SCION METAL FEST 2009: Burned by Rice!!!

Music Features
SCION METAL FEST 2009: Burned by Rice!!!
Mar 23, 2009, 03:19

A Metal Fan
The formula seems perfect: thirty-one of some of the most abrasive, artistic, and daring metal bands, a twelve hour time frame so as to not take up the entire weekend, and a non-existent ticket price (yes, free -RSVP and an age of 18 or older was all that was required). I readied myself for the usual inconveniences corporate sponsors (how metal can a boxy car like the Scion, polar opposite of a '74 Camaro, be?) that made the ticket price zero having the open door to shove all of its propaganda down your throat when all that's needed is the bathroom, overpriced food, water, and beer again to absorb the cost to put such an event on, and set times limited to 25-30 minutes so as to allow such a multitude of bands to perform.

I now stand with ringing ears and a filthy foot in my mouth.

Minus a few unfortunate missteps (more on that later), the misleadingly named Scion Rock Fest delivered, in every aspect, a quality, no-frills celebration of excellent metal with little to stand in the way between the music and anyone from the casual listener to the most particular music fan out there.

Resting in the middle of dilapidated buildings and various tired-looking steel and brick ruins and contraptions, the Masquerade (695 North Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA) seemed itself the perfect venue for such an undertaking. Inside the abandoned warehouse-sized structure were three separate music rooms, aptly titled “Hell,” on the lower level, “Heaven,” on the upper level, and “Purgatory,” on, you guessed it, the ground level. The bowed, worn wooden stairs showed years of abuse and the dimly lit hallways clearly marked nothing except years of squeaking by the city building code. Dark metal contraptions were spread throughout giving it an executioner's chamber feel, though I believe it is just part of the everyday décor. Through various doors and enclaves one could pass through and reach the expansive Outdoor Stage, complete with a skirt of only about two or three merchandise tents and a handful of booze/food outlets. Along the edge there stood a 15-foot high wall of stone that would be perfectly utilized to thwart enemies from pillaging and plundering this sacred Atlanta land.

As the lingering clouds threatened rain, which luckily, never appeared, the crowd gathered underneath the protective outdoor tent to witness locals (via Savannah, GA) Kylesa start things out with their telltale, southern metal sound. Starting in 2001, the group of Corey Barhorst (bass/vocals), Philip Cope (guitar/vocals), Laura Pleasants (guitar/vocals), and the astounding duo-drums of Eric Hernandez and Carl McGinley have released three (four, with Static Tensions (Prosthetic Records, released by the time of publication) consistent albums, but it is their live show that displays the band's true worth. The ferocity and difficulty of metal exemplifies the need for, at least, a competent drummer. As the songs, mostly from 2006's Time Will Fuse Its Worth (Prosthetic), pounded and punched on, the Hernandez/McGinley team took the reigns and pushed everything forward while still managing a perfect pace and synchronicity. From one flawless transition to another (packing in as much stage time as possible) everything remained locked and, simply, breathtaking. The nonchalance of Cope and Pleasants trading riffs and vocals showed their confidence in the abilities of everyone involved and, because of that, the entire band's chemistry was unmistakable. The spectacle of Kylesa will, fortunately, hit a wider audience as they hit the road with Mastodon later this year.

A quick change-up and Miami, Florida's Torche take the stage to attempt to follow up with their mix of rock and, er, doom? The underwhelming Meanderthal (2008, Hydra Head/Robotic Empire) made one wonder about their notoriety and appeal as a metal band. After a few equipment glitches they plowed through songs, stopped uncomfortably to tune and plan the next song (paper and pen, guys?), and unfortunately disappointed even more than on record. The plasticity and manufactured sound overshadows anything of substance they may be trying to do; it was mediocrity through and through until one finds themselves grimacing and checking schedule to see who they missed to see this drivel.

Skeletonwitch

After letting the eyes adjust from natural to no light, “Heaven” was found as were Skeletonwitch in their full-on thrash throwback glory. Mostly pulling from 2007's Beyond the Permafrost (Prosthetic), Chance Garnette thrusted fists and sauntered to and fro with a prowess that could only come from fronting such a powerful outlet. Brother Nate “N8 Feet Under” Garnette and Scott “Scrunty D” Hedrick exchanged riffs like cash and drugs and Evan “Loosh” Linger (bass) and Derrick “Mullet Chad” Nau locked everything down so as to never escape. The overall atmosphere reeked of how metal can be both furious and fun at the same time. As “N8 Feet Under” shared, “…so, they wouldn't let me get a fucking beer at the bar ‘cause I don't have one of those wristbands…I was like, ‘…dude, I'm like 90!'” and subsequently poured a PBR tall boy over his head, a celebration had begun.

