I like the idea of going to shows and seeing a wide variety of bands, particularly in heavy metal. Not every tour needs to be a conglomerate of metalcore or thrash metal on every single run, and seeing different bands on the bill help change things up. So, thus, when it was revealed that Swallow the Sun and Amorphis would be joining an already diverse pairing of Nile and Overkill at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey, it was a complete breath of fresh air.
To say I had high expectations for Swallow the Sun initially was a bit of an understatement: doom metal and anything involving the genre is something I typically have a hard time clicking with. Swallow the Sun have always been more or less an exception, however, in which their blending of doom and melodic death metal is further enhanced by gothic undertones and atmospheres. While other bands have been doing something of a similar nature, Swallow the Sun have always been the top-tier by doing it the best.
Despite technical difficulties in setting up their set, upon the opening chugs of “Room and Shadows,” you immediately felt the weight of their sonic dredge hit you in your chest, rattling your ribcage and shaking your innards. Vocalist Mikko Kotamäki fully embraced the funeral-esque aesthetic, assuming a brooding presence on stage along with the rest of his bandmates. By comparison and contrast, guitarist Markus Jämsen also adopted a similar, more dynamic persona on stage. Swallow the Sun clearly had both their music perfectly rehearsed and their appearance finely tuned to match.
Even with having to cut their set short, Swallow the Sun made a sizable impression with just three of their robust songs. The aforementioned “Room and Shadows” set their set off right, but it was the closer “Swallow (Horror, Part I)” that received plenty of fan reaction in the crowd. Highlighting the range of instrumental abilities and how much is buried into their music allowed bassist Matti Honkonen some spotlight as his bass, soaked in effects, allowed him a few measures to steal the show. Swallow the Sun started on a high note and ended on the same momentum. Most bands would curse a cut in their set, but the quick-yet-sizable impression (You can’t make a small impression with songs pushing past 5 minutes) was among the more enjoyable and professional. As a fan who follows them and their releases, Swallow the Sun’s liveshow was headliner-worthy and nothing short of a treat.
Following Swallow the Sun brought plenty of momentum and a tonal shift to the stage. After nearly a decade, Amorphis were taking the stage in New Jersey again, much to the excitement of fans in the crowd. Kicking off the show with more elaborate stage lights and an energetic stage presence by vocalist Tomi Joutsen changed the mood set by Swallow the Sun to that of their varied and energetic sound.
Amorphis, embarking on a headlining tour the next day with Swallow the Sun, knew how to match their opening act, all the while still preventing themselves from eclipsing their tourmates. Mixing the set up with songs from their recent releases, such as “Silver Bride,” as well as fan favorites from their classics like “On Rich and Poor,” Amorphis bridged the gap between Swallow the Sun and Nile, who would shortly follow after. Melodic guitar runs were blended with key changes and driving drum patterns that displayed just how well-versed and professional the band were with their own music.
Ever since I started listening to more extreme metal back in 8th grade, Nile was a name I quickly grew to know. Much akin to knowing who Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, and Suffocation were, Nile were immediately thrusted unto me as one of the death metal bands, in which witnessing them live was a different kind of experience overall. That held true, as Nile took to the stage and acted much like they were unleashing a swarm of locusts to the crowd. Loud, bombastic, frantic… Nile are the real deal.
It was recent news that longtime guitarist and vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade had stepped down from the band, causing a massive wave of shock. In his place was newly appointed axeman Brian Kingsland, who came out with his head held high and killed it. Complimenting both the playing styles of guitarist/vocalist Karl Sanders as well as bassist/vocalist Brad Parris, I don’t know where Nile found Kingsland, but good on them because he filled massive shoes perfectly during this performance.
With the most activity going on in their music, also being the most technical and demanding, as well, one must compliment Nile on their overall sound. Every note from either guitarist and bassist was heard over the powerhouse that is George Kollias, leveled to the best of quality possible for the band. Nile aren’t a name in death metal just for the sheer sake of their longevity; they bring 110-percent to the live show and don’t flinch when it comes to dishing out heavy-hitting live performances.
With an introduction from Eddie Trunk, it was now apparent that the night was winding down and that Overkill, the evening’s headliners were to take the stage. Overkill delivered in exactly the manner you would expect: the retro-thrashers may have been from the 80’s, but the band modernized extremely well with the inclusion of their newer material, as well as mixing in their older, more classic songs. Green lights abound, pillars of smoke belowing out, and a constant, highly-energetic set that refused to let up. Overkill are, through-and-through, a thrash band that doesn’t let age slow them down or hold them back.
With everything from the darkest and most melancholic of doom metal to heart-racing, Egyptian-inspired death metal, the overall show was something I would hope to see more of. Metal bands playing together regardless of subgenres should definitely be something more tours attempt to do, especially when it comes to introducing audiences to artists they would never come in contact with otherwise. Would your typical thrasher be found listening to Swallow the Sun? Chances are probably not, but the same goes for the opposite situation. It all goes towards building a massive, metal community where everyone can, hopefully, accept and acknowledge that there are genres beyond their personal favorites that are worth checking out.