Who: Hypocrisy, Scar Symmetry, Blackguard
Where: Reggie's Rock Club, Chicago, IL
In 2009, Hypocrisy was slated to tour the United States in support of their 12th studio
LP, 'A Taste of Extreme Divinity'. It was to be an unusual bill, featuring Ensiferum,
among others, as support acts and with Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom) as their second
guitarist. Unfortunately, the tour had to be canceled due to visa issues, leaving Peter Tägtgren
to promise that Hypocrisy would return as soon as possible. American audiences have heard
that number before and usually are left disappointed, but Hypocrisy pulled through in less
than a year and this May are conducting a full tour of the States. Although the support
still features Blackguard and Swashbuckle as opening acts, Ensiferum and Ex Deo were
swapped out for the rather more appropriate combination of Scar Symmetry and Poland's
Hate. Alexi, too, has been replaced, by the less showy but ultimately more fitting Tomas
Elofsson (Sanctification). Altogether, a solid bill that ranks as the heaviest I've
witnessed in months.
I arrived at Reggie's Rock Club with my companion as Swashbuckle got the evening under
way. We chose instead to sample the local fare (a grease-bucket gyro that was reportedly
superb) and catch up with acquaintances outside of the venue. One such acquaintance was
Jonas Kjellgren of Scar Symmetry, who I'd seen walking a few blocks away from the venue as
I looked for parking. I doubted it was him at first (what would a Swede want from
semi-industrial south Chicago?), but his profile, shaved head, favored camouflage pants,
and distinctive lumber were undeniable. It turns out he'd gone in quest of coffee and ice
cream, neither of which were to be had within a mile's walk. Thus informed, he shrugged
and, with one of his techs, settled into a booth outside the venue while I headed indoors.
Reggie's is a unique venueperhaps the sole spot south of the Sears Tower to host a
significant number of metal showsand has done especially well for itself since The
Pearl Room closed in Mokena last year. It's a smallish space that would merit the word
'intimate' if it didn't seem to be built like a box of concrete and steel piping, and with
a sewer drain gracing the center of the stage. Still, featuring a full bar, decent sound,
casually effective security, and reportedly good artist relations, Reggie's star is
After Swashbuckle left the stage at around seven, it was time for Blackguard to really
warm up the swelling crowd. This Quebecois crew receives the gold star for being among the
year's hardest working actsbefore their set closed, vocalist Paul "Ablaze"
mentioned that they've been through Chicago five times in the past year. After this tour
with Hypocrisy closes, they'll be back on the road after a few months for another eight
weeks of touring, this time with Kamelot and Leaves' Eyes. (How's that for diverse
I hadn't heard much of them on record and in retrospect am glad for it, since their studio
work is rather more kitschy and keyboard-heavy than their live show. There, the galloping
riffs and Paul's energetic persona take over, transforming Blackguard from Finnish metal
worship into a self-reliant headbanging powerhouse. For a band that's been on the road so
muchfor any band, actuallythey looked wonderfully at ease on stage and fully
engaged with the audience. I can't say this North American take on 'epic metal' surpasses
the European school, but their attempt was much more successful than a number of other
groups I've seen and I have to tip my hat to their level of commitment.
Hate was scheduled to follow Blackguard and was an act I was very curious to see. Though
they operate in the shadow of Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated, and a few other major names
from their country, this band has been making its own way since 1990. In the past handful
of years, they've tinkered with their sound, most recently settling on a devastating blend
of classic Polish brutality and legitimate black metal accents (practically the reverse of
how Behemoth has changed). Hate was also an interesting choice for this bill as the only
band not tied to Nuclear Blast Records.
Unfortunately, they weren't able to make it to this date, as they'd fallen behind on the
road somewhere between Seattle and Chicago. The tour had a couple off days in
betweenScar Symmetry spoke reverently of Bloomin' Onions eaten at the Outback
Steakhouse in Sioux Fallsand the 2,000-plus mile trek was apparently too much for
Hate's caravan to handle. This came as quite a disappointment, since Polish death
translates excellently to live performance and Hate's last two records deserve great
acknowledgement. With the big names of Poland treading water for one reason or another,
Hate's time to rise to international acclaim is now.
Despite this setback, the show got back on track with another rising act in Scar Symmetry.
