Empire’s final concert

It was the best of venues, it was the worst of venues. Empire, Jaxx, Zaxx, whatever you called the movie theater turned concert venue located at 6355 Rolling Road in Springfield, Virginia, it was certainly one thing: the most important venue in Northern Virginia to heavy metal fans. It had been a club that transitioned through a few names and hosted many bands of various musical genres but it wasn’t until Jay Nedry took it over in 1994 that the venue became Jaxx. Jaxx became a place to see rock and heavy metal bands come through on tours and they would regularly book performances by underground and European metal bands that you just couldn’t see anywhere else in the area. In January 2012 new ownership took over Jaxx and rebranded the nightclub Empire. I personally attended literally hundreds of concerts at Jaxx/Empire over the past 20 years or so, far more than I’ve seen at any other concert venue.

It was pretty surreal going to Empire/Jaxx’s last concert on Sunday, May 3rd of 2015. I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t the venue’s final show ever and I think a lot of people there would have said the same thing. I said hi to lots of friends, most of whom I’d been to concerts with at the venue in the past, and I talked to a lot of the staff throughout the night. I had a lot of great concert memories at this place. I remember seeing Arch Enemy on their first US tour with Angela Gossow on vocals there and people were blown away by her stage presence. I remember seeing David Vincent’s sweaty return to Morbid Angel there, a sold out show where the AC didn’t work. I got drunk and saw Napalm Death play there on Easter one year. I saw Electric Wizard open for Macabre and Enslaved there (the only metal show I ever convinced my mom to attend with me). I saw plenty of other shows with eclectic line ups like when King Diamond played with Entombed and when Cannibal Corpse, Dimmu Borgir, The Haunted and Lamb Of God all shared the stage for a night. I remember taking a piss in that awful men’s room troth while talking to Lord Worm of Cryptopsy as he cleaned live worms in the sink to feed to fans from the stage. It was at Jaxx that Rob Dukes, at the time the vocalist for Exodus, stage dived right on top of me while he was wearing a cheerleader costume during Kreator’s encore, all while I was shooting video. These memories and more floated through my head at the final show.

But it was a show, not some flashback montage, and while my mind often wandered throughout the night there was plenty to remind me that hindsight isn’t always 20-20, it has a way of looking at things through those rosy lenses of nostalgia. The same old problems the venue had were still very apparent at the final show. The farewell show itself had way too many bands on the bill, a total of eight, only two of which were on the tour package. I had brought my nice camera hoping to take some shots of the final show but the lighting was so bad for most of the bands I didn’t even feel like bothering. And of course the same old issues of bands not being allotted enough time, or being put in the right order, were glaring. Locals Iris Divine and Oberris had been on the bill for several weeks before the announcement on April 23rd (here) that Empire would be closing on May 5th, though once word of that got out bands started jumping on to the line up. I can understand that, but the bands that were already busting their asses to promote the show shouldn’t have been bumped to play earlier and had their amount of stage time reduced. The sound guy cut off Iris Divine’s set mid song, which I thought was a technical issue at first. Then Yesterday’s Saints played, and their set wasn’t bad but I’ve seen grindcore bands put on longer sets than they were allowed to play, something like 15 minutes. A shame since they had driven home from Louisville, Kentucky the night before to be able to play this show. The final local to play, A Sound Of Thunder, was also cut off while on stage. It was all just handled poorly and left most of the locals feeling slighted to differing degrees.

After a longer break than Yesterday’s Saints was even allowed to play the first touring band came on. Next To None is a lesson on what nepotism can get you. The Pennsylvania based prog band is made up of teenagers aged 15 to 17, the most notable being Max Portnoy, son of the famous ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. Mike was even on hand to introduce his son’s band at the start of their set. I guess they were technically proficient but like most bands made up of kids, they don’t really do much besides mimic other bands. There wasn’t anything new or innovative about what they were doing, it was well rehearsed and safe, but they’re just teenagers so I guess you have to cut them some slack. I could totally see them touring with Unlocking The Truth and playing shows for younger kids.