Baroness, whose own John Baizley (guitar) is renowned for his disturbing-by-way-of-beauty-and-color paintings and album covers (see Black Tusk, Kylesa, Torche, Vitamin X, Daughters, and Pig Destroyer, among many others), brought their version of Georgia metal (less-backwoods-rapist-scary Black Tusk, simpler than Kylesa, nowhere near as frightening as Rwake) to the main stage and reminded everyone that seeing a Baroness show will always be ten times greater than listening to it at home. In the familiar confines of home, a danger element is needed to ying the yang, so to speak, while in public the simple, stoner riffs coupled with the unholy screams has the ability to calm the heart while simultaneously keeping the atmosphere electric.

Scotland's Alestorm holed themselves up in the pocket of “Purgatory” to proclaim their message of pillaging, booze, and treasures unfound. As the sound deafened all ears in the small, wooden room, the feeling of being in a mead hall or a war room was inescapable, especially coupled with the jovial keyboard lines found throughout Alestorm's music. The thrusting of beers and cheers in the air was no surprise to anyone familiar to 2008's Captain Morgan's Revenge (Napalm Records), however the number of fans that knew the lyrics was, being that this was the first ever performance in North America. As I've stated many times over, the internet has been wrongly blamed for the “downfall of the record industry,” but to be a witness to something so wonderful as a room filled dangerously to the brim by people excitingly singing along with titles such as “Nancy the Tavern Wench” and “Set Sail and Conquer” is truly inspiring; the internet is not the death of the record industry at all but merely the death of the industrious attitude behind the art of making a record. It has given bands, such as Alestorm, the tool needed to spread the word, and sound of music that would be nearly impossible to come by.

A Storm of Light

The band-best-known-for-having-the-film-dude-from-Neurosis A Storm of Light shared with on lookers parts of their dramatically titled And We Wept the Black Ocean Within (Neurot) to an audience wanting something more than a Neurosis-lite. With the sound effects so loud and the pretensions at an all-time high it was difficult to be able to connect with the band, though they were resting nearly amongst everyone on a stage roughly the height of a Chuck Taylor sole. When there wasn't noise, there were muddled riffs and what could've been poignant lyrics. Heavy, not in velocity but in drama, this was the antithesis of Baroness—home listening for enjoyment and not in the public arena.

As A Storm of Light wrapped up, another internet-driven phenom Boris took the Outdoor stage. Defying simple classification, the introverted, drawn out Boris are best loved when meeting up with fellow artists, such as Sunn O))), Jesse Sykes (responsible for the vocals on “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)” on the Altar (Southern Lord) record, and Michio Kurihara (from Japan's equally mesmerizing/confusing Ghost). With such extreme violence and scathing noise surrounding, the response of their set was something that was intriguing. Sure, Takeshi (bass/guitar/vocals) sports a super-metal double-necked bass/guitar and Atsuo (drums) counts a gong as part of his kit, but the simple, eloquent, and expansive drone seems an odd choice for the middle of a festival such as this. And it was. The fog machines worked overtime while onlookers, myself included, meandered foot-to-foot and watched the spectacle, waiting for the accosting “Pink” to kick in. As they rode what seemed like a single note for the remainder of their set (mostly comprised of Smile (Southern Lord, 2008) material, unfortunately), they disappeared forever into the machine fog. Good, yawning riddance.

Harvey Milk

Every festival needs its attention-getting draw and this one was no different. Sure it is wonderful to see so many different acts on the same bill (never again will you see US Christmas on the same ticket as Mastodon) but there are those that stick out and force the attendee to take a step back and rearrange everything just to witness it. For this fest it was Harvey Milk on the aforementioned tiny “Purgatory” stage. This band encompasses everything, most notably things that just don't fit together, and never will again, but do now…and only now. Sludge, anger, and melancholy all housed in a blues-rock-unmetal-but-still-metal format. The bellow of Creston Spiers (vocals/guitar) punched through the inevitable loudness and guided the rest of the band through its twisting, swampish muck that encompasses everything these guys seem to touch. With no between-song banter, everyone was eventually blessed with “I've Got a Love,” from Special Wishes (Mega Blade, 2006), an engrossing, sympathetic song that defines an aspect of this music often forgotten about—confessional. Upon listening, William H. Macy's character (“Donnie”) in PT Anderson's Magnolia instantly comes to mind—a sad figure, misguided, and subsequently disillusioned at the idea of love and relationships, finally arriving at a breaking point of sorts as he proclaims, after years of failure, “I've got a lot of love to give!” Plummeting into a whiskey-soaked, aural depression, Spiers brings it back full circle with a punishing, all-encompassing riff/drum exchange that is on par with any form of brutal, death/black metal ever heard. An unapologetic anger side-by-side with their penchant for turning the song any which way they feel proper places them at an echelon unreachable by few, if none.

