(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 second day, along with Nick’s photos. We’ll have interviews to come in the days ahead.)
Photographer Nicholas Vechery and I returned for the second day of Suckfest even more hung over and disgruntled than on November 4th—we wanted to look and feel our best.
I learned about the sad passing of GWAR’s Cory Smoot earlier that day, so I was all frowns… until we walked into the Grammercy and found it bustling. Tickets to the second day must have outsold the first two-to-one.
What’s more, people seemed excited. No one is very visibly excited about anything in New York except exiting a subway train (especially the Green line, ugh!). A mass of goat-throwers chit-chatted, drank, acted like an honest-to-god community—something rare for me, the Midwestern Metalhead.
Community, people coming together—that’s what makes festivals amazing.
By the time I had myself situated, Ultrageist’s set was half-finished, but their set still functioned as a good appetizer for the evening’s eight-course meal.
Ultrageist fulfilled the obligations of a great opening band: they set the tone for the remainder of the evening and served as samples of what the evening had in store. Their metal is progressive and melodic, with a focus on interesting soundscapes and just a hint of hardcore in the mix.
Frontman Gabriel Perez stood out: while the rest of his band evoked TesseracT and other such bands, he reminded me of a younger Cedric Bixler-Zavala—full of energy and an appetite for the weird. He adjusted his voice with a pedal board to keep Ultrageist’s music unnerving in places where guitar grooves felt otherwise relaxed. That contradictory texture kept me interested up until the end, and will hopefully set Ultrageist apart from the current glut of djent groups.
Rosetta played next, with a more mellow set. A few years ago people called Rosetta’s looping and hypnotic brand of sludge “thinking-man’s metal,” but “contemplative” suits it better. This style of Isis-like post-metal has fallen by the wayside thanks to post-black-metal’s recent upswell of popularity, but that hasn’t stopped Rosetta from having an active couple of years: they just released a split with Junius, after a new album and another split last year. No wonder, then, that Rosetta were visibly excited by their own music, though it was low-key compared to the remainder of the evening.
Scale the Summit
I was shocked at how warm the reception was for Scale the Summit. Four years ago, an instrumental metal band would have had difficulty filling a coffee shop, but Scale the Summit earned some of The Metal Suckfest’s loudest applause.
Scale the Summit cemented a longstanding opinion of mine: Djent is better instrumental. Bands like Vildhjarta and Periphery construct gorgeous sonic landscapes and then wallpaper over them with mediocre clean singing and flimsy hardcore screams—it’s the same formula that made melodic metalcore popular… and then ruined it.
On the other hand, Scale the Summit let their music speak for itself. Their songs can run together, but without vocals each individual note seems more important. In their three-song set they built from relative calm into dervish-like crescendos many times. Those high points were metal at its best: dramatic music charging listeners with energy.
This is what great festivals are all about: seeing a great band come out of hiatus, put on a killer show, and whip a sleepy crowd into a violent fervor in a half-hour burst of intensity. Admittedly, I walked in a fan. These Philadelphia boys still play groovy and violent metalcore with bluesy twists and death metal turns. Today’s Bring Me The Horizons and Born of Osirises owe them a huge debt of gratitude—and don’t make music half as good.
The pressure of years in waiting erupted all at once—finally seeing A Life One Lost was akin to staring into an open blast furnace.
“We were five, now we are four,” frontman (and professional badass) Bob Meadows said, referring to the group’s new lineup. “Get the fuck over it.” He then bloodied his forehead and launched into the audience as if propelled by trebuchet, bringing hours of relative calm to a violent end.
I was SO over it—fuck double guitars when a four-piece rocked this hard. They played choice cuts from 2005’s The Hunter, 2003’s A Great Artist, and a new song (no Iron Gag, sadly). Judging by the show, their comeback album will fit snugly with the remainder of their discography.
“I bet you haven’t seen one of these tonight.” Joey Eppard, singer/guitarist of 3 announced. “This is an acoustic guitar.” Sure enough, it was the only acoustic I saw all weekend. Not that it mattered, Eppard’s flamenco-hybrid guitar style shredded as hard unplugged as plugged.
3 stood out from the rest of the bill as maybe the most progressive and least metal group of the evening. Their audience stood out as well: a lot of younger goat-throwers took their cigarette breaks during 3’s set while a motley crew of older, statelier listeners descended from the stairs to observe 3 up close.
The youngsters missed out. 3 played a heavy set (mostly) culled from 2007’s The End is Begun and this year’s The Ghost You Gave To Me—the songs suit one another despite the four-year writing gap. They’ve gotten tighter since I last saw them on the 2008 Prog Nation tour: I hurt my neck while headbanging to “The End is Begun.” For my money, 3 sound more like modern Cynic than Obscura do. The world is ready for an open-minded band with great songwriting sensibility like 3 to make a splash—here’s hoping they capitalize on prog’s current chic-ness, and spend less time writing the next record.
