Whenever I tire of packaged metal tours, I should head to 924 Gilman Street. The all-ages Bay Area punk collective was the place Green Day called home before major labels came along. These days, it’s as likely to host touring underground metal bands like Coffins and events like the UGZ Speed Trials, where grind and thrash bands have 15 minutes to show their best.

Gilman is the antithesis of where big metal acts play. You need to buy a membership before you can buy a ticket. It’s in an industrial section of Berkeley where warehouses outnumber homes. There’s no alcohol for sale, unless you count the brewery across the street. On many nights, bands are lucky to get 30 minutes on stage. Make an impression, or make an exit. It’s the perfect place for an unestablished band to stop on its first proper West Coast tour.

I like Nails for many of the same reasons I like Ernest Hemingway. No time is wasted; every second moves. Artifice and pretense have been stripped until all that's left is truth. If Nails wrote poetry, it would be Haiku. Rarely do they need more than three lines: “Bow to no man, no pig, no book of myths / Tolerate no deception, no ignorance / I'm not your fucking servant”. A three-minute song sounds like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” next to their short stabs.

They were cruel and efficient. Vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones didn’t exchange pleasantries with the audience; it was right to work. Few bands can play the bulk of their discography in less than a half hour. Nails are one of them. Many songs were blink-and-you miss-it marvels reminiscent of From Enslavement to Obliteration, if it contained a few sludge riffs and hints of powerviolence. “Traitor” and “Depths” were highlights, and the title track from their new album Unsilent Death (reviewed here) was a gut check.

Not a second was less than compelling. Another bonus? I bought a CD and a t-shirt for 15 bucks, which wouldn’t get a codpiece at most concerts. I also knew it would probably pay for breakfast and not a drug-addled roadie.

One of the most powerful things about live music is potentially seeing greatness in its infancy. This was one of those nights.

— Story and photos by Justin M. Norton