PHOENIX – In support of their new album Omens, Lamb of God performed with Killswitch Engage at the recently renamed Arizona Financial Theatre. Nearing the end of the approximately 2-month long “Omens” tour, an impressive slate of east coast bands was completed with acts Fit for an Autopsy from New Jersey, and the Washington D.C. progressive metal band Animals As Leaders.
There are certain elements that are expected at every metal show: One is a circle pit, which – for the uninitiated – is what it sounds like: a moving circle of humanity, some slamming into others, and others just there to run around and avoid those hits. Most in those pits walk away with mutual respect for everyone else who partook, and it is a staple for most shows no matter the size. Another would be passing by religious protests outside of the venue. While the protesters are mostly there to yell at attendees, they also provide comic relief for the fans of a band that used to be named “Burn the Priest.” There is also an unwritten rule that a metal show should have fire of some sort, and to the delight of the pyros in the audience, this show delivered.f
Fit for an Autopsy
Smoke rose from the stage as the pit filled and fans trickled to their seats. Drummer Josean Orta, guitarist and backing vocalist Pat Sheridan, guitarist Tim Howley, and bassist Blue Spinazola of Fit for an Autopsy (FFFA) took to the stage, with the first note of “Sea of Tragic Beasts” shortly following. Lead vocalist Joe Badolato erupted onto the stage, yelling out “ARIZONA!” before singing the first lines of “Tragic Beasts.”
FFAA have previously stated that they get their inspiration from Lamb of God (LoG), and in fact, Badolato temporarily replaced LoG lead vocalist Randy Blythe when he contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. Fit for an Autopsy released a cover of “Walk With Me In Hell,” which Metal Hammer postulates is even heavier than the LoG original release.
Indeed, while it is possible to draw parallels between the two, FFAA is often heavier than their idols. Badolato stalks the stage, headbanging between lines, and implored the crowd to bring their energy levels up. For some, a 4-hour long metal concert means a slightly less than energetic reaction to the opener, no matter how heavy they are. Badolato did his best to bring up the energy in the venue, so at one point – right before “Pandora” – he told the crowd that the song “involves a very massive circle pit, the biggest one this room has ever seen.” The fans gladly placated him, quickly forming a circle pit for the duration of the song.
As the set drew to a close, Badolato spoke about his time in the Phoenix area, mentioning he had lived there for a year during the pandemic, and noted his mother was currently at the concert. What Badolato didn’t mention was the fact he had owned a barbershop next to The Nile in downtown Mesa during his time in Arizona. He is a talented barber who regularly gives those on tour with him haircuts and beard trims.
Animals As Leaders
The next band to take the stage was Animals As Leaders (AAL) – a trio of exceptionally talented musicians: Guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes, and drummer Matt Garstka. There was but a single microphone on stage, set in front of Abasi, who used it sparingly. The music speaks for itself, with Garstka putting on an absolute clinic behind the kit. The ease at which he plays complex and technical beats are borderline unfair, and he is known as something of a prodigy. Currently just 33, he joined the band at 23 and has been blowing the minds of audiences ever since. Drum Magazine wrote an article – albeit nearly a decade ago – about the technical prowess of Garstka, and it seems the only thing that has changed is his skills have simply increased.
AAL being a three-person band means that each member needs to be able to perform at the top of their game, night-in to night-out. Reyes and Abasi do just that, and what these two wizards do with their 8-string guitars is something that no one would want to miss. In fact, as soon as they left the stage, the many in the pit – and the audience in the seats – made a beeline for the restrooms and concession stands. In a genre where it is not surprising to see two or three guitar players and a bass player, watching these two execute some incredibly complex patterns with no margin for error, producing sounds that normally take full bands to accomplish, it is no wonder that the theater stood in rapt attention, watching and soaking up every single note that poured forth from the trio.
Compared to the other three frontmen in the night’s lineup, Abasi was a soft spoken – yet firm – and calm voice between the 6 songs the band performed. The set opened with 2016’s “Arithmophobia” – a song first performed live at the now defunct Livewire in Scottsdale, Arizona – and then showcased 4 songs from their newest album, The Madness of Many, before the band circled back to “CAFO” from their 2009 self-titled debut album. Before CAFO started, Abasi asked the crowd to give the crowd a round of applause for each of the other bands before saying, “this is going to be our last one of the evening. We’ll catch you next time we’re in Phoenix, take care.”
Killswitch Engage seemingly has become a staple in the Phoenix music scene, even though they’re based far across the country. This was the third time in this past year that they had performed in the Phoenix area, but there was no sign of fatigue from fans. The repeated appearances could also be due to the tour manager having roots in the area; a bonus for the band since the manager has contacts with local businesses and can get some great local brews delivered.
