Concert Review: Withered, Wake, Valle Crucis, Altar Blood and Greves (4.7.2018)

Withered Wake Valle Crucis Altar Blood Greves 4.7.2018

When it was announced that Withered was on a headlining tour with Wake as support I knew it would be a no-miss situation. But when the dates rolled out and they were to come through my neck of the woods at Ground Zero in Spartanburg, SC it was set in stone. And I wouldn’t have to make a 4 hour round trip like I normally do. Win, win. The tale of this evening when three opening acts played like their lives depended on it, a first time experience with one act and seeing an old favorite burn it down. 

Ground Zero
Ground Zero’s version of ‘Go Ahead, Make My Day’

So it was on an unseasonably cold and rainy April 7 that I returned to Ground Zero for the first time since seeing Eyehategod and Antiseen way too long ago. I’ve got a lot of history over the years with this place and they’ve always been synonymous with great metal and showcasing the unheard, underground bands as well as the bigger names. The venue went from a two stage building to next door at a single stage setup and even though smaller, it’s a more intimate setting and the place sounds amazing. Particularly when a band is ‘dialed’ in. Everyone there is friendly and the bar staff is some of the best around these parts. True to form, there were a couple of tv screens playing anything from old kung fu movies to cult classic dark comedies. It’s one of those places you have to personally experience but it has a vibe and feel like no other and I felt like finally I was back home and comfortable in my old digs. Thanks to the bands, Ground Zero and Carolina Metal for one hell of a night.

Raleigh, North Carolina’s Grēves took to the stage first with limited attendance but that didn’t stop them from passionately showcasing tracks from their 2017 EP, For Sorrow’s Sake. It was a set crammed full of highly progressive, technically structured and melodic black / death metal. Even though the set was short this four piece blew me away with how precise they were and with how they combined later Dissection era melodicism and brute force. Plus their humor game was on point with their crowd banter and after the set they mixed well with the crowd and seemed genuinely appreciative of those who came out. Grēves set made for a killer way to open the show and hopefully I’ll get to see them with a longer set soon.

After a short equipment change Hickory, NC death metal merchants Altar Blood took to the stage on the strength of their 2013 demo, Blasphemous Insemination, and their 2017 EP Torture and Desecration as well as something new from their upcoming album due out later this year. I was floored immediately with their guttural, cavernous old school death metal sound. Their lyrical themes of satanism and torture reminded me of when death metal was first shocking fans with morbid tales and their sound had a filthy and robust low end reminiscent of early Incantation. Whether at full speed ahead or lumbering along like a zombie, the band sounded amazing. It didn’t hurt that their sound was crystal clear played well to highlight this trio’s massive abilities. Simply put, this was death metal heaven and the second band of the night that knocked my socks off.

After another nimble set change and copious amounts of fog, Laurens, South Carolina’s Valle Crucis got their raw black metal set underway. Highlighting tracks from their self-titled 2017 EP, this duo blasted out their vicious second wave black metal attack to a larger crowd that seemed completely enthralled with what they were hearing. As was I, shifting between left and right sides to get the perfect view and sound. And their sound was extremely massive for a two piece, blast beats came fast and furious while the tremolo picking and acidic vocals put an exclamation mark on their performance as a whole. The band had lit three candles just before they took the stage and we’d find out later that in conjunction with their version of Watain’s “They Rode On” this was a tribute to the fallen members of Wormreich and Khaotika who lost their lives 3 years and a day ago in a terrible van crash. Knowing this after the fact and experiencing it first hand, the band truly paid an intimate and personal tribute. The remainder of this set was chocked full of mystical energy from start to finish. Raw and savage, Valle Crucis proved to be one of my favorite acts of the night.

This was my first time ever seeing Canada’s Wake so obviously I was looking forward to it after following them on Bandcamp for quite some time. Already having fully immersed myself into this years Misery Rites, I was aware of what was in store but had no idea they would execute their brand of grindcore with such precision and flawlessness. No surprises whatsoever, the band ripped through a nice selection of back catalog tracks and several from the new album. They were extremely tight and seemed to effortlessly anticipate what each other had planned 20+ notes down the road. It was high energy, high intensity and extremely loud yet crystal clear no matter where you chose to camp out in the venue. As one track bled into the next it became incresingly apparent just how good Wake are whether in full on blast mode or slowing down just a bit for their newly minted foray into death metal. Subsequently, this was the most action I’d seen from the crowd up to this point and the band took full advantage of that energy. Great experience for a first voyage and probably more so due to the fact this was a small venue. But, my biggest take away was that Wake are in an elite group of the most technically sound bands in today’s grindcore scene and will take the genre to new heights.

Through the years I’ve seen Withered many times and they have yet to disappoint. Truthfully, they were the sole reason for my visit to the Decibel tour in 2017 and after hearing them tear it up there I swore that was the best I had ever heard them sound. Here, in this small venue, they bettered that performance and then some. Maybe it was the small venue or the fact that there was freedom to try out any spot for that sweet sound but the fact is they killed it — again. Just like Wake, they offered a nice cross section of tracks spanning their career and these songs just get better and better, aging like a fine bourbon. They’ve been through line up changes in the past but looking back on all the iterations I’ve heard this was the most cohesive and the one that really drove the point home of just how devastating their brand of black / death metal is. It was loud, ferocious and on the money. Like I said, Withered has never disappointed me and seeing them as headliners, FINALLY, made me happy. It was long overdue as these guys have more than earned it over the years. This was the best case of ‘they came, they played, they kicked ass and left.’

As stated before, this was a night that I’ll remember for some time to come. Getting to see Wake for the first time was nothing short of amazing and my non-earplugged ears will ring for days. Withered slayed as they always have ever since the early days of catching them at small clubs in Atlanta and an autographed CD of Folie Circulaire from a local record store appearance I had the pleasure of catching. But, I was taken aback at just how good Grēves, Altar Blood and Valle Crucis were. Those bands deserve more attention and I hope they get it soon. And, it goes to show that sometimes you miss some truly amazing things if you arrive far beyond door time — I’m guilty of this as well but thankfully I was on time and didn’t miss a thing. Currently, I’m planning my next Valle Crucis show in June and am hoping to see the other two in short order.

– Josh

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