(Last year we were fortunate to bring you a report from Kaptain Carbon on the first annual Shadow Woods Metal Festival , and now we are fortunate to welcome him back with his report on the second edition of the festival, which took place on September 15-18, 2016, in the vicinity of White Hall, Maryland. He also took the photos that you’ll see in this post. Kaptain Carbon operates Tape Wyrm, a blog dedicated to current and lesser-known heavy metal. He also writes Dungeon Synth reviews over at Hollywood Metal as well as moderating Reddit’s r/metal community.)
The Shadow Woods’ second event is an important step for a festival still attempting to set its roots and find an identity. Held in the woods of upper county Baltimore, Shadow Woods caters to a diverse array of acts, but with a concentration on extreme metal. With a festival’s life this young, its future is always in jeopardy and dependent on press, attendance, and overall happiness of its guests. There was some speculation and conjecture whether or not Shadow Woods would even have a second gathering. This was further jeopardized with the ongoing drama of alcohol licensing and the looming calculations of cost versus return.
By the time the campfire of the second night was winding down and shrieks were heard throughout the woods, immediately swallowed by hideous laughter, the number of people who attended this year were convinced that this may be a thing to do every year.
Shadow Woods can be hard for people to understand or even for others to sell its merits. While the fest has brought headlining spots from the likes of Midnight, Ghost Bath, and Tengger Calvary, the majority of its bands are from local and regional areas, supporting acts whose existence may be largely unknown. This aspect of the fest can be used to convince others to pay the ticket price for the chance to camp in the woods and see bands you haven’t seen or heard before.
This concept exists in other festivals but may be the way to go for an event that still has yet to get its full bearings, as over half of the bill is of this more obscure nature. While I could see more premiere headliners in the future, the draw of both Shadow Woods festivals has been its leaning toward lesser-known but decent metal bands. With the close of the second day, this push for discovery was not fruitless as Shadow Woods brought me to the attention of a cornucopia of horrid sounding music.
Athame is from both Maryland and West Virginia and was one of the many bands from Grimoire Records that played at the festival. Much of the intrigue for Athame’s act was their animated occultic lyrics and terrifying disposition, making it a perfect late night set. In the cramped and sometimes overheated atmosphere of a cleared-out camp dining hall, these three kings of darkness ripped through the night with near orthodox black metal. Presentation is an important aspect in traditional black metal performances, so Athames‘ additional theatrics of ritualistic lighting from a rusty candelabra, cloaked figures wielding knives, and animal skull decorations only gave physical form to the abstract sounds.
2016 marked an important year for this band as their debut, With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve, is spectacular in its dedication to fierce black metal in mystic garb.
I feel weird talking about Genevieve since I personally know the members more so than other bands on this list. I wrote about this Baltimore-based band for their debut, Escapism, and held off on telling them personally since I did not want my praise to come across as social tax or something you say about a friend’s band. I feel even weirder saying that Genevieve’s set was fantastic and crystallized my fascination for outsider black/death. Influenced by things like Cormac McCarthy, psychedelics, and poised to be least likely to look like they are in a band together, Genevieve’s set was swirling with slight irreverence coupled with enormous power in its focus. The torment and curiosity which erupted from their stage presence only reinforced my belief that these are probably the weirdest guys that I know. My only hope is this band stops making good records so I can go back to lying when I say that they are fantastic.
I saw Coffin Dust at this year’s Blood of the Wolf Festival and the band was one of the few acts that I recognized when looking at the lineup for Shadow Woods. Saturday was the space in which most of the death metal bands played, so early evening was the set time for the hulking riffs of this Philadelphia band. While this band has a fair amount of worship for the halcyon days of early ’90s death metal, Coffin Dust still has the ability to go off-road, wrangling in extended solos and tasteful breakdowns that make the songs feel so much more complete than what you would think can be done in 4 minutes. Combine this with the Ghostbuster tribute, which adorns the instruments and skin of lead guitarist/vocalist Slime, everything starts to make eerie sense.
This is psychedelic panic soaring over all expectations and technical mishaps like not having their bassist at the show. Despite the obvious lack of low end, Coffin Dust still managed to make music that sounded like the splat of a head exploding on concrete.
Shadow Woods has the ability to have at least one headlining band that I am super-excited to see despite it being sort of a big question mark for others. Last year it was Midnight. This year it was the sounds of spooky stoner death / doom. I describe this band to people as the accidental marriage between psychedelics and death metal, a combination whose existence seemed to be well explored by others at this festival. Acid Witch has not had a full album since 2012 but all of their members are connected to other fantastic Midwest oddities like Nuke and Shitfucker.
Acid Witch is like a phantom that comes on special nights like this. Caught between the childlike tribute of Halloween and the irrelevance of adulthood, Acid Witch explores terror in the same way haunted hayrides do, where the the darkest areas are only as dark as dim neon lights allow. Along with the candy that was thrown to the audience, the band gave the crowd a spider web to extend over the length of a field and then played a haunting number about parties in spidertown while the patrons ran around each other entangling the mass in a giant moshing web. Though Halloween is still a month a way, I can’t picture myself celebrating it more appropriately.
Zud was one of those bands that everyone was hyped over but mostly because there was so many conflicting opinions about what it was. Some people said it was speed metal while others said it was more party black death metal with a punk slant. It was neither one of those, but maybe both. Self-described as outlaw black metal, Zud is the daydream of Hellhammer and Venom, if those bands were really influenced by biker and cowboy culture. With echoing western riffs, the idiosyncratic theme of this band’s music never becomes a gimmick, and it’s cool disposition gives the music an interesting scope for hellish sounds. The band’s live performance definitely had a more hellish disposition than their record, and the simple costuming of dusty hoods and dirt smeared on their bodies gave the band all the credibility they needed to project on an impassioned show.
From what I can recall, everyone who discussed Blood Storm over the course of Shadow Woods was amazed that the band was still playing. “Aren’t they from the late ’90s?”, some would ask, while others would argue about the actual time period before delegating judgment to their near-depleted phones. Blood Storm’s debut was released in 1997 and their fifth album recently saw release in 2014. If any award could be given to a band who sticks with a schtick longest, it would be a contest between Teloch Vovin and Blood Storm. I believe if we made those two bands fight, Blood Storm would have more weapons. Taking black/thrash and throwing on top a slightly irreverent occultism, Blood Storm played their black hearts out to the enjoyment of a few but immortally engaged fans.
Going to festivals is strange when you really look at what you are doing. Spending a mid-afternoon slot standing in a field listening to death metal or in the woods listening to black metal sounds odd when one steps away from it, but is perfectly reasonable and even exciting to others when engulfed in the moment. Denizens of various walks of life decided to spend a whole weekend in the woods listening to evil-sounding music and be witness to theatrical rituals performed by bands. Blood was marked on heads, the smell of sage and other ritualistic herbs were burned in mass.
The dark worship of every band and attendee was done on a spectrum ranging from the stoic to the irreverent. The patches that adorned the jackets of the attendees showed mystical and occult symbols married with sometimes illegible text. Ancient Egypt and Babylonia danced with Norse mythology. Fantasy and Sci-Fi themes were woven in between runes, symbols, and mythic imagery of gods and monsters. The dark and evil nature of the sounds counterpointed the joyous disposition of pretty much every attendee. When one steps back from it, Shadow Woods was a chance to spend an entire weekend in the company of devils.
The things I remember most about Shadow Woods are, and probably will always be, the little things. Whether it is the taste of campfire hotdogs with pickles on top filtered through mouthfuls of cheap beer, the sound of the bathrooms in the morning in their symphony of bodily voiding, or the fact that random strangers could come up and sing bars of Iron Maiden or Mercyful Fate that played from portable speakers, this year was memorable with small mementos and possibly a layer of grime that now sits caked on my battle jacket. Though the sweat and smoke and grease may wash off this jacket at next rainfall, the memories of where I got it probably will not fade for quite some time.
For more of Kaptain Carbon’s photos of Shadow Woods, see below and for still more, go here: