Locked, Loaded And Louder Than H*ll!: Metal Church, Katagory V And Hooga
At The Whiskey, Murray, UT, September 6, 2005
A new religion reigned supreme in the great state of Utah when Metal Church headed a killer night of screaming guitars with the vocals to match. Katagory V and Hooga rang in the night's festivities and fans from the oldest school flocked to The Whiskey to witness the metal gods tear it up in all their glory ... amen!
Photos by Thomas Garner
It was a Tuesday. Not your usual night to hit a club and see a metal show, but when I found out Metal Church, Katagory V and Hooga were playing The Whiskey in Murray, UT, I made it my mission to be there ... even if I had to pay dearly for it on Wednesday!
My photographer and I made the club about 45 minutes early, which gave us some time to soak up the atmosphere and schmooze with the bands before they went on. As I was unfamiliar with Hooga,
the first band of the evening, I tagged vocalist and guitarist Leandro Fracasso for a play list. Meanwhile, some of the guys from Katagory V and Metal Church hung around the bar area, and we shot the sh*t as a steady stream of long hair filed through the door to purchase tickets for the show.
7:00 ... about the time tonight's festivities were to kick off, Metal Church took the stage for their sound check. They sounded killer. Curiously, though, I didn't see Kurdt Vanderhoof up there. I found out from the band later that he was back home working on some material for TSO, so Ira Black (Vicious Rumors, Heathen) would be filling in for him.
The lights went down and Hooga broke into their first tune ... "Game." Like I said, I've never heard these guys before, so when they broke into the fat, low-slung, crunchy metal riff I found myself surprised there were only three guys in the band. What wowed me even more were the drums onstage in front of Leandro and bassist Rob Strack, which they played quite a bit throughout their set ... like Sheila E. with a Flying V!
With Metal Church's equipment already set up, Hooga used Katagory V's enormous drum set, which had to be placed in the middle of the stage instead of on the drum platform. This made for a lot less space for Hooga to perform ... lucky there are only three guys in the band!
Hooga: Leandro Fracasso, Robert Wilson, Rob Strack
Just in front of the stage stood a sparse crowd with one guy who was really into the music. He banged his head and whipped his massive mane of red hair trough the air, never taking a break to breathe. He was almost as entertaining as the spectacle on stage.
Before "Become," the fifth song of the set, Leandro announced in his heavy Brazilian accent that this was a new one...
"... so if we mess it up, who gives a sh*t? We get paid anyway!"
They broke into it in tight formation. Once again, Leandro's growling vocals and the band's crunch were a perfect match and, although Hooga's style wasn't the traditional guitar metal we'd be hearing from Metal Church and Katagory V, they were definitely hard and precise ... and interesting! For example, the next tune was to be sung in Portuguese ... "Pais Do Futuro," meaning "Country Of The Future."
"We're going to play another one ... unless you want us to leave!"
The crowd, which had thickened considerably, was opposed to that idea ... so they broke into "Cure." This one featured a wild bridge in the center where Robert Wilson pounded the sh*t out of his set, while Leandro let go of his axe to play the two tom-toms in front of him. Rob Strack followed suit on his massive floor tom. The whole band playing heavily amplified tribal beats made for a pretty primal experience ... and the audience was entranced.
Hooga closed out their set with "Paying Time" and began packing their equipment offstage. I'd say they're undeniably one of the more original bands I've seen in some time, and I was quite impressed with their material. Their depth and stage presence made for a great show. Now The Whiskey was filling up and Katagory V prepared for their set.
Right out of the gate Kat V broke into my personal favorite, "Turn To Grey," from 2004's A New Breed Of Rebellion. With these guys being a 5-piece, the already limited stage space became much smaller. They didn't succumb to claustrophobia; however, and blew through the song with precision and untamed energy.
Vocalist Lynn Allers took a moment between songs to thank the audience.
"Are you primed for Metal Church on a Tuesday?"
A resounding response from the crowd.
He also went on to thank Hooga before they broke into "Evil Princess" from their 2001 release, Present Day. Lynn was smacking Matt Suiter's cymbals with his hands and bassist Dustin Mitchell was playing to the crowd, waving his hands in the air between notes to get everyone jumping.
