THE SKULL / BIBLE OF THE DEVIL / SONS OF FAMINE
Date: 25th January, 2018
Venue: Reggies Rock Club
Ticket: $12/€10 (in advance) - $15/€12 (day of)
Promoter: Dot To Dot Management
Date-wise this event was set close to the end of the working week in a spitting distance from Friday, so it was expected to see the difficulty to gather a healthy amount of people at Reggies. But we are not talking about the run of the mill show with a tour stopping by Chicago by a band which is a usual visitor in this side of the Atlantic. Ok, THE SKULL is a Chicago-based act, but getting to hear the entire “Trouble” album live is definitely a not-to-miss show, so whatever I said in the beginning was not applicable in this instance. The inside of Reggies looked like it was a Friday night with well-known THE SKULL fans, but also (and this is more important) with people who have come to hear this genre-shaping Doom Metal monolith back-to-back from the voice of Eric Wagner.
The front rows were quite empty when we entered the venue as if there was a safe zone in front of the stage where SONS OF FAMINE were delivering their blackened Death Metal. I guess, having your ears tuned for classic Doom Metal getting the blistering riffs, the blast-beat snare-drum action and the growling vocals were not that welcoming... Still, SONS OF FAMINE played really well and sounded like a tight and seasoned band but their genre was clearly incompatible from what this night was dedicated to.
The no-man zone in front of the stage looked less sparsely crowded as BIBLE OF THE DEVIL were setting their gear up. Despite the fact that the Chicagoan band has been in a safe distance from the studio (the last studio release dates back in 2012), the shows are always mood-lifters and are loud & alive to help one get the working-week’s dust off of this shoulders. And if you add the fact that it was almost 10pm, then you understand how much an adrenaline boost was needed. This is exactly how “Sepulchre” kicked things off after Nate Perry’s simple greeting “hey everybody, this is BIBLE OF THE DEVIL”, served with his trademark craziness / let’s party look. Man, after the drum roll, the guitar riff gave us the boost we needed to get into the Friday-night-out mood on a Thursday night... This band’s onstage energy is addictive and gets you right there and you end up lip-singing or at least hum the chorus, if the lyrics escape you. The fat groovy rhythm of “Flee” came without stopping and sounded like a headbanging / foot-tapping treat until... Nate’s guitar amp gave up and the band had to keep the show going with one guitar and to improvise a bit (in place of the solo) to give some time to fix this up. Despite this hick-up, the song sounded great and in the end the band earned a loud round of applause as recognition of not falling apart at the seams but keeping the ball rolling. That’s what being a seasoned band means.
The only penalty with this amp failure was losing the momentum BIBLE OF THE DEVIL had managed to quickly build up with the setlist-opener as we had to wait for a new amp that was kindly lent by the SONS OF FAMINE guitarist. “Night Oath” and “Speed Of Night” brought the train back on its Rock ‘n’ Rolling tracks, even though the guitar sound was not optimized for the BIBLE OF THE DEVIL standards. Honestly, this was a minor issue since the onstage party-mood (everyone had huge smiles on their faces), the loud (yet clear) sound and the groovy songs were more than enough to prepare us to get “SKULL fucked” as Nate said sharing the same enthusiasm for the upcoming THE SKULL set.
Despite the technical difficulties, BIBLE OF THE DEVIL delivered the goods and managed to get more people away from the bar and closer to the stage. And yeah, we were definitely ready to get SKULL-fucked!
