“Well, that was strange…” I remarked to myself a few minutes after GHOUL had come off the stage. Friday night found me shooting GHOUL, a thrash metal band from Oakland, CA. They were opening up for the famed SKELETONWITCH. My good friend and the Editor/Founder of Amps & Green Screens, The Maestro, had asked me to cover the show in his absence. Having seen SKELETONWITCH before, he told me I was in for a real treat, and thus far, he’s been pretty spot-on when it comes to music (plus I know it killed him to miss this one).
I got in to Trees a bit before GHOUL took the stage. The fact that most of the sound equipment and other stage items were covered in bags/plastic should have tipped me off. But truth be told, I was so excited to be shooting another show, I didn’t connect the dots until I headed up to the barricade and the bouncer politely suggested I not be upfront for this one. Think GWAR less a few band members. If you don’t know who GWAR is (or GHOUL), imagine this: Thrash metal + impressive, yet equally terrifying costumes + egregious amounts of fake blood and a wild horror/sci-fi storyline.
Having not seen either before, I was taken aback, yet there was something enigmatically enthralling about them. Perhaps it was their sense of humor, or perhaps just the excessive violence and energy, but I tell you, they had the crowd in a frenzy. From the moment the first monster chewed the head off the eerily realistic fake chicken (or perhaps turkey?) and doused the crowd in the fake blood to the terrifying Nazi Commander Baddie who sprayed the crowd down in God knows what, to the epic battle of Killbot vs Kogar (Google it.), it was obvious why the crowd revved up the mosh pit quickly.
(This of course, makes it really interesting as a photographer, trying to move from one side of the crowd to the other, with a series of Ninja moves/ducks/rolls to avoid injury and equipment damage.)
However, amidst all the chaos, they actually rocked the place. I’m continually impressed with the raw tones and intricate shredding I witness with a lot these, unknown to me, metal bands. And GHOUL didn’t disappoint, though I admit it was a bit difficult to pay a lot of attention to the music while trying to follow such a visually intense show, (and also, trying to dodge the fake blood and protect my gear from both the mystery liquids and the moshers). One thing I’d like to comment on however was their sense of humor. Quite funny, these guys. The entire show was narrated in hilarious, Gravelly Ukrainian/Strong Bad accents. At one point there was a bit of a discussion on stage about what the hell the crowd was doing. It was observed that Moon Walking, The Salsa, and a handful of other equally comical dances were not being done in the crowd. They were, in fact, MOSHING!!!
But then it was time to bid them adieu, and relax a bit before the next act. This was much needed, as SKELETONWITCH was about to take us for a ride. They opened the curtain with a melodic intro that truly lulled you into a false sense of security. It didn’t take long for it to build before they accelerated like a damn sport bike. This was, of course, the opening track “More Cruel Than Weak”. With a satanic growl, summoning the crowd to scream along, Boom, they were off. Nary a minute to breath for practically the entire night as they ripped through songs from newest album Serpents Unleashed (seven in all!) while busting out older tunes like “Beyond the Permafrost” and “Baptized in Flames.”
These types of shows make it more interesting for a photographer. On one hand, you’re down there, trying to get that ‘epic shot’. However, when a band is really rocking out, sometimes you find that you’re just crouched down, head banging and bobbing around, grooving out for a few moments before you remember where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing (Much the same scenario as the night before when OVERKILL blew the roof off the joint). However, Trees really did it right with the lighting which made for some impressive images. And when the band is thrashing so hard, it’s easy to capture the energy of the show, which is written across the faces of all on stage! Especially when the guys will play to the camera occasionally.
Once again, I’m truly impressed with the raucous tones and intense sounds these guys were able to wring from their instruments, especially on a song like “Upon Black Wings.” From the thundering sound Dustin Boltjes was forcefully caressing out of the drum kit to the equally thundering, yet driving sound of Evan Linger on the bass. Meanwhile, Scott Hedrick and Nate Garnette traded moments of epic shredding, all over the neck. Latest single “Unending Never Living” sounded monstrous! Of course, I can’t forget to mention Chance Garnette. I’m amazed his voice lasted all night. With the raw, ripping vocals he sang, or rather screamed, not once did his voice crack. I wasn’t in the middle of the pit toward the end of the show, but I would’ve been surprised if the moshing had died down.
There was too much energy left in those last few songs, “Cleaver of Souls” being one of them. To finish off the night, Chance Garnette thanked the fans, mentioned they had three more songs, and presented them with two options: They could either stand just off stage, milling around for a few minutes, or, “We could just fuckin’ knock the rest of them out right now!” The scream of the crowd left no doubt as to their choice as the band ripped through “Limb From Limb”!
And a few songs later, they left. The lights came on, and we were done, the echoes of “Repulsion Salvation” and closer “Of Ash and Torment” ringing into the night. If you get a chance to see SKELETONWITCH, go for it. Take it. I’m sure glad I did.
LIVE REVIEW AND PHOTOS: RYAN WHITEHEAD/ARDENT OWL MEDIA (More photos HERE)