After Next To None finished it was time for Haken to perform. I had heard they were planning a two and a half hour set this evening, which I suppose is fairly normal for prog bands, though it actually ended up being a little under 2 hours. The band is based in London and I believe this was the final date of their first US tour. I wish they had gotten a band that had played Jaxx many times over the years to close the place out, or even one that had played it once before, but that wasn’t really a practical request. The Haken vocalist, Ross Jennings, made some comments between songs about the closing a few times, wondering why the place was closing because it was so awesome and commenting that it was a strange privilege to be the last band to play there. The crowd had thinned out quite a bit by the time Haken got to their scripted encore, though the final two songs were definitely the highlight of their set. To close out the venue they played a cover of Metallica’s “Fade To Black” then Mike Portnoy got behind the drum kit and Haken covered “The Mirror” by Dream Theater to end the set, their tour, and the venue’s history of concerts.

At the end of the show I hung out and talked to a few friends while the bands tore down their gear. Eventually I said goodbye to the staff as well, who have always been good to me (going back to the Jaxx days) but that probably has something to do with the blog I run, local bands seem to have mixed reviews. The show was over but I didn’t want to say goodbye to the venue, I think I was the last person to leave that wasn’t an employee or part of the tour. I’ve spent a lot of time in that place, complained about plenty of its problems over the years, but I still kept coming back. When I first started going to see concerts that weren’t at giant amphitheaters or arenas Jaxx was there to let me see the bands I was into perform live, and to discover more bands as well. Jaxx was there showcasing locals from around the region before I even knew of any of our local bands. When I first started attempting concert photography, several years before I started this blog, the first shows I shot were Behemoth and Watain at Jaxx. I lived about a mile down the road from Jaxx for a few years as well, sometimes if I was bored on a particular night I’d check their calendar for what was playing that night and head over if it sounded interesting, or at least not terrible. Empire/Jaxx had a lot of problems though. The room wasn’t a great shape and the speakers were set up in a way that the sound was really bad in several areas of the room, and there were the days the AC would be turned off in the summer to increase drink sales at the bar. On some nights Empire would actually charge for water at the bar, a practice that isn’t illegal but is pretty underhanded and potentially dangerous. However the most polarizing aspect of the venue was always its pay to play policy, which had the local bands pre-selling tickets to the shows they were added to. It was great that they allowed locals to play on a stage that size but it was awful that they had to shake down their friends time and again to do so. Many bands boycotted playing the venue because of this policy, and many people refused to even see shows there because of the policy. The fact that after the closing announcement was made so many people took to social media to comment about it, even people that hated the venue and were glad to see it go, is a testament to the impact it had on our area’s metal scene.

Empire/Jaxx definitely wasn’t perfect, no concert venue is, but it is the one we had for so many years, a constant in our metal scene. This is officially the first day that there is no Empire, no Jaxx, in Springfield. It has been bought by the kabob restaurant next door, they want to expand to add a banquet hall for weddings and other special occasions. There is a part of me that is sad to see the end of Empire/Jaxx. I made a lot of friends and memories there, I saw many bands close up, and I probably wouldn’t be the metal concert addict that started a local metal blog if it didn’t exist for all those years. But like the overdue end to a long term relationship, I’m also glad that I don’t have to put up with its bullshit any more either.

Behemoth at Jaxx in 2007
The first concert I ever shot, I’d like to think I’m a little better by now

Rob Dukes stage dives on me while Kreator plays at Empire

Summer Slaughter ticket give away

Summer Slaughter at Empire

On Tuesday, August 12 (that’s next week!) the Summer Slaughter Tour makes its only area stop at Empire. The bill is loaded with some of the most brutal death metal bands in the world, including: Dying Fetus, The Faceless, Thy Art Is Murder, Goatwhore, Origin, Decrepit Birth, Within The Ruins, Fallujah and Boreworm. This week DCHM is giving away a pair of tickets to the show at Empire to one of you lucky readers of this site. To enter leave a comment on this post telling me which band you’re most excited to see at Summer Slaughter this year. At 5pm EST this Friday, August 8th, a winner will be chosen at random (using Random.org) from all valid entries to receive two tickets to the show! Be sure to use a valid email you check regularly so I can contact you if you win. Don’t worry, I won’t add you to any spam lists or sell your info or anything sleazy like that. If I haven’t heard back from the winner within 24 hours another winner will be chosen at random. If you can’t wait to see if you win, or the contest is already over when you read this, then you can get tickets from Ticket Fly right now for $30 here.

