First on we have the mighty Crobot whose retro-charged rock is the perfect foil for Black Label Society’s gasoline-fuelled excess. Riding high on the same wave that has seen bands like Blues Pills, Rival Sons and Scorpion Child gain considerable acclaim, Crobot are a fair indication that the hard-rock guzzling masses are not interested in fancy production tricks and goddam autotune. No, what we want is honest, gutsy rock ‘n roll delivered with all the fire and fury of a flesh and blood band. With tracks like ‘necromancer’ and ‘fly on the wall’, Crobot simply and effectively set about reducing the stage to rubble, and there’s no question that Crobot are the real deal. They sweat, they bleed and they live for rock ‘n’ roll, and by the time the set concludes the band have made a lot of new friends.
The heaviest band on the bill, Black Tusk are a trio that sound like a five-piece, such is the level of noise they put out. A blistering mix of stoner, thrash and sludge metal, Black tusk are not dissimilar to the equally brain-melting High on fire and their stage presence is equally commanding. Roaring out their dissolute anthems including a truly devilish ‘bring me darkness’, with its repeated chant of ‘666’, with an alcohol-fuelled abandon that makes Ozzy Osbourne look like a lightweight, the band play to a packed room and while there is no question that the audience is there for the conquering heroes, black label society, it says much about the skills of Black Tusk that they not only capture the audience’s attention but that they also manage to hold it for the whole set. A blistering performance, it perfectly sets up the headline act.
With the stage hidden from view by a huge Black Label Society drop cloth, the crowd is kept simmering with some classic rock blasting out of the PA (‘cemetery gates’, ‘highway to hell’). Suddenly the lights drop and the weird, clever mashup that is ‘whole lotta Sabbath’ comes blasting out of the PA at ear-shattering volume. It needs to, because the roar that greets it is almost as deafening. Now, BLS may well rock on record, but where the band excel is in the live environment. A furious, Sabbath-super-charged riff-machine, BLS don’t waste any time in unleashing their own unique brand of melodic hard rock. With the band unleashing just four tracks from their latest opus, ‘Catacombs of the black Vatican’, there’s plenty of room for old favourites and that’s just what the adrenalin-charged audience get. Opening with ‘the beginning… at last’, a perennial live highlight that dates back to the very first album from BLS, is a masterstroke that instantly has the audience eating out of Zakk’s hand. From then on we’re treated to a vicious reading of ‘funeral bell’ (from the band’s classic ‘the blessed hellride’) and a massive ‘bleed for me’ which sounds utterly immense. ‘Catacombs’ gets a look in next with ‘heart of darkness’ and the set is paced so relentlessly, with the band carefully placing some big hitters to the fore, that the audience starts to feel the burn even before Zakk and crew unleash ‘Suicide messiah’ and a truly stunning ‘my dying time’.
The new material continues with ‘damn the flood’ before Zakk shows off his skills with a guitar solo. This once common centrepiece of any band’s live set has become increasingly uncommon of late, but whilst Zakk’s playing is, without doubt, truly astonishing, the solo does start to drag a touch as it moves into its fifth minute. The band come crashing back in to smash the already reeling audience with a truly head crushing ‘godspeed hell bound’ and so it comes as something of a relief that the sweet Skynryd-esque ‘angel of mercy’ is up next to soothe our fevered brows. Oddly, however, the set remains chilled for ‘in this river’, a track which enables Zakk to show off his piano skills, and the similarly slow ‘the blessed hellride’, and you can’t help but wish that the quiet songs had been more evenly distributed throughout the set rather than lumped together in this fashion. Fans of the heavy need not worry, however, because the show concludes with a surging ‘concrete jungle’ and an utterly brutal ‘Stillborn’. It’s a comprehensive and powerful set that does much to emphasise the heaviest elements of BLS and it leaves the audience drained.
Overall all three bands delivered blistering sets although the early start time of the show meant that a lot of people missed the start of Crobot’s set. Black Label society are a passionate, honest, down-to-earth band that resonate with their audience because you always feel like you’re one with the band. When Zakk introduces his fellow gunslingers (along with a healthy dose of humour) they’re introduced, not as untouchable gods but, as brothers in arms, and with Zakk you can’t escape the conclusion that he means it. The packed out Rock City responded with rapture and throughout the lengthy performance you can see people throwing the horns and hear the massive cheers that greet the riff-fuelled tracks. All in all it was one hell of a night!
Main photo image from http://concertfix.com/tours/black-label-society