Again, the guy with the long red hair was flinging his ginormous mop about the floor. At times it seemed like he was working harder than the bands! Kat V's mix was nearly flawless ... as it was the last time I saw them. But I also noticed, from other shows I've seen there, that The Whiskey has pretty damn good acoustics for a club its size, especially for this type of music.
The stage was bathed in magenta light when the song ended and Lynn introduced "Sands Of Time."
It's funny ... when you've interviewed as many bands as I have and you work with musicians on a daily basis, it's not unreasonable to ask them which songs are their favorites. The default answer is usually "all of them" and that's natural, because they wrote all of them. But it's not until you watch a band perform live that you really get a sense of which ones really get their eggs sunny-side-up.
“Sands Of Time" seemed to have this effect on Kat V. Even though Dustin and guitarist Mark Hanson were sharing the same four feet of stage space, stepping on each other like they were just learning to ballroom dance, they seemed to become all that much more animated. From Allers' glass-breaking screams to the absolutely screaming dual guitar team that is Hanson and Curtis Morrell, this song came across better than anything else they played this evening.
"When it was all over, Lynn thanked everyone for a crazy Tuesday.
"Tip your bartenders, tip the barmaids and," pointing to the red-headed thrasher up in front, "tip this guy! We've got a new album coming out soon called The Rising Anger."
He introduced "Liberated Minds" and the band launched. I hadn't heard this one yet. It's not one of the clips from the new record available on their site, but vocally it was one of the more impressive Kat V pieces I'd heard to date. After that they did another new one called "Fading In." Once again I had to take note of the killer mix these guys had, which was especially noticeable during the searing dual guitar parts. Every instrument came through crystal clear.
Katagory V's music is what we used to call in the ‘80s "technical metal" (later renamed "prog" after Dream Theater came out), which is a combination of melody and detailed composition. It takes focus just to play it tight, but throughout the show these guys also managed to play heavily to their crowd. Dustin would often be seen with his hands off his bass, up in the air, forming horns and/or spirit fingers. Lynn was constantly tapping hands in the audience (or Matt's cymbals) and Mark and Curtis rarely spent any time looking at their guitars.
Back to the subject at hand ... throughout their set, Katagory V was dead on. The crowd was really blown away, as many of them commented to me later, and so was Gary (The Whiskey's owner), who'd never heard them before tonight. They went through a couple more songs and closed out their set, which seemed way to short for my taste, again thanking the crowd before lugging their gear offstage.
A few minutes into the break the show's promoter and captain of UtahMetal.com, known only as TJ, took the stage to raffle off some swag. He gave away T-Shirts and gift certificates, but the ultimate prize was a custom B.C. Rich Warlock ... just ask the guy who won it! Metal Church would be taking the stage shortly and my glass was empty, so I headed to the bar.
Suddenly, the rumbling of an amplifier broke through the murmuring in the bar. Ronny Munroe gave a shout out to the crowd and Metal Church blasted into "Start The Fire," from ‘86's The Dark. It was immediately obvious that the club's sound system had been turned up considerably and the mix was a bit muddy compared to the earlier sound check. This didn't deter the fans, who rushed the stage in droves to get a ringside view of the mighty Metal Church.
Being an old school fan of these guys, and having seen them several times throughout the early ‘80s, it was a trip to watch a band I didn't recognize do some of the best metal of that era ... with the exception of Kirk Arrington on the skins. Ira was doing an excellent job of filling in for Kurdt, and as they melded into "Ton Of Bricks" you could hear why he was the obvious choice.
With the stage clear of the opening bands' equipment, Ronny and the guys were taking full advantage of the space ... even breaking a sweat before the third tune, "Leave Them Behind."
This is one of my favs from the new album, and the guys did a hell of a job bringing it to life, but Ira's solo was lost in the muddy mix until Jay Reynolds joined him in the dual lead. I couldn't really tell if the guys noticed their mix was off by the way they absorbed themselves into their music and the crowd.
One of the things I've learned from the hundreds of concerts I've caught in my time is not to expect a replay of the album live ... unless it's Great White. You'll end up going home disappointed, and that's no way to leave a show! So I re-adopted that logic and continued to enjoy seeing the Church live for the first time in almost 20 years!
