May 25th, 2012 | Published in Stage and Street
By Jeffrey McClellan
Kittie has had a long, hard road to get where they are today. Since their 1999 debut Spit, they’ve endured label infighting, personnel changes, personal loss, and an industry unable to process the existence of an all-female act whose abrasive, highly aggressive sound veers even from the semi-safe “riot grrrl rock” of their late 90s peers. However, with their searing 2011 release I’ve Failed You and subsequent tour, Kittie wear their scars well, and on Sunday evening held a heavy metal revival in Cleveland that has thoroughly cemented their place in the aggro-rock pantheon.
Peabody’s was, and has been for years, Kittie’s chosen haunt for the evening’s event. This venue is practically an institution unto itself for the area’s punk/metal/aggro scene, a spot known for being as hard and scrappy as the town it grew up in. Set smack dab in the heart of downtown Cleveland, Peabody’s is a name sure to conjure up memories in the heart of any local music fan – no matter what genre you’re into, EVERYONE in this city has had a Peabody’s experience, that one crazy night where whether you loved the band onstage or hated everything about them, you came out of it with one hell of a story.
Before the touring acts began, the audience was presented with Erie, PA natives Blunt Force. A quick Google Search of “Blunt Force Erie” yields as many sites detailing violence and murder in this band’s lakeside hometown as references to the band itself; an undoubtedly semi-intentional coincidence that does a better job describing this hardcore/metal group’s sound than any writer ever could. This is decidedly NOT music for nice people; this music is meant as a soundtrack for destroying buildings and crushing everyone who has ever stood in your way. If you’re looking for songs that challenge your perceptions with deep metaphor and lyrical substance, go hang out at the Beachland on a Friday night; if you’re looking for songs to put hair on your chest and violence in your heart, Blunt Force is your band.
First on the bill were LA natives Bonded by Blood. Our more learned metalheads will recognize the band’s moniker as belonging to an Exodus album from the mid-80s; this is surely no accident, as this group is an unabashed tribute to the sound of the many thrash and speed metal bands from that era. Nonetheless, this band is not a stodgy retreading of yesterday’s sound; their exuberance and infectious sense of humor lend a sense of fun to a genre that too often strays into uber-seriousness. They approached their set with a manic ferocity, bringing old school gang vocals and wickedly quick guitar runs that were pulled off with virtual effortlessness despite their complexity. Guitarist Juan Juarez is an absolute monster; while everyone in the band is talented in their own right, Juan’s angular flurries of notes shine past his humble exterior. I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the greats of shred guitar live: Vai, Satriani, Petrucci, the whole lot. Bonded by Blood’s Sunday night performance served as notice to all of the above: Juan’s comin’ for ya’.
Next up was The Agonist. These Montreal natives brought a brutal, barnstorming set with their signature progressive sound. Where Bonded by Blood brought lethal effectiveness through sheer speed, The Agonist brought towering grandeur and punishing clarity. Vocalist Alissa White-Gluz shifted uncannily between guttural extreme metal roars and lilting, pitch perfect clean vocals, despite appearing to be nursing a bit of a cold (she came out seconds before the first line of the first song, and exited the stage as the last notes were still dying away; a move that seemed uncharacteristic for such a charismatic and crowd-savvy frontwoman).
Immediately prior to the headliner act were fellow Canadians Blackguard. Once again hailing from Montreal, this quintet may be THE band to follow for fans of live metal. From the intro track on, they assaulted their set with a vicious, savage precision that bore as much resemblance to a mechanized meat grinder as a well-tuned live act. Their performance would have been merely jaw-dropping, were it not for the fact that their lead guitarist for the evening, Erik Tisinger, isn’t even a regular member of the band, but a last minute fill-in whose resume includes such luminaries as Destrophy, Immortal Guardian, and Otep. However, despite unleashing pure, unadulterated hell onstage, their performance was centered first and foremost on the crowd. As vocalist Paul Zinay said early in the set, “Come up on stage with us, stage dive, take the mic, set stuff on fire, whatever… tonight, YOU are here to entertain US.”
After all that, Kittie found themselves with not just one but an entire series of nearly impossible acts to follow. However, Kittie have had more years on the road than some of these bands’ entire lineups combined, and were more than capable of bringing this night home for the headbangers. Those in the crowd who only know this band from their ‘99 MTV breakthrough “Brackish” were in for one HELL of a shock; Kittie’s sound has evolved over the years into a blackened metalcore that bears more resemblance to present-era Darkthrone than Hole or L7. Lead vocalist/guitarist Morgan Lander beat her road-worn Flying V with riff after chunky riff as she spit her lyrics into the audience with the sort of venom that only years of hardship and industry bullshit can conjure. Her sister and longtime bandmate Mercedes Lander brought some serious thunder along with her backing vocals, chucking out frantic blast beats that hearkened back to the death and black metal drummers who lent the frenetic percussion style its name. Bassist Trisha Doan was all over her side of the stage, inciting the crowd with riotous intensity, and lead guitar Tara McLeod added textured, haunting solo lines with more expression compressed into a single note than most guitarists can wring out of an entire setlist.
The music press has always made sport of declaring the death of metal every couple of years. This music simply isn’t built for the masses; it’s rude, it’s uncivilized, and it splinters into dozens of subgenres every time some wannabe cool music history buff with a master’s thesis due gets ahold of it. However, Sunday night’s show at Peabody’s was a stark reminder that this music will always have a rabid fanbase, no matter who is or isn’t there to see it.