Psycroptic – Whammy Bar March 3, 23018

While Auckland City Limits was winding down, Australian tech-death legends Psycroptic headed up a killer line up of local and international death metal at Whammy Bar.

Silent Torture have been in the opening line up of so many gigs I’ve reviewed lately, that I’m running out of ways to put it: they’re just a bloody good death metal band. They’re tight as a snare, their riffs are catchy without being trite, and Liam Hand is becoming one of my favourite local metal vocalists. Eyes rolled back zombie-like, he leans and sways while delivering a range of harsh vocals, from deep gutturals to screams, that both weave in expertly among the riffs and provide a nice variety and dynamism. If I’ve got any criticisms, it’s that the song structure never strays far from the traditional and the lead guitars could be given a bit more space for some flourishes, but that’s getting really picky. They certainly never give their live crowds reason to complain.

 Up next were Napier trio Horrendous Disfigurement. They served up a confident slice of brutal death ugliness, complete with breakneck riffs and rumbling gutturals. It was appropriately pummeling and well executed, but after a time felt a bit too generic. Horrendous employed quick tempo changes to avoid the familiar riffs and patterns outstaying their welcome, and the transitions were some of my favourite parts of their set. There’s something very satisfying about the musical shift that precedes a bridge or breakdown roaring in. The overall tone and style, though, remained on a fairly narrow path, and that uniformity left me lukewarm towards the set as a whole.

 Our first international guests Viscera Trail absolutely stormed the stage. “The sickest band in the Holy Land” as their publicity exclaims, this gore-grind trio from Israel have been hyping their arrival since their announcement, and it turns out they had good reason. Ferocious from the first note, their brutal energy lifted the enthusiasm of the crowd to further and further heights as they went on. Frontman Shahaf Ostfeld was a highlight, prowling the stage with manic energy, now headbanging and flailing, now sitting on a side amp, holding his knees and twitching as if possessed. Not to mention that his burbling growl was the rare treat of vocals that sounded truly disgusting even to the desensitised metal fan’s ear. Yuval Refaeli on drums was fluid and detailed, full of blast beats but also fills and phrases that broke the assault into manageable chunks for the ear. Frequently interacting with the crowd (Ostfeld even did a short lived crowd surf), Viscera Trail closed their set by inviting the front rows on stage to thrash about with them, and left the stage to roars of affection by the punters.

 Capping off a long and happy night were Psycroptic. Part of the scene now for the better part of two decades, they show no sign of dropping off. Their 2015 self-titled album was a critical hit, and the reputation of their live show precedes them. Given that reputation, the hype in Whammy as their show kicked off was less than expected.

 There was nothing wrong with Psycroptic’s playing- Joe Haley on guitars was particularly impressive, the groove and technicality of his riffs translated flawlessly live. Frontman Matthew Chalk also put in a sterling effort to rile the crowd, performing with a tense aggression that suited his hardcore-tinged vocal style, leaning over the front amps, mic clenched in fist. But aside from a small few maintaining a stop-start mosh at the front, the energy never quite lifted as high as Psycroptic clearly wanted. That’s not to say the crowd was cold- in fact a chant for Psycroptic to “play more shit!” after the main set got a wry concession from Chalk and one last encore song. After the mania that was Viscera Trail, people just seemed more content to lean back and take Psycroptic in.

 Make no mistake, there was detail and talent aplenty to take in. Psycroptic play tech-death without getting mired in that genre’s excesses, knowing that heaviness and groove supplement speed and complexity. We really must, as well, return to the great writing and performance of the riffs. Cycling through Opeth-like picked atmosphere, through melodic hooks, through pummeling headbangers, Psycroptic know just how to use a guitar when.

 That’s a joy in itself, and for me at least went a long way to making up for the strangely anti-climactic crowd energy at the end of a long night.

Cameron Miller