Ronny's really a killer front man. He's great with the fans and his vocal abilities are in-phukken-credible. There was no question when they fired up "Watch The Children Pray," which they'd also done for their sound check, that Ronny was the best thing to happen to Metal Church since David Wayne (rest his soul).
Mad energy onstage and in the crowd prompted Ronny to talk to us for a bit. By now he was completely soaked in sweat. He shouted over the mic, "We're gonna kick ass mother f*ckers!"
The audience erupted.
"How are you crazy mother f*ckers?"
Another explosion from the crowd.
And they broke into "Battalions." I remember thinking this was an odd choice to play live. It was from their self-titled debut in '84 and one of my favorites from that album, but I hadn't heard them play it before. Bassist Steve Unger ran across the stage and commenced head banging with Ian, as he'd been doing with Jay up to now.
The energy these guys had was astounding. By now the whole band was soaking wet and they ripped into some more classic Church with "The Dark." I started to notice that they'd played songs primarily from the first two albums, Metal Church and The Dark, but only one from their latest release and nothing in between ... until "Date With Poverty" from 1991's The Human Factor. As far as I know, this wasn't a very popular album with Church fans ... I know I never owned it, so again I thought this selection was an odd choice.
It was already halfway through their set and Metal Church wasn't wearing down for sh*t.
"We got a f*ckin' sing-a-long for you! This one's off the first album!"
As the crowd swayed to the intro to "Gods Of Wrath," I was awed again by Munroe's adaptation to the Church's music. I'd never heard anyone but David Wayne sing it and I was reminded of something Kurdt Vanderhoof told me last year.
"You have to understand that a lot of bands, when they do change ... especially the vocalist ... it changes the sound of the band considerably, but the fans' response has been incredible."
And he was absolutely right. There was a loyal mass of old school fans against the stage that were totally immersed in the music ... original lineup or not ... and Ronny & Ira were doing the music much justice.
At some point during "Beyond The Black" Ira and Steve stood face-to-face and started pick scraping each other's strings. So far, the display of showmanship from all of Metal Church was beyond belief. I miss these kinds of onstage antics. Bands these days are mostly boring to watch, but these guys don't feel like they're too cool to actually have fun onstage ... or to include the audience in the show.
As if the night's events hadn't already been wild enough, the opening riff to Metal Church's trademark tune, "Metal Church," nearly caused a riot. Kirk's broken rat-a-tats on the snare burst into the all-too-familiar bass line, and a sea of horns and fists pumped the air in front of the stage. Ronny's mic stand spun wildly over the crowd and Steve pointed to some flailing fans against the stage. I didn't envy the security guys up front, but I also noticed that I hadn't seen as many people escorted out by their belt loops tonight as I'd seen at prior shows in The Whiskey.
So the mighty Church blew us all away with an epic finish. I wasn't sure, but I think one of Kirk's drumsticks whizzed by my head, which reminds me ... someone owes me a new pair of shades!
The stage went black and a chant arose from the entire place ... "Metal Church! Metal Church! Metal Church!"
"You want more? We're gonna do a little ‘Highway F*cking Star’!"
And there it was ... the encore and always a crowd favorite. Kirk set the pace while the rest of the band followed suit with the highest-octane version of "Highway Star" I've ever heard them play. The solos were screaming, the vocals were screaming ... hell, even the drums were screaming! Then, in a blast of white light and a pounding finish, it was all over.
As the guys sat down to sign autographs on everything from boobs to vinyl (including the guitar the guy won earlier), I finished up my notes on the program with a great sense of satisfaction. It wasn't just witnessing a killer show, but hanging out and partying with all the bands throughout the night. The guys from Hooga, Katagory V and Metal Church were mingling and making themselves very available to everyone in attendance the whole time, never tiring of the barrage of props they were getting.
Ira Black & Steve Unger
After last call the bar emptied out and we all went to get some group shots of Metal Church against an immense tapestry hanging outside The Whiskey. I guess I'd have hung out the rest of the night and partied with everyone a bit more, but I was sharing a ride home and it was time to bail; however, if the invitation is open next time ... I say we get a suite and tear it up!
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