Converge

Hardcore is not, nor will it ever be metal. There are acts that straddle the fence, i.e. metalcore (ugh…such a term is chiding), taking what they want, when they want. What Converge are now is unknown to me. They still have the elements of their East Coast roots (screamo vocals, old-hat principles, etc.) but also utilize their fascination with moving forward to the point where some of the sounds screaming out (most notably on 2006's No Heroes (Epitaph)) are unclassifiable (they've toured with the likes of Mastodon, Red Chord, and Genghis Tron while seeming to fit in perfectly with all of the above). Naming and pinpointing aside, Converge never fail to deliver a memorable, if not astounding show, and with security being as lax as it was by this time of the day (checkpoints had been taken down, cops standing to the side, and festival-goers meandering with beer in hand wherever they pleased) this proved to be quite the singular experience. Just as the shy-unless-backed-by-a-band Jacob Bannon said, “Hey, we're Converge. Thanks for putting up with our racket,” all hell—and not to use the term lightly—broke loose with Kurt Ballou (guitar/vocal) opening with the instantly recognizable and crunching riff of “Plagues.” Fans on the stage. Fans toppling over each other. Fans punching, pushing. It was as if the mid-90s hardcore basement show, region unneeded as it permeated coast to coast, had been transplanted, swelled to 700 former-straight-edge-now-drunk people, and let loose to enjoy what was to be better sounding than anything heard in a basement, ever. As the swinging kids were directed by security to the side they merely rejoined the war in an attempt to prove superiority; the music fueled their need and hunger to lash out and in an environment that allowed it, the onslaught became apparent quickly. So quickly that within 15 minutes people were not allowed entrance to “Heaven” and security now found themselves attempting to quell this wildfire that, up to this point, had been fairly manageable only having to deal with head banging and simple shoving. Fortunately it was already out of control and it was all this onlooker could do to just enjoy this truly throwback moment in metal, or hardcore, or punk, or whatever the hell it is you want to call it. Magic is the only word to describe this madness.

Wolves In The Throne Room

Olympia, Washington's premier “transformative black metal” band (their words, obviously, when they are not refusing to be pin-holed into any specific genre) Wolves in the Throne Room brought their eco-centric, radical environmentalist message to the “Hell” stage, which, ironically appeared to double as a dance club of sorts what with large TV screens and a neon-lit bar staffed by ample-cleavaged mixers. With their two full-lengths, Diadem of Twelve Stars and Two Hunters (2006 and 2008, respectively, both on Southern Lord), WITTR solidified themselves as one of the premier American black metal outfits and their live show, no matter the venue, further proves that notion. Nathan Weaver's (guitar/vocals) unworldly screams cut through the onslaught of the brother Nathan's sometimes symphonic, often times chaotic drumming into a wall of sound, assisted equally by both Will Lindsay (guitar) and Ross Sewage (bass), leaving onlookers stunned and in shock at the sheer mass of this wall. With little banter in between, whatever message they hoped to bring was lost to anyone unfamiliar with their aesthetics, but just as well. Politics (however absurd and unjustifiable) should be left to those with a clear enough mind to know that violence produces nothing but more trouble for everyone involved.

As the eco-farmers were putting their tills and hoes back into the barn, metal sages and mainstays Neurosis were already warming up to what was beginning to be a chilly Atlanta night. Never without their monstrous, Pink Floydian circle screen the film began as it seems to every time: serene shots played over by a yet-unseen band so as to lull the crowd into a trance only to break it and force an ample collected volume of urine from the crowd when the first thunder rumbles. I've lost the pee reaction after the years of ingesting their poison, but the spinal chill remains intact, as does the inevitable smile of enjoyment. One cannot understand the dichotomy of beauty versus violence apparent in nature until witnessing Neurosis at its calmest (“Erode,” from 2001's A Sun That Never Sets, Relapse) to most menacing (Through Silver and Blood's “Locust Star,” Relapse) and its obvious parallels to nature itself (displayed on the screen perfectly with wolves ripping apart and devouring their kill). Lumbering on with few tempo changes, focusing, rather, on the loud/soft, a Neurosis show can only be described as a heartbeat, living by the aid of a supportive community grown from their long standing position as what a true band is: clear, concise direction and an unwavering sense of purpose. Their power and stance at the apex of metal is undeniable and their force, one that should never be reckoned with.

Septic Flesh

As the day began to wind down, fans began to meander out of exhaustion while others penchant for yelling just seemed to escalate, no doubt by the influence of a full day of drinking while watching some of the best metal the world has to offer. Athens, Greece's Septic Flesh took the stage in “Hell” to a small but vocal crowd. Their mix of symphonic death metal impressed while their extended set list (due to the booting off of Nachtmystium, which will be addressed a little later) failed to keep the brain enthralled. The musicianship of Spiros "Seth" Antoniou (bass/vocals) and company were impressive, as were the songs themselves. The failings came with a somewhat scripted feel to the set; part A is when Antoniou would raise the bass in the air, B, when the guitarists would meet up to solo at each other, et al. Yawns eventually surfaced and a flocking back to the bar for conversation and reflection eventually overshadowed what would've been a masterful metal show in any other setting.

