The pandemic might not be over (despite what our elected officials might say, ICUs running out of beds due to COVID complications tends to make me not want to consider us out of the woods yet) but the live show hiatus certainly is. Concerts are finally back in full swing with many exciting tours out of the way and many more being planned and started. During 2022, my wife (who runs the site with me) and I saw a ton of great metal bands put on a lot of amazing sets. From small shows at random holes-in-the-wall to different huge festivals to sold-out arena gigs, we hit them all. Here now is the official Metal Plague list of the best ten sets we saw this year. Hopefully we’ll see you out there somewhere in the Midwest in 2023. You best be sporting those battle jackets!
10. Cattle Decapitation – January 31 at the Apollo in Belvidere, IL
This show was right before a blizzard and on a Monday night, so it turned out to be a little more sparsely attended than a lot of shows that I hit this year. None of that mattered though as Cattle Decapitation took the stage and played like they were headlining the Download Festival. The band mainly played cuts off Death Atlas, which is part of why this set made my list. For my money, Death Atlas might be the best piece of art made recently grappling with the impending climate disaster and man’s role in it. Oh and it’s also just a goddamn punishingly great deathgrind record. Travis Ryan is still the best vocalist in extreme metal and the entirety of his vocal talents was on display at the end of January. I’ve seen bands half-ass a show when the crowd is lighter or not as into it as the band would like, but there was no let-up from Ryan and crew as they blasted their way through an impressive set. Cattle Decap has always been a personal favorite of mine and this was my first time getting to see them so there is definitely a sentimental side to me picking this set to start my list but, for my money, it was still one of the best goddamn shows of the year and a testament to how professional these guys are and how seriously they take their art.
9. Savage Master – February 25 at Reggies in Chicago, IL
Savage Master has always been a special band for me, mostly because they a.) fucking kick ass and b.) were a big part of getting my wife into metal. We finally got the chance to see them live at Reggies early this year. The band played in the Music Joint which, if you aren’t familiar with the best venue in the Midwest, is the smaller of the two rooms. We got there early and ended up watching the set probably five feet away from Stacey Savage. It didn’t matter that the venue was small and the crowd packed in tight, Savage and her savage hooded masters tore the roof off that place with a setlist that nicely balanced tracks from the available albums at that point (this was prior to the band supporting Those Who Hunt at Night). The band went heavy on the prop work with cloaks and swords being used to compliment the material being performed and it was a nice touch that fit in well with the band’s image. The music was still the heart and soul of the performance though and more than made the 2-and-a-half-hour drive worth it.
8. Kataklysm – August 26 at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago, IL
I’m gonna level with you: I love full-album sets. There’s something cool about seeing a band play through an entire album that has a big anniversary or that the band just loves enough to take out on the road in its entirety. Kataklysm is a band I’ve always really dug so hearing them open for Deicide by playing Serenity in Fire, their best album, was a pretty cool treat. Vocalist Maurizio Iacono‘s voice is still as powerful as ever and he still has a great handle on all of the material on the album. Jean-François Dagenais is, to no one’s surprise, as goddamn dialed in live as he is on the album and the whole band just feels like they could probably put on a hell of a Serenity in Fire set in their sleep. With that in mind, the band certainly didn’t sleepwalk through their time and kept the intensity level at a full roar all night. Iacono, who lived in Chicago for some years, was clearly glad to be back in his former adopted town and had a blast shooting the shit with the crowd in between songs. The man clearly missed touring and was having a blast finally getting back on the road again. With a show as sick as they put on, he wasn’t the only one having the time of his life.
7. Kreator – November 3 at Hard Rock Casino in Gary, IN
If you’ve seen Kreator live, then you don’t need me to tell you that Mille Petrozza is one of the most goddamn electrifying frontmen in all of music. The band was opening for Mercyful Fate so they didn’t have a huge stage setup, but they did have some cloaked dummies on spikes and hanging above them throughout the set, which, when mixed with the light show and Hate Über Alles backdrop, really gave a cool atmosphere to the stage. The band’s set, which was a little shorter due to opening, was a nice mix of eras for Kreator with a couple songs off their killer new album (stay tuned to see how high it lands on the Metal Plague best-of list). Whether it was a song from 1985 or 2022, Kreator fully threw themselves into every track like the lifelong veterans that they are. Sami Yli-Sirniö has always been one of my favorite guitarists so just getting to see him shred with the Teutonic thrash masters was a blast as well. Petrozza is a wildly talented frontman who did his best to make sure the crowd was as loud and as whipped into a frenzy as possible. With Kreator playing some of their best tunes, he didn’t need much help.
6. Cavaleras – May 28 at Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore, MD
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Derrick Green era of Sepultura, but seeing Max and Igor Cavalera play classic cuts off their best albums felt more like seeing Sepultura than when I caught the actual band back in March. Max and Igor were clearly having the time of their lives being back out on the road together playing some of the most electric songs anyone in metal has ever written. The brothers and their more than capable colleagues had the packed Maryland Deathfest crowd completely in the palm of their hands the whole show and got one of the best reactions all weekend. It would be hard not to get wildly into the show when you’re hearing one of metal’s most ferocious frontmen play songs from Beneath the Remains and Rise as well as the other spectacular records from Max’s run with the band. Near the end, Max stopped between songs to apologize that they didn’t have time to play more songs off their albums with Sepultura but, although I can’t imagine anyone being upset about having more time with the Cavaleras, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about what was a pretty goddamn phenomenal set.
