Cannibal Corpse formed as a death metal band in 1988 in Buffalo, New York. Self-proclaimed horror story writers, Cannibal Corpse’s extreme music, violent lyrics and gory album covers became quickly controversial, such that merchandise and/or concerts were censored or banned in Australia, Germany, Korea, New Zealand, and Russia. Despite little radio play, Cannibal Corpse achieved worldwide sales of two million units for 13 studio albums, two box sets, four video albums and one live album, making Cannibal Corpse the top-selling death metal band of all time. The band’s most recent album is 2014’s A Skeletal Domain. After numerous personnel changes, Cannibal Corpse presently consists of vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, lead guitarist Patrick O’Brien, rhythm guitarist Rob Barrett and original members Alex Webster on bass guitar and Paul Mazurkiewicz on drums.
At Irving Plaza tonight, Cannibal Corpse opened with the title track from 2009’s Evisceration Plague album and through a 90-minute, 17-song set touched on 12 of the band’s 13 albums. Moments into the slow crunching rhythm of the opening song, “Evisceration Plague,” the band began ripping a sonic boom and Fisher began his throat-scraping growls. Everything intensified, even the hair spinning, with the second song, “The Time to Kill Is Now.” Cannibal Corpse did everything a death metal band is supposed to do, playing up horrific themes through guttural vocal grunts, deep and technically dexterous guitar riffs and manic double-bass-drum rhythms. The band’s song titles were massively macabre; “Stripped, Raped and Strangled,” “Pit of Zombies,” “Icepick Lobotomy,” “Hammer Smashed Face” and “Devoured by Vermin” sustained the horror. Extreme music does not get more raw, brutal, or graphic than this.
The Cult/Gramercy Theatre/February 17, 2016
Vocalist/songwriter Ian Astbury formed Southern Death Cult in 1981, in Bradford, England. The name derived from the 14th century Native American religion, but for Astbury it was also a commentary on the centralization of power in southern England. The band was at the forefront of the emerging post-punk and gothic rock scene, but disbanded in 1983 after only 16 months. Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy formed Death Cult in 1983, shortened the name to The Cult in 1984, and in 1985 relocated to London, England. Bad habits and personality clashes caused the band to split and reunite several times; more than 25 musicians can say they were members of The Cult at some point. The current band is based in Los Angeles, California, and consists of Astbury, Duffy, new bassist Grant Fitzpatrick and drummer John Tempesta. The Cult’s 10th studio album, Hidden City, was released on February 5, 2016.
At the Gramercy Theatre, Astbury maintained his Jim Morrison-deep mystique, dressed in black, seemingly hiding behind the stationery microphone stand and his wrap-around sunglasses, both hands clutching his microphone so that it hid most of his face. Even the opening song, “Dark Energy,” drove a Doors-ish “L.A. Woman” pulse and urgency. Astbury’s absorbing baritone and Duffy’s shimmering guitar leads gave imagination and depth to simple 4/4, three-chord song structures. Astbury said before starting “Hinterland” that the show was all about David Robert Jones (the late David Bowie), but the overall sound was pure, powerful, hard-edged rock and roll, anchored with dark vocals, The Edge-styled muscular guitar leads and head-bobbing AC/DC-styled riffs. Classic rock never felt better.
Sister Hazel/Gramercy Theatre/February 18, 2016
Ken Block began singing and playing his guitar publicly at age 12 in Gainesville, Florida. In 1993, he formed Sister Hazel with rhythm guitarist Andrew Copeland and bassist Jett Beres, naming the band after a local missionary who ran a homeless shelter. Shortly after the band released its self-titled debut album in 1994, lead guitarist Ryan Newell and drummer Mark Trojanowski joined the band, although Newell had played on the album before officially joining the group. The band has remained intact all this time, with keyboardist Dave LaGrande joining the tours since 2012. Sister Hazel’s ninth studio album, Lighter in the Dark, was released on February 19, 2016.
Sister Hazel’s new album leans more country than previous albums, and at the Gramercy Theatre, it seemed like this new direction was a solid new fit for the band. The band opened with the upbeat “Happy,” a song from two decades ago, which launched an audience sing-along. Block sang in tenor, sometimes raspy enough to keep it from sounding too smooth. The songs often built crescendos, and melodic lead guitar and gang harmonies jumped in exactly when expected. The music was rocking, with pop hooks and country flavorings to keep the fans grooving. Perhaps the sound was a bit too safe, but maybe this is what made it pleasantly familiar.
Michael Monroe/Gramercy Theatre/February 19, 2016
Matti “Makke” Fagerholm, better known by his stage name, Michael Monroe, was born in Helsinki, Finland. Inspired by the emerging glam and punk scene in the 1970s, Monroe played in a band called Madness. While rehearsing in Töölö, Monroe met guitarist Andy McCoy (then known as Antti Hulkko), as McCoy’s band, Briard, rehearsed in the same church basement. Later, Monroe and McCoy played together for a short time in a band called Bolin. Monroe then played saxophone in Maukka Perusjätkä’s band. McCoy conceived the concept of a glam rock band called Hanoi Rocks, but gave the idea to Monroe, as McCoy was busy in the punk band Pelle Miljoona Oy. Monroe launched Hanoi Rocks in 1979, McCoy joined in 1980, and in 1982 the band relocated to London, England. Hanoi Rocks became an influential band and recorded nine studio albums, but broke up and reunited several times, never achieving mainstream success. Monroe moved to New York City in 1985, began a solo career in 1987, and in the 1990s formed two short-lived all-star bands, Jerusalem Slim and Demolition 23. Monroe’s 10th and most recent solo album, Blackout States, was released on October 16, 2015.
Still looking like a glam rocker in mascara and a custom-made rock star wardrobe, 53-year-old Monroe revived hard 1980s-styled rock and roll at the Gramercy Theatre. Entering to the theme of Sérgio Mendes’ “Fanfarra,” Monroe and company began the set with the blazing “This Ain’t No Love Song.” Monroe made great use of the spotlight throughout the set, playing to the edge of the stage, twirling his microphone and stand as if they were stage props, breaking into several James Brown-type splits, and jumping off the stage to the audience barrier and extending himself into the fans. None of this showboating took away from the stunning abilities of his cracker jack band, comprised of guitarists Steve Conte and Rich Jones, long-time bassist Sami Yaffa and drummer Karl Rockfist. The set consisted of Monroe’ solo catalogue and songs from his days with Hanoi Rocks and Demotion 23. The set also included covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around the Bend,” the Damned’s “Love Song” and “Machine Gun Etiquette,” the Dead Boys’ “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do,” and the Heartbreakers’ “I Wanna Be Loved,” which Monroe morphed into an extended blues harmonica jam. This was pure, raucous rock and roll, the way it was always meant to sound.