August 15, 2015. 182.01 miles, 3 hours and 8 minutes worth of driving, one cow in the road, and one rebel gas station later, and I arrive at my destination: Belcher’s House of Rock in Mansfield, Ohio. The purpose of the evening? Watching and sending off one of Ohio’s finest current metal acts, Enthrall The Weak, as they take the stage one final time in collaboration with Mansfield’s Meat and Metal Mayhem Fest.
I had never been to Mansfield before- in fact, I had never really been in rural Ohio before in my entire life. And yet, after several stops at overpriced gas stations and the aforementioned mishap involving a stubborn cow in the middle of the OH-4, here I was- in the middle of nowhere. Outside of a bar-turned-venue. In 80+ degree weather.
What did I get myself into?
Belcher’s didn’t look like much of anything from the outside. At first glance, it looked seedier than half of the run-down bars I’ve ever frequented (and, believe me, I’ve been to quite a few of those). A dirty orange awning sign bearing the letters “Belcher’s House of Rock” jutted out from the building, creating an abrasive eyesore of jail-cell orange against drab, grey bricks and grey siding. Beneath the sign stood a grey door surrounded by seemingly unstable framework. The questionable door was propped open with an even more questionable crooked wooden wedge. To be honest, part of the exterior seemed like it was nearing the brink of structural disaster. But I kept my hopes up about the place. After all, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I parked my car and looked around. To the right of the establishment was a side-lot that was mainly consumed by a couple of trailers and trucks that were parked close to what appeared to be an awning/outdoor seating area. I could smell food and hear loud voices inside.
Here goes nothing.
I walked down the sidewalk, up the janky, oversized slab of concrete that was horribly excused as a “step” and, with one small step for Katt-kind, strode in through the door. It was remarkably dimly lit. My feet met a scuffed wood floor that looked like it had been just been swept today for the first time in quite a while. The available lighting cast shadows of now-noticeable cuts and grooves had been etched in from the dragging of chairs and heavy equipment. Several small tables and chairs were scattered haphazardly about, creating an obstacle course, as if passing through was some initial test that every patron had to conquer in order to fully enter. To my immediate left was the bar, which looked rather dingy. Upon closer inspection, I can affirm that it was very dingy. The bar counter looked as if it had not been properly cleaned. Ever. Dust that had accrued over the years now filled once-minute crevices and edges and forced them into obvious sightlines as the grey and tan colored accumulation of dirt grew thick against the dark wood of the bar counter. Scrapes and scratches- some barely filled in- ravaged the countertop and sides, matching the similar pattern of etchings and primitive caveman-esque carvings found on the floor. It still looked better than most of its patrons and regulars, which were largely comprised of decomposing middle-aged men with grey-tinged skin, untrimmed whiskers, and teeth rotting out of their skulls faster than a dentist could ever hope to replace them. I waved and smiled at them. They frowned, brows furrowed in confusion at my presence.
Ooh, I definitely don’t belong here.
In the center of the room in the far back was a small stage, which sat about an inch or two above the floor, and a small lighting rig hung high above it.
This is it?
I’ll admit that I pictured Enthrall The Weak to have at least a relatively grander venue lined up for their farewell show. I’ll also admit that my first-impression(s) and initial judgements/condemnations of Belcher’s were totally wrong. Though the bar was musty and dusty, the atmosphere inside was alive. Patrons laughed and bought drinks for one another. Local musicians high-fived each other and flashed toothy grins. Familiar friends rushed in for earnest, clapping hand-shakes and bear hugs. (Oh and the sound guy? Phenomenal. Outstanding job well done by an outstanding dude.) And in that moment- surrounded by all of that fraternization and comradery, I understood that I had failed to realize that, for local Ohioans, Belcher’s is far more than a seedy-looking bar with a bathroom in which you could easily catch Hepatitis A-C. Belcher’s is Ohio local music’s home, its heartland, and (dare I say) it’s Mecca for this local scene. And, in retrospect, it really was the perfect place for local giants (ETW) to give back to their local crowd one last time.
Anyways, back to the current situation.
To the right of the stage was a lightweight, green metal door. Chatter could be heard just beyond it. I didn’t see any of the Enthrall the Weak members.
Might as well check it out.
