Concert Review: Part 2 – Decibel Magazine Tour 2016; Tribulation, Skeletonwitch, High On Fire, Abbath (April 14, 2016)

Decibel Magazine Tour 2016

I really can’t recall experiencing a bad time at one of the shows on the Decibel Magazine Tour. It’s an annual tour that always brings the big names, yet still manages to live up to the lofty expectations. After skipping 2015’s Boston date, I made it a point to not miss out two years in a row. And then the lineup was announced: Abbath, High On Fire, Skeletonwitch, and Tribulation. Nope, there was no chance in hell I was missing this show. And once again, the performance lived up to the hype as each band delivered in impressive fashion.

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

Of course, I’m sure you are all aware that I am not the only member of the Nine Circles team to have attended this particular show. You may have seen Josh’s awesome recap of the March 19th date in Atlanta. While there was some overlap in our experiences (Tribulation), there were also some differences. Inferion opened the Atlanta show while the Boston date was strictly defined by the four bands mentioned above. Fortunately, this was one of those shows I caught in its entirety — something that admittedly doesn’t happen all that often. So with that said, let’s dive right into it.

This Thursday night show was held at The Royale, one of my favorite Boston venues. So this was a show I was looking forward to on basically every front. Once I left the day job, I raced home to change, pack up my camera and accessories, and hit the road for Boston in record time. Arriving right at door time, I got myself situated with my media pass, merched up at the Skeletonwitch and Tribulation tables, prepped my camera while enjoying my only beer of the evening (Goose Island IPA… had to make it count), and proceeded to the front. After establishing my position in the photo pit, I awaited Tribulation’s entrance.

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Tribulation, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

Once they took the stage, it was immediately apparent that they would be putting on another incredible performance. Of course, this was my third time seeing Tribulation in about the last 16 months, so there were few surprises in the setlist and imagery. “Strange Gateways Beckon”, “Melancholia”… it was all there just as it always has been. But seeing those Tim Burton-looking characters move around the stage is always entrancing and I enjoyed those tracks in this setting just as much as I had the first time I saw them open for Behemoth last year.

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Tribulation, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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Tribulation, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

Their sound was clean, the acoustics sounded great, and they garnered a positive reception from the audience. It seems like every time I see these guys play Boston, the crowd reaction gets better and better. 2015 was a hell of a year for Tribulation and they deserve the increased attention. Anyway, I spent my three songs in the photo pit and ducked out to watch the rest of the set from the back of the crowd. Another impressive performance by the Swedes.

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Tribulation, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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Skeletonwitch, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

The next band was the one I was perhaps the most excited to see, but also the most anxious to see. The ride for Skeletonwitch hasn’t exactly been smooth since I saw them open for Enslaved and Amon Amarth a couple of years back at the House of Blues. The departure of Chance Garnette was a situation we had discussed in detail before, so there was definitely a lingering curiosity regarding what direction their sound might go in with a new frontman.

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Skeletonwitch, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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Skeletonwitch, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

But the previously unveiled new material from the blackened thrashers featuring new vocalist Adam Clemans impressed immensely. I was looking forward to seeing how “Well of Despair” would sound live and how he would cover some of their older material. Personally, and with only the smallest of sample sizes with which to base my opinions on, I actually prefer Adam’s denser vocal style. It has a similar grit to it, but just lower tone, which almost adds weight to the tracks. But again, the lingering question regarding the live performance remained.

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Skeletonwitch, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

Performing live here, Adam seemed right at home with the rest of the band on stage. The chemistry was obvious and he made tracks from their most recent full-length like “Unending, Everliving”, “From a Cloudless Sky”, and “Serpents Unleashed” his own with ease. I enjoyed these Skeletonwitch songs live now as much as I ever had before. The instrumental side of Skeletonwitch sounded crisp, full of authority with their unrelenting energy, and absolutely crushed their set start to finish. Perhaps the most impressive slew of songs of the evening, Skeletonwitch left the crowd with a notable difference in energy.