The Red Chord
Of course, A Life Once Lost isn’t the only band to drop a guitarist and come out better for it.
I’ve seen The Red Chord five-plus times and they always put on a killer show. Suckfest was no exception. They opened with “Demoralizer,” the opening track to 2009’s stellar album Fed Through the Teeth Machine, and kept the pressure up for their whole set. Vocalist Guy Kozowyk kept quiet between songs, and transitions stayed minimal, which is just the way the crowd wanted things—The Red Chord had the most violent mosh pit of the weekend by a fair margin.
I will say I’ve heard them with better mixes—the bass in particular sounded indistinct. No matter, rock and roll isn’t about perfection. The Red Chord in particular is about imperfection—those imperfections that make all of us deserve a fist to the nose.
Mark my words: Obscura will be huge.
Backstage, they came across as young and cordial—if a bit nerdy—gentlemen, but onstage Obscura are rock stars. They just have the right swagger. They play their complex songs flawlessly and with a kind of smirking grace, as if to say ‘yes, it’s very cool and you love it—we know. You’re welcome.’ Somewhere between the breakneck shred solos, the sick light show, and the fans blowing their hair back in waves I had a crazy thought:
This is what it was like to see Megadeth in 1986. This is what it was like to see Death in 1993, or In Flames in 2000. This is what a metal band at their best look like.
How could it be so? Obscura use (next to) no clean singing (ha!), no brocore breakdowns, no tough-guy posturing, yet by the end of set closer “Centric Flow,” every hornhead was bobbing in unison. They had us all clapping to the beat—clapping… like we were kindergarteners and Obscura was the hot post-graduate teaching assistant. We were all happy toddlers during their marathon run: the first three tracks from Omnivium, choice cuts from Cosmogenesis, and even a track from Retribution.
Obscura is touring the United States right now. Go see them, you will not regret it.
Paradox of paradoxes: the most popular band on the metal bill was also—debatably—the least metal of all. People had been yelling “Cynic!” to one another between bands since 6 PM, as if Cynic hadn’t played near them in a decade (not true, of course—I saw Cynic at the Fillimore in 2008). People shuffled close and banged their heads before sound check had ended.
Lights blinked out. Cynic’s psychedelic light show began. Things calmed to an eerie lull, and Sean Reinert walked out to thunderous applause, followed by Paul Masvidal (even more thunderous applause), Cynic’s two new live musicians, guitarist Max Phelps and bassist Brandon Giffin (formerly of The Faceless). Last, and to perhaps the mightiest applause, Amy Corriea.
Corriea took her microphone, Masvidal strummed his guitar, and she sang “Bija,” which flowed perfectly into “Carbon-Based Anatomy.” Cynic played every major song from their new EP, as well as most of Traced In Air—the only materials displayed from Focus were “Veil of Maya” and “How Could I?” Perfect, those are the two strongest cuts in my opinion. Corriea returned to sing the intro on “King of Those Who Know.” Masvidal even played a snatch of 2010’s Re-Traced, when he played some of “Integral” solo while the rest of Cynic took a breather… until they segued into the full “Integral Birth” with grace.
From “Bija” all the way through closer “Space for This,” Cynic never ceased to amaze. Their set is tight, their playing flawless (minus a sequencer misfire or two). What elevates Cynic above their peers is their attitude—no false bravado or rote posturing. Cynic ignore even basic metal clichés like headbanging and long hair. Without all the excessive accoutrement, their live performance and music became liberated—and liberating. As exhausted as I was from the weekend, Cynic made me feel full of energy, young, fulfilled.
The perfect end to an amazing show.
Oh, and if you’re still reading after all that, here’s one last anecdote: Nick’s and my “Fear and Loathing” moment.
Islander put us up in a nice hotel. We didn’t really understand how nice until we stumbled in after Cynic, reeking of smoke and beer, coated in sweat, looking like hoodlums—he in a ratty sweater and a knit hat, myself in my No Clean Singing tour shirt and black leather jacket.
Exhausted, we bolted into the elevator after a man carrying a load of bags. The elevator had already begun to ascend when I got a good look at the man: he was wearing a tuxedo, and there was a woman with him in a white dress. A wedding dress.
Oh god, this is the night after their wedding, and we’re next to them on the elevator.
A few tense (and smelly) moments passed. The engine whirred as if nobody was there at all, and we all ignored one another until the elevator doors swung open. The newlyweds sauntered out—I had to get their attention before the doors shut.
I threw the goat. The elevator shut, and they will never see us again. I love New York.