Jun 062023

(We were very fortunate that our Denver-based friend Gonzo made the trip to Seattle for the recent fifth edition of NCS-sponsored Northwest Terror Fest, and took it upon himself to report on the experience of all three days, beginning with Part 1 today. The accompanying photos were mostly made by pro photographer extraordinare John Malley, and a few by Jimmy Stacks and our editor islander.)

It was an unusually warm day in Seattle. The early afternoon sunlight was already bringing out the locals from a months-long hibernation. Pale-skinned locals, thirsting for a free hit of vitamin D to pair with their craft IPAs, were enjoying early happy hours at bars and breweries along the Pine and Pike corridor. Traffic was beginning to thicken down these narrow streets as the five o’clock hour drew nearer. It’s a special kind of claustrophobia that unfurls when Capitol Hill descends into rush-hour gridlock, and I quietly felt relieved that I don’t have to sit through that anymore.

The city was beginning to feel alive again, and after a winter usually fraught with gray clouds and unrelenting rainfall, spring always has a way of injecting new life into the Emerald City.

Through the traffic and the locals being revitalized by the effect of direct sunlight, though, lurked another contingent of people slowly meandering their way up the hill: The festivalgoers eager to catch the savage opening sounds of the fifth edition of Northwest Terror Fest. This was my first time back at the festival since 2019, and it had simply been too long. Familiar faces were waiting as I approached the corner of 10th Ave. and Pike St., and many hugs were exchanged after my four-year absence from what was once a yearly tradition for me.

As with every year, there would be a lot to look forward to this weekend inside Nuemos/Barboza – incredible bands, amazing human beings, and enough beer and food to help me remain in a (somewhat) functional state over the next 72 hours. This lineup had the makings of something truly special. After grabbing my pass from the box office, it was finally time to dive headfirst into this world yet again.


photo by Jimmy Stacks

From the unseasonably warm streets on the surface, we descended into the dimly lit underbelly of Seattle’s Neumos – also known as Barboza – and just as soon as we did, the suffocating blackened post-doom of Portland’s Felsenmirror filled up the room. The overwhelming thickness of the guitars seemed to swallow up every last molecule of life that came anywhere close to the stage, leaving nothing left to escape. No light, no levity, and no breathing room were offered for the next 30 minutes. It was just the slow trickle of festivalgoers and the glorious bleakness of Felsenmirror’s eponymous debut album.

The set felt like a coronation of sorts; a slow, crushing welcome ceremony taking place in a thunderously loud basement. If we’re being honest, it was the only way to kick off a weekend like this.

By the time the band put down their instruments at 5 pm sharp, it already felt like the fifth edition of Northwest Terror Fest was in full swing – despite the early hour on a Thursday afternoon in Capitol Hill.

photo by islander

Once we ascended the steps that led back up to Neumos – the de facto main stage of the weekend – the avant-garde black metal maestros in Exulansis were just finishing their sound check. A large crowd had already gathered inside in fevered anticipation of what they were about to watch. We’ve covered Exulansis a few times on these pages at NCS, and I’ve always found their music to be just as beautiful as it is brutal.

Before their set, guitarist Ellis Ray announced they’d be playing three new songs they’d just finished recording, and “basically nobody has ever heard these before.” Just as soon as they finished that quip, the group burst into song number one – it seemed a little heavier than what I’d heard before, if for no other reason than a lack of preamble before the blast beat kicked in.

Violinist Andrea Morgan adds a layer to this band that makes them seem primed to blow up with their next record. Her beautiful playing adds an ocean of atmosphere atop the searing heaviness that Exulansis have learned to wield exceptionally well in a live setting, and I was blown away by the band’s precision. Whenever this next release containing these songs sees the light of day, I’ll be the first in line to hear it.

photo by John Malley

Meanwhile, back down in the depths of Barboza, local sludge lords deathCAVE were already done setting up. The set changes and band start times were already going off splendidly, and for such a small festival, it was already clear that this crew had things well in hand. I could easily say the same about deathCAVE themselves.

Formed in 2018, I remember the local scene losing its collective shit every time this band would play. The trio quickly saw themselves opening for national headlining tours that would come through town – mostly at the now-defunct Highline – and their bowel-shattering brand of sludgy doom was an ideal fit for the cave that is Barboza.

