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Fear Factory: The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich. 05/27/10.

–The Fear Campaign Tour: Thy Will Be Done, Silent Civilian, Prong, Fear Factory. Thu. May 27th, 2010, The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Musical catharsis. Plain and simple, that’s what the heavy metal concert experience is all about. Forget about all your problems and personal demons, and just revel in the passion and ecstasy of the music. Release your frustrations through some frenetic fist pumping and headbanging, surfing the rowdy crowd, beating the unholy feces out of somebody in the pit (not recommended by me, but to each their own) or singing along to the stirring vocal melodies and sumptuous lead guitar harmonies. It’s about release and the soul’s redemption, and from that perspective a great metal show can be viewed as nothing short of a spiritual revival, no matter one’s religious faith — or lack thereof.

It had been awhile, Nov. 9th, 2009, to be exact, since my brother Jeff Kollnot and myself had seen a metal show (Metallica, Van Andel Arena, G.R.), and that was indeed a great night of metal to remember. But we’ve been enduring some tough times in our family as of late, and the news earlier this month that the mighty Fear Factory would be returning to West Michigan was music to our nerve-deafened ears. With our mom’s February diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer, our dad’s subsequent moving to live at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, and the general sense of uncertainty regarding our future, we’ve needed to blow off some serious steam. Thankfully, the Fear Factory tour was just what the proverbial heavy metal doctor ordered.

Now, I refer to last night’s melee at The Intersection as the “Fear Factory tour” because this was the first time in a LONG time, years probably, that we had seen a high-quality metal billing from top-to-bottom. With the exception of the generic, boring death metal of the local opener, all the bands on this bill were good-to-outstanding, with no filler to be found. I can’t remember the last time we had heard so many great unknown (to us, at least) bands opening up for one of our favorites. It almost felt like a mini-festival setting with each band raising the bar and whetting the appetites of the Fear Factory devotees.

We arrived at the venue shortly after the doors opened at 6 p.m., and people seemed to be filing into The Intersection fairly quickly. Yes, this concert was much better attended than the last FF show we saw there way back in November of 2006, which was cool to see. After filling up on drinks (the drinking fountain in front of the restrooms offers a nice free alternative to total dehydration when the money’s tight), we found a spot on a couch in the elevated porch area on the right side of the hall. Here we stayed and chilled for the first two acts. I’m not sure what the first band was called, but they were rather silly. I shall dub them Fecal Death Metal Bomb.

Next came Thy Will Be Done, an extreme-metal quintet whose guitar tones and playing ability already sounded more promising during the soundcheck. At first listen I thought this could be more of the same tedious, boring death metal riffs and obnoxious growling of the first band, but fortunately I was wrong. Well, the growls were there, but shortly into their first song they broke off into some brutal, Sabbathy doomy type of riff and maintained an entrancing groove. Most of their songs juxtaposed crushing, exhilarating speed with slower passages, including harmonized guitar riffs and leads that reminded me of Down at times. These guys know how to write some compelling songs, and their invigorating set was a much-welcome surprise. And yes, I can handle some silly death metal growls as long as the music is cool. Their goateed singer also mentioned the recent passings of Peter Steele, Ronnie James Dio and Paul Gray of Slipknot

After Thy Will Be Done’s set, Jeff and I decided to search out a new stomping ground on the floor. We wanted to be as close to the front as possible while avoiding the mosh pit area in the middle. Luckily, the front row along the barrier along stage right was open, and we claimed the perfect spot. What we were expecting to be thrash legends Prong turned out to be yet another band, Southern California’s Silent Civilian. No one knew this long-haired quartet from Adam, but their too-short set certainly SMOKED! Wow, from the first crunchy power chords these young dudes obviously were serious about plying the best melodic thrash they can. Their riffs were tight and intricate, and the songs featured splendid guitar harmonies up the wazoo, first-rate soloing, and a dynamic vocal style that alternated between harsh screams to strong mid-range singing in the choruses. I have to admit, that schizophrenic vocal aspect did remind me a bit of the huge crop of “2005 Metal” bands that were big for pretty much just that one Ozzfest summer. For the most part, though, Silent Civilian play an exciting brand of melodic power/thrash that sounds old school and fresh all at once.