5. Midnight – April 3 at The Forge in Joliet, IL
I was a little bummed about this show going in because Watain was supposed to be direct support for headliners Mayhem with Midnight as the opening act, but thanks to our Kafka-esque visa procedures in the States, the Swedish black metalers had to drop off before the tour started. Although I still would have loved to see Watain, having a longer set from Midnight is nothing to complain about. This was my first time seeing Athenar and crew in person and they more than lived up to their reputation as one of the best live acts in metal today. The band spent their ferocious 12-song set straddle standing with one foot on the barricade and one on the stage, jumping from speakers, and belting out track after track of high speed blackened heavy metal. It’s a real testament to the power of Midnight that I went from kind of disappointed before the date to almost glad that Midnight had a longer chunk of time to play during. Prior to the show, the band announced that it was being filmed for a DVD so (hopefully soon) the rest of you can experience the thrill of Midnight blasting a hot load of metal in your face from the comfort of your own home.
4. Triumph of Death – May 29 at Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore, MD
Getting to see Tom G. Warrior play Hellhammer songs in front of a completely enraptured crowd was a wildly special experience but not just for us in the audience. It was readily apparent how much the crowd response to old Hellhammer songs got to Warrior as he stopped multiple times to tell the crowd how much it meant to him and it seemed like he genuinely meant it. It was honestly pretty sweet (well, as sweet as something at Deathfest can be) and made the whole thing feel like a real once-in-a-lifetime kind of treat. Warrior, ever the self-deprecating frontman, apologized to his younger band for making them play such primitive songs. He might have felt bad about the more threadbare nature of some of the Hellhammer songs but no one in the audience was complaining. Everyone was way too busy headbanging and screaming along to some of the most influential songs that anyone in extreme metal has ever written.
3. Baroness – April 10 at the Cobra Lounge in Chicago, IL
This was part of the Your Baroness Tour where fans got to vote on the setlist for each stop. The show I attended was in a smaller club in Chicago and, as we do a lot, my wife and I got there early and got right up against the stage, close enough to get a little John Baizley spittle on us in the process. The set was absolutely massive, with representation from all eras of Baroness’ otherworldly career, including some special acoustic versions of a few songs. Baizley and the band came out with no fanfare to start the show, and just ripped through a two-hour plus beast of a set with absolutely no pretension whatsoever as they killed song after song and joked around with the crowd in between. The group was all about the music and everyone was completely locked in with each other. It has to be a massive undertaking to prepare for a tour of this magnitude and it’s a huge credit to how good of players everyone in Baroness is that they sounded as goddamn stellar as they did throughout the whole evening. Baroness hasn’t been a longtime love of mine (I really only got into them a year or so ago) but since I started listening to them, they’ve never slipped out of my frequent rotation. I can’t imagine being a new or longtime fan and not having an absolute ball of a time on that tour. If the band ever does a Your Baroness Tour again (and I kinda think they very well could since it sounds like they really dug the one I saw them on), make it a top priority and get your ass out to see them!
2. Iron Maiden – October 5 at the United Center in Chicago, IL
This wasn’t a festival show, a special tour, or a big reunion. Nope, this was just a normal Iron Maiden concert on a Wednesday night in Chicago. That it was my first time seeing the band is what makes it worthy of such a high spot on this list. Well, that and the fact that an “ordinary” Iron Maiden show is leagues ahead of anything else going on in music these days. The band has always been synonymous with electric stage shows and the stop on the Legacy of the Beast tour that I saw was no different. The band started the show with a suite of songs off their newest record, 2021’s Senjutsu, that featured inflatable Japanese architecture-style buildings and a giant samurai Eddie to prowl the stage. After knocking out the new stuff, the band hit the back catalogue for a trip through some of the biggest and best songs in the Iron Maiden arsenal. Seeing a giant Trooper Eddie come out and sword fight with Bruce during “The Trooper,” Bruce shoot off flamethrowers out of each wrist during “Flight of Icarus,” and the graveyard setup with lighted cross during “Sign of the Cross” (two Blaze Bayley-era songs was a nice choice) were all really special moments in a set that was jammed full of them. Other than the big effects, it was just really cool to see Steve Harris play bass in person. I’ve loved Maiden for forever so simply being in the same room while they played some of the best songs heavy metal has to offer would have been special. That the band still puts so much effort into entertaining with their stage shows made it a night that’ll stick with me forever.
1. Mercyful Fate – November 3 at Hard Rock Casino in Gary, IN
I have gone back and forth on the top spot for some of these lists but not this one. Getting to see Mercyful Fate on their first U.S. tour in more than two decades was always going to be the best show of the year. King Diamond does not sound like a man in his mid-60s and Hank Shermann can still just flat out shred (was there ever any doubt?). The band ripped through a set of material mostly made up of cuts off Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath with a few tracks from the Nuns Have No Fun EP and the new song “The Jackal of Salzburg” thrown in. The stage setup was amazing as well with ornate marble (or at least marble-looking) steps leading up to a giant Baphomet with the whole thing resting over a giant inverted crucifix. Diamond spent the set menacing at the crowd from under a giant horned helmet or a rather wicked looking crown. Whether it was a song that the band wrote in the early ’80s or one that isn’t even on a record yet, the crowd was totally enraptured from start to finish and there were multiple times during the set that I was almost taken aback that I was actually seeing King Diamond play with Mercyful Fate in the flesh. I’ve been a Mercyful Fate fan for forever (what true metalhead hasn’t?) but never was really sure if I’d get the chance to actually see the band in the flesh so, suffice it to say, November 3 was a lifelong nightmare come true.