(The METAL SUCKFEST that took place in NYC on Nov 4 and 5 was a milestone event — the first U.S. metal festival organized and co-sponsored by a metal blog, and Metal Sucks pulled together a fucktastic line-up to boot. So, NCS decided to document the event up-close and personal by sending two emissaries — NCS writer BadWolf and photographer Nicholas Vechery. They returned intact, and this is BadWolf’s report of the festival’s first day, along with Nick’s photos. BadWolf’s Day Two report will be tomorrow, and we’ll have interviews to come after that.)
Blogs will control the entertainment industry within our lifetimes (if the industry lasts our lifetimes). TMZ will overtake Entertainment Tonight. In some ways, Pitchfork has already taken Rolling Stone’s place. Case in point: MetalSucks just threw the first (to my knowledge) blog-driven extreme music festival on US soil, Suckfest, and NCS was there to cover it.
On November 4, 2011, suckalos—yours truly included—flocked to the Grammercy Theater in Manhattan for seven hours of thrash. NCS photographer Nicholas Vechery and I rolled in sleep-deprived and sore after a 20+ hour bus trip from Ohio. The venue –the Grammercy Theater—was indeed a theater once and remains dark and sparse.
Initially, I thought the Grammercy would be too small to fit a decent crowd, but the first day was poorly attended. Attendees shouted “Occupy Grammercy!” between songs, but otherwise behaved themselves too well by my standards. New York headbangers seem more reluctant to mosh than when I lived in the Big Apple. I smelled a division between lineup and audience—the first day’s bands all shared a background in hardcore punk, but in general MetalSucks caters to a more technical/progressive metal loving audience. The lineup was strong, but perhaps suited for a more intimate venue. After all, who wants to see Magrudergrind behind a security barrier?
Audience aside, the first day’s bands exploded over the lower-east side with white-knuckle intensity.
I missed Prime Evil, so Ramming Speed opened Suckfest as far as I am concerned. Before Nov 4 I was unaware of Ramming Speed, the same goes for roughly half the first day’s lineup. I made no effort to seek these bands’ music out beforehand—I love pleasant surprises, and Ramming Speed fit that bill.
As the name suggests, Ramming Speed play fast—they played through a hefty amount of material even with a truncated set. As Boston natives, Ramming Speed blend east coast hardcore with their metal. Fortunately, they also incorporate death and black metal motifs—one could call Ramming Speed an east coast alternative to Skeletonwitch, or a less black metal take on Kvelertak in that sense. I hear they may be recording with Kurt Ballou; the fruits of that labor sound tantalizing.
In 25 minutes they made a fan out of me. I attend festivals, partially, for the adrenaline rush of becoming enamored with a band I’ve never heard before. Ostensibly opening a Municipal Waste show was the perfect way to expose Ramming Speed to listeners like me, who are receptive to their style but unfamiliar with their music. One band in, and Suckfest scored a net positive.
All Pigs Must Die
That the second band at a metal fest was a crust punk band goes to show how intertwined all facets of extreme music have become. All Pigs Must Die play now-trendy Boss HM-2-core (Black Breath, Masakari, Trap Them), but groove more than their contemporaries. They recently released a new album on Southern Lord, and fit in snugly with that label’s new roster. Their pedigree—featuring members of Converge, (ex)The Red Chord, and Bloodhorse, and a debut album mixed by Kurt Ballou—left nothing to be desired, but offered no surprises. Drummer Ben Koller, as he always does, rolled out insane fill after insane fill while the string section stayed in the pocket.
The night progressed from two randoms to a personal favorite—Magrudergrind, more than any other band, turned me on to grindcore. Their 2009 self-titled was an eye-opening slice of mania—I remember listening to it once and thinking “this is like the first time I drank sake.” I had no diea what I was tasting, but I adored it.
Live, Magrudergrind sobered me up more than anything. Their sound was raw and chafing: no bass to round out the edges, just one guitar with pickups so hot that feedback shot out the amps like shrapnel whenever guitarist RJ Ober stopped muting the strings. The light guy, sensing the change in mood, dropped the lights to a stark white spotlight array against darkness. I could not tell when one song ended and another began, if they played all new material or old material—everything came across as one blast of hot noise. A Cattle Decapitation shirt came to mind: “No scene, no dance, no fun.” I’d add to that list “No bullshit.”
I was downstairs completing an interview when Black Tusk began their set. I asked my interviewee: Are they playing the record before the set?
“No, they just went on.”
“… You’re fucking with me.”
