With any tour whose title’s nominative is “Carnival” you have, at least, the assurance of an interesting time. You might not enjoy yourself. If brutal slam tech death isn’t your cup of tea — which of course it couldn’t be, as said cup of tea, no matter where you held it, would be moshed out of your hand before the first song ended — but if technical slamming brutal death metal isn’t really your thing then at least you’ll be entertained/horrified/appalled/scandalized/knocked unconscious by those whose thing it most voraciously is.
My good friend and colleague Ö. informed me of the Carnival of Death tour stopping in Pittsburgh. The tour features Long Island underground legends Internal Bleeding; the fickle Pyrexia, also from LI; OSDM second-wavers Jungle Rot; the indecently Canadian Kataklysm; all headlined by NY’s despicable spawn Suffocation. A carnival indeed. A mandatory show. Tickets were 25 bucks. “i played some shows with [Pyrexia & Internal Bleeding] in wilkes barre in 1992/1993,” Ö. texted. Ö. is more obscure than Sarcoughagoat’s ‘94 demo VHS tape — which I would own, were it a real thing. So I willed the universe grant me entry into this show. If you know The Secret you understand that the universe is just an invisible ubiquitous ATM. If you’ve got karma in the bank you can make some withdrawals. There’s always a surcharge, though, isn’t there?
We met up at someone’s place before the show. Another friend in metal, JH, was there bearing to-be-handed-down leather pants, instructing me to put them on, suggesting I wear them to Priest. I felt like how a girl in an AA ad might feel. I am not now in possession of those leathers. When Ö. finally manifested, he conjured a spell of amicability and riotous chest pounding. Conversation flowed like blood from a gutted calf. We lost track of time and the local openers were missed. I apologize to No Reason To Live and Victims Of Contagion. The latter I have seen before and I am disappointed I missed seeing both with Altar Bar’s big stage sound and light show.
Hate to sound like a Yelp review, but the sound at Altar Bar is flawless. Even the PA rules there. And once all the obstacles of entry, like being frisked and getting tickets, were cleared I was gratefully resubmerged in the dark womb of violent sound. Obliterated by the PA (late ‘80s Sepultura, and other old-school-motherf***ers-approved hits), conversation that was not shouted dropped off. We three communicated in mean faces of approval and clenched fists held between us.
Sorry if it’s TMI, but I visited the bathroom before Internal Bleeding’s set. A man working in there handed me some paper towels and I thanked him, but had no cash on me. JH had only a dollar. I am still sorry about that, and that it happens often is no excuse at all. I was raised better, to believe that one should always have cash on them. Then, back through the seriously labyrinthine hallway, up the stairs, I was once more delivered into that warm aether of comradery and stolidness. Black shirts abounded: stretched tight across chests; hung over shoulders, and for sale on the wall and on tables below; obscured by vests adorned themselves in myriad logos like bumper stickers on an eccentric’s hybrid.
Internal Bleeding took the stage amid growls of encouragement. There opened a mighty pit. Beers were four bucks and the bar wasn’t accepting cards, I had just found out. The universe urged frugality. Alcohol blurs portends anyway. As I stood on the pit’s periphery, taking the occasional corpus to the crotch, I was fortunate to be in possession of my sober reaction speed rather than its dulled guffawing counterpart. Also there were children in the pit. One child in particular, who will feature prominently in the paragraphs to come, circled the pit almost somnambulistically, his eyes wide in terror, yet his position locked, racing in a counter-clockwise circle. That he donned one of the truest shirts there, never mind the shirt’s age, only darkened his aura. He was like a wizard, a timeless one.
Meanwhile, Internal Bleeding played a too-polite set of thirty, maybe thirty-five minutes. New-ish singer Kevin Devito’s vocals were powerful, but he seemed to strain in between deliveries. I hoped he was not a smoker. But he was the first, though not the last vocalist to call out for “all the old school motherf***ers” in the audience to give a shout or, more preferably, to get in the pit. Arguably pioneers of the genre, IB have never strayed from slam death metal, and their cherry-picked set that ranged from the demo days to modern times provided plenty of mosh material, as well as proving their consistency as artists over the years. “Kinda f***ed up they’re opening for Suffocation, though,” I overheard one old school mother f***er say to another. Ö pointed out one of the guitarists, said he was an O.G. from Wilkes-Barre days, back when death metal itself was nascent. The other guitarist was a young guy wearing a Unit 731 shirt. Support! His diaphragmatic backup growls complimented Devito’s high-end assault.
