An intense death metal show with a tribute to one of Death’s classic albums.
Date: Friday, July 22, 2022
Place: Reggies (2105 South State Street; Chicago, Illinois 60616)
Ticket Price: $25 ($31.61 after fees)
Left to Die is a tribute band of sorts for Death and its 1988 Leprosy album. Their name is taken from a great song on that record. The band just recently formed earlier this year and already went on the road for their “Reborn Dead” tour in the U.S., which started on July 7 and ran through July 31 with 21 total shows. It seemed to all come together pretty quickly. The band plays all of Leprosy plus some songs from Death’s first album Scream Bloody Gore (1987). The band features original members from that era, guitarist Rick Rozz and bassist Terry Butler, who were only like 20 or 21 years old when Leprosy came out. Matt Harvey from Exhumed plays guitar and sings while Gus Rios (from bands like Malevolent Creation) is on drums. They both have another band called Gruesome that sounds very similar to that classic Death period too. I think Bill Andrews who drummed on Leprosy lives in Japan. I don’t know if he was able to even do this tour. It’s also kind of weird because Butler is credited on bass but didn’t actually play on the actual Leprosy recording. He was with the band during that Leprosy time period though and did play bass for the next one, Spiritual Healing (1990). Butler has also had a long career in metal after Death playing in bands like Massacre (with Rozz and Andrews), Six Feet Under, Obituary and most recently Inhuman Condition.
Leprosy is one of my favorite all-time albums and one that definitely exposed me more to the death metal genre. It’s also got some sick artwork by Ed Repka, which is one of my favorite album covers and is perfect for the music. I love Death and Chuck Schuldiner. He was an incredible musician and insanely creative. Chuck Schuldiner died of brain cancer on Dec. 13, 2001 at 34 years old. His life was cut short way too soon. I can only imagine what incredible music he would have kept putting out even to this day if he hadn’t passed, either with Death, his other band Control Denied or new projects.
Left to Die is building off the history of some other Death tribute shows and bands throughout the years. There’s been few of these Death tribute bands going on now depending on the era of the band’s music. The style changed a lot through the band’s and Chuck’s career. There’s like three or four distinct time periods for Death all in the span of a decade ranging from the early horror influenced, heavy music to much more complex and progressive death metal. In December 2021 several former Death members played two shows for the 20th anniversary of Chuck’s passing at Brass Mug in Tampa, Florida. One of those tribute bands is called Living Monstrosity featuring James Murphy, Terry Butler, Matt Harvey and Gus Rios that played Spiritual Healing in full back in December at those two shows. Another band called Symbolic played songs from Human (1991) through The Sound of Perseverance (1998) that featured some people like Steve Di Giorgio (bassist on Human, Individual Thought Patterns, and for the Control Denied band), Shannon Hamm (guitarist on The Sound of Perseverance), Kelly Conlon (bass on the Symbolic album), guitarist Bobby Koelble (Symbolic) and Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth on drums. The other main tribute band is called Death To All, which is a longstanding group formed in the early 2010s that currently features former members like drummer Gene Hoglan (Individual Thought Patterns, Symbolic), bassist Steve Di Giorgio and guitarist Bobby Koelble. Max Phelps from Cynic is also doing vocals and guitar duties. Death To All has featured other past Death members as well, mostly from the band’s early to late period from the ’90s. The band has also done tours and festival shows since its inception.
Eric Greif, Schuldiner’s long-time manager and head of the musical estate called Perseverance Holdings Ltd., also just passed away recently in October 2021 at 59 years old. It’s an interesting concept as bands go out and perform classic albums or rejoin groups without prior members still alive (like the upcoming Pantera tour). What’s the line between tribute and cash grab? I wonder about the legality of it and who gives the blessings for shows, tours and bands like these. It’s also interesting to see members who had a falling out or left the band now playing these types of shows/tours and also selling associated merchandise. Even the Left to Die “mascot” is a modernized version of the sickened guy from the cover of Leprosy. The band logo also shares similarities to the old Death design but with a blue and orange color combination. Rozz had been with the band throughout the early to late ’80s on various demos and live performances all the way up through Leprosy. He was fired from the band in 1989 and eventually replaced with James Murphy for Spiritual Healing. At one point in 1990, Terry Butler and Bill Andrews were doing shows in Europe with Kreator as a separate version of Death while Chuck was still in America after canceling the tour. On top of that there was supposedly a lot of insults directed towards Chuck during these European shows from his band members and the replacements they used for the tour. I’m sure at some point all these guys probably made up but there’s definitely a lot of negative history there too. It’s still a cool way for the fans to experience these songs live as long as it’s done the right way and doesn’t feel sleazy.
