A Death tribute act celebrated the legacy of all the band’s music with a crushing set.
Date: Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Place: House of Blues Chicago (329 N. Dearborn St.; Chicago, Illinois 60654)
Ticket Price: $27.50 ($38.61 after fees)
This was one of the best shows I have ever been to. I do kind of say that like every show I go to, but this time it’s really for real. I didn’t expect Death To All to be so good. They were incredible and they had great support too with Nukem and Suffocation. The House of Blues in Chicago is a cool venue. It’s located right downtown. I like the way the building looks inside, with a big open floor and surrounding area with bars and then a balcony area. The sound is great too, especially for metal bands. The last time I was at House of Blues Chicago was in May 2019 to see Overkill and Death Angel. The place got really packed for this show.
Death is one of my all-time favorite bands. Chuck Schuldiner, the main force behind the band, passed away in December 2001 from brain cancer. There are a few “official” tribute groups with direct ties to the band that exist and are currently touring. Death To All (DTA) has been around for a long time now, forming in 2012 and doing various shows and tours throughout the years. The band has had different members with ties to Death, touring and playing songs from the band’s entire catalog. Having actual members from those albums and time periods adds a lot of credibility to the band, even though it’s a tribute act. It’s separate from Death but still has a lot of the elements that made the band successful when it was around. Left to Die is a newer band that features two members from Death’s ’80s period with guitarist Rick Rozz and bassist Terry Butler of the Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy era. Both guys are joined by Matt Harvey from Exhumed and Gruesome who plays guitar and sings while Gus Rios from Malevolent Creation and Gruesome plays drums. Unlike Death To All’s tour, Left to Die just plays the whole Leprosy album and a few songs from Scream Bloody Gore in their sets. I saw Left to Die last July and they killed. The 30th anniversary of Death’s Individual Thought Patterns album is coming up this June. That’s still a phenomenal album. The more I listen to it, the more it becomes one of my all-time favorites. This Death To All tour was advertised as celebrating that album’s anniversary and the rest of Death’s music too.
The current Death To All lineup feature Steve Di Giorgio on bass, Gene Hoglan on drums, Bobby Koelble on guitar and Max Phelps doing vocals and guitar. Both Di Giorgio and Hoglan both played on a couple Death albums in the ’90s and were on Individual Thought Patterns together. Bobby Koelble played on 1995’s Symbolic album with Hoglan and the tour for it. Phelps is in his own band called Exist and has also played live with Cynic throughout the past decade. Exist released their third album Egoiista in August 2020 on Prosthetic Records. This tour had 23 shows, running from March 2 in Seattle to April 1 in Denver. I had seen both Di Giorgio and Hoglan play together with Testment before. Both guys are incredible and legendary musicians. Seeing them live is pretty special.
Suffocation are a legendary death metal band from Long Island, New York. I haven’t listened to them much but had bought one of their newer albums from 2017 before called …Of the Dark Light that was really good. Their first record Effigy of the Forgotten released in 1991 and is considered one of the most important metal albums for its influence on brutal/technical death metal and the genre as a whole. I don’t think I have seen Suffocation live before but expected them to be super heavy based on their reputation. They might have opened for somebody once at a show I went to but I’m pretty sure this would be my first time seeing them. Ricky Myers is the band’s current vocalist, who replaced original singer and founding member Frank Mullen who retired from music in 2018. Myers had previously played live with Suffocation for several years singing for the band in place of Mullen when he couldn’t make certain tours. Myers is also in his own death metal band called Disgorge that he started in 1992 who have released several albums since the late ’90s.
Nukem are a newer thrash metal band from California. I hadn’t heard of them before this show. Nukem have only put out one album since forming in 2012 called The Unholy Trinity that released in September 2016. They just recently put out a new single called “Empress of Evil” that’s pretty good so I would assume they would have a new album coming out soon.
