I arrived at the Empty Bottle with just enough time to wander in before WizardCastle started piling onto the stage. Despite sharing their hometown of Chicago, I had never seen or heard of this act before this gig. I figured if they were playing with two of my favorite US metal acts going, Woe and Inter Arma, there had to be something to them. I wasn’t entirely wrong. WizardCastle played a competent version of NWOBHM influenced thrash. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t grab me like I hoped it would. The band played pretty run of the mill thrash metal with two vocalists which unfortunately did little to spice things up. The instruments were tight, though the vocals left something to be desired. I’d watch this band again, but I wouldn’t be stoked about it unless they made some real improvements.
After grabbing a cup of (appropriately) black coffee, I hurried back to make sure I caught every second of Woe. I’ve seen this Philadelphia based group twice before and both times have been incredible. This fact, combined with a flawless recorded track record, has left Woe at the top of the heap for me when it comes to current US metal bands. The band immediately blasted into their set of ferocious black metal fury. Woe has a way of constructing songs that keeps them intense and vicious, while still maintaining a sense of variety within each track. This, combined with an underlying hardcore/punk sensibility, means a Woe set is never boring, never stale, never anything less than totally engaging. They played a good mix of material spanning all three of their excellent full lengths. The newest, Withdrawl, sees the band at it’s most eclectic while maintaining the anger and intensity of the earliest Woe material. They played a set that was totally appropriate in length, something from which many metal bands could learn. My only complaint about Woe’s set had, unsurprisingly, nothing to do with the band’s playing. Instead, it was an Empty Bottle problem. The Bottle is a place I usually associate with pretty solid sound. However, during Woe’s set, the kick drum was so overbearing in the mix that, in some parts, the guitars could barely be heard over it. Woe’s dual guitar attack and perfectly dialed-in tone are some of the best things about them and the Empty Bottle did a great disservice to the band and the audience by drowning it out. Still, a great set.
The last of the night was the mighty Inter Arma of Richmond, VA. I’ve talked about this band before and will continue to talk about them. Along with Woe, they are at the top of the US metal heap right now, but approach the genre in a completely different way. While Woe takes a more unrelentingly aggressive approach, Inter Arma laces black metal with doom, sludge, psych, and even some very slight folk influences. This leads to a dynamic, engaging, and exceedingly heavy experience for the listener. I don’t know if the sound was fixed for their set or if the band’s gigantic full stacks forced the hand of the room’s sound, but Inter Arma sounded great. This band has a way of building and receding, going from quiet to punishingly loud, in a way that I rarely have the pleasure of seeing bands pull off properly. Some of their songs have low-key sections that last for several minutes, only to barrel into some of the most intense black metal riffing around, and they manage to do it with a precision that hits you right in the chest. To top it off, singer is a perfect front man for the band. His stage presence is unaffected, unobtrusive, and genuine. During longer instrumental passages, he doesn’t yearn for attention like so many stand-alone singers do, but recedes into the fray while still remaining present. When his half yowling, half bellowing vocals kick back in, it’s all the more effective. The band played for just long enough to avoid overstaying their welcome and wrapped up the set with the same precision they demonstrated throughout their performance.