It may have been howling wind and rain Saturday night in Oakland, but another storm was taking place inside the Uptown, where metalheads convened for the return of their hometown heroes, Saviours and High on Fire. Neither band disappointed.
After openers Intronaut, who I missed, Saviours played a much-too-short set, playing mostly tracks from their just-released album, Into Abaddon. The band's incredibly tight performance whipped the sweaty crowd into a frenzy with songs like "Narcotic Sea," which features an epic, slowed-down version of Kansas' "Wayward Son" riff, before delving into a blazing guitar solo reminiscent of Soundgarden's Kim Thayil. Drummer Scott Batiste hit his drums so hard he cracked a stick in the beginning of their first song. The combination of technical skill and their trademark throwback sound of 70s and early 80s era of New Wave of British Heavy Metal undoubtedly makes them a standout in the metal scene, not just locally, but nationally as well. Look for big things from these Oakland musicians.
A Life Once Lost changed the pace, not only with its onstage setup -- lights, fog machine, projected psychedelic visuals -- but also its sound, which didn't quite live up to the presentation. The band bills itself as "psychedelic/metal/Southern rock" -- which translates as a lot of screaming and crunchy repetitive nu-metal-type riffs with the occasional solo. Overall, the lights, which flickered on and off throughout the set, distracted from what the band had to offer.
When High on Fire finally took the stage, the packed crowd was ready to go nuts. And the band responded appropriately. Always an exhilarating frontman, guitarist Matt Pike used his powerful playing to rile up the fans. The whole trio was on point -- bassist Jeff Matz finally seems like the right fit, and drummer Des Kensel was as thrilling to watch at pounding the skins as ever. The band played liberally from its catalog -- including old favorites like "Nemesis" and "Eyes and Teeth" as well as more recent songs like "Waste of Tiamat," "Fury Whip," and "Khanrad's Wall." A nice mosh pit was going from the beginning, but occasionally the crowd got too rowdy; at one point a guy kept knocking over Pike's mic stand, apparently on purpose, which, after repeated warnings from Pike that went ignored, earned the dude a boot to the face. Eventually someone from the crowd knocked the guy back, and someone else became Pike's personal mic bodyguard, much to his relief. The band ended with a rousing version of "Blessed Black Wings" around 1 a.m., with Pike demanding that everyone sing along. No one argued. -- Kathleen Richards