October 22nd, 2006. That was the final day for a San Francisco club known as The Pound, a smallish, low building stranded out in the middle of the dreary reaches of Pier 96 near Heron’s Head Park. For true metalheads of the Bay Area, it was a dark day in history, for no venue besides the Pound was better known for providing a consistent schedule of hardcore punk, furious grindcore, and every genre of metal under the sun (which, considering metal, is quite a lot). While larger clubs like Slim’s and the Regency Ballroom have stepped up to the plate to try and appease the hundreds of roaring voices that bellow out for the return of a good metal venue, they have been hard pressed to draw the same underground caliber that the Pound was able to pull in night after night. If the Mezzanine continues to host shows like Sunday night’s Metalliance Tour, however, then we may once again have a contender that fares well in the ring.
With New York metal veterans Helmet heading the bill for the seven-band onslaught, followed closely (and with fervent fans) by Los Angeles doom kings Saint Vitus, there was more than enough evidence that an evening of bruising, downtuned drones would be equally balanced with an onslaught of minor chords and thundering thrash riffs. Atlas Moth, the Illinois quintet who kicked off the long evening just after 7 o’clock, brought a powerful balance of these elements into the cramped quarters of the Mezzanine, but carried with them the majesty of soaring, blackened post-rock, growing in complexity from song to song. As if taking cue from their predecessors to pull a page from the Southern metal book, the Providence quartet known as Howl came roaring onto the stage moments after the end of Atlas Moth’s short set, with no prisoners taken in their dramatic chord progressions and earth-shaking drumbeats. Whereas Atlas Moth had channelled the titanic work of bands like Isis and Mastodon with an air of the black metal majesty of Krallice, Howl threw the wall of sound approach out the door in favor of riffs that would make Slayer proud. Despite the small size of the crowd and the earliness of the evening, both acts were well received, with the black-clad crowd roaring its approval to fill the absence of sound between songs.
The dynamics of the music — and definitely of the crowd — saw a dramatic shift beginning with the third and fourth acts. A large contingent of assembled metalheads greeted the Portland trio known as Red Fang with wild cheers before the band had begun their first song, and the three responded in turn with a massive display of churning riffs, soaring shouts, and the heaviest drum sound of the night. Red Fang’s set was unyielding in its efficiency, moving from song to song with barely a pause (except for the sudden appearance of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, singer of Saint Vitus, during one of their pieces); however, it was the Georgian quintet Kylesa that garnered the biggest response thus far, no doubt owing partially to their inclusion of a theremin and a second drum kit to their musical repertoire. While still suffering from the same poor vocal treatment that the first four bands had been subjected to, singers Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope took this in stride, making up for it by bellowing even more fiercely than they played their instruments. Any energy left on the stage — that which wasn’t assaulting the crowd through the machine-gun-fire thunderstorm of drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry — was channelled through the wild moves of bassist Corey Barhorst, who tore back and forth in his small circle like a bludgeoning dervish.
If the crowd was enthusiastic about Kylesa and wild about Red Fang, their furious excitement was nothing compared to that expressed for the New Orleans quartet known as Crowbar. The first band of the night to cause several violent moshpits to come screaming into existence, the aggressive sludge thrashers took advantage of the freshly-expanding performance area (after all, piling 7 bands’ worth of gear onto a stage leaves very little room for the musicians themselves) to march, jump, and stomp about, with the rhythmic mayhem of bassist Patrick Bruders and drummer Tommy Buckley matched only by the fearsome grimace and blackened snarl of singer Kirk Windstein. Crowbar’s blend of unyielding thrash and rattling sludge tones was slightly more refined than the chaotic blasts that had occupied the first few hours of the night, and the newfound clarity translated into the most fist-pumping, sweat-covered, roiling crowd yet.
Being preceded by five metal bands — each performing a short set that attempts to one-up the last in its intensity, volume, and onstage energy — can fill the sixth one with apprehension or joy. In the case of Saint Vitus, however, the band displayed the smallest bit of the first, the greatest measure of the second, and a measured degree of mighty confidence as well — not to mention the craziest set of musicians to grace the stage of the Mezzanine that evening. Singer Scott Weinrich was in full form, hurling his microphone stand from point to point as he marched menacingly from corner to corner of the tiny stage, and was shadowed efficiently by guitarist Dave Chandler, who screwed up his face in a hellish visage to mouth the words that Weinrich howled at the cheering crowd. Not to let the massive drones and funeral-march pace of their apocalyptic sound take away from their performance, Weinrich and Chandler regularly leaned themselves out over the grasping hands, inviting the crowd to pump fists and sing along, and ending the set with both members taking separate turns hurling themselves onto the outstretched arms that clawed the air with a desperate fury.
Despite having a large portion of the crowd vanish after their predecessors had finally departed from the stage, Helmet entered for the final performance of the night in an excellent cheer, with singer Page Hamilton cracking jokes and reminiscing about his career of music within the set breaks. Humor and amusements aside, it became apparent within the first notes of “Milquetoast” why Helmet had been given the closing slot: the New York quartet had the absolutely most solid sound of the entire night. Drummer Kyle Stevenson and bassist Dave Case displayed savant-like precision with matching their rhythm section to the riffs of rhythm guitarist Dan Beeman, whose syncopation with Hamilton was magnificent in its energy. In addition to their astonishingly tight musicianship and Hamilton’s clear and snarling vocals, the band treated those who had stuck it out to the end with a full performance of their classic album Meantime, spliced in between a collection of fan favorites from Strap It On, Betty and Aftertaste. Like the nod that Hamilton gave to a fan at the front of the crowd for wearing an original Meantime shirt from the band’s 1992 tour, the set proved to be a wonderful finish for those who had followed all of these acts for over two decades, and Helmet played with all the precision that had been displayed on the albums themselves.
Tonight’s Metalliance Tour carried with it an unfriendliness and a dangerousness that was present in classic shows from the now-defunct Pound, with much of the “legitimacy” of huge metal festivals thrown out the door in favor of a show that was equal parts aggressive, unyielding, unquestionably loud, and summoning a devoted fanbase for each act onstage. This was my first time seeing each of the acts, and I was most impressed with the dynamics of Kylesa’s instrumentation, the fury of Crowbar’s fanbase, and the monumental precision of Helmet. The latter band declared that they would be returning in the fall with another cult favorite — New York industrial trio Prong — and we can definitely hope that they will bring the spirit of the Metalliance back to the Mezzanine when that occurs.
All band photos by Alan Ralph. See a full gallery of his Metalliance photos, among other bands, at Alan Ralph‘s photo portfolio.