Right off the bat I have to say this was definitely one of the more intense shows I’ve been to. The whole night was an experience. It also had one of the best supporting lineups of great death metal bands that strongly complimented Left to Die. Whoever put this lineup together deserves a lot of props. There were five total bands on the bill when usually it’s like three, so it ended up being a pretty long show. It was a lot of new exposure to me as I hadn’t seen any of these bands live before or even listened to them that much (outside of Death). The cost of the ticket comes out to like $5 a band, which is a steal. Each band has their own variation on death metal so they all didn’t sound the same either.
On different social media pages it got announced the day before the concert that the show sold out. I bought tickets to this show like a month before so it’s good I got them ahead of time. I usually wait until the last minute. When I got there I could tell it was going to be packed. By the time the show actually started at 8p.m. it was already getting crammed inside Reggies. It seemed like they actually sold more tickets than space available because it got so packed. It’s probably the most packed I’ve seen it, and I’ve been to many shows there. It was a young crowd too. The crowd was predominately in the ages between 18-25, like probably 75-80 percent of the people there. I’m at that point where I’m getting farther outside that demographic, which feels totally weird to think about.
Molder and Immortal Bird are two bands that aren’t on the Reborn Dead tour for all the dates. Molder are local from the Chicagoland area in Joilet, Illinois. The band seems pretty young too. If I had to guess, I would say they’re all in their early twenties. Not as a diss but I honestly wasn’t expecting much from them. They just released their second album called Engrossed In Decay on July 15th through Prosthetic Records. It randomly popped up in my Instagram Explore feed so I was aware of it before the show. When I first listened to their album the first few times nothing really initially stood out. My initial impressions were that it sounded like your standard classic death metal stuff that wasn’t that special. The album has great cover art though, with a body covered in a bunch of gross stuff with his eyeball hanging out. I was totally wrong about the music when they actually came on stage and played.
Immortal Bird are from Chicago. I’ve been wanting to see them for a long time. Their second album Thrive on Neglect released on July 5, 2019 from 20 Buck Spin. I actually found out about them though their label since 20 Buck Spin puts out a lot of awesome music. The band is fronted by Rae Amitay and have been around in different forms since 2013.
Mortuous are from San Jose, California and have been around since 2009. They released their first full length album called Through Wilderness through Tankcrimes in June 2018. I had this album saved under Spotify a long time ago but had forgotten about it until before this show. I listened to it several times before going to see them. It’s a really good album. It’s got a brutal album cover with like a decapitated, decayed body in the form of a sprawling tree. I normally don’t like this particular style of growled, death metal vocals but I really dig Mortuous. It was a nice surprise they were on the tour.
Skeletal Remains are also from California and have been around since 2011. I didn’t know much about them before the show but it seems like they have a relatively big following. They’re on Century Media Records. The band’s last album was The Entombment Of Chaos in September 2020.
I got to Reggies around 7:20. The doors opened at 7 and there were already a lot of people hanging outside. Walking to up the venue, I saw Rick Rozz on the street talking with some fans. He seemed like a cool guy. Inside there was a lot of merch for sale. I bought a signed Left to Die poster with all the band members for $15 and a tour t-shirt for $25. They had signed and sealed copies of Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore on CD for $15 but they weren’t the newer, remastered/re-releases from Relapse Records. I also bought Mortuous’ Through Wilderness on CD for $10. The guitarist and singer were working the merch table and I got to briefly talk to them and say how great the album is. I don’t buy too many CDs anymore but I really liked Through Wilderness and wanted to add it to my collection. Mortuous also had a lot of shirts for sale. Initially I didn’t see Skeletal Remains, Immortal Bird or Molder merch anywhere but they must have been somewhere else in the building.
