In a rare bill highlighting three fairly disparate corners of the growing heavy music genre, three immensely talented bands shared the Emerald Lounge stage on Saturday night. Featuring talent from Asheville and Hickory, N.C., as well as upstate New York, the show offered an excellent sampling of the incredibly diverse modern metal landscape.
Kicking this off, Hickory's A Course of Action delivered a powerful set of grooving nu-rock tunes with plenty of homage paid to metal’s masters. Recalling the riff-driven phrasing of Sabbath with the crisp, full melodies of more recent acts like Killswitch Engage and In Flames, ACOC put together a great performance from start to finish.
Up next, New York-based guitar virtuoso Joe Stump absolutely melted the room with a blistering set of instrumental burners. Backed by a remarkably talented bassist and drummer combo, Stump’s set was focused on one thing and one thing only: guitar solos played at speeds no human being should be capable of even approaching. Seriously, his hands were so fast and so precise that it was at times like watching the terminator robot handle a guitar had he been programmed to sweep pick instead of kill John Connor.
Bands like Dragonforce have given this kind of shred-first, ask questions later material a re-injection of enthusiasm over the past decade, but it's clear that Stump has been chewing fretboards for much longer. The atrociously fast axe wizard sounds like he stepped straight out of a Joe Satriani/Steve Vai/Yngwie Malmsteen how-to book, but his inclusion of death and doom metal elements keeps the music from sounding dated.
As mentioned above, the songs served as set-pieces for the kind of six string acrobatics that birthed a generation of long-haired Guitar World readers. It bordered on tiring, but Stump did a great job of keeping the energy high while poking a little fun at himself along the way.
Finally, Kings of Prussia closed the show with a stunning series of lush, angular and technically astounding songs from their lengthy catalog. Finding a comfortable spot somewhere between MONO, The Red Chord, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge, the Asheville quartet offered up a relentless set that completely took command of the room for a full hour.
The band began behind a drop sheet displaying projected video. It was a nice touch, but truthfully, it only obscured the audience’s view of the musicians themselves. Within a few minutes, most of the attendees had shifted to the side of the stage to better see the players work their magic. Thankfully, the sheet fell down about halfway through the show, making it much easier to enjoy the outstanding display of instrumental mastery unfolding on stage.
It should be said, however, that KOP’s music could hardly be relegated to a simple vehicle for musical athletics. The band has a tremendous gift for creating compelling song structures that feature lengthy passages of dreamy melody and genuinely dynamic ebbs and flows. It would be easy to just lock in on one musician in particular and get your mind blown by his incredible talents, but that would be a disservice to the Kings as a whole.