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Kill or Become: Cannibal Corpse, Dark Funeral, Immolation, Black Anvil at House of Blues Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay 11/25/22

December 3, 2022
“Living out the days and nights in absolute fearNever knowing when and where thethreat of the undead draws nearThoughts of those left behindAre slowly tormenting your mind
Killing is essential to surviveThe world you once knew forever changedScavenging just to stay aliveTime to release your inner rage”
“Kill or Become”, Cannibal Corpse

Do you remember the first time you were genuinely scared?  When your skin prickled?  Your blood curdled? Maybe a time you thought you were truly going to die?
Or have you ever put the fear into someone or something else? Made them fear for their life? How did that make you feel?
There’s a certain cognitive dissonance in horror; the thrill of seeing a kill in a scary movie may make you giggle, seeing a piece of gothic art may fill you with joy, listening to metal may lighten your mood.  And of course, some people borrow an edge from its heaviness on the other side of things.

I come alive in the darkness.  I can remember being raised on ’80s slasher films, adults reassuring my naive uneasiness by saying ‘look at all that ketchup‘. Being chased by a man wielding a chainsaw in a haunted Texas barn house before even seeing that movie.  Learning about the inextricable link between sex and violence from the underground horror films shown on Joe Bob’s Drive In or Monstervision.  All the way to the current horror movie renaissance.