It just sucked getting into downtown Chicago. The traffic was awful, more so because of the new major construction project that started in March on the Kennedy Expressway that shrunk the road to just two lanes. I could have walked there faster. I got inside the House of Blues at around 6:32. There were a few rows of people near the front of the stage and aa lot of people spread out across the room at the bars, food areas and just standing around in the back. There were maybe a few hundred people all across the different areas when I got in. There were a lot of younger people at this show too, probably in their late teens to early 20s. It was a good demographic and mix of people.
There was a merch area set up in the back for all three bands. I got a Death To All tour shirt for $30. They had signed posters limited to 250 for $20 each. They also had some signed drum items. Suffocation had shirts for $30. Nukem had a smaller table set up with a few shirts for $30 too but didn’t have any vinyl or CDs for sale. After buying the shirt I was able to get like right near the stage. There was a guy in some banana costume outfit in the front row by the barricade, which really stood out.
Nukem had a big task opening for two huge bands but they really pulled it off. They had great energy on stage. I liked them a lot. Their sound was really tight. The lights went off in the room at 7 p.m. and the band came on stage with red lighting on them. Nukem are also a bit unique since they have a woman playing lead guitar with them, which you don’t see a lot in metal. Laura Christine rips on guitar and is a great live player. She’s also married to Gene Hoglan, so it’s cool they were able to tour together in different bands. Nukem played about 35 minutes with eight songs. They opened with “Lethal Injection” and “D.O.I.” They played their new song “Empress of Evil” after those. The new song sounded pretty good live. Nukem played “WarWolf” next, which is a cool, thrashy song that sounds great live. All the different colored lighting effects and flashing on stage that Nukem had during the set almost gave me a seizure.
The fifth song they played called “The Atomic Age” had some really great guitar soloing near the ending. It was ripping pretty hard. Steve Brogden on vocals and rhythm guitar played great. He sounded great singing the songs too, with his voice really fitting the thrash metal style. On the sixth song “The Deceiver” I could feel the riffing and down picking in my chest. The band’s playing was vibrating throughout the whole room. The bass playing from Don Lauder sounded especially good on this song too. Later in the song the riffing picked up and a pit opened up in the center of the floor. It was a pretty good size. The riff on the seventh song “Evelyn’s Awakening” sounded amazing live. The last song “Nukem All” ripped hard too. There were some melodic solos near the end, with both Brogden and Christine playing off each other. They had good chemistry on stage together. The band’s guitar tones sounded sick live. Nukem were a really great opening band and strong thrash act too. If you’re into thrash metal you would probably dig them. Their set went by really quick and was fun to watch. The crowd got pretty into them. It was pretty packed for Nukem. Most of the floor was filled out along with the surrounding standing areas. The balcony area was also filled too. I’m looking forward to Nukem’s eventual new album and seeing them live again.
Suffocation were so heavy. They were super intense live. Suffocation were so loud that I could feel the riffs and the drumming vibrating in my body the entire time they played. It was crazy. I knew it was about to get real when this built security guard came out before the set and stood by the stage, who wasn’t there when Nukem played. Suffocation had a big mosh pit going for most of their set. The pit went pretty hard too, much more than your typical thrash metal pit. They started playing at around 7:58, opening with “Thrones of Blood” off Pierced from Within (1995). Even though Death To All were headlining, there were a lot of people there to see Suffocation too. Almost immediately a huge put opened up on the floor with a ton of people in it. There was a huge wall of people running around in a circle and moshing around. The pit for Suffocation looked more violent than at other shows I’ve been to. The guitar solo by Terrance Hobbs for this first song was awesome, especially being so close to the stage. The third song “Catatonia” went really hard, which is from their 1991 debut EP Human Waste. The crowd was really into the song and got another big pit going. The fourth song “Funeral Inception” from another EP Despise the Sun (1998) went really crazy. The pit had this huge running fast circle going in it that looked insane. During this song a girl was crowd surfing right over me and the security guard picked her up. I didn’t even notice her until she was being pushed forward and almost hit me. “Pierced from Within” was the next song and was also incredibly intense. The guitar solo at the end of the song was awesome.