When I was waiting for the show to start, an older long haired metal dude came up to me and gave me props for wearing Armored Saint’s Symbol of Salvation shirt. He said he saw the shirt from behind and had to come and see if that was what he thought it was. He was a really cool guy and seemed so excited that I also loved Symbol of Salvation. He said he played the hell out of the album since it first came out, especially at his job, and actually bought it multiple times. We talked briefly about Armored Saint and fist bumped afterwards. That’s the cool thing about this music is that it brings people together and you connect with someone you otherwise might not have.
All the bands had at least one person wearing a great shirt during their performances. The bass player for Molder had on Witchfinder General, Rae from Immortal Bird was wearing a Rigor Mortis tank top, the Mortuous singer had on a Watchtower shirt and Matt Harvey from Left to Die had on Angel Witch. All of those are great bands. I ended up being up near the stage the whole night with only like a few rows of people in front of me.
Molder opened the show. They killed and seriously surprised me. Literally within the first ten seconds of them playing, the pit immediately set off and went crazy. That energy stayed the whole set. It wasn’t only a few people either just running in circles. There were a lot of people in the pit. I’ve never seen that before for a local opening band who aren’t part of the bigger tour. Usually the crowd is just standing around getting warmed up and not a lot of people care. It was nuts, especially for presumably a relatively unknown band. I felt like I was out of the loop or something. Honestly a lot of bands in that position mostly suck so it was incredibly surprising how good Molder were. The songs sounded so much better live than on the recent album Engrossed In Decay, to the point where the recorded tracks doesn’t do them justice. I think they played around six songs and ended at 8:25 p.m.
The singer of Molder reminded me a bit of Cliff Burton with the look he had. All the songs just sounded way heavier and more brutal live. The drumming was pretty fast and way better live too. They had the pit running around in a fast circle. At one point there was an inflatable shark that was getting thrown around the crowd during the set like we were at the beach or something. It eventually got deflated and destroyed. The last song they did had so many people in the pit that I got pushed back almost to the right side wall. There were so many people moshing that it got too crazy. Molder is definitely a band I’m going to be following now, especially since they’re local guys with hopefully a lot of good music in their future. That was probably the craziest, unknown opening band that I’ve seen. For their next album they need to capture that live energy and somehow get that translated to the recordings.
Immortal Bird are another fantastic live band. I really loved seeing them perform in person. They started at 8:39 p.m. Rae Amitay has a lot of power behind her vocals. I really liked her singing. I don’t know how she doesn’t lose her voice. Their drummer is seriously good too. During the set the drummer looked like he was going to pass out. He was going super hard the whole time. I wasn’t familiar with their songs but I think they played around four or five and ended their set at 9:04. She mentioned they were on a strict time limit so they didn’t play that long. Their sound is kind of a mix of death metal with some more mellow parts thrown in too. I think Immortal Bird could become big and get more recognition. They certainly sound awesome and have the talent to get there. Maybe if they get picked up on a big tour or something they will get more exposure.
Mortuous were fantastic. They were awesome live. Mortuous played around six or seven songs. They started out at 9:19 and ended their set at 9:48. The guitar playing and solos were excellent. I really liked how the guitar solos had a contrasting tone that worked well within all the songs and the band’s style. The solos sounded more “normal” or higher pitched compared to the low effects of the riffs, brutal drumming and growling singing style, if that makes any sense. The pit was again going hard during the Mortuous set. At one point the circle around the whole pit was like reinforced with a wall of people, which was pretty cool because it kind of protected everyone else nearby from getting slammed. Mortuous are a great live band. Their time just flew by. Their drummer was hitting the kit so fast that it looked like his arms were going to fall off, like when you hold a pencil out and wag it in the air so it looks like it’s bending. He was in the zone the whole time. This kind of music really revolves a lot around the drummer so he definitely delivered. I usually don’t like growling vocals but the singer was fantastic live. I really enjoyed all the songs they played. Mortuous are a great live band with good energy. I’m glad I got to rediscover them because of this show.
