Saturday’s Killcode album release extravaganza at the Bowery Ballroom ended up presenting an interesting question: has metal - or even hard rock - really evolved at all in the last twenty-some years? The evening began with a performance by Vajra, freshly returned to the city from SXSW. With Annamaria Pinna’s soaring vocals and her backing band's kinetic playing, they were clearly toeing the Nightwish line with a heavy dose of Far Eastern-influenced sounds, and even a bit of Lady Gaga thrown in for good measure. It was hardly a surprise when a gaggle of concert goers, drinks in hand, scurried up from the bar, heeding the siren’s call.
Stoned Fire was by far the least metal of the bunch. Clearly inspired by the greats (Led Zeppelin) and pseudo-greats (Wolfmother) who blazed the path before, the boys let loose a rousing set that had the front row - comprised entirely of ladies - dancing and writhing with glee. Peter Krsikapa’s prowess as a lead singer is palpable, his hips a tornado of insinuating gyrations. Sean Battista’s shredding and Nate Honor’s drumming were ideal foils: heavy on the reverb and raw power. Who doesn’t love a hot rock god that sings about love and lust and all the torments of the heart? It went down as smooth as whiskey.
Star Killer prowled onstage next, all black skinny jeans and hair gel. Clearly influenced by Marilyn Manson and Orgy (they opened for the latter at Irving Plaza recently), they had the crowd responding to their every move. Lead singer Jasin Cadic’s admonition that "In all probability, God hates you," was cheered on although such statements seem beside point. Their best number was a cover of Nine Inch Nails' seminal “Head Like a Hole,” when the lads were joined onstage by a fabulously dressed super goth complete with blond hair horns and tear-away shiny patent skirt. It was exciting to a point, but ultimately felt like the sort of shock rock one cherished in high school. How many bloodied pale torsos do we have to see before it becomes clear that the image just doesn’t mean anything anymore?
Easily the most experimental of the bunch, Eva and Her Virgins arrived in a whirlwind of glitter and ripped pants. Emily Power’s singing was passable, although nowhere near as thrilling as her obvious influences Nina Hagen and Siouxsie Sioux. It was good to see the band stretch a bit, they even used non industrial-inflected electronics, but the end result was a bit messy. They weren’t quite ready for this stage, as signified when Powers lay supine on the ground, with nary a bit of presence or purpose.
After a considerable amount of yelling and dry ice, Killcode finally took to the stage. Their show was fun, certainly worthy of a headbang and a fist pump. But was it new? I couldn’t shake the image that Killcode was what would result if a raven-haired Bret Michaels started fronting Black Label Society and Zakk Wylde grew a beer belly. That wasn’t really a bad thing, but with all the members clearly past their halcyon days, it was awkward to see them still clinging onto their past glories. Judging by the crowd, maybe heavy metal doesn’t need to be different. There will always be some angsty teen - or forty-something for that matter - eager to sing along to songs like “I’m a Bad Mother-Fucker”. But, if you aren’t pushing forward, you’re regressing. And in a music landscape that is increasingly competitive, a lack of evolution means almost certain oblivion.
It should also be noted that I was chastised not once, but twice for headbanging. In the front row. Now, the two put-off ladies were clearly not of the metal persuasion, and were much more interested in texting, but it struck me as bratty and rude to the majority of folks who were clearly relishing the moment. I mean, what would Dio say?