PHILADELPHIA — Amid four hours of brutality, beats and bruises, Howard Jones, the beefy vocalist for Massachusetts metal band Killswitch Engage, had something on his mind Saturday night during the MTV2 Headbanger's Ball Tour's stop at a packed Electric Factory.
"There's been a lot made of the new wave of heavy metal," Jones said. "But bands like Shadows Fall have been around for years and, like you, we've been listening to metal for years. To me, we're letting the world in on a little secret: Metal has never died! Sweet!"
And sweet it was for the couple of thousand headbangers convened to see Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall along with Lamb of God and Unearth.
"I hope this tour enlightens some kids and wakes up metal again," said Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner after the show.
Unearth set the tone for the evening with their machine-gun rhythms and hardcore intensity. The bruising tempo changes of "Endless" and the stomping thunder of the new "Blood Lust of the Human Condition" marked their set. "No apologies. It's the heaviest song we've ever done," said Unearth lead vocalist Trevor Phipps of "Blood Lust."
The band recently signed with Metal Blade Records and expects to release a new album next spring. (God Forbid replace Unearth as tour openers on November 14.)
The evening's "old-timers" came out next, and although Shadows Fall have been knocking craniums for nearly a decade, the bandmembers are still in their 20s. The band doesn't lack for energy even at its advanced age, especially where lead singer Brian Fair is concerned. Fair, who was in constant motion, sports the longest hair in music since Crystal Gayle was on the charts. His yard-long dreadlocks spiraled and swung in all directions as the band tore into its progressive-minded metal. Fair alternately spent the set admonishing the crowd to create a "war zone" in front of the stage and crowd surfing himself. "Sorry to whoever I crushed," he apologized after one such sojourn.
As for the Shadows' music, "Fleshold" was pure guitar-accent energy, "The Idiot Box" was set off by a dramatic midtempo intro and "A Fire in Babylon" boasted an epic sweep.
Killswitch Engage temper their brutal steel-on-steel metal with a melodic sensibility. Jones, who only took over vocal duties last year, bellowed while leading the crowd in a sing-along of "Numbered Days" to open the set.
Jones is a hulking Prometheus of a lead singer with huge, tattooed arms, while guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz spent the set mugging, running and clowning with the crowd. The group thrashed relentlessly during "To the Sons of Man" and leavened "Fixation on the Darkness" with a melodic chorus.
Taking the stage to red backlighting and flashing neon, Lamb of God were the evening's most brutal, intense and, probably, most popular act. Singer Randy Blythe took the stage in a baseball cap and T-shirt with the word "hate" arranged like artist Robert Indiana's iconic "Love" statue and immediately leaped into the crowd.
Blythe growled continuously as bandmembers relentlessly assaulted their instruments, stopping only occasionally to shred an identifiable line. The corkscrew guitars of "Blood Junkie" were offset by "Purified" 's pummeling beats. Blythe dedicated the visceral anthem "Boot Scraper" to "working men and women everywhere."
Recently signed to Epic, Lamb of God expect to release their major-label debut in late 2004. Saturday night, Blythe recalled the days when the band used to play in Philly as Burn the Priest. "We started playing warehouses in West Philly," he said, "and we'll probably go down playing warehouses in West Philly."
Kelly Katko, 27, of South Brunswick, New Jersey, was at the band's early shows. "Lamb of God are amazing," Katko said. "They totally put the way I am into perspective and drill it into my consciousness. They make me think about reality."
For the final song, "Black Label," Blythe separated the mosh pit into two sides to create a "wall of death." "I want to see f---ing bloodshed!" he barked. Mayhem ensued, and everyone went home happy, including a mosher with a nasty welt near his left eye.
"It was great," he opined.
The MTV2 Headbanger's Ball tour winds up December 3 in New York.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.