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CONCERT REVIEW: Metal at the Church, 9 May 2013

In case you've missed the news, an eclectic Denver nightclub recently added metal shows to its weekly repertoire! The Church, that distinctive pointy building (I've always wanted to climb on it) on the southeast corner of 12th and Lincoln, ventured into live music this year with Thursday night Metal at the Church. When my old friends Public Display of Aggression invited me to their show on May 9, I knew it would be an ideal chance to check it out – especially when I found out my other good buddies IneXerfy were added to the bill, returning from a six-month lineup change hiatus. Gutter Rat Productions, who have taken over booking on alternating Thursdays at the Church, historically have great taste in forming cohesively themed lineups, and this show was no exception; it also featured the unique tribal metal group NDAAZ, and popular local regulars NeverBreak. These groups are all fiercely distinctive, but the night had a good common heavy groove and solid appeal across all four bands' usual audiences.

I hadn't been to the Church in a few years, and then only really for the drinks (dancing … meh) but was happy to have the excuse of checking out this new hopeful metal hub, part of the wave of new promoter-venue agreements that have kicked up in the dust of the AEG steamroller. The set break music in the concert area demonstrated good taste in relevant selections (like Maiden, yum), and was audible without interference from the varied dance tunes that played all night in the room next door. The live space is ideally shaped, being narrow enough to encourage crowd density and facilitate a good pit – which is, of course, the highest criterion by which I judge venues – but with enough depth for the crowd to spread back toward the bar and out of the way, while still remaining engaged with the performers.

IneXerfy opened the show, and I swear, if someone booked those guys to play a bingo club, they'd still raise hell. They aren't really my genre (or rather, weren't back when I first got hooked – they've grown much more brutal as they've progressed in songwriting) but I've always been amazed by their sheer live intensity, which is heavily bolstered by the fact that all four of them are legitimate close friends. (They were out of the game all winter finding and training their new guitarist, but he's another close longtime friend of theirs and the group still gels phenomenally, so hopefully they'll be gigging more now without further pause! You guys want some constructive criticism? Gig more!) These guys clearly care deeply about their increasingly heavy riffs and relatable messages, and the audience is inevitably heated by their tireless projection. Frankly, they work so hard during their sets that I'm not sure how they get enough calories to survive. I've never seen a lackluster show from these guys, and I doubt I ever will.

This was only the second time I've seen NDAAZ, but their niche is one of my favorites. I thanked them the first time for "bringing the ritual back to live music", and they were similarly spellbinding, as it were, this time around. They employ call-and-response chants that somehow aren't cheesy, percussion with enough negative space and inventive groove to evoke a sense of drum circles (everyone else grew up going to those, right? I did, and NDAAZ reminds me of them), and socially conscious lyrics – and by all these powers combined, they always put on a thought-provoking set. I wouldn't really call it trance metal, but they're fascinatingly danceable, while still bringing heavy riffs into their lengthy jams. If you dig on local groove metal sounds like Sanity's Edge and Flood of Souls, with powerful messages like those from funksters Pressure Point, you'll love NDAAZ.

I'm less familiar with NeverBreak, but they're regulars on the Denver scene, and generally well-liked. Their groove metal sound is very late '90s-early '00s alt-rock evocative, but they keep it on the heavy side. I was impressed to note that the vocalist was not only also the bassist, but actually a good one, which isn't a combination I usually see – one might guess it was his first instrument? I'm still curious, actually. Whatever the history, his licks were spunky and interesting, and the other instrumentalists were equally polished. Unfortunately, things took a sour turn when the set's soft-song-in-the-middle came around. Everyone but the vocalist left the stage and he broke out an acoustic guitar; his playing was good, as were his clean vocals (a stark contrast to their regular tunes, but it still totally meshed, and he's definitely practiced in the style). Sadly, as will sometimes happen in a young venue, the mic situation was less than ideal and there were volume and feedback issues. This was, of course, forgiveable (hell, that was probably the first acoustic guitar to hit that stage in its short lifespan), but the band's response patently wasn't. As the other instrumentalists returned to the stage, not a second was spared before there was loud overt blaming of the sound engineer, which is pretty much the least graceful way to handle a technical issue, even when it's better-warranted. Those kinds of complaints should always be kept behind the scenes. I hoped perhaps it was meant as teasing, but it became apparent from further comments from the band after their set that it was genuine. I was really disappointed to see a Denver group behave so unprofessionally and rudely in front of fans, but their set was otherwise a success, and I like to hope their failure to keep the rock-star attitudes in check will prove to have been an isolated incident. We all have bad nights.

As for the closing act, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that Public Display of Aggression is one of my favorite local bands, being one of the first and friendliest I ever met. It's not all hearts and flowers of course – like IneXerfy, they stretch the edges of my subgenre preference, with that Killswitch influence and those occasional core flavors – and despite my bias, I have in the past recognized the occasional off-night from them. However, their steady improvement over their rocky career has never plateaued, and last night was a great example of how their confidence has shot through the roof as they've become more prolific in the studio these last few months. The only five-piece of the night, they definitely filled the Church's small stage, and PDA is a highly active and mobile band, but despite the confined space they maintained intensity and put on a great set, well-blended with fan favorites and new material. (Keep an eye on this blog for a review of their new EP fairly soon, as well as a review of an annual show they threw in March that I was supposed to review before my computer and life went to hell for a while – better late than never, right?)

PDA, in particular, will be returning to the Church on 25 July (that's totally my birthday, awww yeah), and the rumors about the rest of the lineup are already tasty. I probably shouldn't reveal anything yet, though *COUGH*DECADENCEINDECAY*COUGH*, but I'll admit I'm stoked. All around, Metal at the Church is a kickass new event in town, and it's worth coming out late on a weeknight (and who needs to be fully operational on Fridays anyway?). I'm looking forward to seeing what else Gutter Rat has in store for these events!

~ Axe