Their set flew by, even with the brunt of it containing songs that flirt with the 10-minute range. Much like their festival-mates in Exulansis, it seems like deathCAVE is ready for something bigger. Whatever that ends up being, this band deserves success.

photo by islander

Upstairs, the demonic dissonance of Tchornobog was about to wreak havoc. I’d seen this band last summer at Fire in the Mountains, and during that set, I remember thinking how much better they would’ve sounded as shadowy figures in a dark venue. That’s not to say I wasn’t totally enthralled by their set in the mountains, because I was. Some bands just need the atmosphere to complement the music, and Tchornobog always struck me as being in that category.

Thirty breathtakingly intense minutes later, I realized how right I was.

The dissonant death of Tchornobog conjures up your worst nightmares. It’s complex, intense, atmospheric, and dark as the eternal pitch-blackness of space itself. The songs evoke a Lovecraftian horror lurking somewhere beneath you, looking up at you with intent. Though it was impossible to rest easy during their set, I was reminded that I don’t usually listen to metal to feel happy. Fuck that nonsense. Hail Tchornobog.


It was only somewhere around 7 pm, and my ass had already been thoroughly kicked by this lineup. And it was day one of this madness. This is the sort of feeling that can turn me giddy. This is why I’m here.

As I recounted the insane set we’d just watched with some longtime friends, I realized I was missing the majority of Plague Bearer downstairs. I slid down there with enough time to catch the tail end of things. Their hood-laden stage presence also looked formidable as hell, even from the back of the venue while crushing a beer. Hell, with a leadoff song titled “Unholy Black Satanic War Metal” from their latest album Summoning Apocalyptic Destruction, it was easy to see why the festival scooped them up as a perfect fit for this festival.

photo by islander

We quickly clambered back upstairs. Antichrist Siege Machine was up next, and I required a good vantage point for the chaos that was about to – well, besiege – the entirety of Neumos.

There was a palpable feeling of anticipation in the air. We were still far from the night’s headliners in YOB, but it didn’t seem to matter. The venue was now packed to the brim. Throughout the week, there had been a fair amount of buzz in the dark corners of the internet about ASM’s set leading up to the festival. Based on the absolute onslaught of their music – especially the latest album Purifying Blade – it was easy to believe the hype.

For the uninitiated, Antichrist Siege Machine is just two members – drummer/vocalist Scott Bartley and guitarist Ryan Zell. The duo emerged on stage through a shadowy background and unceremoniously ripped into their first track. Within two minutes, the venue erupted in chaos. Zell’s searing down-tuned guitars worked in savage tandem with Bartley’s drums to create an impenetrable wall of lightning-fast brutality.

Getting a behind-the-kit view from the second-floor balcony made the experience all the more unforgettable, as Bartley was pounding that kit like he was trying to send it back to Hell from whence it came. The day’s first pit opened up quickly; a swirling mass of tattooed arms and black shirts whipped their way around a gaping hole in the middle of the floor.

The level of pure, abject pandemonium in the venue made it all too easy to forget that there were only two dudes on stage delivering this bludgeoning. Usually, I’m a purist when it comes to the inclusion of a bass player in metal bands, but ASM has no need whatsoever. By the time they wrapped up their set, everyone in the place looked like they’d just had their asses kicked. We were only halfway through day one, but the bar had officially been raised for this year’s edition of NWTF.

I was so busy unscrambling my brain for the next 30 minutes that I didn’t make it back downstairs to catch THRA’s set, but there was simply no way I could collect myself in that amount of time and give other music any iota of attention, let alone an objective (albeit beer-soaked) critical eye. Next time, THRA, next time.

photo by John Malley

Before I even realized it, though, The Silver was about to hit the stage. I loved the band’s debut album Ward of Roses, and the fact that two of its members are brothers Matt and Jamie Knox from Horrendous made me all the more intrigued.

With their brand of mid-paced post-black metal, The Silver made for a far less intense experience than Antichrist Siege Machine dished out, but it was no less interesting. Catchy hooks and a brooding sense of atmosphere revealed that the material from Ward of Roses translates very well to the live stage. They’re a far cry from the Knox brothers’ main gig in Horrendous, but we’d be seeing them as well in just another 24 hours.

Toward the end of The Silver’s set, I noticed there was a deficiency with my beer glass, in that there wasn’t any beer in it. No time for pausing that, I thought to myself as I got in line for another round. (Another advantage of living in Denver – when you go back to sea level and down some beers, you feel like you could go drink-for-drink against an Irishman.)

photo by John Malley

By the time I made it back downstairs for Spirit Possession, I didn’t have an ideal spot. I’ll be the first to admit they’re not a band I’d previously spent much time with, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As it turns out, the Portland duo sound a lot like Devil Master to me, weaving in some spacy dissonance atop their evil-ass black ‘n’ roll.