I opened the door and stepped outside to find exactly what I had expected- a small outdoor eating area for diners and drunkards. Beyond that stood food trucks/trailers, and, for $5, you could get a tasty meal of slow-cooked pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, home fries, and a homemade macaroni salad that was to die for. But, to the left of my current orientation, stood the exact people who I had been driving for so long to see. I was instantly greeted by five of the nicest people and musicians I had ever met. I’m talking about Enthrall the Weak’s David Darlak, Anthony Amato, Jimmy Amato, Trace Miller, and Kenny Gray. Handshakes and hello’s abounded, each person welcoming me and thanking me for driving out this far. We conversed over a few cans of beer, sharing recent tales and laughs as we waited for the evening’s music to progress on. An hour had passed and after one local rapper later, it was Enthrall the Weak’s turn to take the stage. I walked in and placed myself upfront and dead center. More people shuffled in from outside. I was anxious and excited to finally see the band I had written about and so adamantly promoted. I waited with baited breath, completely free of any somber undertones that would have normally overtaken the evening.
They took the stage. And it exploded.
From the moment they entered, Enthrall the Weak was firing on all cylinders. Their sound burst forth like an atomic explosion, quickly filling the room and showering the audience with tight-knit musicality and sheer metal brilliance. ETW brought their A-game and delivered it with an intense, raw passion that could out-last the sun itself. Searing technicality met harmoniously with visible passion from each member on stage, combining itself into one gargantuan well-rounded sound and performance that everybody could enjoy. I jumped; I moshed; I raved. Other audience members jumped about, pounded to the rhythm on the nearest table, or head-banged so hard that they nearly saw stars. In one fell swoop, the entirety of Belcher’s lit up with a raging and startlingly forceful intensity that only Enthrall the Weak could command and wield.
What was most striking about the hour-long set- aside from the thunderous display prudent technicality- was the unrelenting waves of passion and cohesion that flowed from each member. Though each member had their own stylistic flair in stage presence (for instance, David’s use of his eyes for dramatization and lyrical emphasis, or the way that both Amato brothers toss their heads about when they’re so deeply consumed by the moment in the music that their souls seem practically infused with the spirit of metal itself) and a near-scientific knack for audience interaction, it was the unbelievable amount of solidarity and brotherhood that the band put forth that made the night legendary. Minute cues were given and accepted, no one’s stage presence never overtook another’s, and the synchronicity between instrumentals and vocals was downright flawless. Perhaps it was the way that Jimmy gave and accepted cues, or the way that Kenny and Anthony could stand shoulder to shoulder and practically melt into one super-guitarist-being of the most radical and metal kind, or the cheeky smiles that David would shoot to his fellow bandmates, or the subtle effects and grooves spewing forth from Trace… Either way, I felt like I died and ascended to metal heaven. Their unity created a certain bliss and force that is literally inimitable.
And then it was over. The era of Enthrall The Weak had come to an end after one final gnarly and violently aggressive song. All five members immediately embraced as the audience whooped, cheered and clapped. And a certain wave of emotion settled in the air. Admittedly, it was hard to describe at the time. While a mild and rather eerie somber tone filled each heart, a rush of chilling and throbbing overtones of shock and awe swept through the room, filling each space as audience members and patrons still continued to stare at the stage with this inexplicable feeling. It was bewilderment. It was wonder. It was astonishment, admiration, and amazement. Hell, it even extended beyond the point of reverence and surpassed any amount of fascination or delight.
We were enthralled.
I’ll say these next two things unabashedly: if you missed out on the show that night, you fucked up. If you passed up or failed to find any open opportunity to catch a live set from Enthrall The Weak, you missed out. You missed out on a legendary performance from a stellar group of dudes and no band can ever truly fill that void that has been left behind in your metal and/or musical soul. I don’t often find myself at a loss for words, but a verbose description of the emotion and the energy of that night is simply not possible. The raw energy and emotion of that night left me breathless and completely bereft of words. I only wish everyone who is reading this was there to experience and witness the events that took place.
Hugs, handshakes, and goodbyes followed suit as Ohio said goodbye to its finest group of local metal heroes. I volunteered to help them load-out and carried equipment out the door and into the side-lot, whereupon each member would somehow fit everything into one truck cab and two sedan trunks. Once in the parking lot, the guys handed out hugs, handshakes, and goodbyes, with an added note that each member was pursuing different avenues in music and additionally promised to keep in touch. And I’ll admit that, though I was a bit heartbroken that ETW had now fully ceased operation and disbanded, I was stoked to hear that they were (individually) continuing to pursue music.
To the excellent dudes of Enthrall The Weak: I’m so excited for all of your future endeavors. I can’t wait to see what you all individually do! Yet, it is with a heavy heart that I bid you (as a union) farewell. Your tight-knit excellence will be sorely missed!
On behalf of the greater metal music community, I have one thing left to say to you, Enthrall The Weak:
Enthrall The Weak’s final EP, The Barrier, will be released posthumously as a free download this year. Check back on their facebook page for details.
A final transmission from Enthrall The Weak: Thank you to everyone that came out Saturday night for out last show, and for everyone who’s been with us over the past decade! We will be releasing The Barrier as an EP for free download later this year.