Soulfly – October 25, 2013 – Ground Zero, Spartanburg, SCMonday, 4th November 2013
Though metal bands don’t often grace South Carolina, usually setting up camp in its northern counterpart or Georgia, when they do, it’s a safe bet that Ground Zero will be the venue of choice. Located on the outskirts of the city of Spartanburg and disguised as a kind of abandoned warehouse, it’s a diminutive establishment that may hold 200 people at full capacity. In other words, for adherents to a style of music that prides itself on remaining underground and constituting a brotherhood more than a fan base, there’s nary a locale in the southeast that could match that intent more perfectly, and when Soulfly brought its unique amalgam of groove-oriented, tribal-inspired, sometimes-thrashy, often-just-plain-heavy metal to the Palmetto State, between the band, the atmosphere, and the crowd, the Soufly tribe was alive and in full force.
That’s not to say the night didn’t go off without a hitch, though. Sorely missed were Colorado thrashers Havok, who have been plagued with vehicle troubles this tour and were ultimately unable to make the show. Sans the only other permanent band of this tour package, it was up to three local South Carolina bands to warm up the crow d for the main event, and fortunately, they rose to the challenge.
The night kicked off with NeverFall, a vintage-sounding thrash act whose relentless drive and capable musicianship broke the ice and got some hair whipping very early on, and between frontman Sean Lock’s Tom Araya–esque appearance and stage command and guitarist Drew Durham’s searing leads and Steve Vai–ish facial expressions, the group had a strong and infectious presence befitting one’s expectations for a metal show, but exceeding one’s expectations for such a new band.
The night shifted gears when Columbia’s deathcore outfit Shaokahn took the stage, blasting through a short set of dissonant, breakdown-laden tunes, which, while quite a departure from the firmly established thrash roots of the evening, provided a dynamic change of pace that saw the night’s first mosh pits open up, and closing with “The Rite,” a brooding number with an almost black-metal tonality appropriate for a band who shares its name with the emperor of Outworld.
Alias for Now made up the last of the opening bands and once again made a hairpin turn regarding the evening’s pace, the pummeling beatdown passages of Shaokahn replaced with pure Motorhead-inspired speed/proto-thrash metal. The trio tore through a physically exhausting twenty-minute set, playing tunes that sounded like they came from Metallica’s Kill ’Em All sessions and closing with a cover of Motorhead’s “Overkill” wherein the attending crowd came completely unhinged. Frontman Michael Miller embodied the rock ’n’ roll spirit like few do these days, soloing with his teeth Hendrix-style, running around the stage like a madman, and even sprinting through the crowd while playing the final solo of “Overkill,” bringing back a kind of unpredictability and danger that often seems more like a distant memory than a present reality.
Soulfly took over to close out the night, and by this time, the crowd had filled out pretty significantly. Max Cavalera and crew instantly launched into a two-hit offering from the group’s latest record, Savages, opening with the bruising midtempo stomp of “Bloodshed” before raising the intensity with “Cannibal Holocaust.” Over the course of the one-hour set, Savages was represented by two other cuts as well, the pseudo–title track “Master of Savagery” and album highlight “El Comegente,” where bass player Tony Campos and Max duel between Spanish and Portuguese lyrics respectively. Amid these newer offerings, the group also represented their back catalog with live staples “Back to the Primiitive,” “Seek and Strike,” “Prophecy,” and “Eye for an Eye”; a classic Sepultura set consisting of “Refuse/Resist,” “Territory,” a whiplash-inducing rendition of “Arise/Dead Embryonic Cells,” and the perennial brutalizer “Roots Bloody Roots”; as well as some slightly more obscure offerings like “No,” “Plata O Plomo,” and “I and I.”
Overall, the performance was tight. While Max’s focus these days is with being the frontman who riles up the crowd, sacrificing the technical aspects of guitar playing, Marc Rizzo nails every passage, keeping the songs cohesive and filling in any gaps. Tony Campos’s intense stage presence is matched only by his playing accuracy, and Zyon Cavalera can replicate the Soulfly/Sepultura tunes almost effortlessly. Additionally, the band seemed to be in good spirits as a whole, clearly gelling as a unit and having fun on stage, not just going through the motions. And aside from a sound issue early in the set where Marc’s guitar solos were barely audible, an issue that thankfully was resolved quickly, the overall live mix was quite good, with every instrument audible, powerful, and balanced, making for an impactful evening that left the crowd exhausted but hopeful that the tribe can reassemble on the next tour cycle.