Toxic Holocaust & Exhumed – Nosturi, Helsinki – March 19, 2014
This cold and (at least weather-wise) miserable Wednesday evening marked the only log bomb that Toxic Holocaust and Exhumed’s over a month-long European Invasion dropped on Finnish soil. Having already caught both bands a few times during their previous visits, there was no long built-up tension in the air for me, but as 2013 had seen a fresh full-length from the Portland predators as well as the San Jose slaughterers, I welcomed this clash of West Coast wackos with relative excitement.
While these Amerikanskis made for a nicely varying dynamic duo on paper, bringing more-evil-than-fun Teutonic-inspired thrash and heavily Carcass-influenced grinding death metal to the table, the event had been steered towards a full-blown thrash fest with the choice of warm-up acts. Regrettably (or not), fulfilling sauna obligations prevented us from seeing them, which the most vapid-looking of Nosturi’s security guys made sure to note with his clever comment of “half of the bands played already” upon our entrance as well. Cheers for that wisdom, dude; we had no idea. However, on the basis of some audial online pre-investigation, Finnish Bloodride and Estonian Cantilena didn’t get further than the B and C class of the genre, respectively.
After a brief look at the semi-sparse selection of merch, we made our way to the stage room, being welcomed with a familiar view of about half a dozen kids in the all-ages area, and several more spectators killing time and their beers behind the fence. Fortunately, the audience grew with every minute that drew closer to Exhumed, and by the time the curtains opened up and a snippet of The Walking Dead theme welcomed the band onto the stage, the overall turnout didn’t look that sad anymore, even if the place still felt slightly unmanned.
The title track of their latest effort Necrocracy and the album opener “Coins Upon the Eyes” sliced open the set approvably, but left me craving for a slightly clearer sound to get the full kick out of these relatively complex two-guitar operations. I’m not sure if it was my switch of position or the band’s return to the debut Gore Metal, but the more simplistic pummeling of the following “Necromaniac” already felt much more forceful and effective. It was indeed mildly surprising that the earlier material had more of an impact on me when delivered live, as the later works have received considerably heavier rotation at home, with the previous full-length All Guts, No Glory standing out as my Exhumed favorite. It’s too bad they managed to squeeze in only “Your Funeral, My Feast” from that beast of a comeback album this time.
Preceding another catchy brutalizer off of Gore Metal, “Limb from Limb”, the band’s medically maniacal mascot Dr. Philthy made his first appearance, frantically waving a chainsaw around the stage. While this was an entertaining addition to the already energetic show, there was more of him to be seen. A few songs later, as guitarist Bud’s soloing was the sole thing happening on stage, Dr. Philthy re-emerged to spice things up. He threw a banana peel for Bud to slip on, and after the poor guitar hero hit the floor, the no-good doctor started his attempts at reviving Bud with a defibrillator. Three strikes from the paddles apparently wasn’t enough for re-animation, so Dr. Philthy brought out his secret weapon: the skull ‘n’ spine beer bong. After being force-fed a canful through this Satan’s toy, Bud was miraculously up and running again, and the band rushed through a few more casketkrushing numbers, eventually zipping up the bodybag with “The Matter of Splatter.”
While it seems like quite a few underground warriors have lost their interest in Toxic Holocaust after the band switched from Nuclear War Now! to Relapse and from Factory to Nosturi, I actually hadn’t properly delved into their works until the third full-length An Overdose of Death… Albums both before and after that have continued making their way into my player, I’ve made sure not to miss any of their Finnish gigs ever since, and while I can’t say they’ve kept on exceeding themselves, Toxic Holocaust have let me down neither on stage nor record. And their latest output Chemistry of Consciousness is a furious little fucker, feeling like a fresh breeze of radiation after the murkier Conjure and Command.
By the time Toxic Holocaust took over the stage, the once sparse crowd had multiplied into a respectably-sized mob, justifying their status as the headliner of the night, despite having a considerably shorter history as a band. The group’s intense touring during recent years was evident from their sharp performance, with the trio racing through the songs with determined precision, despite main man Joel Grind confessing to having been drinking all day. Ain’t nothing wrong about that, buddy! After Exhumed’s entertainingly energetic excretion, Toxic Holocaust took us back to the basics, just bashing and thrashing out their catchy tunes with a convincing headbanging routine. Their simple instrumental set-up also guaranteed a commendable sound that left no room for my complaints, whether I was enjoying the gig in the back with a cold one in my hand or raging closer to the stage.
Yes, all pieces were in place for a supreme set of sweaty sonic savagery, but it was the continuing lack of variation in the setlist that held the gig back from greatness in my books. Of course there was a bunch of songs from the latest album, which also meant dropping a few older ones, but overall it just seemed a bit too identical when compared to the selections from more than two years ago. Come on, when your catalog packs five full-lengths and a couple dozen smaller releases, couldn’t you stain the axe with some new blood every now and then? If not with some obscure split 7” tracks, perhaps something else from the well-covered albums – I’ve been obsessing over the thought of hearing “City of a Million Graves” live for some years already – or what about that second one of yours with the superiorly striking songwriting; Hell on Earth, was it? Entirely neglecting a ripping masterpiece like that is just wrong, I tell ya…
Although both main acts had their slight shortcomings, they managed to make this weekday evening an exceptionally enjoyable one with their enthusiastic and engaging performances. And as most far-away acts touring Europe hardly ever navigate towards remote little Finland, getting dealt a double-shot of quality US extreme metal á la Exhumed and Toxic Holocaust was a true treat.
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