As metal has subdivided and evolved itself over the decades, one splinter faction has grown a tight and devoted following: prog metal. Known by some as tech metal (technical metal), prog metal is a sub genre where the best facets of progressive rock are melded with the ferocious histrionics and crunch of death metal. On this night at The Novo (formally known to L.A. residents as Club Nokia), three titans of the movement played a bill on equal footing, opener Fallujah and co-headliners Between the Buried And Me & Devin Townsend Project.
San Francisco tech metal-ers Fallujah opened with a pummeling assault. Lead singer Alex Hofmann doubled on keyboards and vocals. Most impressive for their sonic assault was the crack drumming from Andrew Baird. Those that would have thought that Raymond Herrera would have perfected intense double bass rolls in the ‘90s with Fear Factory would be wrong. For an extra spice, the band brought out guest singer Tori Letzler for a trio of songs including “Abandon” and “Wind For Wings.” The mix didn’t do this portion any favors as the impressive vocals of Letzler (similar in sound to the amazing Julie Christmas) were somewhat buried under the upper register of the mix. Still, a solid set that impressed the throngs in place anxious for BTBAM and DTP.
Between the Buried and Me followed with what can only be called a star-making performance. BTBAM opted to play songs only from their most recent offering Coma Ecliptic, playing the album essentially in its entirety. The band wisely opened with a dash of drama, allowing for opening number “Node” to be in total darkness while lead singer Tommy Giles Rogers played the eerie piano melody that opens the album with a solid spotlight above him. They let each note and vocal line ring out amidst silence until the song’s punch-y finale and segue into the triumphant, Queen-esque “The Coma Machine.” “Famine Wolf” allows programmed synths and atypical vocals to shine, while “King Redeem – Queen Serene” takes a delicate, soothing opening and shifts it into a success-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth epic crescendo, the openings clean vocals changing to a voluminous death metal roar from Rogers.
The band shows off their ever more impressive range on “Turn on the Darkness,” shifting styles and sequences with the nimble musicianship of Jethro Tull in their prime, and allowing for a bluesy solo on par with the great Allman Brothers Band leads from Dickey Betts in the ‘70s from dual guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring. The combined seventeen plus minutes of “Rapid Calm” and “Memory Palace” serve up more intrigue and excitement than most albums ever manage in 60 minutes. The build goes from serene vocals with arpeggiated riffs to spooky synths to blasting rock to urgent guitar stabs to precision rhythms from drummer Blake Richardson to angelic undistorted breakdowns to brat-y punk sub sections before coming to a sublime conclusion. It all ended just as it should, with a ruminative reprise of “Node”’s opening piano melody on set closer “Life in Velvet.” The feeling in the room was palpable by the set’s conclusion. The crowd was thoroughly impressed with the stunning technical prowess Between the Buried and Me so effortlessly wielded throughout this performance.
Unfortunately, headliner Devin Townsend Project suffered from an unavoidable setback. What could have been a truly five star night was hampered by bandleader Townsend being sick with a cold and a sore throat. Townsend would call this fact out right at the onset in the aborted opening of classic Ocean Machine – Biomech cut “Night.” Townsend’s known for having one of the largest vocal registers in rock music shy of anyone save Mike Patton. On this night, he openly worked through how certain parts of his voice were just not accessible due to the sickness he was struggling with. In true Devin fashion, he proceeded undaunted. Making jokes the entire set and cavorting wildly whenever a musical interlude allowed him to do so. On beloved Ziltoid the Omniscient cut “By Your Command” he walked around every inch of the stage making humorous faces and evening staring face-to-face with a fan for a time. Before playing the chugging, mid-tempo new song “Failure” from latest album Transcendence he quipped, “Tonight’s vocals are an unadulterated failure.”
Further hilarity followed during Sky Blue song “Rejoice” where in the song’s bridge he growled, “Yar! Swob me fucking poopdeck.” After, he continued with the interplay joking, “Ever day is a new day. Now that’s a segue! Don’t break the fourth wall,” before going into fan favorite “Hyperdrive.” “Stormbending” followed and demonstrated some of the supremely polished songcraft Townsend has perfected in his constantly evolving career, guitarist Dave Young getting to take the lead on a luminous melody of finger tapping. Since this was a relatively short set for an artist with twenty years worth of albums to pull from, there was scarcely room to scratch the surface of the more elaborate cuts from Townsend’s output. The remainder was evenly distributed between lighter songs and the heavier material. From the lighter side an acoustic “Ih-Ah,” “Kingdom” and the truly beautiful “Where We Belong.” On the heavier side was a pair of songs from Ziltoid sequel Z2: “Ziltoid Goes Home” and the ultra fun “March of the Poozers.” The set ended on new song “Higher” and featured no encores. One has to give it to Devin Townsend, as most musicians would have just canceled when they were feeling even slightly ill like he was. He played through the pain with aplomb and worked as hard as humanly possible to entertain the crowd through the entirety of the performance. He stayed positive no matter how much his voice would not cooperate and smiled pretty much the entire time.
Between the Buried and Me Setlist
The Coma Machine
King Redeem – Queen Serene
Turn on the Darkness
The Ectopic Stroll
Life in Velvet
Devin Townsend Project Setlist
By Your Command
Where We Belong
Ziltoid Goes Home
March of the Poozers
All photos by Raymond Flotat