Fans of death metal do not want to miss this show! With bands like The Faceless, Goatwhore, Origin, Decrepit Birth and Maryland’s own Dying Fetus all playing, you can be sure this show will satisfy all your mosh pit and headbanging needs. There will be food specials all day and be sure to bring a few extra dollars for some of the sick looking merch that you just know will be available with this many death metal bands on the bill. Now check out some of the tunes below and tell me, which band are you most excited to see at Summer Slaughter this year?

Dying Fetus – From Womb To Waste

The Faceless – Accelerated Evolution

Goatwhore – Baring Teeth For Revolt

Origin – Absurdity Of What I Am

Decrepit Birth – The Resonance

Saint Vitus ticket give away

Saint Vitus

Many years ago Scott “Wino” Weinrich was told, by Ian MacKaye (of Minor Threat and Fugazi fame), of a doom metal band out in LA called Saint Vitus. Wino ended up moving from the DC area to California to become the front man for Saint Vitus and doom metal history was made by this perfect matching. Now Wino and Saint Vitus are coming back to the area to play a show at Empire on Sunday, October 20th and we’ve got a free pair of tickets to give one of you lucky readers! To enter just leave a comment on this post telling me what song you’d like to hear Saint Vitus play live the most at this show. You can see their discography here if you need some help. At 5pm EST this Friday, October 11th, a winner will be chosen at random (using Random.org) from all valid entries to win the tickets. Be sure to use a valid email you check regularly so I can contact you if you win. Don’t worry, I won’t add you to any spam lists or sell your info or anything sleazy like that. If you can’t wait to see if you win or the contest is already over when you read this, then you can get tickets from Amped & Alive for $17 here.

Along with Saint Vitus on this tour there will be psychedelic sludge band Zoroaster performing as well as a high energy set by punk/metal/rock band The Hookers. Local support will be from DC’s stoner riff masters Borracho. In all that’s a damn solid line up! Now check out these songs below by the bands playing and tell me what song you want to hear Saint Vitus play live.

Gorguts ticket give away

Gorguts

The French Canadian death metal band Gorguts is coming to Empire (formerly Jaxx) in Springfield, Virginia on Thursday, September 5th! They haven’t played the area since reforming and one of you lucky readers will win a free pair of tickets to the show. To enter just leave a comment on this post telling me which old school metal band you hope reforms to make a come back next and at 5pm EST this Friday, August 30th, a winner will be chosen at random (using Random.org) from all valid entries to win the tickets. Be sure to use a valid email you check regularly so I can contact you if you win. Don’t worry, I won’t add you to any spam lists or sell your info or anything sleazy like that. If you can’t wait to see if you win or the contest is already over when you read this, then you can get tickets from Amped & Alive for $16 here.

In the 90s Gorguts put out some excellent technical, yet very brutal, death metal albums but ended up going on hiatus in the new millennium. They reformed to play a set at Maryland Deathfest in 2010 which was awesome but lacked any new material. Well the new Gorguts album Colored Sands is coming out and I can tell you that having heard an advance copy already, it’s sick. This isn’t a recreation of past glories, this is a modern evolution of the classic Gorguts sound and there’s even some surprises in there too. If getting to see Gorguts play their classic songs plus some of their killer new material live wasn’t great enough there’s also direct support coming from Richmond’s Inter Arma. They released their first album on Relapse earlier this year and have been putting on some outstanding live performances in support of it. Seriously, catch these guys live and you’ll become a fan. There will also be sets by March To Victory from Pennsylvania and locals Acid Deth Kvlt. Now check out these awesome new songs by Gorguts and Inter Arma as you decide which old school metal band you wish would come back next!

Pentagram ticket give away

Pentagram

Pentagram is one of the oldest doom metal bands not only from the DC area but in the history of metal and they’re playing at Empire (formerly Jaxx) in Springfield, Virginia on Saturday, August 3rd! DCHM is psyched to give away a pair of tickets to see these guys rock the stage the night after Black Sabbath plays to be the second half of an old school doom metal weekend. To enter just leave a comment on this post telling me what song you’d like to hear Pentagram play live the most at this show. You can see their discography here if you need some help. At 5pm EST this Friday, July 26th, a winner will be chosen at random (using Random.org) from all valid entries to win the tickets. Be sure to use a valid email you check regularly so I can contact you if you win. Don’t worry, I won’t add you to any spam lists or sell your info or anything sleazy like that. If you can’t wait to see if you win or the contest is already over when you read this, then you can get tickets from Amped & Alive for $20 here.