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Skeletonwitch, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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Skeletonwitch, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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High On Fire, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

I’ll be honest, High On Fire was probably the band I was least excited for this evening by a distance. Don’t get me wrong, I respect what they do and what they have done. They are absolutely masters of their craft. But it’s just not something I’ve ever truly gotten into over the years. All that being said, the stoner thrash trio out of Oakland absolutely brought it this particular evening. As soon as Matt Pike (shirtless, of course) and company walked onto the stage, The Royale went nuts. Positioned as I had been for the previous two sets in the photo pit for the first three songs, I couldn’t help but absorb some the crowds energy.

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High On Fire, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

I’m not entirely familiar with High On Fire’s discography, but I am certainly familiar with 2015’s Luminiferous and hearing tracks like “The Falconist” played live was incredible. As much as I appreciated them on record last year, they left far more of an impression in a live setting. Furthermore, both the crowd and band met and fed off each other’s energy levels, allowing the setlist to become more impressive with each passing track. That said, due to my lack of familiarity with some of High On Fire’s past work, it did feel like a longer set relatively speaking. But I mostly blame myself for that one. I don’t think this was a performance that is going to turn me into a diehard fan or expert on High Of Fire, but I can’t deny that I was immensely impressed with their performance.

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High On Fire, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

Finally, the evening rounds off with the famous Abbath. The ex-frontman of Immortal. The endlessly entertaining black metal personality we have all grown to love. Here he was, performing as his own project, following the release of his self-titled album from his self-titled project — ABBATH!

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

Seeing him walk on stage to a slightly overly dramatic introduction was about as enjoyable as I could have hoped for. Once again, positioned right at the front in the photo pit, I couldn’t help but lose it for just a second and half-laugh, half-cheer at his entrance. His set was filled, as expected, with plenty off of the aforementioned new album. He opened with “To War!” and included all the previous singles in “Count the Dead” and “Winter Bane”. Fortunately, he also included my personal favorites from the album in “Fenrir Hunts” and “Root of the Mountain”.

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

But most unexpected was how much Immortal he included in this set. For someone who seemed to have distanced himself from that project, I was both surprised and excited to hear him play such songs with as much fire as he had. To this point, the highlight of my evening had to be hearing “All Shall Fall” live, something I never imagined would happen. On a higher level, everything sounded fine, not perfect (there was definitely some notable feedback in between a couple songs), but fine. He got a little creative vocally at times, and he may have overly directed his musicians a bit (which would be expected), but overall I had no issues with the mixing or anything. But then again, this is The Royale. I can’t remember a show ever sounding “bad” here.

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

However, this wouldn’t be an Abbath show without his personality showing through, and it certainly did so here. He was constantly addressing the audience, making ridiculous faces at individual people, and just being goofy as always. His music can be serious at times, but in no way should he be taken too seriously as a person. It is just an incredibly fun form of black metal. Sometimes (rarely) black metal makes you smile. Abbath is one of the reasons you would do just that. I enjoyed his set this particular evening, but I would say in general it would be hard not to enjoy any Abbath-fronted show.

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Abbath, The Royale, Boston, 4/14/2016. Photography by Corey Butterworth.

So, circling back, Decibel Magazine Tour 2016 was a total success in my eyes. The Royale once again hosted a flawless show in terms of sound and management. There certainly could have been a larger audience, but the crowd that was there was fully into the music, which is what is most important anyway. Each band brought tremendous performances and were all appreciated for what they uniquely brought to the show. After a year away, it was a pleasure to attend a show on this tour once again and an even greater privilege to have been given the opportunity to cover it; photography included. At this point, the tour has since concluded. But I’m confident those who attended this show in their respective cities will have enjoyed it overall, just as I have. And for those who missed out this year… you really missed out. Easily the best time I’ve had at a show yet in 2016. Now, in conclusion, enjoy this onslaught of additional photos from the Abbath set that I took. You’re welcome.

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“Ein Bier… bitte.”
– Corey

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