Words and pictures by: Eamon O’Neill
It’s a warm late summer’s night in Chicago,and the windy city’s House of Blues is about to become the house of metal. In a treat for fans of heavy music, a double billing of epic proportions has just begun its US run, and tonight it’s the Illinois capital’s turn to witness the pairing of two of heavy music’s most respected acts. With pioneers of thrash Overkill joining forces with symphonic behemoths Symphony X, it’s a show that offers equal parts spit and polish; with New Jersey’s grimiest band pitted against one of its most progressive.
It may be mid-week, but the famed venue is respectably bulging and ready for the first of tonight’s acts by the time that Symphony X take to the stage. With more than a fair smattering of their t-shirts adorning the numbers in the crowd, it’s obvious that although they are opening the show, the neoclassical outfit are more than worthy of the equal billing that they have been given. Kicking off with ‘Nevermore’ from latest album ‘Underworld’ the five-piece waste no time in igniting the atmosphere inside the venue.Although surrounded by consummate musicians, front-man Russell Allen instantly stands out, with his domineering presence and every measured gesture complementing the dramatic soundscapes that are going on around him.
The band’s set veers from the sublime (‘Without You’), to the ridiculously powerful (‘Kiss of Fire’), with the instrumentalists – and in particular band leader and guitarist Michael Romeo – living up to their virtuoso reputations. In short, it’s technical ecstasy from start to finish, and although the newer material is received rapturously, the loudest cheers are saved for set closer ‘Iconoclast’. On the strength of tonight’s performance, it’s clear that Symphony X have picked up a few new fans, as well as delighting their old ones.
Overkill however, have never been a band to take the challenge of following anyone half-heartedly, so it is no surprise that they arrive on stage like blood-thirsty rabid dogs. There is a positive explosion of energy as the quintet kick off with ‘Armorist’ from last year’s ‘White Devil Armoury’,and quickly follow it up with a pounding ‘Hammerhead’. As one of the best front-men in metal, Bobby ‘Blitz’ Elles worth is a pent-up ball of energy and an engaging watch.In command from the off, when he warns the fans;“don’t f*****’ disappoint me” , he’s not left wanting, as moshing mayhem and crowd surfing ensues.
Overkill’s music isn’t for the feint of heart, and there’s no let up during their riotous set. Every track is delivered at breakneck speed, from the rancid ‘Rotten To The Core’ to the pulverising ‘Ironbound’. When Blitzquips that there’s“nothing better than heavy metal in mutha f*****’ Chicago”, it’s hard to argue with him. The singer may be full of banter; whether fawning“did I tell you it was good to see you mutha f******?”, or reminiscing that ‘Skullcrusher’ harks back to a time “before we had hair on our balls” , however it’s the songs that do the most of the talking, and as set closers ‘Elimination’ and an uproarious ‘F*** You’ prove, it’s clear that Chicago loves Overkill just as much as Overkill love Chicago.
It may have been a school night for some, and numbers may have thinned noticeably towards the end of the evening, however with two sets from two of the best bands in their genres, few could have left disappointed.And those that were?Well,perhaps only Blitz could say it best;“we don’t care what you say”…