Demonic Pigwalk
Testament, Stuck Mojo, and Strapping Young Lad
Big Dog's, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, August 6, 1997

by: Henry Akeley
For the sake of honesty, I should start by saying that I am not a fan of any of these bands. So if this review comes across as a bit lackluster, that's why. It's not that anyone played poorly; in fact, all three bands really performed their material well. It's just that I don't really get into said material: I prefer more extreme and artistic metallic manifestations to all this comparatively conventional, unchallenging, 'Headbanger's Ball'-ish stuff. But what the heck - I wanted to see Gene Hoglan play the drums for SYL, and I also figured that watching Testament could be fun in a memory-lane sort of way. (However, don't expect me to lapse into any "those were the good old days" schlock, because as far as I'm concerned, the last five years or so have probably been extreme metal's best ever, at least in terms of the quantity of energy going into the scene and the quality of results coming out. But I digress.)

Despite its kind of hokey name, Big Dog's is a great place to catch a show: it's smallish to medium in size, with a pretty big stage and a consistently clear and powerful PA. Seeing Morbid Angel there was awesome. On the other hand, seeing Gwar there sucked. But then again, that's because Gwar sucks. Hmmm... digressing again; sorry.

Strapping Young Lad played first. My lack of familiarity with their material limits what I'm able to say about their performance, but all in all, I felt that Gene Hoglan single-handedly - and solely - made watching them worthwhile. Actually, I should say 'double-footedly,' because the guy's double-bass technique is just unbelievable, and it's really cool to watch the crazy moves he pulls off up top while machine-gunning the crap out of the pedals below. Very impressive. I must say, though, this band's material didn't do anything for me. Not that their delivery wasn't full-on and skillful. It's just that the music itself struck me as too gimmicky, in a 'Beyond metal, this is cyber-charged hard music for the 21st century!' kind of way. Not my cup of tea - nor my horn of ale, nor my bucket of blood, if you catch my drift, heheheh...

Next up: Stuck Mojo. Based on my experience with other rap-influenced 'metal' bands, I expected to find these guys either totally laughable or highly annoying, and probably both. After seeing them perform, however, I have to give them credit for being a good live act, nowhere near as crappy or irritating as I had expected. The reason: they put much more energy into sharp riffs and hammering percussion than into rap-styled running on at the mouth. Picky bastard that I am, I would hesitate to call them a -metal- band in the purest sense of that term: their material is more grounded in the simpler dynamics of rock, with a heightened emphasis on up-front rhythm (owing to the strong rap influence), plus metal's highly amplified guitar punch. But even if they're a far cry from extreme metal's cutting artistic edge, they do possess the ability to Rock the House; I'll give them that. Loads of energy from everybody on stage, songs packed with hooks, and great drumming, too. Again, it's really not my thing, but it wouldn't be fair to slag their live performance just because I'm not a fan of their songwriting style.

Finally, Testament. At least, I think it was Testament - they used such absurd amounts of fog that visual confirmation of their identities was difficult. Anyway, whoever was up there played a good, tight set which didn't skimp on Testament's earliest material, as well as showcasing some of the latest, reputedly much heavier stuff. Indeed, the newest songs were pretty weighty by Testament standards, displaying some definite death metal influences - but, it must be said, never approaching the compositional unorthodoxy or sheer guttural fury of premiere death bands like Cryptopsy or Incantation. No, the new Testament material is mosh metal all the way, even if the vocals occasionally descend into death metal depths. By far, it was the band's oldest stuff that went over the best, with "Over the Wall" and "The New Order" proving especially thrash-able. Chuck Billy's vocals held up superbly (even with all the fog, which I found pretty amazing), and those great thrash guitar breaks rang out loud and clear. And true to tradition, Chuck laid down some pretty wicked air guitar on his cut-off mike stand all through Testament's set.

All in all, I'd have to say that all three bands did a solid job of presenting their material - so any real fan of these groups would no doubt have greatly enjoyed the evening. I can't count myself as a member of that particular camp, before or after this show, but hopefully this is still a fair-minded account of the proceedings.

(article submitted 14/9/1997)

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