In short order (i.e. since 2005), this convergence of young talent has spit out four
records and managed to redefine the standard for melodically technical metal that blends
harsh and clean vocals. In any given song, poppy refrains (even more unabashed than new In
Flames) are met with mathy seven-string chugs (that fans of Meshuggah can't deny) and the
unique soloing voices of Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson. Altogether, it's a very modern
project that won't jive well with hardcore fans of the old death metal school, but for the
rest of us they are a rich treat.
In 2008, the band suffered a major loss when vocalist Christian Älvestam left the band.
His distinctive phrasing and potent growl had led the way since their beginning, but
creative differences sent him back to other less recognized (but no less professional)
acts. The remainder of the band refused to bow and bounced back almost immediately with
two vocalistsRoberth Karlsson for the harsh vocals and Lars Palmqvist for the
cleans. Considering the amount of touring the band does and the complexity of their
arrangements it was a logical choice, but it left many fans skeptical. I admit to some
myself; the last two-vocalist band I'd seen was Sonic Syndicate (mysteriously, also
Swedish and with two 'S' words in their name), who were less than impressive. I figured,
though, that even in a worst-case scenario Scar Symmetry's instrumentalists would put on
their customarily dazzling show and that it'd be fun to catch up with them after the year
that had passed.
I shouldn't have doubted them. Over a forty-five minute set, Scar Symmetry put on a
first-class performance from side to side, top to bottom. The setlist ran: 'The
Iconoclast', 'Morphogenesis', 'Pitch Black Progress', 'Mind Machine', 'Ascension
Chamber',' Chaosweaver', 'The Path of Least Resistance', 'Artificial Sun Projection',
'Retaliator', and 'The Illusionist'. (The new single 'Noumenon And Phenomenon' was crossed
off in favor of 'Artificial
') Drummer Henrik Ohlsson said it was perhaps their best
of this tour, and that would come as no surprise. Their six members filled the stage, and
the two new vocalists complemented each other very well, trading the spotlight smoothly
and never competing for attention. It will still take me some time to get used to Lars'
clean vocals instead of Christian's, but I have no doubt that he is up to the challenge
and a good match for the band. I hadn't heard much from Roberth since his brief tenure
with Edge of Sanity, and I must say that the years have been good to him. His roar is
stronger and more explosive than ever and matches well with his aggressive stage presence
(I could do without the gun gestures to the temple, though).
Between the two of them, the complex vocal arrangements of the studio were well
represented, and that's even before considering the harmonies and backing growls provided
by Per and Jonas. At times, all four of them would be alternating, overlapping, and
reinforcing each others' lines. Despite all this fuss, the vocal presence was never
overbearing. In fact, by the end of the set, the two vocalist approach didn't seem odd in
the least, as they had balanced the vocal duties preciselyless interaction and the
second vocalist would have seemed superfluous, more and it would have been gimmicky.
Bassist Kenneth seemed more at ease on stage than when I first saw him, willing to saunter
forward every now and then, provide some backing vocals, and make punctuating sweeps with
his black Fender bass. Behind his economical kit (a single bass kick and a modest array of
toms and overheads), Henrik was an efficient machine. Guided by his in-ear mic, he kept
the band in line with their sample tracks and gracefully smoothed out their stuttering
I must admit, though, that as a guitarist my attention had a natural bias towards Jonas
and Per, especially slinging those seven-strings of theirs. Per was using an Ibanez RG
that defines "player's guitar": neck pickup removed, tremolo blocked, toggle
switch and tone knob cut out, and a PAF-7 stuck into the bridge (if I remember correctly).
Despite its sketchy looks, it seemed to play beautifully and delivered an authoritative
crunch through their Pod X3 setup. (For both Scar Symmetry and Hypocrisy, the guitarists
ran through Pods, forgoing amps entirely. Both bassists played an EBS head through two
4x10s.) Per's playing was, of course, superlative. He has a distinctly cerebral and
incredibly smooth solo voice that matches well with Jonas' raunchier approach, which
relies a bit more on the grab-bag of guitarists' tricks and grounds their solo battles
firmly in metal territory. Jonas was wielding an ESP F-STD 7: EMG-equipped and with a
Sanskrit symbol as its 12th fret inlay. Since there were no other inlays, he'd put pink
tape on the back of the neck as fret markers. A less dazzling guitarist than Per but no
less entertaining, he provided my favorite moment of the entire concert with a classic
Jonas move. About halfway through the set, he took a solo that included a scorching
tapping passage. Immediately after wowing the crowd and with our eyes still on him, he
nonchalantly wiped his nose with the back of a hand and jumped back into rhythm riffing.
