Last Friday, the 31st of January 2014, was a good night for the area’s metal heads. Attila sold out Empire in Springfield and Amon Amarth, Enslaved and Skeletonwitch played the Fillmore Silver Spring. However I decided to skip both of those shows for the rare chance to catch Morbid Saint play a DIY show on the campus of American University. So who the hell is Morbid Saint?
Well they were a thrash metal band from Wisconsin that in 1988 put out their only album, the underground classic Spectrum Of Death. They were a frequent opener on Death’s tours in those days but unfortunately broke up in the 90s. In 2010 they reformed and if you went to Maryland Deathfest X in 2012 then you got to see them play Spectrum Of Death from start to finish on one of the big outdoor stages there. That was a pretty great performance in the midst of many at MDF X but last Friday’s show at the Kay Spiritual Life Center at American University was something else altogether. There was no lighting rig, no barrier between the bands and fans, no big stage, hell there wasn’t even a stage. The room was small, packed, and hot and you couldn’t hope for a better DIY setting to see an old school thrash band in. Most of those old thrash bands from the 80s have either blown up like Slayer and Megadeth, disbanded after the rise of grunge, or regularly come through the area to places like Empire promoting whatever new album they may have. Those shows are all good but this show wasn’t like any of them and I knew it going in. Basically, I couldn’t let myself miss this show!
I showed up a bit late but apparently there had been an issue with the electrical box at the start of the night and everything got delayed. The show was sold out when I arrived but I had ordered tickets online ahead of time cause I knew it would. The room was basically a big oval with merch tucked into a small room on the side opposite the venue entrance. Normally it is used as an on campus religious center for any religious denomination that wants to use it but this night it would become a place to worship metal! When I got there the first band, Genocide Pact, was still playing. Genocide Pact features members of another local band, Disciples Of Christ, but isn’t quite as grindy as D.O.C. is and instead has more focus on the death metal sound. They were fun but since the room was already packed I didn’t get up front to see them. The next band up was Baltimore’s Noisem, formerly known as Necropsy. These guys are young but ever since getting signed to A389 Recordings they’ve really started to garner attention, and not just locally. They opened on a run of 22 shows for The Black Dahlia Murder and Skeletonwitch last fall and they’ll be the opening act on the entire upcoming Decibel tour with Carcass headlining. They’re definitely getting better in the live setting, that showed even when performing at a DIY show with no stage. Their high energy death/thrash really got the audience into the show and the pits got pretty intense a few times. Next up was another A389 band, the (mostly) DC based Ilsa. They play a crusty style of death/doom that is full of mosh friendly riffs and very heavy slower parts as well. It has been a little while since I’ve seen Ilsa live and in that time they’ve replaced one of their guitar players with a guy who used to play with several of them in a band called Time Of The Wolf that was a precursor to Ilsa’s formation. Their set was heavy but I do wish the band members would face the audience more. Most of the show they formed a circle facing inward at each other, aside from vocalist Orion who looked all around the room with his vice grip on the mic he was screaming into.
Finally it was time for Morbid Saint to play and after the delay and several sets you could tell the audience was getting a little restless. The audience wouldn’t settle for a bad performance from the headliner at this point and Morbid Saint delivered. The crowd erupted into a mosh pit from the first note played and frontman Pat Lind really kept the intensity up the entire show despite the heat that was becoming overwhelming. The band did not play Spectrum Of Death start to finish as they had at MDF but instead kept the set list pretty varied, they even played songs off their never officially released 1992 demo Destruction System and some other obscure material as well. They had a few extended pauses between songs because the drummer was overheating but they mostly played songs back to back to back. There were crowd surfers and people flying in and out of the mosh pit the entire set with the intensity reaching its apex when Morbid Saint played “Lock Up Your Children.” Maybe I’m just getting old but by the time it was over I was feeling pretty drained and headed straight to the water fountains. A big thanks goes out to Mariana and the AU Independent Arts Collective for making this show happen. I hope they put on more awesome metal shows in the future. Getting the chance to see one of the classic old thrash bands up close in a small, sweaty, sold out room was like stepping into a time machine back to the days of Heavy Metal Parking Lot and despite the other options that night, there’s nowhere else I’d have rather been.
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