BIBLE OF THE DEVIL setlist:
03. “Night Oath”
04. “Speed Of Night”
05. “While You Were Away”
06. “Downtown Abbey”
07. “Solar Eagles”
08. “Judas Ships”
BIBLE OF THE DEVIL
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You could feel the excitement rising as we were getting closer to the top of the hour, and really, there were no bald spaces in front of the stage as the audience had tightened its ranks getting the best possible position for the upcoming TROUBLE treat. I was curious to see how the setlist would be, since the “Trouble” starts off with “At The End Of My Daze” which usually comes closer to end of a show, but if THE SKULL wanted to play the fourth TROUBLE record back-to-back, they didn’t have a choice, right? Well, no, because the band kicked off the show with “Trapped Inside My Mind” and with a massive sound. I have no technical knowledge about what’s going on behind the soundboard or what equipment did they use, but I am dead sure that what I was hearing blew my socks off. Of course, the loudest cheers happened the moment Eric showed up onstage, but looking at his dead-serious face, it seemed that something was off. I mean, he wasn’t on the classic Eric mode and the interaction he usually has with the audience was kind of minimal. However, his singing was on the money as THE SKULL continued with songs from the “For Those Which Are Asleep” LP. I don’t know how they do it, but each and every time these songs sound better and better, seriously flirting with becoming classics despite their age (the record was released in 2014). “It’s good to be home” Eric said, just before “The Longing”, and I think it was around then I realized that he was feeling anxious or even a bit stressed to get the “Trouble” ball rolling. So, starting off with THE SKULL songs was not only a great idea to get the band warmed up, but it added more excitement in anticipation of touching upon a great record. After “A New Generation”, Eric explained the band’s plan for the night: “we thought to do some THE SKULL shit first and then we’ll get you a present”. “Send Judas Down” came pounding next and was extended with a nice jamming session (was there a PURPLE - “My Woman From Tokyo” sneak peek?) during which Eric stepped off the stage. Once again, the lineup’s great chemistry became evident; the band members were exchanging smiles, busting moves while keeping the music flowing, proving that these guys know exactly what to play and when, without stepping on the other’s shoes. Eric returned and it was time to end the first part of the set with the dramatic and still-crushin’ album title track from THE SKULL debut LP.
I think the band shared the same excitement with the audience while the final onstage tweaks were happening to open the “Trouble” suite. Eric brought a music stand onstage because as he said “you’ve got to do this shit right” and I am sure no one complained about watching him wearing his reading glasses while taking this long trip down to memory lane. In fact, the rhythmic chant “Eric, Eric” proved that everything was alright and everyone was ready for “At The End Of My Daze” that show THE SKULL bring a third guitarist onstage. It is not a Fort Knox-kept secret that the guitars play a huge role in the TROUBLE sound, so getting an extra set of six strings definitely made sense to do justice to this almost 30yrs old album. “The Wolf” and “Psychotic Reaction” were next but the hard stuff was around the corner; “TROUBLE never played this one live, so you are the first”, Ron Holzner said as “A Sinner’s Fame” was next in line. The third guitarist (John Vitale) showed up in those songs that required the extra oomph, and for “The Misery Shows (Act II)” he was handling an acoustic one, something I believe did justice to the original recording - in fewer words, it sounded awesome. Let’s not forget to comment on the basslines on this PINK FLOYD-esque tune. I believe this was the toughest song of the night and the rest of the “Trouble” felt that went down easier from the band’s perspective. “It has been most enjoyable” were the few words Eric used for the last song of the album and I think it was easy to see a sense of relief in his facial expression. The anxiety, the stress or whatever emotional burden playing the entire “Trouble” is totally understandable, especially from the performer’s point of view who feels the heavy load on his shoulders to deliver the music as close as humanly possible to the studio recording. Sure, Eric did some mistakes (I comment on these since he was the one admitting doing them), but I think the entire venture was successful, and hearing everyone asking for more was the only piece of evidence I need to convince you.
To my surprise, the band did return onstage with a smiling Eric on its ranks who was free to enjoy one beer after all this work. It is worth to comment that he did not smoke at all nor he had a sip of alcohol during the set to keep his performance as pure as possible. The Heavy-hitter “The Tempter” was the single encore of the night that counted 17 songs from THE SKULL who may be in their best form. So, if you get the chance, go to one of the US shows because, who knows, when or, most importantly, if this will happen again...
P.S.: The epic dialogue of the night:
- Fan: “Eric, you are God!”
- Eric: “I am not God, but I have met him.”
THE SKULL setlist:
01. “Trapped Inside My Mind”
02. “Till The Sun Turns Black”
03. “The Longing”
04. “A New Generation”
05. “Send Judas Down”
06. “For Those Which Are Asleep”
07. “At The End Of My Daze”
08. “The Wolf”
09. “Psychotic Reaction”
10. “A Sinner’s Fame”
11. “The Misery Shows (Act II)”
13. “Black Shapes Of Doom”
14. “Heaven On My Mind”
16. “All Is Forgiven”
17. “The Tempter”
(click to enlarge)