As a brand spankin’ new transplant to Philadelphia, I skipped the cheese steak debate and headed straight for the loudest welcome to the city possible: The One Foot in the Grave Tour, featuring Carcass, Crowbar, Ghoul, and Night Demon. I was last at Underground Arts for the Grimposium preceding Choosing Death Fest in April. Solid beer selection, dope staff, but the sight lines can be dicey if you show up late and get stuck behind one of the massive pillars erected from the concrete floor. Best rule of thumb: If you’re not afraid of getting watered-down fake blood sprayed into your face like Ash in Evil Dead, claim a spot in the front row and stick with it.
Californian trad metal warriors Night Demon opened with aplomb, their sizzling throwback riffage cutting through the fog spurting onto the narrow stage. Guitarist Brent Woodward was completely locked in, teaming with the galloping drums to complete their ‘80s timewarp. While they sped through some of the strongest cuts from 2015’s Curse of the Damned – “Satan” inspired some of the most passionate sky-punches – the set list leaned heavily on their eponymous EP. Vocalist/bassist Jarvis Leatherby has some serious pipes, but in a live setting his voice is less NWOBHM grandeur or Sunset Strip sleaze, and more Danzig dialed an octave higher. One highlight included a hooded grim reaper that seemed borrowed from Ghoul’s cast of ne’er-do-wells gently tipping anonymous fluids into Woodward’s mouth during “The Chalice.” But the set’s shining moment was an amphetamine-driven cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” that was greeted with resounding enthusiasm.
After Night Demon, a few audience members with sacks over their heads emerged from the fray, beckoned by the opening charge of “Ghoulunatics.” During my discussion with vocalist/guitarist/lead cannibal Digestor (in dB #142), I suggested that due to the current antagonistic political climate, Creepsylvanian splatterthrashers Ghoul should consider running for office. A week after the DNC closed shop in Philly, he used the spotlight to do just that. “Vote Ghoul for President!” Digestor shouted to his faithful blood-drenched masses. “We run on a platform of human annihilation.” Between old favorites (“Brain Jerk,” “Off with Their Heads,” and “As Your Casket Closes”) and new cuts from Dungeon Bastards and the Decibel Flexi Series (“Word is Law,” “Shred the Dead,” and “Wall of Death”) there was all the requisite baby-gnawing and disembowelment one expects from Ghoul's live bloodbath. Taking on hot topics like Democratic Socialism and Pokemon Go, Ghoul continue to be the shovel-wielding satirists we didn’t know we needed.
It’s god damn difficult to follow a sanguinary spectacle like Ghoul’s performance, but if there’s someone with the moxie to just plug in and rule the room it’s Kirk Windstein. Mentioning Crowbar’s 27 year reign, Windstein’s pride in what his band has accomplished extends to his band’s logo tattooed on the back of his neck while sporting a Saints-supporting “Black ‘n gold ‘til I’m dead and cold” shirt. The stage itself seemed in danger of holding his two-ton riffs, let alone his frame (“A cracked out Lindsay Lohan couldn't fit up here, let alone my fat fuckin’ ass,” he quipped). After some initial lag, drummer Tommy Buckley (also of Soilent Green) punched up the sluggish rhythms. Their ground’n’pound hardcore sludge that followed triggered fits of slow motion head banging as they rumbled through cuts from Lifesblood for the Downtrodden (“New Dawn”) and their self-titled LP (“All I Had (I Gave)”), while opening and closing with classics from Broken Glass (“Conquering” and “Like Broken Glass,” respectively). “Crow-bar!” chants filled the space as I ruminated on my busted wrist wrapped in a black splint from a totally careless un-metal U-Haul injury during my move. Windstein’s old lyrics came to mind: “All my pain is self-inflicted.”
The bare-bones stage (to this point, just a tapestry adorned by Carcass’ circular emblem of surgical supplies), was quickly decorated with TV monitors the size of full stacks. When Bill Steer and Jeff Walker strutted onto the stage while a recording of “1985” blared from the speakers they each received a hero’s welcome. The set’s first half was heavy with staples from Surgical Steel, which have survived the lukewarm receptions they received at shows in 2013 to become eagerly anticipated set entries. “Unfit for Human Consumption” and “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” feel right at home between puke-inducing slabs of gore from Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness. The crowd’s wise-ass “play more songs” chant elicited an amiable sneer from Walker, and they countered with a “Black Star”/“Keep on Rotting in the Free World” mash-up. After an extended off-stage inside joke the audience wasn’t invited to and a tepidly received call-and-response sing-along of the “Keep on Rotting” chorus, the song overstayed its welcome. No big deal, though, because that hiccup was buried by a savage double-dose from Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious while autopsy videos streamed on the monitors – which forced a few weak-stomached attendees to the back of the room. Members of Horrendous watched with a smile as Carcass closed with “Heartwork,” a fitting end to a night where the beer ‘n’ blood flowed like wine. Most importantly, there was no ANTIFA uprising. Ghoul’s anti-fascist sensibilities, matched with their green-friendly population control stance (see: pro-cannibalism) could be part of that. Regardless, if this is what life is like with one foot in the grave, next time we should all dive in with both feet.