Skeletal Remains had some of the best and hardest pits going of the night. They’re another strong live band. They have like a classic death metal sound. It seemed like they had a lot of fans at the show. I think they played mostly songs from their last album The Entombment Of Chaos. They started their set at 10:06 with the lights going off and the “Cosmic Chasm” intro sound effects playing. The bassist was playing with all fingers. You could hear the bass playing pretty clearly. By the third song the pit went insane, especially with people running around in the circle. During the songs when the drumming would pick up the pit would go nuts. There was a lot of pushing and shoving going in the pit during Skeletal Remains. It was slowly getting into that violent territory. At one point this Hispanic looking chick got into the face of this big, long haired, husky dude who was wearing a denim vest with a bunch of back patches on it. She was pointing her finger at him and really letting him have it. I guess he was doing something stupid in the pit. There was a tons of headbanging going on in the pit too. The drummer for Skeletal Remains was like a machine. His body barely moved except for his arms. It was very methodical. I think the band played like seven songs. They ended their set at 10:43. There were a lot of good guitar solos. The songs kind of blended together and nothing was like mind blowing, but they had a solid list of songs. The vocals were good too. I had never listened to Skeletal Remains before but I liked them a lot. They’re really heavy live.
After Skeletal Remains finished the music came back on over the speakers with “And Then There Were None” by Exodus playing. It was cool because a lot of people started singing the song together and the chorus that Paul Baloff does on it. It got really warm in the building. Everyone there was sweating. A lot of people in the pit were drenched in sweat like they just jumped into a pool. The whole room got so hot with all the energy. I don’t know how some of those guys banged their heads for like five hours straight and didn’t stop moshing the whole time. I guess I’m just getting old but I can’t keep up that vibe anymore. There were some big guys in the pit too, like these younger meaty dudes who probably would be good football players in high school. I don’t know if some of these guys know how big they actually are when they’re slamming around. They don’t seem that aware. When you’re two or three times the size of everyone else it can get messed up. The place was also so packed that everyone was so close to one another, especially when the pit was going with people moshing around. You’re also getting moved around a lot from the activities and enjoying the music yourself. It just all adds up together for a really sweaty night. It was a great crowd though that really added to the feel and excitement of the show.
Left to Die were so awesome. It was an amazing show. They sounded as close to the Leprosy album and that time period in metal as you can get. Matt Harvey is probably the best choice to play the role of Chuck Schuldiner. His vocals were fantastic live. I also liked the effects they had on the microphone to give it more of an echo feel from those old metal shows from the ’80s. All the band members played great, and it gives a lot of credbility to have both Rozz and Butler on stage performing these songs. They played 13 songs total. The lights in the room went off at 11:02. Some music played from Scream Bloody Gore as the lights were off. An old taped recording of the band intro from Death’s Leprosy period played, with Chuck Schuldiner talking over the music about wanting to be heavy. It was a nice touch to bridge the gap between that era and this tribute band. After that the Halloween movie theme song played as all of Left to Die came on stage. They opened the set with “Leprosy.” There was already a stage diver during the song, which is always a good indication the rest of the set is going to rock. They went into “Born Dead” and “Forgotten Past” next. Afterwards Harvey introduced the band and said they were halfway through the tour. They did “Mutilation” and “Baptized in Blood” from Scream Bloody Gore after Harvey’s introduction. Harvey did the big scream at the end of “Baptized in Blood” really good.
After “Baptized in Blood,” Harvey talked about being in junior high and how at the beginning of high school everyone was either playing football or going to prom but he was in his room learning Death riffs. He said it was surreal to play the songs now with the people who created them. He went on to talk about how one of the people couldn’t be there that night but everyone knew his name. The crowd broke into loud chants for Chuck as the band led it on. He said that if the band was here and everyone at the show was here then Chuck Schuldiner was still here. It was a cool moment and it was nice they acknowledged Schuldiner’s legacy and the reason why they could even do their band/tour in the first place. They played “Open Casket” next and followed that with Harvey introducing each band member. He talked about the other bands on the show and really put over the Chicago bands in Molder and Immortal Bird. They did “Primitive Ways” and “Choke On It” next. Before playing “Choke On It” Harvey said the song was on Side B, number four for anyone over 35 years old and for anyone under 35 it was the last song on the record. I thought that was pretty funny. He did the screams on “Choke On It” really good too. The drumming sounded super tight live during the song as well. You could also really hear Butler’s bass playing during parts of the song that sounded awesome.