As they took the stage, the difference between the size of the drum kit that AAL’s Garstka uses and that of Killswitch Engage’s drummer, Justin Foley, is notable. Foley prefers a smaller drum kit – a simple set-up compared to the monster that Garstka uses – but he is a master behind the kit. Literally; he has a masters degree from Hartt School of Music and has played with symphony orchestras in the past. It cannot be emphasized enough: Garstka and Foley are genius drummers, and to see the two back-to-back is a rare treat.
The rest of Killswitch Engage is vocalist Jesse Leach, guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz, and bassist Mike D’Antonio. Leach, while an intense presence onstage, does not have the angry, caged-animal style Badolato and Blythe share. Instead, he moves around from side to side with something that could be considered grace if one were to compare him to his contemporaries.
There is a mutual interaction – something unspoken if you will – between Leach and the fans. It is not to say the other bands cannot connect with the audience, it is instead that Leach focuses on connecting to the fans onstage, and his charisma shines through naturally. At one point, he stated that “At the end of the day, it’s all about unity man, it’s all about us coming together to have a good time.” He also made a point to ask how the people up in the nosebleeds were doing, and after asking if they have a bar up there, he said, “At least they’re taking care of you up there!”
As the night drew to a close, the band jumped into their cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver”, a song they released in 2007. After it finished, Leach acknowledged the fans who sang the entire song, and then paid tribute to Ronnie James Dio by saying, “You have to pay respect for the masters, the ones who have paved the road for us.” Leach closed the night out by dedicating “The Signal Fire” to their managers, saying they had taken care of them in their 20s, and now they’re “old pricks.” As that song wrapped, Leach told the fans, “We love you!” before leaving the stage.
Lamb of God
As the crews rushed out to set the stage for Lamb of God, a curtain was lowered, covering the stage and raising the anticipation for this upcoming spectacle. The song “Memento Mori” began to play as the lights fell – inciting cheers as a backlit, swaying silhouette of Blythe appeared. He sang the first few lines of the song in a surprisingly controlled, quiet – relatively speaking – manner. Then, a concussive pyrotechnical effect exploded, the curtain fell, and the night devolved into a maelstrom of noise, fireballs, and screaming guitars.
As mentioned, Blythe has the stage presence of a caged beast; one that prowls in open, plain view, looking for his next prey to pounce on. His audience is utterly captive, and responds to his commands with glee. Circle pits opened, grew, shrank, and bodies surfed to the front of the stage where security helped them down to safety. Those who made it up to the front would then run back around and join the pit, where the entire process would start all over again.
There was a sense of euphoria in the air during this show, mixed with the overwhelming sonic boom that LoG produces. Blythe is joined onstage by guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, drummer Art Cruz, and bassist John Campbell.
It is hard, if not impossible, to overstate just how much talent crossed the stage on this night. There is a bit of duality with Blythe; the character you see on stage is diametrically opposed to the person who he is offstage. The angsty, stalking beast exists in the way he approaches the issues of social justice – directed at the oppressors – but he is also an example of integrity. His arrest in the Czech Republic in 2012 is an example of this, and he made brief mention of his arrest before the start of “512,” which was inspired by his experience. An excerpt from his book on this matter can be found in the Rolling Stone article, “Lamb of God Singer Reveals What He Remembers of Deadly 2010 Czech Show.”
Once “512” ended, he announced – to the frenzied cheering of the crowd – that they would be playing “Grayscale,” the 8th song off of Omens, live for the very first time. In typical LoG fashion, the entire album is a ridiculously incredible display of lyrical mastery as well as the artistry that comes from the masters of guitar and drum, providing Blythe a wonderful tapestry to weave his vocals onto. The album is a must have for anyone who even remotely enjoys LoG, as it is another banger of an LP from the legendary band.
Throughout the night, Blythe made mention of the first show that the band had played at this venue 16 years ago with Megadeath. In the 16 years since first playing at the venue, LoG has returned 7 times, and is currently one of the few – if not the only – bands to play under all four names the theater has had. The venue currently known as “Arizona Financial Theatre” has had the names Dodge, Comerica, and Arizona Federal over the 20 years since it opened in downtown Phoenix. It is a very popular spot for LoG, as they have played half of their Arizona gigs in the venue since 2006, for a total of 8 shows there in 16 years.
The end comes even if no one is ready for it or really wants it to happen, and after thanking the crowd, jumping off the stage and singing with the front row of the mosh pit, and after the fiery stage show, it was time for Lamb of God to say goodbye.
The last song of the night was “Redneck,” off the 2006 album Sacrament, released shortly before the first show they played at this theater known by many names. As the song came to a close, another concussive blast shook the venue, and the night officially ended. With quite a large fanbase in the area, there is little doubt that Phoenix will again see these four bands that are exceptionally technically adept and soul-shaking.
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega
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Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, Animals As Leaders, & Fit for an Autopsy – Arizona Financial Theatre 10-14-22
Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
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