Hobbs is a fantastic guitar player. Seeing him play live was really cool. The drumming from Eric Morotti the whole night was just wild. His double bass playing and drumming was so loud and intense. You could just feel it down to your bones. He played incredibly fast. It was pretty amazing to experience live and blew me away. Derek Boyer on bass also killed it. He has a unique style where his bass guitar hangs so low to the ground that he practically sometimes plays it standing upright or like positioned on his foot. It looked like he was crouch walking on stage at points too. I’ve never seen anyone play bass like that before. Charlie Errigo on rhythm guitar was going hard the whole night and headbanging like crazy. He kept up the energy the whole time. Myers’ vocals and growling were so brutal. It’s amazing how he held those deep growls and kept doing them the whole night. From my limited knowledge of Suffocation and never seeing them live before, he really seems to fit the band. He’s a super big dude too, like really tall. All these death metal dudes are intense as hell and look intimidating but I bet they’re all nice guys.
“Liege of Inveracity” from Effigy of the Forgotten was the seventh song that Suffocation played. The playing on this song was intense too. Hobbs melted out another awesome guitar solo. I really liked the band’s guitar playing live because the solos sounded a lot different compared to the rest of the music. Those sections weren’t downtuned so the contrast worked really well into the songs. The bass playing was heavy all night but especially on “Liege of Inveracity.” People were going hard in the pit during this song. The last song Suffocation played was “Infecting the Crypts” from Human Waste and their debut album. Myers stopped during the song and said it was the last chance to open the pit up, which a ton of people did. Suffocation ended at 8:40 after eight songs.
Suffocation absolutely killed and crushed my mind. Each song just brought so much intensity. The whole set was a really incredibly sensory experience, from the flashing colored lights all over, to the crazy drumming, to the death vocals from Myers and the demolishing guitar playing. It was a sensory overload both visually and to your ears. If you didn’t have earplugs in for Suffocation you would probably get your hearing blown out. They were still really loud even with wearing plugs. Physically you could just feel the music down to your core from how loud and chaotic it all was. I hardly ever experience that at shows. I loved the guitar playing from Hobbs and Errigo. You can’t help but headbang along to Suffocation’s music. The room was super packed for Suffocation. There were a ton of people here. It must have been close to a sell out. Suffocation had a lot of fans here. Most people were super into them, even rocking out in the balcony areas. It’s probably one of the best sets I’ve seen, and I’m not even a mega fan and really only casually know the band. I need to listen to Suffocation more. I haven’t got around to getting into them.
Death To All were simply incredible. This band is the best way to experience Death without Chuck being with us. The level of talent that all four guys have is amazing. Di Giorgio is one of the best bassists and Hoglan is one of the best drummers, so putting them together is an all-time combo. They played around 20 songs. That’s a really long set, way longer than most headlines play. There was a longer wait for Death To All to start. I’m not sure what took so long since it looked like everything was set up for awhile before they finally came out. The lights in the room went down at 9:15. Some sound effects start playing, almost like an underwater effect. It seemed like it played forever though. Some guy near me commented that this was the show. That really made me laugh. Hoglan came out at 9:21and the Death To All sign lit up red, with the rest of the band following. The opening song had so much energy. Death To All opened with the beginning part of “Infernal Death” from Scream Bloody Gore then went right into “Overactive Imagination” from Individual Thought Patterns. This song was so good live and set the tone for the rest of the show.