Along with Pentagram there will also be a performance by locals A Sound Of Thunder. I have a pretty good feeling they’ll be busting out some of their more Sabbathy stuff for this show and they’ve been known to cover some obscure Black Sabbath tunes too. Sons Of Eddie will be playing Iron Maiden cover songs at this show as well. And you’ll want to get there early to make sure you catch Virgina based Dirt Merchant‘s fuzzy guitars and Despite Charm who are coming down from Baltimore to play. Now check out some of these cool songs by Pentagram and A Sound Of Thunder below and tell me what song you want to hear Pentagram play live!

Nile ticket give away

Nile at Empire

South Carolina’s masters of death metal, Nile, are playing on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 at Empire in Springfield, Virginia. On this tour Nile will be playing two full sets of songs spanning the band’s entire history to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band. This show is not to be missed so DCHeavyMetal.com is going to give away a pair of tickets to one of you lucky readers. To enter, just leave a comment on this post telling me which song from Nile’s entire discography (see it here) you want them to play the most! What will you pick? Maybe Lashed To The Slave Stick or Black Seeds Of Vengeance or Unas Slayer Of The Gods? That song with the really long title that starts with the word Papyrus? Nile has so many classic songs to choose from! On Friday, March 1st at 5pm EST I’ll pick one lucky winner from all valid entries at random (using Random.org) to win the pair of tickets. Please don’t enter if you cannot attend, I want to make sure the winner gets to see this killer show. Be sure to enter with a valid email address you check regularly so I can contact you if you do win. Don’t worry, I won’t add you to any email lists or anything like that, I hate spam too. If I haven’t heard back from the winner in 24 hours another winner will be chosen. If you enter more than once then all of your entries will be disqualified. If the contest is over when you read this or you simply can’t wait to find out if you won the tickets you can buy tickets from Amped & Alive for $17 here.

Nile has bee playing their technical style of death metal, led by guitar virtuoso Karl Sanders, for 20 years now. In that time neither the band’s aggressiveness nor obsession with ancient Egypt have waned. You may remember Amon Amarth similarly performed two sets like this in 2011, however, they spent one of their sets playing their newest album straight through. Nile will not be doing that and instead will be playing a double set retrospective of their career. Nile has also made it clear that they want to support local musicians on this tour so they will have local bands playing each of these shows that will be different in each city. For the show at Empire we get Cannabis Corpse, a Richmond based death metal band with weed themed songs that parody famous death metal songs by bands like Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Deicide. The band features Land-Phil Hall of Municipal Waste fame on bass and vocals. There will also be sets by locals Mikhail and Acid Deth Kvlt (you can give them a listen by clicking on their names). Well check out these recent videos by Nile and Cannabis Corpse below and leave a comment with what song you want to hear Nile play the most in their retrospective set!

Municipal Waste and Napalm Death at Empire

Friday the 26th of October 2012 was one hell of a fun night. Municipal Waste and Napalm Death were kicking off their co-headlining tour with Exhumed and Vektor at Empire (formerly Jaxx) in Springfield, Virginia that night Poster for Municipal Waste and Napalm Death at Empireand you just knew a line up like that was going to result in an awesome night. Apparently a lot of you had the same idea as the place was pretty packed. It was probably the best turn out I’ve seen at Empire since the new management took over back in January.

