Benefit shows always have a weird vibe but death metal benefit shows are especially weird. Maybe it’s because the genre is ordinarily used as our portal to antisocial emotional territories, and when there is the attendant poignancy of a good cause it makes everyone feel as if they’ve been given a different script for the night. Death metal shows are ordinarily about blowing away the week’s bullshit build-up through sick riffs and blastbeats, etc. and instead the bar at the Underworld feels pretty quiet for a Friday night/payday. It’s a little too quiet.
Everyone’s acting like they don’t know what to do but we all know exactly why we’re here: We’re here to raise some money to go towards the treatment of Decapitated vocalist Adrian “Covan” Kowanek, who suffered from cerebral hypoxia after being seriously injured in the band’s bus crash in 2007. Covan’s condition has improved but he’s still in a bad way. Drummer Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka was killed in the crash. It feels shamefully inadequate to say that the Polish death metal crew have had to endure with the most severe adversity imaginable—their burden is off the scale, impossible to articulate.
That there is only 50 to 70 people through the door when local lads Dead Beyond Buried take the stage, adds to that weirdness, which manifests itself in a feeling of restraint; it’s a mood that sorely needs chasing before we can revert to type. Consciously or not, DBD’s master growler Oli Marchant is holding back on the venom. He’s used to cussing out the sparse crowds that opening bands suffer in the UK thanks to the early showtimes, but tonight polite applause is excused and accepted as he and his band dispatch their Florida-cum-Suffo brand of death metal. A few tracks form their forthcoming LP hint at more atonal, dissonant influences culled from black metal and next gen death metal bands a la Ulcerate, and indeed tonight’s headliners. This can only be a good thing.
Ted Maul disappeared for ages but they’re back. These dudes are local heroes of sorts, once heralded by some people who should have known better as death metal’s next hope. Punctuating their shopworn meat-slinging groove with drum and bass bleeps, they come across as a knowing pastiche of an unloved and unmasked Slipknot. To their credit, though, that doesn’t really matter tonight. Sure, the satire didn’t end when they cribbed their name from Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci’s The Day Today, but they’ve done their job; everything feels normal.
There’s nothing odd or restrained about Decapitated’s approach. Rafał Piotrowski leads them over the top and reminds us why we’re here with a call to arms for the pit to get on with what they’d ordinarily be getting on with, only with a bit more pep. The set is culled from all eras. As promised, Wojciech “Sauron” Wąsowicz is in attendance, and makes like the death metal Uncle Fester for some eye-poppin’ growls on the old shit. Decapitated are a band rebuilding from tragedy but in the here and now they’re air-tight musically. It’s important to remember said tragedies that have cratered Decapitated’s lives and career, but important, too, is keeping in mind how Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka is one of the finest guitarists in death metal, a dude who’s capable of apparent insouciance while peeling off super-intricate riffs that never feel overly G.I.T., balancing the muscle-and-grunt physicality of the genre with a sense of respect for the song. And that Decapitated are a rarity in that they have a sound of their own creation. “Day 69” is a case in point, a live standard that’s death metal in Decapitated’s twisted singular vision. While the melancholic “A View from a Hole” from last year’s Carnival is Forever, showcases their range, it’s a mob-handed “Spheres of Madness”, featuring gang vox from Sauron, Rafa and Ted Maul’s Solomon J. Lucifer Christ. It pancakes the venue, propagates stealth stagediving, and pisses over all those imposters who take an alien Meshuggah-ish rhythm and water it down instead of concentrating and weaponizing it with a blitzkrieg of off-kilter riffs. Tonight Decapitated justify their position as not only one of the most exciting death metal bands to come out of the post-Morbid Angel landscape, but the most durable, too.
And though rumors that the show sold out in advance didn’t help the attendance, they got about 300 folks through the door. Hopefully by the time the proceeds were counted the band were closer to getting Covan the care he needs. Decapitated will release a DVD later in the year to further the cause.