That is the degree to which they have tightened their playing: the album sounds identical to the live show, and vice versa. I saw them last a year ago on a stage one-quarter of the size (and a crowd of three, myself and Grim Kim included)—this performance was heads and shoulders above that. Everything they excel at came through in force: strong hooks, and stronger beats, even on new tunes from their 2011 record Set The Dial (which I heard for the first time). What’s more, the power-trio pull the feat off while moving around and playing to the crowd instead of to their instruments. Andrew Fidler, John Athon, and Jamie May play hot-potato with the role of frontman as well as vocalist.
It was like being front row for the shoot of a Headbanger’s Ball-type metal video in the 80’s, except with no spandex and actual metalheads playing actual metal with pop sensibility, not pop with shred guitars.
Up until this point, speed ruled the evening. Howl’s set of sludge-doom provided a welcome reprieve for my cervical vertebrae. The crowd seemed a bit cold to Howl in particular—I guess NYC doesn’t have the hots for sludge like I do. The thinning of the crowd gave me the opportunity to observe Howl up close. I still haven’t given their 2010 debut Full of Hell a proper spin, but from what I observed the name is fitting: Howl made my fists clench and teeth grind involuntarily.
That said, seeing Howl back-to-back with Black Tusk shed light on the essential schizophrenia of the evening. Unlike Black Tusk or Ramming Speed, Howl’s music does not “rock” in a punk sense—there is no sense of fun or glamour to it. In terms of attitude, Howl and Magrudergrind share a grimace in their music. The bands on Day One all shared a certain fealty to hardcore, but half of the acts played a fun variety, and half played with more grit. While I love both styles, mixing them together confused me and (I think) fellow listeners. It is difficult to proceed from smiles to frowns and back in rapid succession.
In a smaller venue, on a bill with let’s say Dark Castle and High on Fire, Howl would elicit a hotter response.
This is Hell
No stay in New York is complete without Hardcore. When I think big apple I think Madball, Agnostic front and The Cro Mags. Long Island’s This Is Hell carry the torch of those bands, with melodic guitar riffs and tough breakdowns. In my experience, straightforward hardcore bands fall flat on live stages, the music is just more adapted to small, claustrophobic venues. This is Hell, however, seemed more at home than many of their peers. They put on a very physical performance with jumps and spin kicks while playing as a tight unit. They I guess they got their act down pat during their recent tour with Gallows and The Cancer Bats.
As hot as their playing was, the audience seemed cold about them. Perhaps metal and hardcore aren’t as close as I had previously thought. Or maybe the character of their stage show clashed with listener sensibilities. Either way, I felt This Is Hell deserved greater applause.
Today Is the Day
The opportunity to see a legendary band perform in a great venue is the other indelible appeal of music festivals. Case in point: Today Is the Day, who played a no-nonsense set. The crowd gave Steve Austin a hero’s welcome when he walked onstage for an incredibly brief soundcheck. The lights dimmed. A video, apparently homemade, projected onto the band and away they went into the most intense half-hour of the festival.
In fact, Today Is the Day played one of the most intense sets I’ve ever seen. Their music does what black metal purports to do—saps the energy from the listener. Standing front row felt like being sprayed with a fire hose—the music pushes you out. One must fight to listen to it.
Austin’s high pitched screams did not come through—this could be due to age, a brief soundcheck, or a bad mix. Either way, that’s my sole critique. The man is one towering verb wearing knee-high rain boots. At the end of the Set, Austin tossed his guitar around by a string, drenched the audience in a wall of feedback, unplugged his pedals, thanked the crowd and then left. That’s it—simultaneously badass and consummately professional.
Municipal Waste summed up the evening thusly: “Welcome to Suckfest. Well, It’s going to suck when they have to pay us and only 200 people showed up.” Tactful, boys. If any band has the right to poke fun, it’s the Waste. Initiating a subgenre trend should have its perks.
Virginia’s finest know how to pick a setlist. They played a raucous set mostly culled from 2005’s Hazardous Mutation, along with some of their most crowd-friendly songs from other records: “Sadistic Magician,” “Wolves of Chernobyl,” and “Wrong Answer” (wall of death! YAY!!!) .
I had to revel in the absurdity of it all: Municipal Waste play crossover thrash in form only. Their best songs are made for huge venues packed with people singing along: Waste play the best pop-punk I know, and they do so tight as a drum, soaked in gutter-punk wit.
For example, instead of playing a new song, they played “I Want to Kill the President” (Yay Waste ‘Em All!) followed by “Black Ice,” (Yay Cliff Burton tributes!). Then, Tony Foresta announced they would play a new song “Black Prez,” as a tribute to the two previous songs and President Obama, and . . .
They played Napalm Death’s “You Suffer” with the words ‘black prez.’ Reader, if you don’t find that funny you should not be reading this site. The Virginia quartet fucked us all up with their signature anthem “Born to Party.”
I left the venue drenched in sweat and overpriced beer, exhausted, and at the same time jonesing for more.