in the hardcore scene or like metal... I played in a pop punk band for a while, I've been in a ska band, but I've always liked heavy music and shit. You know, you go to like Fireside and see fuckin' punk shows and hardcore shows. I'd say it'd be around 2003, probably, where I was always going to basement shows. I played in a band called Illuminati back in the day, and we would tour and stuff like that, we would play shows in Lake County. Lake County was its own genre, or like a sublet of the Chicago hardcore scene, because everybody from Lake County would come to Chicago to see fuckin' Terror, fuckin', shit like Donnybrook. Now there's newer bands like Pain of Truth and all these guys from like Long Island, bigger bands. But yeah, I'd say like 2003.
I remember Shane booked one of my first shows in like 2007, or 8, or whatever it was at Knights of Columbus. I forget who it was with, but Shane Merrill was definitely the one who helped me out and booked stuff for us and would always hit me up for shows. Yeah, back then.
So you're kind of in two different axes of two different worlds - metal and hardcore, the northern Illinois scene and also Chicago. What's the difference between metal and hardcore in Chicago?
Oh, well, it all depends. With bands that would cross the genres like Unearth, or fuckin' Hatebreed, something like that - kids would mosh to this shit but then it had the appeal to kids who were into metal, dudes who were into metal. Then the kids who were hardcore dancers, you had the metal guys who were getting in the mosh pit. So I remember when that first started clashing. I got in so many fights, dude, because of that shit. Because you're young, you're fucking drunk, you know, an old 40-oz mosh crew drinking in parking lots, going to the show, getting in fights. But you know, just hardcore dancing, having fun, but not being like–I noticed like newer things with crowd killing - hate that shit, dude. Especially with Bovice, it happens at Bovice shows too [laughs].
But yeah, I enjoy very metal very much but I don't like a lot of metal that some people give me. I like a lot of universally accepted metal, like I fuck with Gojira, I fuck with obviously Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, Sepultura - the underpinnings of metal and shit like that. Megadeth, Death, Suffocation, Despised Icon, all that shit.
To see the difference with shows - Bovice shows, it's like kids are going fucking crazy, they're moshing crazy. At Barren Heir, we're chilling, standing around, but headbanging. It's kind of like a stoner feel, but that's how I enjoy watching Barren Heir. Before I joined I was like getting super baked. It's more of an experience than fucking, "song - alright tune up - alright go! [mimics hardcore music]"
I mean, I get it, did that forever, but with Barren Heir, it's more like art, you know?
When I saw your other band, Thieves, you played with Something is Waiting, kind of like a cross-genre bill. And that was very much like an arms folded, watching Rudy [Thieves vocalist] just run across the room kind of thing. I gather that's not how Thieves shows normally go?
Sometimes, yeah. Thieves shows in Chicago are hit or miss. Sometimes it'll be packed up or like a basement show, those are sick. Like, you know, Albion House, we played there with Deafheaven, Like Rats, and KEN mode. That was fucking sick, that was wild. And we would play this place called Situations, I think it's on the north side somewhere. That was a wild basement show too, kids were going crazy. But then you know, sometimes we'll play places like Cobra Lounge or Empty Bottle, yeah, people are just headbanging, chilling. Alright, well, Rudy's not bashing his fuckin' head anymore or shit like that.
But when we play out of time, it's like, one time we sold out the fuckin' Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis. It closed down and shit like that, but that place was awesome. We played there like two or three times and every time it was like, I know at least one time it was at capacity, like "Holy shit!" And then we'd play Nashville at like a basement show, it's like the punk show, dude, you know, it's cool. But it's not music that's very palatable to everybody. It's not like chugging all the time, it's more like dissonant or whatever. Vincent being able to do that, I just consider it more like punk drumming.
So, you've been in the scene over 20 years. Would you say we have it good now, or are we getting spoiled?
As for shows, I'm just happy that there are places that are willing to put on live music and shit. I feel grateful to have people like Shane Merrill or Kyle or Krystle Capicola, she's booking shows, a bartender at Cobra, she's booking shows at Live Wire. Because I mean, we played shows out in like Nebraska, they don't got shit there, nobody wants to book shows, everybody is just like playing fuckin' video games and shit. It's kind of cool to have people that still want to create something. I find that very sick.
I mean, booking sounds like the worst fucking thing in the world.
I gave it up, dude. I don't do it any more, that sucks. I'm happy we get asked to play shows, it's like, "Cool."