Next came quirky thrash legends Prong, who were mostly unfamiliar to both of us. I remembered two or three of their songs from their old Headbangers Ball music videos, and Jeff knew even less. Of course, we had heard a few random local bands cover their big hit, “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Dick,” (okay, I know it’s “Neck,” but “Dick” is just so much funnier), but Prong certainly haven’t been on our radar screen. Oh, how we have missed out. To call this power trio’s 50-60-minute set an “excellent surprise” would be quite the understatement. They have such a muscular “wall of sound” sound that threatens to steal one’s breath, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. I knew Prong had some solid groove-based thrash songs, but I had no idea the level of intricacy in the playing and compelling nature of the songwriting. Guitarist/frontman Tommy Victor is an extremely technical and tight rhythm guitar player, and vocally his raspy yet clear voice stood as a pleasant contrast departure the extreme growlers of the night. His leads and riffs are unique as well, providing for a certain distinct Prong-type flavor that I have never quite heard in another act. Prong have the power, they have the groove, they have the compulsion to destroy. This was a very professional, enjoyable and classy set. I didn’t know many of the songs, but I did recognize “Beg to Differ,” “Unconditional,” and the aforementioned “Snap Your Fingers…” They made an instant fan out of me, that’s for sure.

Finally, after what seemed to be an interminable wait for the changeover, the lights dimmed, the “Mechanize” intro music blared, and the patented Fear Factory logo replaced Prong’s banner. Then new drummer Gene Hoglan, bassist Byron Stroud, the recently returned Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell took the stage to an exceedingly exuberant audience. Wasting no time, Bell took to the mic, “Grand Rapids, get ready for Mechanize!” Immediately, the brutal, mechanical cyber-thrash of the new album’s opening and title track crushed and flattened us, and there was no turning back now. The band was in fine form, and the evident chemistry between Bell and Cazares made it look like they were never apart and all personal differences are in the past. Bell, Cazares and Stroud made frequent eye contact with the audience, and shared smiles and lyrics with the often singing and fist-pumping crowd, making this club show feel even more intimate. Fear Factory’s trademark juxtaposition of aggressive, crushing mechanical thrash riffs and stunning vocal melodies was as exhilarating and emotive as always, inspiring many a crowd surfer and a couple surging mosh pits.

On a personal note, Mechanize has been the No. 1 album I’ve been listening to as a source of escape and comfort as of late, and to hear this material played live was almost a healing experience. When they played their new single and stunning ballad, “Final Exit,” I thought of our beloved mother Susan, and the emotions came flooding in from all directions. It was a fitting if inadvertent tribute to our mom from Bell and co., and I will always remember singing along with Bell to those poignant words, “goodbye.” It was a very balanced set list of all five of the FF albums with Dino, ending with the appropriate encore of “Zero Signal” and “Replica.” When the lights raised and the outro music of “Ghostbusters” sounded, we were physically and emotionally spent. Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

–Setlist: 1. Mechanize 2. Shock 3. Edgecrusher 4. Smasher/Devourer 5. Acres of Flesh 6. Linchpin 7. Powershifter 8. Fear Campaign 9. Demanufacture 10. Self-Bias Resistor 11. Martyr 12. Descent 13. Final Exit. Encore: Zero Signal, Replica.

Jeff had purchased a Mechanize CD earlier in the night, thereby qualifying him to meet the band. So I waited for him over by the merch booth, purchased a Silent Civilian CD from one of their guitarists, and then kept standing around until security kicked the rest of us out and into the Intersection’s main bar area, separate from the concert hall. Tommy Victor was also signing Prong stuff and meeting fans over at the merch booth at that time. When Jeff returned with his signed goodies and conversation with FF stories, we returned home with some metal memories for a lifetime–and some musical catharsis to last a little while, at least.–Jonathan Kollnot

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on May 28, 2010.

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