The next song they played was “Denial of Life” from Scream Bloody Gore. Harvey said he was going back to the past for that one. He used to play it back in 9th grade and it’s one of his favorites from the set. He also talked about taking a shot of Malort and he doesn’t know how we (us Chicagoans) drink that stuff. It’s pretty brutal stuff. They did “Left to Die” next, which was so heavy live and sounded so good. They followed that up with “Zombie Ritual” from Scream Bloody Gore. There were a couple of stage divers/crowd surfers right next to me during the song. It got crazy. Everyone was super into “Zombie Ritual.” I had to help push the stage divers forward next to me and almost got kicked in the face a few times. At one point during the song, some Zoomer looking kid got on the microphone right next to Rick Rozz and started singing the lyrics. Rozz just looked over at him, smiled, and kept playing guitar. The guy didn’t really look like a metalhead and seemed to be in his late teens at the most. That fan got really into the song like it was his big moment. Butler kept looking over and seemed confused. The kid was singing along for like a good minute until security finally came from the back of the stage and ripped him away. He didn’t want to leave though and was trying to resist them until they just dragged him off stage. I had never seen than before at a metal show. Usually the unspoken rule or etiquette for a metal show is to get on stage, headbang or go crazy for a few seconds, then immediately jump off into the crowd. This kid just started singing like he was a fifth member of the band and then didn’t want to leave. That usually happens at hardcore shows and is just something that goes on way more in that scene, with those types of bands even encouraging it or singing along with the fans. It’s more an unwritten rule at hardcore shows that people can do that and have a ton of fans on stage singing with the band. It really never happens at a metal show. The security at Reggies is pretty lax though and I was surprised the kid was on stage so long before they did something.
After “Zombie Ritual” the band left the stage then came back out for an encore. They were missing one song from Leprosy and that was “Pull the Plug,” which they played next. Harvey said he wanted to see the biggest circle pit. The pit did go hard for the song. It was nuts. There were more stage divers during the song too. Security did start pulling people off if they stood on stage too long. One person was up there not even 10 seconds before security yanked them off stage towards the back. “Pull the Plug” sounded amazing live. Left to Die ended their set with “Evil Dead” from Scream Bloody Gore. Everyone got into it and was going crazy. It was fun to sing along to “Evil Dead” as I really like that song too. They ended their set at 12:21 a.m. so it finished a lot later than most shows.
Left to Die crushed it hard. They sounded like they were from the old days. It was an amazing show. Their live performance is probably the closest you’ll get to the originals unless you had a time machine. It was really cool hearing all the songs in person and they didn’t just sound like a cover band. Left to Die felt like a genuine and authentic act. Matt Harvey was a great frontman and vocalist for this project. He did an awesome job filling in that role and sounded fantastic. I thought the songs all sounded like they did from that time period and weren’t “modernized” with different equipment, tuning or effects that changed the feel of them completely. They really nailed Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore down and stayed true to those albums. It will be interesting to see what Left to Die does in the future and how much they do with the band. Do they just do tours or start writing new music?
The show got out pretty late. After the show was over I bought Immortal Bird’s Thrive on Neglect CD for $10. They had a separate room for Skeletal Remains and Immortal Bird merch. I must have missed it when I first came into the building. Rae was working their merch area and she was super nice and friendly. When I got outside there was an SUV cop car outside with flashing blue lights on the street in front of Reggies. I guess the metalheads were going to cause a public disturbance. There had been a shooting in Chinatown a few weeks prior to the show so it’s not like Reggies is in a great area either. I was starving afterwards. I could have used that pizza truck from J.B. Albertos that shows up around the city when concerts are done. I wish that dude would have been parked outside. I didn’t get home until around 1:30 a.m. I was so grimy from the show that I had to take a shower when I got back. It was all worth it though. This was one of the most memorable shows I’ve been to and it’s fun to still have these types of experiences after going to concerts for so long.