Integrity - live in Baltimore (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


live in Baltimore (2019)

live show

Dwid Hellion got the idea for Psywarfare from the Waco siege, wherein Federal Authorities tried to expel the branch Davidians from their compound by blasting painfully loud, abrasive sound at the building. The Psywarfare project was inspired by this method: using sound as a tool, and even as a weapon, as opposed to music. The point being, selecting sound as a tool for offense is a tactical strike, and over the past three years or so, Integrity and its spin offs and progeny haven’t been acting as “touring bands” so much as they have been making tactical strikes. The January 12, 2019 show at the Metro in Baltimore showed just how effective this method is.

Psywarfare opened the show with their first USA appearance in over 20 years, and if I’m not mistaken, one of their only handful of appearances ever. Hellion remained behind a wall of electronic devices while two masked performers, wearing Balaclavas and black clothes, stomped across the front of the stage. Hellion conjured about 25 minutes of abrasive electronic soundclash, that buzzed and crackled and shrieked, often times sounding like a military distress communication mixed with a centrifuge grinding its gears. The two performers, meanwhile screamed out demands and commands in shattered, barely decipherable phrases. One had a sort of homemade stringed instrument that, as he beat on it, sounded like concrete pylons being dropped into the ocean. The other performer had a sort of sheet metal fan that he smacked against the ground and his own head. Behind the trio were distorted video images of film that may have been appropriated from 1920-30’s film, during the period where movies were often far weirder and more experimental than they would be for the next several decades. The who set was a din of clashing and contrasting noise, at times seemingly springing from the sound collages of Throbbing Gristle, the purposefully abrasive rants of Crass, and at times, the frantic militarism of fringe political factions. It wasn’t nice to listen to, and it was challenging. But, that seemed to be the point. So little art, even in punk, really disorientates or challenges the listener, and frankly, most of it reinforces the listeners expectation. Psywarfare’s set was boldly confrontational, more arty than most would actually admit, and a way to further underscore that Integrity and its brothers do not conform to any sort of genre, really.

After Psywarfare’s set, In Cold Blood smashed through a set of more traditional hardcore. The band originally formed from the ashes of mid 90s Integrity, but at this point, both entities have become their own thing. In Cold Blood seemed to make as sharp and as punchy a set as possible, so they jumped from track to track with few gaps. The guitars were down tuned and hard, and the vocals were that unique hardcore combination of the Thing meets Harley Flanagan. At points, they did add in some of their more ornate, metallic sections, but for the majority of the set, low, rumbling, tank riffage was the order and that order was received.

In sharp contrast to In Cold Blood’s lumbering crank, Devil Master started their set by decorating the front of the stage with a now well worn giant spiderweb. In interviews, the band has kept fairly serious about the subjects their music explores- damnation, demons, astral planes. But, no doubt, there’s a little bit of self awareness here with most band members wearing capes and corpse paint. But, make no mistake, the actual tuneage was definite serious. A cross between early 80s hardcore, black metal, and satanic-Japanese weirdos Zouo, Devil Master sped through a darkened set, filled with slashing riffs, growled vocals, and discordant keyboards. The band’s sound operated more as a single, pounding mass, rather than a collection of separate instruments, so all the curses and snapping bass lines and buzzing guitar feedback acted as a single powerful wave of horror. Devil Master walked that difficult line of being a lot of fun, but also being a formidable and dark presence. It’s interesting that Devil Master are quite clearly composed of parts of other bands, but somehow, have forged those used elements into a new thing that can be twisted into a “good time” or a “true horrific experience” depending on one’s own mindset. They are definitely one of the more interesting darker punk bands out there today.

Next, Genocide Pact brought a unique blend of death metal to the stage. The band is often squarely dropped in the “Death metal” section, but unlike a lot of spiraling bands that twist out 7 minute epics, Genocide Pact’s music was distinctly compact. Most tracks seemed to come in at under three minutes and throughout the performance, the band ostensibly took a punk or hardcore skeleton, and then added the ornate guitar theatrics and bloody growls of death metal on the top.

At the end of the night, Integrity took the stage in five piece formation and immediately ripped into their classic opener, “Vocal Test” right into “Hollow.” Little did we know that the entire first section of the set would be a straight run through of side A of the Humanity is the Devil album. Wow! Still with Dom Romeo anchoring the band on guitar, Hellion was in fine form, that bloodcurdling howl lashing out over the riffs. Interestingly, while Integrity has basically been in full metal mode for the past two years, for the Baltimore performance, they seemed to be in more frantic, punk mode. Romeo, guitarist Justin Ethem, bassist Francis Kano (also of Devil Master), and drummer Sean Garwood traded in the winding riffs for a charging exploding attack.