Chicago's Nachtmystium were slated to appear in the following slot but had been forced out by the promoters due to their alleged ties with Nationalist Socialist Black Metal. True, their second demo, Unholy Terrorist Cult, was released by the little-known Vinland Records, which is a white power label, in 2001. Following that, their full-length debut, Reign of the Malicious, was brought to fruition thanks to Regimental Records, a neutral label, but distributed by Unholy Records, an imprint of the Nazi Skinhead label Resistance Records. So it appears that the case is closed, eh? Well, with a total of four full-lengths, four EPs, two demos, four splits, and four live recordings it would appear that if they had such strong beliefs in the aforementioned tomfoolery that everything would've been subsequently released on said labels. After all, what label would have the balls to stamp their name on something so idiotic and outdated, not to mention damaging and ridiculous? Singer and main songwriter Blake Judd in his own words: "We'd like to make light of at least one aspect of this situation and use the opportunity to once again clear the air—we are, IN NO WAY, a 'Nazi' band. We do NOT support such groups, political beliefs or bands that are affiliated with that world. We have canceled tours in the past and dodged working with bands and people BECAUSE they had these ideologies and we never wanted to be affiliated with it. Yet, here we are, a metal band whose members are more like hippies than your typical leather-clad metal maniacs, and we're being falsely accused of this association once again. We will be taking legal action against the people who slandered us in this situation, and in the future will file defamation / slander charges against any person or organization who attempts to prevent us from performing anywhere, especially in the United States. We are as offended by this as someone might be at the notion of a Nazi band playing a big corporate-sponsored festival. So—let it be known loud and clear for the LAST TIME, we ARE NOT a Nazi band, ARE NOT political, are certainly NOT racists and DO NOT support that world or any band, person or business affiliated with it. My deepest apologies to all of our friends, fans and people who have worked on and supported us being a part of this festival, we are sorry for these awful circumstances and you can be certain this will not defeat us."

1349

After a Nachtmystium-less hour-and-a-half certainly everyone in “Hell” were ready for something, anything. Luckily it was Oslo, Norway's 1349 to end the night in a cloak of the most chiding, lambastic Norwegian black metal that side of the Atlantic. Touring in support of their long-awaited follow up to 2005's Hellfire (Candlelight), titled Revelations of the Black Flame, 1349 had the near impossible feat of bookending what was now nearly 11 hours of metal. Taking the stage in full corpsepaint (luckily the only band to don the trademark Norwegian get up, though one wandering teen had a shoddy imitation job), they went right to work with such a cruelty and disregard for the sluggish crowd that the only thing to do was perk up and stand in awe of one of the few remaining 2nd wave of Norwegian black metal bands around (Mayhem lacks any original members save Hellhammer, Gorgoroth have actually become two separate bands with both retaining the original name, while countless others have either disbanded or have changed so drastically that it is something else altogether). There were the predictable commands of, “Let me see the horns!” and “…blah, blah, blah, DARKNESS!” but none of it swayed the enamored crowd, eyes and mouth agape and cell phones attempting to capture this piece of personal history. Ravn (vocals) stampeded to and fro matching eyes with onlookers while praising everything evil while the stringed duo of Archaon (guitar) and Seidemann (bass) picked and pounded with such a machine gun precision and the collective, equal hate for all mankind was evident in each and every small gesture. With each song grew more listeners (spilling in from the recently finished Mastodon, whose antics and every movement are so extensively written about and known that it is unneeded in this coverage) and, subsequently, more power from both the crowd and the band. Drummer Mads Hardcore maintained the precedent set by full time drummer Frost (off with his other project, fellow metal mainstays Satyricon) with such ease that it is a wonder that these touring drummers don't have the notoriety of their absentees. The spark that 1349 re-ignited in the eyes and souls of everyone in attendance was so masterfully done and permanently bruising that ending such a day—a day full of surprises, piercing tones, and forays into the deepest, darkest corners of the psyche—became less relieving and more sorrowful than anybody could've guessed.

The day began full of promises and ended with very few broken. The stunning lineup, fair prices, moderate security (enough for safety concerns but never overbearing) and a semi-tight schedule (the “Heaven” Stage seemed to run a bit early) all came together with such ease that it would be silly not to put on another party of this magnitude. Except maybe this time try to get it sponsored by an ad for that '74 Camaro mentioned earlier: “The Craigslist Used Camaro Sold for Parts Metal Fest '10.”

-Luc Rodgers

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