Judging by my calling them “fickle” above you might think I’m about to give Pyrexia a bad review. Not so. I called them fickle only as a jab at how they’ve recently reverted to their original logo. All their merch featured their first and objectively cooler hand-drawn logo. It was on their kick drum, too. The Stargate-esque logo finally, and, with hope, forever, put to rest. This time the singer, Kevin Muller, was the young man of the group. Pyrexia’s light show was in orange, and, instead of making me feel like a cat watching hummingbirds as Internal Bleeding’s blue and green show had, with Pyrexia’s swirling orange I felt like I was surrounded by Hell’s devouring flames! Their set was like a deep-body massage and the masseuse is narcoleptic and sporadically crashes down on top of you with all his full drunken hairy sweaty weight. The little wizard raced around the pit. Indifferently dodging bodies or colliding with them, his wide-eyed stare was unyielding. Muller’s voice, for which he had apologized before the set, cracked at one point. He made fun of himself. It went from being one of those moments when I thought I was alone in noticing something to one of those moments when I felt empathy for the person needlessly calling himself out. His speaking voice, that is. His drainpipe growls were on point. But for all his voice cracking and his Colin Ferrell resemblance, he endeared himself to the audience, and I thought their set ended too quickly as well.
The band I was most excited for came on next. Jungle Rot’s Slaughter the Weak was an album I knew well enough as a young man to rescue from the used section. Although at the time I only liked their name and how the cover art reminded me of my friend’s Rambo drawings, but way cooler, obviously. In fact, it wasn’t until their set that I realized how much like Bolt Thrower they sound and why that makes perfect sense. Really, it was something Ö had said. Simply: “World Eater,” and my mind somersaulted. Guitarist/vocalist Dave Matrise has only gotten more metal over the years. Soon it will be 20 years that he’s commanded his band of death metal mercenaries. Jungle Rot, too, was all over the place in their discography. A theme of consistency was emerging. A few of the moshers had removed their shirts.
JH left after Jungle Rot. He had work early, he argued. He bought a Pyrexia long sleeve and I asked him to leave it in his will for me. Ö and I were in it for the long haul we told each other. We headed to the ATM as I had resolved to drink at least one beer. It was broken, or out of cash, but we did run into the drummer of inveterate local underground phantoms Sathanas, James Strauss. He sympathized about the ATM, wore a very true Macabre long sleeve. Ö recognized him from the Incantation show at Belvedere’s last winter when he had played drums for one Acheron song that that night ended up being the soundtrack to a fight over a sundered Bible. The details of the conversation that followed escape me now, but it was filled with many killer anecdotes and unbelievable coincidences.
I listened as these two old school motherf***ers unfurl their respective parchments, just awash in the magnanimity of this wonderful universe. Then Kataklysm assembled on stage. Just seeing their stances and broad carriages my first thought was: What a horde of fellows that is. Many one-sheets describe their metal bands as hordes from wherever, but, as Kataklysm launched into their first song, I decided that here was a band truly deserving of being described as such. Enshrouded in electric blue-tinted smoke, the Canadian horde known as Kataklysm conducted a deluge of bassy rumble. More than once I marveled that Altar Bar’s PA could handle such punish. And like an eternal flame the young wizard danced in the pit’s darkness. Some of the older and by that point drunk showgoers were harassing the boy. Taking group photos, hanging all over him, etc. I felt like I should remind them that what they were doing was illegal, but when I can’t foresee what someone’s response will be I keep silent. Kataklysm’s set seemed to race by, despite my aching lower back and my perturbation over how the young wizard was being treated. Around the middle of Kataklysm’s set one of the harassers wound up in a collar-tugging fight with a seemingly bewildered old school motherf***er. The agitator fled the scene as the old school motherf***er was handled by security. I wondered: Where is Batman? Possibly he stood upon the stage, but, no: All of Kataklysm stood entranced by their own relentless ritual.
By the time Suffocation played, I felt wildly concussed. Very early in their set they played “Effigy of the Forgotten” and my head banged despite myself. Having cash on him, Ö brought over some 24-oz. PBRs just in time to deliver rapid fire punches to my arm in perfect unison with drummer extraordinaire Kevin Talley’s indefatigable blast beats. Ö was nearly as tireless as he, but my arm held up under that enthusiastic barrage. As the night came to a conclusion, Suffocation’s set was like a bath of boiling clay, foetid with what had been burned off by its intensity. Having outlasted us all, the young wizard in the night’s coolest shirt, even cooler than Ö’s faded Paradise Lost shirt from ‘93, still circled the pit, his eyes ever-ablaze with the red in the sky. The theme of consistency came to a strong and poignant end as Ö remembered aloud first seeing Suffocation’s guitarist Terrence Hobbs when both men were twenty-some year olds back in 90-whenever. The facts are less important than the experience. Then, to end the night, during Suffocation’s last song, “Jesus Wept,” a girl, one of maybe a dozen in attendance, jumped off the balcony, casting herself buttlong over the unwitting banging head of Hobbs, and into the arms of about twenty men.