They did “The Philosopher” next that was also great. They played “Bite the Pain” from Death’s final album The Sound of Perseverance (1998). Max Phelps would adjust his vocals depending on the era of the song, as Chuck’s voice was also varied during the different periods of the band. I thought that was a cool touch. The drumming from Hoglan was fantastic on this song. They went into “Zero Tolerance” from Symbolic as the fifth song. Steve’s fingers were going crazy on his bass during this one. He was urging crowd surfers on when one guy got picked up by security. I noticed he was also playing on stage barefoot, which is a pretty hippie and metal thing to do. The guitar solo from Bobby Koelble was so good on this song. He’s a fantastic player and really underrated. There were a lot of crowd surfers that kept the security guards busy the whole set. After the song Steve talked to the crowd and said Chicago came in hot and hoped we had that energy for him all night. He thanked the crowd for keeping live music alive. He said what the band does is a bit of a nostalgic trip but it feels relevant because we all love to hear it and they love playing it. He said they were here to immortalize our fallen brother Chuck Schuldiner. The crowd erupted into cheers and loud Chuck chants. That was really cool. Steve said this is what Chuck envisioned. Steve said they have songs off all the records tonight, something for everyone. They were keeping Chuck’s vision and memory alive. This show definitely didn’t feel like a cash grab but a legitimate tribute and cool way for people to experience all that music live in the present day.
“Spiritual Healing” was the next song, the title track from that 1990 album. Phelps adjusted his voice again for it. The song was so sick live, with the drumming and riffing played really fast, faster than on the album. A ton of people in the crowd were headbanging. The solos at the end of the song were fantastic. Both Phelps and Koelble sounded awesome. Di Giorgio was slapping his bass right in front of me on stage too. They went into “Evil Dead” from Scream Bloody Gore as their seventh song. It sounded incredible. There was a really big pit going during the song. When Death To All played the earlier material from the first two albums the songs sounded fresh and new. They added something to those songs in the live setting that just elevated them all. After the song Steve said he loved the reaction. He thanked the security staff and said no one gets hurt and we all get along. He talked about it being the 30th anniversary of Individual Thought Patterns and that he was a young lad when he recorded it. He said he’s 37 now and they were like 5 when they made the album. He talked about how “The Philosopher” was the Beavis and Butt-head song, which pissed Chuck off but it gave the band exposure. Steve is actually really charismatic and funny, which I wasn’t expecting. He basically acted like the frontman the entire night as Phelps didn’t say much the whole show. After talking about the album the band went into “Trapped in a Corner” from it. Steve played a little extra bass section at the end, like a solo with the rest of the band stopping their parts. It sounded sick.
They went right into “Lack of Comprehension” from Human (1991). The drumming from Hoglan was so heavy on this song. The whole song sounded amazing live. Death To All went back to Leprosy (1988) with that album’s title track. It’s one of my favorite Death songs and these guys played it so good. Phelps did the screams on the song great. Hoglan was like a machine on the drums during the song. Seeing him play the song in person was crazy. Her was headbanging and going along with the playing so effortlessly. The band played “Leprosy” was faster than it was on the album. “Leprosy” had a good pit going too. Before going to “Jealousy” off Individual Thought Patterns Di Giorgio and Hoglan did a big intro, talking about the recording process of that album. Steve talked about how they connected with Hoglan through Dark Angel and how they now have a bond decades later. He called Hoglan “The Atomic Clock” and really put him over before Hoglan talked to the crowd. Hoglan kind of sounded like an auctioneer or boxing announcer when he talked. He said the number one thing is us all having fun and leaving all our leaving our troubles at the door by listening to some metal. “Jealously” sounded fantastic live. They continued on and played “Suicide Machine” from Human and then “Living Monstrosity” from Spiritual Healing. “Living Monstrosity” was another old song that sounded excellent live. The guitar playing was awesome on it. Phelps even kind of stood like Chuck used to do on stage. He really nailed down Chuck’s parts while adding his own style to it as well.