The remainder of the massive 20 song set found the band traversing the entire discography, with a fair share of rarities dropped in. “Bloodlust” from Closure was a welcome surprise, with its rumbling, drum intro and sinister bass line. “Flames of the Immortal,” off the new split with Krieg, was an unexpected blast and served as energy jolt mid-set. At the end of the setlist, In cold Blood’s Blaze Tishko joined the band for “Taste my Sin” and “Dawn of a new apocalypse.” Interestingly, while the band has been riding the success of Howling, for the nightmare shall consume, using that album as the bread and butter for recent setlists, here, it appeared as two tracks only, the centerpiece “I am the spell,” as sinister and as riveting as ever with its sour note section and second half rev-up, and the Lemmy tribute “Die with your boots on.” To the band’s credit, it seemed the set was intended as a career spanning experience, and not merely to focus on the most recent high points. Still, one does hope that they keep a good amount of Howling in future setlists.

The band’s current iteration has resulted in an interesting Integration. Hellion and Romeo have frequently focused more on the metal, and to a degree, technical side of things. Yet, the newest lineup seemed to draw not from Yngwie precision, but from raw, hot fire. The band was as energetic and berserk as I’ve ever seen them, blasting from song to song with no break. Long running tunes, including the insanely huge sounding “Systems Overload” were presented in their fastest and most crazed presentation to date. I was reminded of Earth AD (in part due to certain merch options), not in sound, but in presentation. As with that 1983 classic, the band existed in a massive of noise stacked on top of noise stacked on top of noise, with a certain rage pushing everything forward in a, frankly, oft uncontrolled mass. For his part, Hellion seemed to be feeding off the energy bellowing out his barbed vocals with a vengeance, a frankly, a good deal of fun. It takes a good musician to play with precision and total control. It takes a great musician to let that control go and let spirit of the song guide the way. Integrity did just that at their Baltimore show. Often, the band is bemoaning the earthly hell in which we dwell, but it really is interesting at how this music, which is built of anger, skepticism, and nihilism, can lead to a truly moving, transcendent experience.

What with the band in a certain new golden age (amazing string of releases, crack band) one would think that Integrity would just be touring as much as possible and appearing in every publication they could in order to milk the current stream of success. But, ever the contrarians, the band has taken the opposite approach, and have tactical planned to appear only at certain places, for very limited engagements, making each show an event. That’s the smart move, and it’s somewhat militaristic in its cunning devise. That is, when Integrity hits, it leaves and impact, and the Baltimore crowd will have the mark of the January 12 show for quite some time.

Random Notes

-I, for real, saw a double decker stage dive. Some guy ran up on stage and leaped off, headed straight towards me! But, just as he launched, ANOTHER guy latched on to the former’s belt, jumped up as well, and was literally double decker on top of the other. The air couldn’t support the weight and both fellows immediately crashed to the ground.

-During the show, I happened to be standing next to former Integrity drummer, Josh Brettell. Mid-way through the Integrity set, some drunk knucklehead kept moshing backwards, smashing into Brettell, likely because said buffoon couldn’t hack it in the actual mosh pit and was trying to “play it safe.” Having enough of this boorish behaviour, Brettell gave a gentle, one might even say loving, push against the back of the guy to signal “please stop hitting me with you spiked jacket.” Yet, the fellow was so drunk, he spun around and flipped off Brettell, only to see that, indeed, Brettell is a mountain of a man standing at say… 6’4’’. Lucky for the man who was deep in his cups, Brettell is a gentle giant and could have popped his head between his fingers like a grape, but instead, chose restraint. A look of horror crossed blotto’s face as he retreated across the room, trying to maintain his look of defiance, but failing.

-CELEBRITY FASHION WATCH: Before the gig, Jim of Dark Thoughts was spotted hanging around outside as he had a gig down the street, in the always classic Ramones leather jacket and jeans look. Integrity’s Dom Romeo was once again wearing his trademark backwards blue ballcap. It has been said that the “flip cap” style should have been retired in the ‘90s and was solely the domain of young men aged 14-22. Romeo, with a bold sense of style, has artfully made the argument, and proven thereso, that the backwards cap can be done in 2019, so long as it is tastefully, yet boldy brandished and the brim is pulled down at the exact correct angle. Kudos! Clothing designer Hector Flores was proudly wearing his classic era Morrissey shirt, making the argument that music that speaks to the soul can come in both soothing and scathing sounds. Meanwhile, Yours Truly donned his brand new Flock of Seagulls t-shirt in tribute to Psywarfare- displaying one electronic music pioneer to another. None made the connection, and to the author’s chagrin, no less than two people assumed the shirt was ironic.