BERKELEY — Some 30 years after the birth of death metal, few bands match the consistency and longevity of Obituary. The Florida death-metallers are currently on the road celebrating their 1989 debut album, Slowly We Rot. At The UC Theatre Saturday night, Obituary exuded strong mojo, headlining an impressive bill that included Abbath, Midnight and Devil Master.
Obituary began its set with the heavy-hitting instrumental “Redneck Stomp” before vocalist John Tardy entered the fold. Sporting waist-length blond hair and cargo shorts, he could have been mistaken for a Santa Cruz beach hippie. However, when Tardy let his signature screams fly, there was no mistaking his death metal pedigree. He stalked around the stage, reaching deep for anguished roars and blood-curdling yowls. Obituary cofounder Trevor Peres, the guitarist, crunched out lithe rhythms on his Stratocaster between head-banging hair flips.
The band charged through a 14-song set with few moments of reprieve. Brief interludes of darkness onstage allowed Tardy to catch his breath while the band chugged along with meaty, doom-laden riffs. The set leaned heavily on the 1989 material. Drummer Donald Tardy was a machine, never letting up as he delivered strong leads and thunderous fills. Shirtless and sporting a rough beard and trucker’s cap, he brought a flavor of the dirty South to Obituary’s set.
Always ready to acknowledge its straightforward approach to death metal, Obituary delivered a tight set. Lead guitarist Kenny Andrews added a key element with flashy but tasteful solos. Andrews delivered dive bombs and fast hammering passages with ease despite some heckling from a mirthful John Tardy. Bassist Terry Butler, formerly of metal titans Death, locked in with Donald Tardy and the band executed some breathtaking surprise stops. Sounding like a miserable sludge monster dragging itself from a hellish swamp, Obituary powered through anthem “Words Of Evil” and the brutal ruminations of “Chopped In Half.” John Tardy reaffirmed his status as one of death metal’s premier vocalists, enunciating his terrible screams with convincing savagery.
Obituary returned for a two-song encore which included latest single “A Dying World” and the title track from Slowly We Rot.
Norwegian band Abbath performed a 40-minute set bathed in cold blue stage lights and mist. An ill wind from some eerie netherworld blew frontman Abbath Doom Occulta’s hair back as he engaged the audience with viking-like grunts between songs. Clad in full black metal regalia, including frilly shoulder armor, Abbath brought theatrics to the stage. The band looked appropriate together, with face paint and leather pants dominating the musicians’ attire. Stage production was excellent, as a fascinating light show highlighted the hints of melody buried within Abbath’s aural onslaught.
Abbath’s sound was likewise on point. Drummer Ukri Suvilehto impressed with relentless stoicism and nonstop pummeling. Guitarist Ole Andre Farstad contributed graceful shredding leads. Bassist Rusty Cornell held the driving, energetic songs together with a thick low-end punch. Abbath Doom Occulta saluted the city of Berkeley with his glass of black beer before launching into “Harvest Pyre.” Abbath’s set drew heavily from its latest album, Outstrider, including the title track, with its quiet haunting intro. The band left the stage victorious, with the still-beating heart of black metal crushed in his gauntleted hand.
Cleveland’s Midnight preceded Abbath, donning executioner’s hoods and a fetish for Venom-era extreme metal. Midnight roared out of the gate with “Penetratal Ecstasy,” from 2017’s Sweet Death And Ecstasy. Bandleader Athenar jumped and ran around the stage, belting somewhat campy lyrics from behind his black mask. Touring guitarist Commandor Vanik steamrolled ears with a commanding guitar tone and played strongly through some minor guitar malfunctions.
Midnight’s sense of humor, combined with solid songwriting and delivery, was a refreshing change of pace in the somber world of metal. The band played a solid set, punctuated by Athenar’s valediction to Oakland metal fans, to whom he dedicated “Satanic Royalty.” To end the set Athenar climbed atop a rack of speakers and writhed in demonic ecstasy over the feedback chaos of abandoned guitars.
Sextet Devil Master, hailing from Philadelphia, opened the show with a 30-minute set. Featuring a stone-faced keyboardist and a stage draped in cobwebs, the band exuded a gothic vibe imbued with menace. Brittle, crunchy guitars fed into a swirling tunnel of sound as Devil Master felt out the stage and riled up kids in the mosh pit.
Obituary’s tour continues through the Midwest and Northeast before concluding Oct. 25 in Atlanta.
Follow writer Alexander Baechle at Instagram.com/writheinsmoke.