Last weekend (August 2-3) I spent two beautiful days in Denver attending the Denver Black Sky Festival. For someone who had never attended a metal festival of any kind before this year, I’ve had three great experiences in a row — MDF in May, Gilead Fest in July, and now Black Sky in August. I’d like to say I deserved it, but who would I be fooling?
The festival took place at The Gothic Theater and at Moe’s BBQ, both located in the same block on S. Broadway. I made the trip with three compatriots from Seattle, and we met my NCS comrade Badwolf from Toledo in what became an MDF reunion (and an unanticipated turning point for BadWolf’s life). We spent Saturday and Sunday at The Gothic, and missed some bands we ideally would have wanted to see at Moe’s, but had to make some tough choices.
The Gothic is a very cool, spacious, multi-level, vaulted-ceiling venue, with a wrap-around balcony on the second level, a big floor, and a great main stage with good lighting. The festival organizers set up a second stage opposite the main one, just in front of the bar at the rear of the floor. They called it “In the Round”, because its location enabled the audience to stand all around the stage; you could stand behind the second stage as well as in front of it (and you could also look down on it from the balcony above).
From behind, you were slightly above the bands and separated from them only by a railing. That afforded an unusual view of the performances. Even from behind the stage, the sound quality was good, though not as good as from the floor. But being able to watch the show from behind the band was a unique experience.
As at MDF, the performances on both days alternated between the main stage and the second stage, with very little break in between; at the end of each night, the final three sets took place exclusively on the main stage. The Gothic proved to be a very comfortable place to watch metal in the company of a chill crowd and in the presence of a really fantastic line-up of bands.
We didn’t see every band, even at The Gothic. We took breaks to eat and to talk with both old and new friends. I’ve figured out that’s the only way to make it through two long days of music without losing energy or suffering sensory overload. Still, we more than got our money’s worth — especially in light of some last-minute changes: When a couple of bands became no-shows just a few days before the festival began, the organizers worked the phones and managed to add replacements to the Sunday line-up on short notice — including Cattle Decapitation. Their set proved to be one of the highlights of the entire festival.
I took photos of every band we saw, but in some cases none of them turned out well enough to use, and as mentioned above, my friends and I missed some of the performances altogether. Here are a collection of the photos that passed my minimal standards of quality, and a few words about the performances.
Khemmis were the second band we saw on Saturday (missing The Xiphoid Process entirely and only catching the last song performed by the opener, Cattleist). Khemmis were very impressive — and in fact they’ll be included in a separate post later today, so I’ll save further words until then. As you can tell, we were standing behind them at the second stage for their set:
I’m saving my words about Gomorrah, too, because they’ll also be featured in a later post today. But holy shit… they opened our eyes up wide as saucers.
Somehow I had managed to miss hearing Transient live before last weekend, despite the fact that they’re based in the Pacific Northwest. Their set was a real kick in the ass. Frontwoman Krysta Martinez (who is also now the vocalist for Landmine Marathon) can really bring the vocal carnage (and her hair is amazing), and the band’s death-grind assault was pulverisingly good.
Liked the shit out of this Baltimore band’s debut album last year, and they can deliver the goods on stage, too. Like Gomorrah, they already seem way ahead of their years.
I knew from past experience that Cephalic Carnage were going to be tons of fun, and so they were.
The curtains on the main stage were drawn, but you could hear the soundcheck going on behind the drapery. Lenzig Leal’s vocal warm-up sounded like someone undergoing a colonoscopy without anesthetic, while vomiting.
The curtains eventually parted, the band launched a grind blast that lasted about 30 seconds, Leal thanked everyone for coming, and the curtains closed. The audience started chanting “Encore!” and “One more song!”. Very fucking funny.
After a couple of minutes the curtains parted again, and all the band members were wearing masks (and a horse head, in the case of bass player Nick Schendzielos, whose bass also featured flashing LED lights). They proceeded to kick ass as waves of fragrant smoke wafted up toward the stage from the audience.
(One of the folks in our group had to make a very early flight back to Seattle on Sunday morning, so we all decided to accompany her back to the hotel for a nightcap, missing Nails and Municipal Waste. Feel free to castigate us in the Comment section.)
Seen while waiting outside The Gothic for our cab to the hotel Saturday night; maybe we left at the right time after all:
ZOMBIE HATE BRIGADE
Day 2 of the festival began on Sunday afternoon, and we once again missed the first three bands. But getting to The Gothic late was worth it — because we we got to play enablers in a discussion on Sunday morning that led to BadWolf’s decision to move from Toledo to Seattle. We also enjoyed a fine celebratory breakfast at the Devil’s Food Bakery & Cookery (highly recommended).
Colorado’s Zombie Hate Brigade was just getting started as we arrived at The Gothic. As I think back on their set, the word that first comes to mind is “bludgeoning”.
Brutal death metal from Colorado, viewed from the front of the second stage this time. Something about the lighting, which was cool to see in person (the band seemed to be radiating an unearthly blue glow), screwed up almost all of my photos.
Seattle’s Theories hit Black Sky in the course of a tour that’s still in progress. It was a momentous occasion for us to see them in Denver, because just a few days earlier the word of their signing by Metal Blade had finally become public; their debut album (engineered at Red Room Studios and mastered by Scott Hull) will be released later this year.
I’m pretty sure their set caused structural instability at The Gothic. Definitely the best, most self-assured Theories performance I’ve seen so far. Destructive grind with huge grooves and memorable hooks, and a really tight performance.
For me, one of the biggest draws for this festival, in part because I haven’t seen them since the late Makh Daniels was behind the mic, and they did not disappoint. Utterly decimating.
I hope this Virginia band’s new album From Wisdom To Baked will finally convince people that they are a seriously talented death metal band who have more going on than a weed-fueled sense of humor. They were really good.
For us, this festival began with a solid one-two punch delivered by some upstarts (Khemmis and Gomorrah), and it ended with another jaw-breaking one-two punch by two groups of veterans — Cattle Decapitation and Brutal Truth. In fact, I can’t remember a more potent, more riveting two-band finish to any show I’ve seen.
So much evisceration. So much expectoration. So much Cattle Decapitation…
I would not want to follow Travis Ryan & Co. on stage, but if there’s any group who can command attention even after a set like Cattle Decap’s, it’s Kevin Sharp & Co. Dan Lilker, Richard Hoak, and Dan O’Hare are so damned good, and Kevin Sharp is a blast to watch as he bounds around the stage in his bare feet. I really didn’t want them to stop.
When they did stop, they returned for an encore after much raucous howling by the crowd. It was a grind blast that lasted about 2 seconds. Perfect.
After Sunday’s show ended, our friend Birgit took us outside the rear entrance and introduced us to a group of people who were chilling in the parking lot, including Lenzig Leal, Travis Ryan, and Danny Lilker. That was an unexpected treat, and a great way to end a great weekend of metal.
Huge thanks to Danny and Sherwood and everyone else who helped put on Denver Black Sky 2014. Really looking forward to doing this again next year, or whenever this thing happens again.