I thought the first day of the Gilead Fest in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was a blast, but holy shit, yesterday’s performances were off the charts. By “holy shit” I mean that shit before which you prostrate yourself and utter miserable prayers of thanks. And by “off the charts”, I mean dismembering, skull-splintering, bowel-perforating, synapse-severing, and occasionally entrancing.
The weather here in Oshkosh remains gorgeous. In between sets, the lure of the outdoors was irresistible (and would have been even if the lure of nicotine and tar hadn’t been part of the equation). Even during the sets, a soft breeze flowed through the windows of The Lady’s Parlor across the hall from the ballroom where the bands were performing, and it wafted through the open doors into that space like a balm from… Gilead.
The sunny disposition of the crowd continues to match that of the weather. It’s a chill group, like a reunion of old friends, even when the old friends had never met each other before. I had almost as much fun talking to people I’d only known over the internet before this weekend (including Adam Bartlett of Gilead Media, who made this whole wonderful thing happen) or had never met before, even over the ether, as I did listening to the music. And the event itself continues to run smoothly, like the well-oiled gears of a vast noise-making machine.
Here are a few short notes about the bands I heard yesterday, with some iPhone photos (which will eventually be replaced with better quality pics if I can scrounge some from people who have actual cameras and know how to use them). And I’m embedding music, too, for those of you who may not already be familiar with the bands.
(Note: we didn’t get to the Masonic Lodge Center in time to catch the first band of the day — Protestant.)
I really enjoyed this NY band’s 2013 self-titled debut and was eager to hear them live. It’s a two-man operation, with Nick McMaster on bass and vocals and Lev Weinstein behind the drum kit (both of whom are probably better known for their work with Krallice). I was riveted by what they were doing — delivering modernist symphonies in death metal dissonance, accompanied by awful echoing roars of rage and anguish. These two are highly skilled musicians, and the complexity of their interactions prods at the closet in your brain where the IQ is housed as well as jolting the reptile part that just wants to fight and feed.
I gleefully reviewed Gilead Media’s 2013 release of two EPs by this band, remastered and collected on a single vinyl album, and also included one of their tunes on my list of 2013’s Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs. Needless to say, I was psyched to see a live Hexer set. As expected, it turned out to be the first high-speed, neck-torquing onslaught of the Fest — a blend of hook-laden black thrash, romping black ‘n’ roll, and scalding vocal spray by frontwoman Ansgar.
In addition to Ansgar and her husband Phlegethon, the live band for this set also included guitarist Michael Dimmitt from Mutilation Rites (who performed later in the evening) and Mutilation Rites’ drummer Justin Ennis. They all kicked much ass.
I knew nothing about this Boston four-piece before yesterday, two of whom manipulated electronic apparatus while a third played bass and a fourth played guitar and sang. The set began with a spoken-word recital and then transitioned into a long drift of droning ambient sounds and bleak chords, airy and ethereal. It felt like a slow build, and I waited for the dam to break… but it never did. The breeze and the sunshine beckoned….
SEA OF BONES
I’ve been seeing lots of praise across metal blogdom for this New Haven trio, but had never followed up to hear what they were doing — until yesterday. My god, what a sensational set — the sound of mountains collapsing into the sea in slow motion, punctuated by violent cataclysms, the earth splitting open and entire cities falling screaming into the abyss. At one point the two vocalists engaged in a call and response, which sounded like two behemoths discoursing across the span of continents. I’m convinced: the earth does want us dead.
Why the hell have I not listened to this Richmond band’s new album, Instinct Is Forever (coming in August from Gilead Media)? That question ran through my head in the minutes following their performance, and the answer became clear: because I am stupid. Swinging rock beats mixed with black metal hailstorms, the dense clouds parting to reveal piercing rays of epic melody. A fantastic, riveting set, and a magnetic stage presence.
(I didn’t get any passable photos of Bastard Sapling. Songs from the new album can be heard below.)
KOWLOON WALLED CITY
I had never seen this San Francisco sludge collective in the flesh before. They brought a phalanx of burly, fuzz-bombed riffs and earth-splitting percussion capable of causing scoliosis, plus clanging, dissonant melodies from which all hope had been torched with napalm. The frontman’s braying yells were also convincingly enraged. It’s time for these people to produce a follow-up to 2012’s Container Ships. I’m ready.
I had the pleasure of seeing this NYC band at Maryland Deathfest in May, where they killed. And they killed again last night. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful sound, a conflagration of black metal fire, leavened with moments where the rhythms bounce and rock, and shot through with brooding, dramatic melodies that have staying power.
The band’s new album Harbinger is due for release this coming week via Prosthetic. I haven’t yet made time to listen to all of it. Why? Because I am stupid. It’s streaming at DECIBEL’s site right now (here); a couple of the songs are embedded below.
The Body’s collaborative set with Thou was one of the first-day highlights at this Fest, and I really wanted to hear them on their own yesterday. But I got caught up in a conversation outside on the steps of the Masonic Center with a couple of Minnesota-based musicians who I’ve wanted to meet for a long time, and I couldn’t tear myself away from that. Even through the massive stone facade of the building, however, it sounded like the foundations were coming apart inside.
The day began with a two-person band and, fittingly, it ended with one.
I didn’t discover this duo from Boise, Idaho (guitarist/vocalist Blake Green and violinist/drummer Brittany McConnell) until the summer of last year, and then even after writing about a video preview for their then-forthcoming album, Perigaea Antahkarana, I never listened to it, so I didn’t have a very good idea of what to expect from their set.
It consisted of two long songs, the first of which (“In Mirrors of Water”) began with a mesmerizing violin introduction and then built to mountainous levels of heaviness. Massive, groaning riffs and anvil-thick percussion came down hard, accompanied by Green’s wounded howls and streamers of rippling melody. The second song was also a slow build that ended in a titanic display of funeral doom.
Everything on stage was in darkness, except for blue lights on both sides of the stage that illuminated the band in an unearthly glow. Apart from the experience of being both hypnotized and flattened by the music, what I’ll remember most is the image of Brittany McConnell’s pale, ghostly arms repeatedly rising dramatically into the air against the black backdrop — and then coming down like hammer blows.
(One more day of the festival will begin shortly, and Part 3 of this report will follow tomorrow.)