Chicago, IL-Aragon Ballroom
March, 11, 2008
By Anthony Kuzminski
The walls are dripping inside the Aragon Ballroom amidst the moisture of the severe performances and the fanatical fan base that have filled the general admission theater to capacity. As I am taking in the show, my eyes fixate on two fans (boyfriend and girlfriend) that are holding hands during Bullet For My Valentine’s molten “Hand of Blood”. As Bullet is slaying away on stage, these two fans ventured toward a larger than life mosh pit where their hands separated as they were immediately swept away into a flood of flesh. The crowd swelled against one another in a mythic awe-inspiring manner just as the band descended onto the chorus which found this couple lifting their arms to the air and soaring simultaneously to the front of the stage in a way that is completely unexplainable yet profoundly undeniable. Some may feel they have lost their minds, but in reality, these two souls are merely embracing a different expression of sharing their affection with one another. This is what metal is about at its core, expression and affection even if it’s done in a more maniacal manner than you are accustomed to.
As the Taste of Chaos tour arrived in Chicago, I knew within five minutes of having entered the venue that the hysterical pounding theatrics, the exuberant physical joy by the fans and the sweltering sonics proved this was more than just another metal fest. I felt the tour very well could have been called Clash of the Titans for the 21st Century; an homage of the original tour with Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. These weren’t bands that bit off more than they could chew but a group of musicians at the forefront of metal who have warranted the attention of the current generation and I must admit to being more of an old school metal guy, but one couldn’t deny the adoration and intensity of the crowd.
The first act I laid eyes on was Bullet For My Valentine who opened with a ferocious drum fill of “Scream Aim Fire” (the title track of their latest album), that completely seduced me and made me a believer. Bullet immediately gave notice as to who could potentially be headlining this festival in a few years. The band appeared confident, throbbing and succinct in their delivery. The hunger was undeniable especially from their new material; the languid “Say Goodnight”, the sinewy “Disappear” and primordial “Eye of the Storm” were highlights of the sweat drenched set where the fans found themselves belly to belly surging against one another. After the psychotic opening, the band continued to wield their power and prowess upon the sold-out crowd as they perfectly balanced their thrashing riffs alongside their melodic melodies. As the fans infused their energy, the band offered a set that was a modified communion for the fans where they came to the Aragon Ballroom to find solace and to let their angst out in the process. Inside these walls, there were 4,500 fans who felt lost, alone, disenfranchised and they converged as one to release their angst in search of finding answers. For a band with only a few album Bullet For My Valentine immediately found an intense connection amidst the pits of fandom inside the Aragon Ballroom where the legions of fans hung on their every last note like it was a spiritual union. Bullet For My Valentine beautifully melded 21st Century metal with big hooks and instantly recognizable choruses. Needless to say, this won’t be the last time we hear from Bullet For My Valentine.
Immediately following Bullet’s set was Blessthefall on the side stage. Their thunderous twenty-five minute set melded into another aura of metal with them picking right up where Bullet left off as they continued to absorb the crowd. I had not done my homework on them before, but they left a roaring impression in a short and succinct set.
Atreyu was up next and as they opened with “Doomsday”, the reaction was deafening. The crunching riffs and virtuosic solos were delivered with immaculate precision. Back in the day we used to refer to the Aragon Ballroom as the “Aragon Brawlroom” and during Atreyu’s set, it lived up to its badge of honor as the crowd continued to churn against one another in a poetic and dreamlike manner where time appeared to a cinematic slow motion manner. “Bleeding Mascara” featured drummer Brandon Saller at his best as he simultaneously kept the throbbing beat while belting out the harmonies. The physicality of all the five members was equally awe inspiring. I’ve been following the musicians who inspired my generation and the one before me, and it’s a cold water awakening to see these bands not just deliver, but rocket across the concert stage. “The Crimson” was magnificent as Saller’s impassioned performance behind the kit was enthralling while bassist Marc McKnight even ventured onto the floor yielding an even more zealous reaction. “Blow” elicited a charismatic reaction which found nearly a hundred different people body surfing, most of them women, was simultaneous and startling. This isn’t a boy’s only crowd anymore. “When Two Are One” had the crowd spinning and running in circles with fervent physicality proving this will be more than thrash metal, this is music the frees not just the body, but the mind and soul as well. If that wasn’t enough, “Live, Love, Learn, Die” had the entire crowd on their knees and on cue, they rose like a sea of phoenix’s and ascended to the air. This is a different aesthetic of metal, but it is just as jaw dropping to bare witness to dedication and delivery this intense metal band who would give many of the godfathers of metal a run for their money.
When I was sent to review this tour, I didn’t realize Avenged Sevenfold would own the evening. The mystical opening of “Critical Acclaim” among the dry ice was a teasing with the band pummeling the crowd with intense intransient revelations that left nary a doubt as to who the headliner was. They have legions of followers demonstrated beautifully on “Second Heartbeat” where the swell of the crowd’s vocals accentuated the chorus. Their entire set was delivered with a bone-cutting edge and resolve that I haven’t seen at a metal show in ages. “Beast and the Harlot” has a vintage Ozzy feel to it while everyone found common ground on “Seize the Day”, a skyrocketing ballad made for the masses. However, as messianic as the performance was, my true watershed moment occurred during the discerning “Afterlife”. Here was a song that didn’t just engage me but whose pining lyrics entrenched themselves inside of me. As vocalist M. Shadows wailed out “I don't belong here, I gotta move on dear escape from this afterlife”, he threw himself into the performance with such intensity, I didn’t just take notice, but I felt as if he was singing that lyrics specifically for me. The insurrectionary spirit of the song reminded me of Hetfield, Dylan and Springsteen’s most poignant lyrics where they force their characters out of isolation and back into the real world. The song elicited bludgeoning bursts of excitable roars and I even saw a mother and daughter singing and swaying together during the anthemic and endearing chorus. The connection between these fans is staggering and Avenged Sevenfold didn’t just liberate, they infused faith into 4,500 souls needing sanctuary from the outside world.
The three headliners of the Taste of Chaos tour (Bullet For My Valentine, Atreyu and Avenged Sevenfold) didn’t just delve into their catalogs, they revealed their hymns for the outcasts of the world. For every soul who raised their first to the air, belted lyrics, played air guitar or rode the wave of a crowd surf they yearned for a level of acceptance and love they seek in life. Inside the walls of the Aragon, they found it. These artists are sincere, frank, genuine and fundamental to the youth of today the same way Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones were in the 60’s and 70’s with a louder and harder edge. The 4,500 in attendance paid their money in search of the truth and that is exactly what they found. These metal heads are not delinquents and neither are the musicians; they’re just simple people on the same path we all are on with an outlet for their angst. The Taste of Chaos tour proved to be a communal experience where band and fan found common ground and on March 11th, ground zero was the Aragon Ballroom. For a controversial and widely misunderstood art form, the reality is that metal does not divide…it unites.
Pictures courtesy of each artists MySpace Page