Di Giorgio did another intro before the band went into “Symbolic,” which was like the 15th song they played. He said it was around the 28th anniversary of the Symbolic album, which brought in new members like Bobby Koelble that’s part of this tribute. “Symbolic” was yet again another phenomenal live song. After the song the band left the stage and came back a few minutes later for the encore. For the encore they did another five songs. They started up again with “Flattening of Emotions” from Human. The drumming from Hoglan was so heavy on this song. It was so sick. Phelps’ singing was also really tight on the song and sounded fantastic. Death To All went back to the first album with “Zombie Ritual,” which the crowd popped really loud for once the band started playing the intro to it. The song was so good live and like the other older material sounded so modern when they played it on stage. It really shows how great all of Death’s music is and how much it all still holds up over 35 years later. The pit went really strong during “Zombie Ritual.” Phelps’ vocals sounded sick still too, especially this late into the show with this type of extreme music.
After the song Steve talked to the crowd again. Someone from the crowd yelled out asking how his feet were, since he was on stage with no shoes on. Steve said he had a chunk of wood in it but they took it out. He thanked everyone for coming out and making it a great show. He said it’s a great memory for the band to be playing for us. He went on to formerly introduce Phelps and said that Max was under the weather. He said it’s not easy to do this on stage for a tribute band for an iconic band. Steve also said it’s hard to sing all the songs that Chuck wrote and sang on too. Steve called Max the Baltimore kid and that he has his own band called Exist from Maryland. I had no idea that Phelps was sick during this whole show. That makes it even more impressive with how awesome he played and sang the entire night with how complex all this music is. Just going through all the vocal changes to fit the different songs must have killed his throat too while already being sick. He filled Chuck’s shoes incredibly well for this band. Koelble talked on stage during this part too. He’s also a pretty funny dude as he would crack jokes or make funny mannerisms between some of the songs. He did a quick knock-knock joke here and said “Orange.” The crowd yelled back, “Orange who?” Phelps responded, “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” He said it’s not everyday you get a banana in the front row, referencing that one guy near the barricade wearing a banana suit. Bobby said that Steve is the king of the heavy metal fretless bass, is on a three string guitar tonight and that he’s one of his favorite people on the planet. The crowd broke out into loud Steve chants after this.
Di Giorgio said that someone asked him earlier during the VIP fan meeting if he was born here. He said he was born in Waukegan, Illinois but he’s a California boy through and through. The crowd booed and he was like, boo? He said he liked the Blackhawks but the Bears need a lot of work. I didn’t know that Di Giorgio was actually born in Illinois. That’s cool, although I dunno how great Waukegan is. He listed off all of Death’s albums and asked the crowd if we wanted to hear something from The Sound of Perseverance. The crowd cheered and the band went into “Spirit Crusher.” The bass intro on this song was so sick live. Phelps adjusted his voice again to sound like Chuck’s on the final album. The drumming was also so heavy. Hoglan didn’t even look tired this late into the show. Phelps sounded fantastic on “Spirit Crusher.” I don’t know how he didn’t blow out his voice on this song, especially if he was sick. Afterwards the band played “Crystal Mountain” from Symbolic. Hoglan killed it on drums during this song. It was amazing to have a straight view of him drumming from where I stood. He was hitting the double bass so heavy and drumming all over his kit like nothing.
Death To All played “Pull the Plug” from Leprosy as the final song in the set. “Pull the Plug” is another favorite Death song of mine. There was one final pit going hard during the song. The band stopped halfway and waited for the crowd to get pumped up then went back into the song. There were some awesome sounding guitar solos live during “Pull the Plug.” Hoglan played fantastic on this last song. After it was all done Hoglan just walked from behind the kit to join the rest of the guys, like nothing. He didn’t even look phased or tired. He really is a machine. The band bowed on stage together as the crowd chanted for one more song. Death To All ended at 11:18 after about two hours of playing a set filled with nearly 20 songs of crushing music.
Seeing Death to All was an amazing experience. I have to see these guys again. It’s so cool that Chuck’s legacy and his music are able to keep going in this way. It’s not just some local cover band doing these songs but people that are high-level musicians who actually worked and performed with Chuck when he was alive. The show was out of this world and just incredible to witness all the songs played live.