I can also remember the 80s crime wave in Houston, when we’d arrive on scene to criminals having driven through the front of my parent’s store to smash and grab things, sometimes before the cops got there.  I remember my papa getting drunk and saying and doing crazy things.  I remember when my high school boyfriend broke my collarbone. When my mom took her last breath.  When my husband was diagnosed with cancer. All moments where I had to muster strength from somewhere deep inside, someplace dark.
There are horrors both real and fictionalized, and these become the chutes and ladders in our lives.  A rollercoaster can quickly become a death trap, a neighbor- an enemy, a lover- a killer.   As they say, there cannot be evil without good, sadness without joy, pain without pleasure, darkness without light… but for some of us, the dimmer corners of the universe are just more comfortable.
Flatliners is a prototypical early ’90s psychological horror film starring of-the-time icons such as Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, and William Baldwin.  They recently remade it and I do not recommend seeing that one.  Flatliners is about a group of medical students who decide to see what lies beyond death by flatlining and being brought back to life. Things go horribly wrong and certain achilles heels of their lives begin to terrorize their existence. Clearly this was a religiously motivated film; but to my preteen eyes… it was a sexy movie that made medical school seem extremely fucking cool.
One recent-ish horror-ful thing that happened to me was finding out my dad is not my biological father at nearly the age of 40 right before the pandemic started.  It was quite a world-shift to digest right before the world fell apart for everyone else.  A lot of people don’t understand it unless it has happened to you, but it changed my life.  About a year later, I learned who my biological father was, and through a phone call with my bio-uncle, I learned quite a bit about him.  He was a surgical dentist, and he had passed away long ago, in 1994.  And that was very likely because he was very into experimenting with flatlining.
At that moment I learned that both everything and nothing in my life made sense. It never ceases to amaze me the vastness of the human experience; we can live a thousand lives in one lifetime.
“Through my anatomy, dwells another being
Rooted in my cortex, a servant to its bidding”
It was a beautiful, post-Thanksgiving day, and since it hadn’t rained in a while, we were able to take the more direct route from the California Desert through the Mojave Preserve to Vegas.  There is nary a gas station along this route, just the vast expansive desert, a run of burnt Joshua Trees from a forest fire past, and an idyllic train depot called Kelso Station, which will sometimes cause an impasse for an hour while a train parks… but we made is through easily that day.  Little did we know that a mere hour in our wake, a massive police chase would culminate in the vicinity of this very station, ending in a shootout and death of a catfishing cop who had earlier that day murdered the family of an underage girl he had met online, flown across the country to kidnap, and set fire to their home in Riverside.  What are the odds? Vegas odds.
As I walked into the House of Blues, I couldn’t help but remember that we were a stone’s throw away from the worst mass shooting in US history,  which occurred at a music festival, of course.  Between the dizzying whir of the slot machines and the cackling laughter of the revelers, it was hard to images such horrors haunted these halls so recently. It seemed forgotten, swept under the garish casino rug.
But as someone whose family is in the gun industry, I remembered.  As someone who’s worked in the video game industry, I remembered.  And as someone who’s written about metal for 15 years, I remembered. Evil always has and always will be lurking around.  You never know who is standing next to you… what brought them there… what their intentions are. We think that because we hold a window to the world in our pocket that we have control of our surroundings.  But we control nothing.
I have been seeing Black Anvil perform since they opened for Watain back in 2010.  The energy was palpable from the moment they set foot on stage.  They performed that night an entirely evolved band from that first time I saw them many years ago, which was expected considering their new album Regenesis shows such immense growth.  They’ve taken the iciness of the black metal palate and layered on all sorts of interesting elements lyrically and musically.  Risks were taken.  And in this day and age, we all love a regenesis story- renewal, rebirth… but in reality, that process can be difficult, and disgusting.  The best black metal, and thus Black Anvil, sounds both beautiful and beastly.  I was glad that they played ‘The Bet’ and ‘8-Bit Terror’ among others from this album that night.  They have also added on such a presence theatrically; it was truly a night of no openers.  In my advanced age, I wince at a four-band showcase- but there were no weak links in this chain tonight.  The crowd had really showed up early and were starting to pack it in.  And they saved room in their bellies from Thanksgiving leftovers to eat up everything Black Anvil was serving.
I’m not a huge Immolation fan, but the second they got on stage I remembered exactly the last time I saw Robert Vigna play.  He’s like watching an action figure play guitar, moving in very specific, restricted mannerisms.  It’s iconic. Everyone was joking about it being Black Friday.  It was during this set that I realized that the line up was organized in a very OCD-happy black metal-death metal-black metal-death metal manner… Or is it anti-OCD?  The OCD in me can’t decide.  One time I was at a party in LA with my girlfriend and some of our friends in a black metal band asked “why do you girls like that death metal stuff” and we said “because it’s awesome” and in our drunken discussion the term ‘Daddy-Issue Death Metal’ was born.  Discuss amongst yourselves.  During the Immolation set the crowd self-organized a wall of death without the band instructing them to do so and they picked up all of the fallen soldiers in the aftermath because metal looks after it’s own sometimes.  Immolation is a great metal band name but it does mean ‘the act of killing yourself or someone else’…. There were a lot of people in corpse paint and I lamented the fact that my corpse paint wearing days might be over.  There was a guy in a luche libre mask doing rounds in the pit and I was screaming ‘BOOYAKA BOOYAKA’ inside my head and imagining it was Dominik working out; yes I watch a lot of professional wrestling- I am an onion.  It was also pointed out to me that the bald guy standing there with red suspenders dangling down was likely a skinhead, and I wondered if he read the wrong list of NSBM bands.
I had never seen Dark Funeral before, and it was a real joy for me.  I don’t know why, but put me in front of any scandi band in corpse paint and gauntlets, screaming, and I will be like a little girl who just got gifted a pony.  Up until my mid twenties- I didn’t ‘get it’… it sounded like cacophonous drivel and looked pretty silly.  And then one day the dark skies parted I was listening to Deathcrush on repeat.  Anyway, hearing “My Funeral” live was heavenly.  The band instructed us to chant “Hail Satan” in succession, and if you’ve ever chanted something with a large group of people, you know its power.  There are those of us who love Satan’s pageantry, who are intimately aware of the hypocrisy of the decriers of many bible-thumpers… but we’re not truly evil people. We’d help a sister out.  But looking at that guy next to you, is he a bad seed?  A delusional true believer who thinks the devil is speaking to him, telling him to do things?  Spend 15 minutes on certain subreddits and you will quickly feel the vastness of the pain, suffering, evil, and stupidity of humanity.  Or maybe that’s just me.
To quote my favorite thing I’ve seen all year, “Everyone has a black hole inside of them. What I want is for mine to stop eating everything up all the time.”  Wait- no: “I have seen things that would make you shit your mind, kemo sabe.”
I’ve seen Cannibal Corpse a million times.  My favorite thing is when people used to come up to me a say NAME THREE SONGS or something similarly insulting because I didn’t look like I belonged there.  For a long time, my favorite professional achievement as a writer was getting “I Cum Blood” published on grammy.com back when I was the Rock & Metal blogger for the GRAMMYs.  I think they changed it to “I C*m Blood” but you get the point.  I had been admiring the Ed Gein masks hanging from the stacks as each subsequent band’s equipment was carted away.  As a student of serial killer psychology (literally- I wanted to be Clarice Starling) did you find the tone of that Dahmer show on Netflix a bit strange? Common housewives salivating over true crime is hilarious irony.  Now I’m the one gatekeeping.  As Corpsegrinder launched into his infamous, otherworldly helicopter headbang, that thing that has inspired works of art, I instinctively grabbed my own neck in existential pain.  I am at the age where I ache on behalf of others now, because where else could it be coming from?  By the time the set happened, we were back in a corner of the room with terrible sightlines because: point one for my Make Metal Shows Dangerous Again campaign but that backfired and I had to leave before someone ended up face down, dead on the ground.  And you never know when some sick fuck is going to take my Wednesday dancing to Cannibal Corpse while screaming “STRIPPED/NAKED/TORTURED!!!” as an invitation.

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