Only Living Witness at the Middle East Downstairs, June 21, 2008
By JAMES PARKER  |  June 24, 2008

Only Living Witness

Thirteen years is a long time in heavy metal, but as the lolloping drums, crushing chords, and eerie distended melody of Only Living Witness’s “December” filled the Middle East downstairs on Saturday, time flickered and then collapsed. OLW’s mid-’90s marriage of hardcore impact and metallic low end garnered them an international reputation and birthed the current brood of Mass Metal favorites (Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, etc.). Here in Boston, they were beloved: Jonah Jenkins’s keening vocals were a rallying cry for the more progressive elements in the scene, and his strange, brainbox lyrics, dense with the encryption of some never-quite-articulated inner struggle, made a remarkable connection — when you’ve got a mob of beefy boys in Celtics jerseys bellowing “Who’s at the helm/Of the purge that looms?/Should I bother trying to see outside this room?” (“Prone Mortal Form”), you know you’re doing something right.

The band re-formed this year to play — with typical aloofness — just three shows, of which this was the second of two at the Middle East. (The third is August 30 in Eindhoven.) “We’ve got folks here from Germany, from Arizona,” said a clearly delighted Jenkins, “And from as far away as Lowell!” Did they pull it off? Of course. With local veteran Bob Maloney standing in on bass, OLW were effortlessly heavy: Craig Silverman bounced and Weller-jumped all the way through his many fearsome chord sequences, and Eric Stevenson’s drumming might have been more fluent than ever. At the high moments — the Who-like intro to “No Eden,” the gray, thick-toned scourge of “Downpour” — old chemicals surged in the brain. “Now everything is lost,” belted out Jenkins, looking paradoxically centered, empowered, at the heart of things. “Everything is lost!” And you remembered that part of the point of this music, this noise, was to endow young men with the gift of prophecy.

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