Lightning Swords of Death at The Riot Room
It was a homecoming of sorts on Independence Day-eve at the Riot Room in Kansas City. It was the return of a local musician on a bill filled up with some of the best-quality underground extreme metal from the United States today. It was a celebration of musicians and the art they create and it was one of the most complete heavy metal bills to roll through Kansas City in quite some time.
Although the show ended with a spectacular performance, it didn’t begin with one. The first band to play was California’s Reign of Lies. Playing to a barely-there and barely-responsive crowd didn’t help the band’s bland riffs and uninspired musicianship. Most of their songs could be singled out from exactly which Machine Head, Lamb of God and Pantera songs they were ripping off at that time. There were brief flashes of brilliance though, especially on the ripping track “DMT” which showcased a fire bubbling underneath the mediocre songs. The second guitarist in particular had some chops that would only improve the band if he could just be let loose to really show what he could do. But as long as Reign of Lies continues with the same formulaic groove metal songs that have been around for almost 20 years now, they’ll forever be relegated to opening band status.
In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, local black/viking metal group Stonehaven took the stage next. Their drummer, Jackson Ferris, is now the drummer for Lightning Swords of Death, so it was the first time the band had played a show in quite some time. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, Stonehaven’s first show in a very long time was just made that much better for the crowd, which was very big at this point. Stonehaven plays the cold, unflinching Celtic-inspired style of black metal of bands like early Enslaved or Windir, but can also be much more aggressive like an Enthroned or Behexen sound. They can switch between each style flawlessly which really makes for a performance that never gets stale. Cloaked in fur pelts and chainmail and with corpsepaint adorning their faces, the band had the longest opening set, clocking in around 40 minutes. The dual guitars layered melodies upon melodies to compliment the bass which provided the backbone of the music. The vocalist had exceptional shrieking vocals, but also let loose a few unearthly howls. It was all held together by Jackson Ferris’ monstrous drumming in his first appearance of the night. Stonehaven really is a treasure in the Kansas City music community, and their performance that night showed just how sorely their music is missed.
The last opening band was Valdur from California. Although they were a three-piece band, Valdur’s sound was every bit as thick and heavy as the headlining band’s sound. Valdur’s brand of black metal is a very suffocating and chaotic sound; the band barely gave the crowd time to breathe between constant blast beats and a wall of riffs. They actually seemed to take a lot of inspiration from similar bands such as Spain’s Teitanblood or even Portal from Australia – each song had a very foreboding atmosphere that left little room for frills or gimmicks. They had a very short set, coming in at under 30 minutes. But for the short time they had, they definitely left a lasting impression on Kansas City.
With their performance, Lightning Swords of Death proved that the American black metal movement should be spearheaded by themselves. Each element of their performance was spot on – a theatrical yet technically proficient vocalist mixing typical black metal shrieks with haunting, chanting invocations; guitars that layered on top of each other but still had their own separate heavy tones that played well off each other to create some of the best black metal riffs in recent memory; a manic bass player who added some small psychedelic elements to the music a la Nachtmystium, and the insane, never-faltering drumming, courtesy again of Kansas City’s own Jackson Ferris. The band played their entire set cloaked in a thick smoke that had filled the Riot Room at that point and it only added to the overall performance. Most of the setlist came from their recent fantastic release “Baphometic Chaosium” and their “The Extra Dimensional Wound,” but in the encore, they treated the still-headbanging crowd to “Let This Knife Lead You To Us” from their first album “The Golden Plague.” With a fantastic album out this year and killer performances such as this one, Lightning Swords of Death is poised to break into huge mainstream success and forever be etched into the history of extreme American metal. They capped off a great night of evil on a rainy Kansas City night.