My first time in Salem, or “Witch City,” as the sign said, which seems to have done reasonably well on the niche-tourism market based on its people-got-burned-at-the-stake-here heritage. Well enough to have a joint like Koto, anyway. The venue where this show happened is a sushi bar. A sushi bar. Because although the passion for heavy music in the area of Eastern Massachusetts is strong enough to host gigs at, say, a sushi bar, that’s also how deep the corresponding lack of decent venues in the region runs. Godhunter and Destroyer of Light, from Arizona and Austin, Texas, respectively, came an awfully long way. It’s kind of hard not to be embarrassed for the state in which I live. Often.
But the good news was Godhunter and Destroyer of Light, and if it’s a sushi bar, well, that’s better than nowhere at all. A section of the otherwise carpeted floor was hardwood, and tables were cleared out to make a “stage,” which is to say an empty space. The kitchen stayed open — sadly, I did not have any sushi, though I’d been craving it for weeks — and locals Led to the Grave opened the show billed to start at 9PM well after 10 with their death-thrashing blend of sonic extremity very much in a New England-y vein. Dual-guitar squibblies called to mind the first time I heard Cannae‘s Troubleshooting Death and thought about the colors of autumn leaves. They were heavy, growls, screams, shouts, Slayer parts, etc. Not offensive to watch, and at times pretty right on, but not really where my head was at.
I was there to see Destroyer of Light and Godhunter, whose split 12″, Endsville, is out now on Battleground Records. Both are dual-guitar/dual-vocal four-pieces, and both have plenty of aggressive edge, so how they wound up touring and working together isn’t really much of a mystery, but they made a fitting complement at what I’d seen billed as “Salem’s first stoner rock show,” which was interesting since I didn’t think it was a stoner rock show at all. Led to the Grave, even when they grooved beyond their melodeath and thrash influence, did so with a death metal charge, and both Godhunter and Destroyer of Light are meaner than what I usually think of as stoner rock. It’s not like it was “An Evening with Sons of Otis” (though I’d probably go to that as well). Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but Godhunter are sludge metal all the way and Destroyer of Light have some pretty clear Sleep influence, but are up to something entirely rawer.
If you don’t know the band, I’m not trying to slight them when I say they’re not as metal as their name and they’re not as punk as their cover artwork, but they have elements of both metal and punk to go along with their big, big, big riffing. On stage — such as it was — guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca, bassist Jeff Klein and guitarist/backing vocalist Keegan Kjeldsen headbanged in unison to their own grooving largesse while drummer Penny Turner slammed away on his ride cymbal behind, setting the nod. It was righteous from the start, and they offered little breathing room from one pummel to the next, guitar leads cutting through the density of the direct-from-the-cabs wash of sound — P.A. for vocals only, house-show style — as Turner was bathed in green light and the rest of the band more or less played in the dark.
Another unfortunate staple of the Bay State show-going experience, that, but not unexpected, particularly at a place like Koto, which though it’s badass enough to put on a show like this one — their t-shirts were also killer-looking, but I did not dare ask about sizes lest I should incur the judgmental glare of the employees, several of whom I supplied with earplugs — isn’t really equipped to host it on a professional level. Again, nothing against it, but it’s a sushi bar, not Radio City Music Hall. It seemed likely to me that either Destroyer of Light or Godhunter, who closed out the night, would bust through that P.A., but neither did. On tour together and sharing amps, it wasn’t a long changeover between the two traveling acts, and I was very excited for Godhunter‘s set, which even Steve from Destroyer of Light had teased by touting the assault of volume that was to come.
They didn’t disappoint on that level or any other unless you perhaps count the shortness of their set. Four songs, maybe five? They incited a sort of mini-mosh, dudes who were clearly more metal than doom meeting their cathartic riffing head-on by blowing off steam, yelling, being plastered, and so on. I moved to the side of the stage and just sort of watched it happen, Godhunter‘s guitarists, David Rodgers and Jake Brazelton, trading vocal duties as bassist Dick Williamson and drummer Andy Kratzenberg held the groove together thick and rolling at centerstage. On record, they are vicious, and while the live set had more of an overwhelming density than a harsh bite, the beastliness they conjured was familiar anyway, and I was very glad to have been there to see it.
Standing where I was, I kind of felt like I was observing from outside the action, but being there, it would’ve been impossible not to be affected by it, and so their catharsis offered me a bit of my own, which on a Friday night after a long week, was much appreciated. They finished and I shouted for one more song, which they didn’t have. It was after midnight and I had a 90-minute ride home, so it didn’t seem like an issue to push, but if Godhunter had done an encore, no question I would have stayed.
A couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.