With only two members on stage, my vantage point wouldn’t afford very much in the way of actually seeing what the hell was going on, but my ears sure as hell weren’t deceiving me. The level of technical proficiency required to play music like this is nothing to shake a skull at, so the fact that this duo can effortlessly slice their way through tracks like “Second Possession” and “Orthodox Weapons” was impressive as hell.

photo by islander

Meanwhile, the UK’s infamous swamp creatures in Conan were about to drag us all into a bog of eternal stench, and I was here for it. The fuzz emitting from Jon Davis’s amp was already communicating directly with my soul before they even played a note, so my hopes were just as high as I was at the time. (I’m sure the experience of seeing Conan minus the weed would’ve been just as enthralling, but…why?)

“Volt Thrower,” “Hawk as Weapon,” and a slew of other sludge anthems stomped and crushed their way out of the speakers, spurning an unlikely pit. I was standing right at the edge of the melee, and with the crowd getting plenty of time to properly lubricate themselves by this point, the pit was consistently chaotic. With riffs thicker than wet cement, Conan was absolutely slaying this place.

“THIS IS WHAT CTHULU LISTENS TO WHILE HE HITS HIS BONG,” I yelled out to my accomplice over the noise. Oh fuck, I thought, I should write that down.


It was only a matter of time until the need to eat became dire, so after letting Conan destroy our eardrums, my group and I called an audible and walked across Pike St. to Poquito’s, one of the best bars in the area. Even while keeping an eye on the clock, wolfing down some tacos and inhaling margaritas kept me completely away from Nite closing out Barboza. A friend would later tell me their set was harkening back to the ’80s in every way, and I was sorry to have missed it. There does reach a certain point at any festival, though, in which tacos become a priority. I’d argue that for most days, really.

We popped back into Neumos just in time to watch one of the bands I’d been most excited for across all three days: The mighty Misery Index.

photo by Jimmy Stacks

Shredding their way through much of their superb 2022 album Complete Control, the band was cranking out jackhammer riffs with devastating precision. “Rites of Cruelty” sounded especially great, its anthemic chorus plowing through the pit like a tornado through a trailer park. If the pit was any indicator, the band most certainly had complete control of everyone at this point in the night.

After more than six hours of music by now, it was almost impossible to imagine any further sonic chaos being unleashed on this stage. What came next wasn’t going to be chaotic, though. Not in the traditional sense at least.

YOB would soon take the stage to finish up day one.

photo by islander

It’s almost impossible to see YOB live and not find yourself in the midst of some kind of transcendent experience. Few bands, regardless of genre, have the ability to connect with an audience the way they do. Every note they play is so precise, so meaningful, and so goddamn heavy that it becomes impossible to not be fully transfixed on what’s happening in front of you. As Mike Scheidt casually started playing the opening chords of “Ball of Molten Lead,” I was reminded of this.

You’ll also never see YOB play the same setlist twice. No track is ever off-limits with the Oregon-based trio. This time out seemed like something truly special, though, as they belted out a jaw-dropping rendition of “Pain of I” from the band’s first album Elaborations of Carbon in 2002.

Jesus, I thought – that album’s old enough to drink.

Never mind that. I feel old enough already without such realizations.

photo by John Malley

Let’s talk about Mike Scheidt a little more for a second. I could watch him just play opening riffs the entire night and be completely satisfied with what I saw. It’s a good thing, then, that I had the chance to see that very performance last summer at Fire in the Mountains. That solo acoustic set was one for the ages. He can do it all – solo, with his bandmates in YOB, it doesn’t matter. He was simply put on this Earth to do exactly what he’s been doing for the past 20+ years.

And with the ethereal lighting and backdrop on this stage, Scheidt would look downright menacing. Knowing that he’s also a generally amazing human being quickly quelled any of that, though.

photo by John Malley

As YOB rounded off their set with the always-stunning “Adrift in the Ocean,” I couldn’t think of a better way to send everyone off for the night. Day One of this festival had taken me back to the pre-pandemic days of 2019, when my life was looking and feeling a lot different than it is now. Change is inevitable, though, and there’s something beautiful in that inevitability if you look for it.

Damn. There’s that transcendent YOB experience kicking in. Happens every damn time.

If Day One would serve as any reasonable benchmark for how the rest of the weekend would go, there was every reason to believe my return to Northwest Terror Fest was going to be well worth the wait.

  2 Responses to “NORTHWEST TERROR FEST: DAY 1”

  1. You missed NITE?!?!? They were in my top 3 performances of the weekend.

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