Death Angel – October 31, 2013 – The Altar Bar, Pittsburgh, PA

Friday, 1st November 2013

The second show in three years of importance to fall on Halloween in Pittsburgh (the other being Opeth/Katatonia, where upon this scribe’s fiancee nearly passed out during Opeth’s set due to utter boredom), Death Angel and a cast of thrash upstarts rolled into town, spurred by glowing first-week sales reports for their new The Dream Calls for Blood, as well as the resultant positive vibes that come with being a resilient veteran act as this. Some revelers got into the spirit – a dude dressed as a banana, another as a piece of bacon, and perhaps the most notable, a man dressed as a woman with a zombie baby coming out of his stomach, while others were just there to mosh it up and feel stifled by the silly barricade divider Altar Bar feels the need to put up to separate those over 21, and those under. The venue isn’t big enough for such a design, obviously…

Slotted as the first band were Chicago thrashers Diamond Plate, who are reduced to a power trio thanks to the absence of guitarist Mario Cianci. A 7:00 PM start-time meant DR would miss at least a portion of the band’s set due to Halloween festivities, but enough of their classic, highly-aggro set was caught to grasp some kind of understanding as to how good of a live act they are, specifically guitarist Konrad Kupiec, whose playing was full and lively to the point where a second guitarist doesn’t appear to be needed. At the conclusion of set closer “Walking Backwards,” Kupiec proceeded to do some guitar-hero tricks, even tossing his guitar to the ground…hope the thing didn’t break.

A band still working their way up the ladder, Boston’s Revocation suffered from sound congestion during their 30-minute run. Lead singer/vocalist David Davidson is appropriately animated, though, stoking his Berklee-trained leads with ample amounts of face motions and presence. “Fracked,” “Invidious,” and the band’s best song, “No Funeral” provided enough to wear and tear to get the throng excited, but one has to wonder when the band will progress out of mid-bill status. On the other hand, Detroit’s Battlecross appear to have no difficulty working their way up through the ranks, with their new War of Will garnering good press, perhaps buffered by their summer Mayhem fest run. The band’s high-velocity-at-close-range death/thrash pinings might not be as technical as Revocation’s, but they’re just as effectively, particularly “Flesh and Bone,” “Force-Fed Lies,” and “Push Pull Destroy.” Maybe the primary differentiator with Battlecross and other bands is stage presence, with guitarist Tony Asta wearing a permanent smile and vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther coming across as really likeable. Weird to say, but it’s those sort of things that build fanbases much faster than most.

3 Inches of Blood went the full-costume route for their set, including guitarist Justin Hagberg decked out as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and vocalist Cam Pipes going as some sort of black metal character. Their lively, bearded brotherhood metal certainly isn’t as thrash intensive as the other bands on the bill, but the smoldering gallop of “Look Out” was a winner, same with “Metal Woman” and their lone “hit,” “Deadly Sinner.” However, when those dual guitar harmonies aren’t as evident as they should during the set, 3 Inches of Blood sound borderline ordinary, if not for the constant wail of Pipes, who still sounds the same as he did 10 years ago.

In their third trip to Pittsburgh since 2010 (the band’s visit before was 1987 – something pointed out during the set), Death Angel can now lay claim to bonafide headliner status. It’s been a tough slug to get this point for the Bay Area thrashers, yet the pace they’ve been on post-Relentless Retribution has been just that: relentless. Like 3 Inches of Blood, Death Angel also went the Halloween costume route, but more of more importance was the absence of singer Mark Osegueda’s trademark dreads, which were apparently shorn before the show. He definitely looks different, yet the same all at once. Never the matter, as the band shifted their set to focus primarily on The Dream Calls for Blood, with “Left for Dead,” “Son of the Morning,” “Succubus,” the title track, and standout “Fallen” getting an energized run-through, songs no that were no doubt created to appeal in the live arena.

And really, that’s what the bulk of the Death Angel back catalog has going for itself You’re not going to the get the stationary, heads-down presentation that so many others give; the quintet is in constant motion, heads-bopping, faces wincing (or sometimes even smiling) to the tune of songs with major traction. You’ll get that from cuts like “Claws So Deep” or the marvelous “Seemingly Endless Time.” Death Angel never fails to deliver…it’s why they’ve made this really noticeable, but 100% deserved jump.

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