Voivod formed in 1982 in Jonquière, Quebec, Canada, at a time when adventurous new bands were drawing together the formerly polar camps of hardcore punk, speed/thrash metal and progressive rock. Voivod gained a national audience with 1989’s Nothingface, but then started to fall apart in the 1990s. Vocalist and founding member Denis “Snake” Bélanger left Voivod and isolated himself to battle his drug problems and eventually to start a new band, Union Made. Voivod briefly disbanded in 2001 until Snake returned to the band. At the Gramercy Theatre opening for Napalm Death, Voivod continued its 33-year legacy of making music that does not fit neatly into a category. Snake is a punk rock singer and Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain is a speed metal guitarist. The result was lightning fast and head pounding music with a rebellious snarl. There were no nuances or subtleties in this aggressive, brash presentation. Unlike some of Voivod’s more polished recordings, the band’s performance was raw and obliterated all the smooth edges of the songs’ original versions. It was so searing that fans were in danger of getting their heads ripped off. Introducing the band’s namesake song, Snake told the fans that they had only one word to remember, and that word was “Voivod.” Songs that sported intricacies, including “Psychic Vacuum,” “The Unknown Knows” and “Order Of The Blackguards,” were among the more effective songs, all songs from the late 1980s. Refreshingly, Voivod did more than relive the past; the band made the present more explosive.
Napalm Death/Gramercy Theatre/February 2, 2015
Napalm Death formed in 1981 in Meriden, England, and helped define the extreme metal subgenre of grindcore. Birthed from the marriage of hardcore punk and death metal, grindcore is a fast and noisy subgenre that produces a grinding effect through heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, pummeling blast beats and virtually incomprehensible growls and shrieks. No original members remain in Napalm Death, but the lineup of vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera has remained consistent since 1991. At the Gramercy Theatre, Napalm Death lived up to its 34-year reputation. In an era where bands try to outdo each other, this was about as extreme as music can get. Although a few moments were slowed down to riff-based death metal speed, the band did not rest here comfortably. Most of the set operated at two velocities, either as fast as humanly possible or approaching the speed of light. The band’s recorded music was meant for listening; the live versions were meant for obliteration. The short length of the songs (“You Suffer” lasted less than two seconds), helped prevent mass heart arrests or the implosion of the venue. As for the music, itself, the title of the band’s opening song, “Discordance,” defined the direction for the rest of the set. This was a mad, brutal and abrasive metal concert.
The Cringe/Irving Plaza/February 5, 2015
While John Cusimano was in high school on Long Island, New York, he formed a garage band that he says sounded so bad that it made people cringe. Now 47 years old, he is a Manhattan-based lawyer, television producer, and husband to television’s celebrity chef Rachael Ray, but continues to seek his stride in the music industry. He recalled his youthful experience by naming his current band The Cringe. At Irving Plaza, The Cringe mixed the guts of traditional rock and roll with trimming of grunge and alternative rock. It made for a hard-rocking, blues-kissed set of original songs showcasing Cusimano’s heartfelt vocals and savvy songwriting skills. With these commanding vocals in front, The Cringe’s crunching riffs hooked into mid-tempo and up-tempo rockers, much like many successful 1990s radio rock bands. Driving and melodic, artful and aggressive, the set had its heady moments and its thrash moments. The Cringe offered a little bit of everything that the average rock fan craves.
Anti-Flag/Gramercy Theatre/February 5, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist Justin Sane and drummer Pat Thetic started Anti-Flag as an anarchistic punk rock band in 1988 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but disbanded after just one performance in 1989. A second try in 1993 proved more successful. Since then, the band has recorded nine studio albums and participated in countless political actions and causes. A half hour prior to the band’s performance at the Gramercy Theatre, Anti-Flag introduced and interviewed a panel of representatives from Amnesty International. Together, the band and speakers encouraged the audience to engage in human rights awareness and activism. When Anti-Flag moved to music, the band protested war, fascism and American foreign policy, and touted class struggle and rebellion. The band started by performing all 14 songs of its fourth album, 2003’s The Terror State. This string of politically charged songs featured titles including “You Can Kill The Protester, But You Can’t Kill The Protest,” “When You Don’t Control Your Government, People Want To Kill You,” “Wake Up!,” “Tearing Down The Borders,” “Death Of A Nation,” “Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.),” and “One People, One Struggle,” where band and audience in unison chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.” After The Terror State, Anti-Flag performed 10 more songs. It was Occupy Wall Street with banging, slamming punk rock momentum and a whole lot of F-bombs. The sociopolitical message was not what generated the very active mosh pit, however; fans responded to the fast, loud and explosive blare of energetic power-pop melodies and the thrust of the anguished vocals shared by Sane and Barker. The concert ended with Thetic bringing his drum kit into the audience and vocalist/bassist Chris “Chris #2” Barker standing on his bass drum singing in the midst of a moshing crowd. If live music had the power to fuel a revolution, it would have begun with tonight’s Anti-Flag concert.
Black Water Rising/Irving Plaza/February 5, 2015
Brooklyn-based Black Water Rising has been playing hard rock in New York area music clubs since 2006. Vocalist/guitarist Rob Traynor spent two years writing the songs that would appear on the band’s 2008 debut album. The band built a following through two albums, a video for the song “Brother Go On,” and radio play on Sirius Satellite’s Octane station. At Irving Plaza, Black Water Rising proved itself to be a contender in New York’s under-the-radar hard rock scene. Performing a brief set of eight songs (four from the debut album, two from the later album and two unreleased songs), Traynor sang his dark blue-collar lyrics with gutsy, full-throated passion. Meanwhile, the musicians polished the songs with searing guitar licks, gritty riffs and a thick anchoring bottom. Fat grooves like the powering riff in “Dance With The Devil” and “No Halos” were as heavy as metal, but with accessible melodies and bridges that amplify Black Water Rising’s radio potential. If hard rock fans are open to post-grunge grooves, Black Water Rising is poised to lead the way.