There were a couple of local openers to start the show off but I didn’t get there until Vektor was just beginning their set. They play a futuristic tech-thrash that is pretty damn fun to watch live. Their songs are long but they go all over the place so you never feel bored listening to them. The crowd surfers were already starting during their set. I had seen Vektor headline a show in mid September (ready my review of that show here) and while they didn’t play as long of a set, it was still cool seeing them on a proper stage. Also, guitarist David DiSanto was playing a new guitar this time. After Vektor played it was time for Exhumed to unleash their gory death metal on the crowd. They were as fast and brutal as ever and they’re the kind of band you can tell is having a lot of fun on stage. They had their crazy chainsaw surgeon guy come out on stage a few times with his real chain saw that he was waving over the audience and they even had blood splatter onto some of the people up close when he pulled out a decapitated head. Exhumed opened their set with several songs off their latest album, All Guts, No Glory, but started playing older songs midway through their set. They ended their set with their classic The Matter Of Splatter which really had people going nuts in the pit. Two bands in and this show was already kicking some serious ass!

Napalm Death was the next band to take the stage. They’re one of the fathers of grindcore and have consistently put out good material since they formed 31 years ago (although none of the current members have been in the band prior to 1987). In addition to that they’re also known for being one of the best live bands in extreme metal. As they opened their set they showed that their age was not slowing them down a bit. I had seen them in May at Maryland Deathfest X but this time the audience was much closer up to the band and the setting was definitely more in your face. Hell, I even saw a guy in a banana costume stage dive during their set (photo of that below). Napalm Death’s vocalist, Barney Greenway, was as spastic as ever on stage, pacing back and forth between bursts of vocal rage and showing that he’s still one of the most ferocious live vocalists in metal. Their set contained mostly material from the past 10 years or so but they did sprinkle in some key tracks from older albums throughout the set. For some reason the band played their infamous Guinness World Record holding one second track You Suffer two times during their set, that was a new one. I didn’t love their latest release, Utilitarian, because a Napalm Death album with clean vocal parts just doesn’t sound right to me. Even so, when they played The Wolf I Feed, a song from that album, it still fit in well with the rest of the songs they played despite the clean back up singing. Napalm Death played a thoroughly brutal set from start to finish and the audience seemed to love every minute of it, myself included.

The final band of the night was Richmond, Virginia’s Municipal Waste. They’re a party thrash metal band and they’re known for having a totally wild live show. Most of the band’s songs revolve around binge drinking and partying and they readily encourage stage divers. However if you stay on stage too long you’ll get an atomic wedgie, which vocalist Tony Foresta explained by making an example of one lingering stage diver during the show. They got the crowd going from the start with their songs Headbanger Face Rip and Mind Eraser. Tony said that since the band had toured so much lately they wanted to change up the set list some. This included playing A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Destroyer) for the first time ever live as well as playing the first song Municipal Waste ever wrote, Thrashin’s My Business… And Business Is Good. You can see the full set list here. The band was a bit sloppy but it didn’t matter, they’re more about having fun than playing perfectly. Guitarist Ryan Waste was sporting a new custom guitar that had a body shaped like a big M and W. At one point Tony mentioned that he didn’t like most modern thrash bands, but that he definitely approved of Vektor. An odd opinion since Municipal Waste is one of the biggest modern thrash bands. The shred-fest went on for over an hour and the mosh pit went crazy all night. Crowd surfers and stage divers were a constant presence and I’m sure a lot of people were nursing bruises afterwards, but they were well worth it to be in the middle of all the fun. As usual, you can see my photos of the bands I was there for below. I didn’t get shots of all of the band members throughout the night because it was hard to move around the wild audience that close to the stage and I was not trying to damage my camera with all the crowd surfers over head either. I have some video footage of Municipal Waste as well but due to complications from Hurricane Sandy I haven’t been able to upload those yet. I hope to add them to the end of this post in a day or two. It was great to see such a good turn out for a metal show at Empire and I hope to see more of you out at metal shows soon to help support the scene you’re a part of!

Vektor:

Vektor at Empire

David DiSanto of Vektor

Frank Chin of Vektor

Erik Nelson of Vektor

Exhumed:

Bud Burke of Exhumed

Matt Harvey of Exhumed

Bud Burke of Exhumed

Exhumed chainsaw guy

Matt Harvey of Exhumed

Napalm Death:

Mitch Harris of Napalm Death

Barney Greenway of Napalm Death

Barney Greenway of Napalm Death

Napalm Death at Empire

Barney Greenway of Napalm Death

Barney Greenway of Napalm Death

Municipal Waste:

Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste

Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste

Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste

Ryan Waste of Municipal Waste

Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste

Ryan Waste of Municipal Waste

Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste