(Our friend Gonzo has brought us the second installment of his commentary on the 2022 edition of the Fire in the Mountains festival, which took place in Wyoming in late July. To check out the first installment, go here.)
Saturday morning came before I was ready for it. The sunrise roused me from an intoxicated slumber, and my bladder was quick to remind me of the choices I’d made the night before. “Balls,” I muttered as I put pants on, preparing to leave the warm confines of my tent and head towards the port-a-potties near the entrance to camp.
I unzipped the tent and stepped out into the frigid morning air. The temperature had dropped by almost half of what it’d been during the day. A layer of frost had accumulated on the top of the tent. I was grateful I’d kept my Amorphis hoodie on before going to sleep, even if I had no memory of doing it. So far, the running score of this weekend was FITM: 1, Gonzo: 0. Expecting anything else would’ve been ridiculous of me.
Walking along the makeshift footpath through camp, the stunning peaks of the Tetons were looming through the morning mist. This land, this festival – there was something different about it, something almost tangible. It’s not every day you find yourself immersed in nature, surrounded by wildlife, refreshingly out of range of any cell phone service, and have eight hours of amazing music to look forward to, but that was exactly what this day would hold for the lucky 1,200 of us who made the trek to this festival.
After a morning of slowly coming back to life from the previous night’s festivities, it was time to do a little exploring. I have no idea how large of an area the festival grounds were, which were set on a rural property known as Heart Six Ranch in Moran, WY, but they felt both huge and intimate at the same time. From camp, it was a dusty 15-minute walk up to the ranch’s amenities, which basically consisted of a small lodge, some private rooms, and a café. Our group decided to head up that way and, if nothing else, catch the view from the top of the hill.
Turns out, it was worth the walk.
Our original plan for the day was to join some of the panels before the music started, including “Metaltations” with Colleen Fletcher, an ethnobotanical plant walk, and whatever the hell “Crazy Tom’s Adventure Camp” was, but the energy level simply wasn’t there. The heat of the afternoon sun was already becoming too much to bear without shade, and with another full day of music ahead, staying hydrated and avoiding heat stroke became priority one.
We did, however, enjoy a simply incredible barbecue lunch prepared by Danish chef Jonas Lorentzen. The kitchen crew put some meat in the smoker at around 2 a.m., letting it sit there for a good nine hours before dishing it up to about a hundred people. To say it was worth enduring the heat would be the understatement of the day. Possibly the week.
With full stomachs (as well as livers that were once again ready to be unfairly punished), we made our way back down the hill. It was almost time for Dreadnought to get day two started on the Tetons Stage. I first saw the Denver prog outfit at Northwest Terror Fest some years back, and their set was utterly captivating. That energy transferred to this performance almost flawlessly. The band ripped and shredded their way through some of their heavier material, and with last night’s performers being predominantly acoustic, this set made the festival feel like it was finding its true form.
Colorado bands were out in force today at FITM, with Denver instru-metal crew Ghosts of Glaciers taking the Buffalo Stage next. Their blackened post-metal was thoroughly enthralling, as always, and guitarist Steven Jackson stole the show with incredible fretwork that was featured throughout. The crowd was starting to grow, but even as it did, nothing ever felt like it was too packed. This was especially remarkable considering the relatively small size of both stages, but even more noticeable at the smaller Buffalo Stage.
After GoG was done thrashing our faces off, the heat and scarce amounts of shade was beginning to get a little too intense, so we opted to take a break from the exposure to direct sunlight for a bit and head back to the tent. Rehydrating was key, and we filled up the souvenir water bottles we’d bought last night. This also meant we missed watching Yellow Eyes tear up the Teton Stage for 45 minutes, but the other advantage of a small festival was being able to clearly hear everything from the comfort of your tent.
The rejuvenation, as it turned out, was vital. Taking an hour to hide from the sun allowed us to fully enjoy whatever the hell DBUK was doing on the Buffalo Stage – right at 4:20, if that’s worth mentioning. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, look for any reason to celebrate accordingly in any given scenario.
I don’t know how to describe DBUK to someone who’s never heard them. Is it country? No. Is it folk? Kind of. Is it heavy? Yes, but in a different way than the other three bands we’d seen so far. Their Spotify page describes their music as “haunting, warped murder ballads,” and I’m sure as fuck not going to try to craft a term that explains the band any better than that. With song titles like “The Red Cross is Giving Out Misinformation” and “The Misrepresentation of the Thompson Gun,” DBUK (also from Denver, because of course they are) is a thoroughly weird live show that also happened to be gleefully awesome.
After their set, I stood for a minute to just appreciate the sheer scale of this festival. The organizers clearly left no stone unturned in their search for bands that would fit the Fire in the Mountains bill. Diversity was king, above all else. But the transition we were about to be subjected to was one I had been looking forward to for the past several months.
The mighty power metal wizards of Eternal Champion were up next on the Tetons Stage, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it. I’d never seen the band live before, but their most recent record Ravening Iron earned a very high spot on my 2020 best-of list. Hell, if the song “Skullseeker” doesn’t send the biggest chill up your spine when the first verse hits, I can’t help you.
The Austin, TX-based quartet slashed and slayed their way through a fucking monstrous set that brought about one of the first mosh pits of the festival. A tornado of dust and denim turned at warp speed in front of the stage, even in spite of the relentless heat. By the time the band laid their set to rest with a goddamn infectious choice of “I Am the Hammer,” the entire festival was riveted. The bar had officially been raised at this point. The rest of the bands today had their work cut out for them. Eternal Champion more than lived up to the name.
Haunter came up next at the adjacent Buffalo Stage, and in case the festival wasn’t heavy enough by now, it sure as hell was now. Their breed of thunderous knuckle-dragging death metal could’ve conjured a demonic entity in broad daylight. Admittedly, I wasn’t as tuned in during their set, because our group had grown significantly over the past 24 hours. Talking to such interesting people in this gorgeous setting was easily one of the highlights of the weekend. Hell, the conversation could’ve consisted entirely of just naming metal bands and it would’ve been the best goddamn time ever.
David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand fame was doing a solo performance next. Before the festival, I hadn’t listened to as much Wovenhand as I’d liked to, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. One of my good friends from Seattle, however, raised my expectations when he leaned over and said “Dude, this is gonna turn your brain to shit.”
Edwards emerged silently out of a manufactured mist. It would’ve looked almost over-the-top corny had it been a less enigmatic figure appearing on stage. Somehow, though, the smoke machine blowing across his cowboy hat-laden shadow was exactly the spectacle we needed. His solo material is engrossing. Much like DBUK, his music defies classification. I think the resurgence of this style can be attributed to the slow death of country music. It’s been an arduous downfall for country, and at this point I’d be happy to grab a shovel and make sure the current flag-sucking version of whatever the hell it’s devolved into is buried for good.
Alas, I have no such power, as I am only one metal writer lurking in the wild underbelly of the internet.
Anyway, I digress. As it turns out, my friend was right. Edwards’ set turned my brain to mush. I wasn’t even sure it was actually a human being up there playing music in front of us; it might as well have been some bizarre alien reptilian conjuring otherworldly sounds with telekinetic powers. He left the audience speechless.
Pacing one’s drinking at this point became critical. It had been a long day, but the sun was finally granting us mercy by disappearing behind the mountains. This, paired with our first “sloshie” of the evening from those same bastards who were pouring them the night before, was a dangerous – but energizing – duo. I was damn ready to watch Wayfarer wreak havoc on the Buffalo Stage.
And wreak, they did. After an almost frustratingly long soundcheck, the Denver frontier-metal outlaws began absolutely hammering the crowd with the most fury we’d seen all day. The swirling riffs of “The Iron Horse,” the epic grandeur of “Vaudeville,” and the jackhammer that is “Animal Crown” all sent the festival into its most frenetic mosh pit yet. But this one was a different sort of pit. Not a shred of malice existed anywhere in it. Every person in the human tornado in front of us had the biggest shit-eating grin I’ve ever seen – they even made way for the festival’s children to form their own pit, and the two audiences meshed perfectly.
Everyone was safe here. After just 24 hours, this crowd had become community. It was palpable from almost every possible vantage point. No energy was present here except positivity. The camaraderie here was better than at any show I could ever remember going to, and the people were actively perpetuating it.
Simply put, nobody was having a bad time.
When the sunset finally left us all shrouded in darkness, the headlining performance from Enslaved came at the perfect time.
After a crushing rendition of “Jettegryta,” vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson said, very matter-of-factly:
“Good evening, Wyoming! That’s…the first time I’ve ever said that.”
Wild to think that a band that’s been around the world multiple times over the past 30 years can still find a rock they haven’t unturned yet. And in all likelihood, they’ll never be back to this spot. This was beginning to feel like a dream, or at the very least, some kind of hallucination into another realm. Jesus, was I astral projecting?
Upon ripping into “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” and then “Homebound,” Enslaved was melting faces to a ridiculous extent. Their precision, timing, and showmanship was quickly elevating them to not only the best set of the festival, but the most incredible set I’ve had the good fortune to witness in a very long time. Every chord, every note… it was all flawlessly executed. Incredibly, the band looked as loose as they were if they were ordering a pizza. Effortlessly blazing through a set this impressive is a feat that few bands these days are capable of pulling off, but the festival organizers absolutely nailed this pick to close out the second day of the festival.
By the time Enslaved treated us to a breathtaking encore of “Ruun,” my jaw was on the dusty ground. When I managed to dust myself off after the Norwegians made their exit, I was positively spellbound. That feeling only increased exponentially when I got to a dark spot on the path back to camp and looked up.
The unobstructed view of the stars took my breath away. Here we are, I thought. Drifting on a giant floating rock through the vastness of space, making shit up as we go along. Faking it ‘til we make it. Forever stuck in a perpetual state of not knowing enough; always in search of the next “why.”
We waste so much fucking energy on useless bullshit that doesn’t matter, and not nearly enough time forming community, bonding with each other, and forging new friendships. Shared experiences like these are something so unique and special these days, and the feeling of my faith in humanity being restored, even by a miniscule amount, was starting to fill me with a certain kind of joy. It still fills me as I’m writing this.
This had been an absolutely perfect day. The music was spectacular, and the new group of friends that came back to our campsite to party were now all having the best time together. We had arrived as strangers, but the power of Fire in the Mountains extends far deeper than just the music you watch. It builds community, smashes barriers, and creates an environment in which every person is free to be their unfiltered, authentic selves. How they’ve managed to do this in anyone’s guess, but this festival was proving to be nothing short of magical.