A Wednesday night, and Times Square blinks and bustles in full force around B.B. Kings. A half-hour before doors, and already a line of black-clad metalheads has formed along a standing barrier. The range of the fans in attendance makes one realize how long headliners Morbid Angel has been around and how many people they’ve reached—there are the battle jacket-clad back-patchers, the oversized T-shirt-rocking grunge knock-offs, the bondage-strapped fishnet-coated semi-goths. No era of the band’s existence goes unrepresented . . . except the most recent one. Indeed, Morbid Angel’s latest release, the much-reviled Illud Divinum Insanus, hangs over this show like a specter, and there is only glee in response to the rumors that sweep through the crowd that the band will be playing nothing but older stuff tonight. A glance at the merch table confirms the sentiment—the majority of items available feature art from classic albums like Covenant and Blessed Are The Sick (though the prices are obscene—let’s take a moment and admit that 10 bucks for a patch is disgusting, no matter what kind of music you basically invented).

First onstage are South Carolina’s Vadimvon, whose shrieking melodic death metal attack is actually not too shabby; the band’s guitar sound has a nice high-pitched crunchiness to it that suits the crowd’s mixture of death and black metal fans well. However, the band’s lack of a drummer harms them, their programmed beats sounding flat and tinny behind the band’s wails and wheedlies. Still, the crowd appreciates their fervor, and many overpriced beers—let it be known that, though they host lots of extreme metal, B.B. King’s is a decidedly shit venue—are raised to this trio.

By the time Sweden’s Grave take the stage, the venue fills up, with late-coming crowds of haggard old heshers and heavily tattooed Latinos. Grave waste no time with pleasantries, stage banter, or needless intros, instead blazing headfirst into a set of raucous death metal that gets the crowd surging into a whirlpool of sweaty bodies and pumping arms. Tracks like “Extremely Rotten Flesh” and “Into The Grave” feel like the point of the night, their hydraulic guitar sound and short-sharp-shock percussion slamming home the old-school death metal atmosphere that the evening calls for. As the band finishes their too-short set, the bar is besieged by piles of matted hair and sweaty arms, the night’s thirst officially kicking into high gear.

Dark Funeral manage to firmly straddle the line between death metal and black metal that this crowd seems made for, and indeed those in attendance throw up their horns and mosh wildly to the band’s version of chuggy percussive Swedish darkness. Vocalist Nachtgarm shrieks his corpsepaint-covered face off, and drummer Dominator bangs out an impressive performance. Overall, though, the band sounds muddled, with no distinctive riffs, lyrics, or song sequences jumping out from the rest, and though the crowd goes totally apeshit during closer “My Funeral,” it is impossible to separate that song from any other they played.

By the time Morbid Angel take the stage, the club is wall-to-wall packed, and a smell of sweaty unwashed headbanger—something akin to boiled potatoes and artisanal cheese—has permeated the air. The band gets right into the classics, with songs like “Fall From Grace” and “Maze of Torment” sending the crowd into a nostalgic frenzy; the pit churns with bodies, the air fills with fists, and a distinctly fun vibe of unholy brotherhood seems to spread over those in attendance. When David Vincent introduces “Existo Vulgari” and “Nevermore” from Illud, the audience clams up a bit, but slowly head-nodding resumes as it’s revealed that, yes, there were some classic Morbid tracks on that album, songs that don’t sound so different from the rest of the set. And yet, determined to undermine that little reclaimed cred, Morbid Angel frontman David Vincent is a total cornball, his occasional whooping, grunting, and bouncing seeming to make a mockery of the band’s comeback. Overall, though, the death metal forefathers put in a classic appearance with all the rumbling apocalyptic rhythms that the fans came to see.

— Scab Casserole

All photos by Greg Cristman.