Altogether, their set was full of personality and was also a strong reminder that the
band's creative center has remained unaltered, even if its face has changed. Jonas, Per,
Henrik, and Kenneth are the authentic voices of Scar Symmetry, both lyrical and musical.
Lars and Roberth haven't yet endeared themselves to all the band's old fans, but they are
making a great first impression on this tour and I have full confidence in their future
Once their set was through, the running crew came out to pull back the black cloth-draped
backline, revealing Horgh's imposing Pearl kit and four full stacks of Marshall amps, each
framed by a twisted and metallic upside down cross. The fun and games were
throughHypocrisy had arrived.
They emerged in gusts of smoke and light (they've picked up on the trend of those
incredibly bright flashing floor lights) and immediately took command of the stage. The
four members emanated confidencetitanic Horgh on the drums, new second guitarist
Tomas Elofsson, the redoubtable Mikael Hedlund on the bass, and, of course, Peter himself,
with his wispy madman beard and eyes rolling back into his head. They were consummate
veterans, eschewing the exuberance and eager crowd interactions of the earlier bands,
neither of which would have fit with Hypocrisy's mood, anyway. Instead, they held their
ground, struck solid metal stances, and headbanged us into the depths of Peter's
nightmares: religious blasphemy, relentless misanthropy, and, of course, alien invasion.
On record, Hypocrisy tends to have a faintly poppy twist, and not only on 'Catch 22'.
Throughout his career, Peter's trademarks have been sinister sing-alongs and melodic
themes that get one's head bopping along almost cheerily, no matter how grim the imagery.
In the live setting, this cheer was dispelled and the violent undertones worked their
magic on the moshpit. Songs like 'Eraser', 'Killing Art', and 'Let the Knife Do The
Talking' sounded better live than I would have thought possible. The band pulled out some
of their older material97's 'Abducted' was well-representedand Peter's matured
vocals improved them considerably. Indeed, just as I'd hoped, Peter lived up to his legend
(even with a rough hangover, as he later reported). I've long held him to be one of
Swedish metal's most treasured voices, and that night he proved whyfrom lows to
screeching high howls, he was dominant.
There were a couple calls of "Bloodbath!" from the audience, and I admit that a
couple cuts from 'Nightmares Made Flesh' would have gone down rather nicely, but overall
the audience was enthralled. The setlist ran (approximately): 'Valley of the Damned',
'Hang Him High', 'Fractured Millennium', 'Adjusting the Sun', 'Eraser', 'Pleasure of
Molestation' (part of an early 90s medley), 'Apocalypse/The Fourth Dimension', 'Killing
Art', 'A Coming Race', 'Let the Knife Do the Talking', 'Weed Out the Weak', 'Fire in the
Sky', 'The Final Chapter', 'Warpath', and 'Roswell 47'. The moshpit tired towards night's
end, but the room remained comfortably full throughout and very appreciative of all the
bands had to offer. It remained a disappointment that Hate couldn't perform, but it turned
out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gave us all more time to socialize with the bands
after an early (i.e. around 11 pm) wrap.
After the show, most members of the bill adjourned to Reggie's bar next door, where they
were playing a two-hour tribute to Ronnie James Dio. The festivities quickly devolved into
a Sweden vs. USA arm-wrestling contest (they won) that quite upset security, cupcakes and
whiskey shots, serious discussions on Swedish moonshine, and related shenanigans. Henrik
of Scar Symmetry was kind enough to show off the Iron Man 2 tour bus that they shared with
Hypocrisya gargantuan, moving billboard for the video game featuring the eponymous
protagonist and a looming War Machine. The three post-concert hours were altogether
surreal, but highly enjoyable, as select members of both Scar Symmetry and Hypocrisy were
quite inclined to socialize, drink, and be merry. I saw any number of fans leave giddy
after taking photos with their chosen hero and maybe sharing a brew. This is the
fraternity that most fans dream about, so I tip my cap to the bands for making the effort
and Reggie's for providing the opportune environment. The venue has an impressive roster
of upcoming showsfrom Pentagram to Pestilence, Keep of Kalessin to
Katatoniaand this tour kicked off the summer just right. If any other tours this
year can match Hypocrisy's for sheer fun, then they'll have cleared a very high bar
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