For the last few years, I’ve had an ongoing review column called Adventures of Indiana Man, which has detailed the cultural experiences of metal in places like Holland, England, Poland, and Syria. Now, I’ve returned to my home state of Indiana, and a couple of days after my arrival, I went to an incredible show in Chicago featuring Rotted, Cerebral Rot, Fetid, and Nucleus.
This lineup was the perfect showcase of the next generation of American death metal bands. I was especially stoked for this lineup since although I saw plenty of quality extreme metal acts in my three years living in England, there was always something missing from their death metal sound: darkness. I lived comfortably for years in England as I embraced their quality healthcare, their affordable groceries with high standards for retail sale (you can’t find anything with corn syrup in it, for example), and their convenient transportation system that easily enables you to move around Europe without a car. Even though many of the buildings I’d run across in England were older than the entirety of the United States, everything was always being renovated and repaired, so buildings and architecture generally continued to maintain a quality standard, which allowed for comfortable and aesthetically pleasing living for England’s residents.
When I returned to the United States, I made plans to attend this show in Chicago. While I was living in England, a drunk driver had totaled my car (back in Indiana) in the middle of the night – while it was parked – so driving to Chicago was no longer a viable option. I decided to take the South Shore Train from South Bend, Indiana out to Chicago, which takes about two and a half hours. It is a major adjustment to move from England to the United States. In England, you can walk everywhere, as all buildings and homes are in close proximity to one another, whereas in the United States, everything is spread out, so walking from place to place isn’t possible. Groceries are more expensive in the States, and are packed with much more sodium and sugar, so eating is an adjustment from England’s notoriously more bland foods (due to the lack of seasoning, not the lack of sugar and salt). But possibly the most difficult adjustment is getting reaccustomed to the ingredient that was missing from England’s death metal: darkness. As I rode on the South Shore train, I watched as each city went by on the way to Chicago. Building after decrepit building passed me with boarded-up windows and yards packed with rusted-out, tireless cars. I passed through Gary and Hammond, two of the cities recently ranked as some of the most miserable cities in the United States to live in, with Gary taking the number one spot in the entirety of the United States and Hammond coming in at twenty-three. Even when one is critical of studies like these, it’s hard to look upon these cities without acknowledging that things could be better. This was when I realized what English death metal was missing. I had never seen a place in England comparable to what I saw on my first train ride back in the United States, and I became certain that the struggles that lower-income Americans face are the perfect breeding ground for death metal’s intensity, anger, and darkness. This turmoil was the key ingredient that England was missing, and now that I’ve identified that, now I’ll get to what you’ve come to this article for – the show.
This was my first time at Chicago’s LiveWire Lounge, which is an intimate venue that has a very welcoming vibe due to its small size. The sound quality was on-point all night, which was crucial for the types of bands performing. The main downside to the venue, other than the small size since the show was sold out, was the limited space for bands to set up their merchandise. This show was unique in that it featured primarily newer death metal bands, with the first three bands (Rotted, Cerebral Rot, Fetid) only having put out a demo and a single LP each, and all three bands had formed within the last three years. The fourth band, Nucleus, was only marginally older having formed in 2012, but they’ve since put out a couple of LPs, EPs, and a split. If these bands are any indication of the next generation of death metal than I’m happy to report that the future looks great (at least in terms of musicianship and brutality).
First up were Illinois natives Rotted, and this was their debut live performance. I was especially excited to see Rotted, as I heard their 2019 demo, Dying to Rot, and absolutely loved the raw, simplistic brutality of it. Rotted play a style of death metal reminiscent of bands like Rottrevore and Undergang, where the focus is on songwriting and simple, overwhelmingly brutal riffage. That includes a focus on ultra-guttural vocals, again similar to Undergang, complete with vocalist/guitarist Dylan Jones continually rolling his eyes into the back of his head as he belched. The three-piece band is masterful at knowing how to transition in a way that maximizes impact, whether through the incorporation of double-bass drumming at a pivotal moment or through allowing one instrument to be highlighted before the rest of the cacophony comes tumbling in. I stood at the front of the stage for their set, which I could only liken to being run down by a stampede of dinosaurs. I was so happy to have returned from England soon enough to witness this debut performance from Rotted, who I have no doubt will be a band that will see increasing success with each subsequent release. This is illustrated, too, by the label that they’re signed to, Maggot Stomp, which in a short period has already made themselves the go-to label for caveman-style death metal that maintains a murky, raw sound.
Next up were Cerebral Rot, who are another band that emphasize death metal’s brutal aspects, but with a bit of Demilich mixed in. This was highlighted not only by frontman/guitarist Ian Schwab’s choice of attire (a Demilich shirt) but also by tracks like Repulsive Infestation of Cadaver off of their debut, Odious Descent of Decay, which is a song that wouldn’t sound too out of place on Nespithe. Much like Rotted, this band maintained a focus on ultra-guttural vocals, but there was more nuance to this band’s onslaught, as illustrated by Ian’s masterful utilization of several peddles to let the intended sounds pierce through their death metal murk. The most surprising thing about Cerebral Rot was how well-rehearsed they seemed to be, as they performed like a band of veterans many years their senior. It was crushing, and this emphasis on their performance was further indicated by the band’s request that their front stage lights be turned off. Darkness was in full play on this night, in more ways than one.
Fetid played third, who were a three-piece band that share one member with Cerebral Rot: Clyle Lindstrom. Clyle and drummer and drummer Julllian Rhea shared vocal duties, which involved one or the other singing over a riff or a song, rather than something that would be found in Gorgasm’s quicker vocal exchanges. Both used the ultra-low growling technique that had been used all night. Bassist Chelsea Loh was the only female performer of the night, and as a huge Bolt Thrower fan, it was hard not to think of bassist Jo Bench’s key role in Bolt Thrower’s sound as I saw Chelsea finger-pick through each song of Fetid’s style of raw and murky death metal. This was the third band of the night that sounded like it could’ve bubbled up from a swamp, and I was loving it.
Last but certainly not least was Chicago’s Nucleus. Nucleus play a style of death metal that emphasizes technicality and embraces lyrical themes about science fiction and outer space that should appeal to fans of bands like Mithras, Origin, and Inferi. Most of their tracks came off their second LP, 2019’s Entity. This band was certainly different from the rest of the bands of the night, as they performed with a level of technicality that was unparalleled with the earlier acts. Some riffs were played at impossible speed, with the fingers of guitarists Dan Ozcanli and Dave Muntean often seeming more like frantic spider legs than human appendages. Dan and Dave also exchanged vocal duties throughout. I was also ecstatic, as a fan of the basswork on Cryptopsy’s None So Vile, when bassist Dave Muntean threw in a couple of riffs that were played entirely through slaps and thumb-picking. All of this wild musicianship stayed grounded through the battery of drummer Pat O’Hara, who uses nuance through his cymbal work to emphasize key moments in their musical expedition. Nucleus’ death metal onslaught was a churning black hole that seemed intent on transporting us to another world. It reinforced that Entity isn’t just one of the best albums this year, but also one of the best albums played in this style.
Overall, this was one of the best front-to-back quality death metal shows I’ve ever seen. Every band was sublime, and all of them just released quality albums that have the potential to become modern classics in the genre. If this is the music that comes as a result of the struggles of American life, then count me in as proud to have returned. Anyone that claims that death metal is long past its heyday clearly wasn’t present in Chicago on this night