(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. You can find his report on Day 1 here, and below you’ll find his impressions of Day 2, accompanied by photos made by the excellent photographers John Malley and Jimmy Stacks, and by our editor islander.)
Despite the transcendent ass-kicking YOB dealt out at the close of the previous night, I woke up feeling like my body had not been put through a cement mixer on Friday morning. This was both a welcome surprise and a relief.
Historically, Fridays at NWTF are always when the party feels like it gets kicked into 12th gear. There’s just more of everything – more people, more intensity, more energy. Even for only two stages in a relatively small venue, this festival always manages to capture lightning in a bottle. Tonight, I felt, would be no exception.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
Even with my ambitious proclivities, I started the day by getting to Neumos just in time to miss Seattle hardcore upstarts Cult Sickness, and I was kicking myself for that already. As the story often goes, though, “one” cocktail at the bar across the street (in this case, the bar-cade called Time Warp) turned into chatting with the bartender, making a new friend, and generally behaving like an escaped zoo animal. After almost 20 years of hanging out here, I cannot be trusted on Capitol Hill, ever.
I did, however, scamper into Neumos in time to catch all of Fetid, and my main takeaway from the set was that I’ve never seen a pit quite like that inside this venue at 5 pm. Fetid joined Antichrist Siege Machine in the prestigious ranks of “drummers who beat the kit while howling like demons.” (Later, as it turned out, Autopsy would fall into that same category.) Extra shout-out to the one dude in the front who roared with hilarious approval when the band told the crowd, “This one’s called ‘Reeking Within.’” The pit that followed was monstrous.
We were already firing on full cylinders, folks. Buckle the fuck up.
The momentum would only continue downstairs at Barboza, where local death dealers Re-Buried were just about to start. I was intrigued from the start for a few reasons:
-The cover art for the band’s debut album Repulsive Nature is brutal as hell
-They sound like they were pulled from a swamp in South Florida in 1993
-After half the first song, their audial devastation roped me right the fuck in and kept me there for the next 30 minutes.
Do yourself a favor and give Repulsive Nature a thorough spin. It’s grimy, dark, and so heavy it might collapse your roof.
It was all I could do to get back upstairs to barely catch the beginning of Castrator. Billing themselves as “emasculating death metal,” it’d be easy to imagine some people in the crowd getting slightly uncomfortable with that description. One look at the fervent reaction from the near-capacity crowd that had already accumulated at 6 pm and you’d never think so.
Vocalist Clarissa Badini has a stage presence comparable to Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, and her vocal style isn’t too far off as well. The actual music, though? It’s way more angular, ferocious, and unpredictable. One could even call it tech-death, dare I say. The band’s debut full-length Defiled in Oblivion is forward-thinking, incendiary, and translates incredibly well to the stage. These ladies can fucking play.
Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to hat-tip the girl wearing the yellow bandana who was absolutely manhandling dudes twice her size in the pit. This is the energy I’m here for.
After a brief sweep of Castrator merch upstairs and the requisite “killer set” praise to whichever members of the band were present, back downstairs we went. Draghkar was just starting; their brand of steel-toed-boot death metal was already peeling the paint off the walls. They were another band that I’d soon be putting in my “never heard of them but came away a fan” category. It turns out their 2020 album At the Crossroads of Infinity is actually pretty gnarly, with streaming services comparing them to Dungeon Serpent. It’s not inaccurate.
With brothers Matt and Jamie Knox still wiping the sweat off their brows from their previous night’s performance in The Silver, it was time for them to hit the Neumos stage again – this time in their main outfit Horrendous. At times channeling the underrated death/prog wizards Morbus Chron and at other times cranking up the HM-2 pedal to sound like the early Entombed days, Horrendous is a goddamn force to be reckoned with. The musicianship on “Soothsayer” alone would be enough to melt most of the faces in the house, while new song “Ontological Mysterium” furthers said face-melting. I hadn’t seen this band play in quite a long time, and it seems they’ve only grown into a more vicious murder machine since then. Keep it up, fellas.
Taking a momentary break from the upstairs/downstairs scramble, I took the opportunity to refill my beer and catch up with friends. (And also, to recount the experience of Fire in the Mountains for the umpteenth time with people who asked about my shirt.) Fortunately for them, there’s hardly ever a time I won’t talk about that festival over a beer.
Anyway, it was almost time for none other than Bell Witch to whittle away at our psyches, one slow snare hit at a time. As they were doing a sound check, I heard one guy behind me say something to the effect of “30 minutes? They’ll have time for two songs!” I turned around and said, “And maybe just one.”
The result, as it happened, was hard to identify. Initially, the song the Seattle duo started playing fooled people into assuming it was the end of their sound check, but then they just… kind of kept playing. I admit I’m not intimately familiar with their music beyond the haunting “Stygian Bough Volume I” they released with Aerial Ruin, which I loved. One thing I did know for sure, though, was that a band as apocalyptically heavy as Bell Witch was not about to spend their 30-minute festival set playing acoustic folk.
Funeral doom doesn’t always make for a compelling live set, but Bell Witch kept things interesting enough to put the entire crowd into a trance. Whether it was one song or two, it didn’t matter – it was hypnotic as could be and served as a perfect in-between for so much other music here that featured warp-speed tempos.
At this point, my insides were gurgling like an Icelandic volcano, demanding sustenance. I had no choice but to answer the call, lest I suffer the consequences of being that guy who didn’t eat dinner before continuing to pound beers until 1 a.m. We’ve seen how that story ends plenty of times, and I have no intention of being its protagonist.
We inhaled Capitol Hill’s finest fried chicken at Bok-a-Bok while sitting inside The Runaway bar, which I’d known for many years under a different name. It’s perfect for escaping the noise next door, should you need a respite.
Once our stomachs were adequately full, it was time for none other than Oakland’s Necrot to devour all life in front of them. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were the only band on this bill who’d appeared on a previous NWTF edition – 2018, I want to say? They were easily one of the most dominant sets of that weekend five years ago, so my hopes were high.
It turned out that they somehow weren’t high enough.
With their knuckle-dragging, riff-driven death metal, this trio just fucking destroys everything in their path. Once the opening riff to “The Blade” got off the ground, so did half the crowd. That song whirls and slashes and mauls with glee, and it went down as one of the best tracks from any set I would hear all weekend. When that song was over and a thunderous applause died down, a guy directly to my right shouted “CAN YOU PLAY THAT SONG LIKE FIFTEEN MORE TIMES?”
Couldn’t have said it better, my friend.
We were getting into prime territory now, with Barboza about to be closed out for the night. Portland crust-punk veterans Hellshock were more than up to the task of sending us off.
In terms of describing Hellshock’s sound, imagine a slightly less unhinged version of Wolfbrigade and you wouldn’t be too far off. Plenty of neck-snapping grooves, blast-furnace vocals, and lyrical themes of anarchism and anti-religion made for one hell of a way to end the night downstairs. Getting close enough to the stage to feel their raw, unfiltered aggression left me filled with adrenaline. Would it be enough to get me through the final two headlining sets back upstairs? Guess we’d find out soon enough.
With Impaled and Autopsy playing back-to-back to close out night two, the old guard of grind was proudly waving its shit-crusted flag at NWTF this year. Impaled, who haven’t released an album since 2013’s The Dead Still Dead Remain, took the stage with the raucous energy of teenagers. “We’re Impaled, the people’s headliner!” shouted bassist/vocalist Ross Sewage as they tore into their first track like lions feasting on a gazelle. As a band, Impaled is a study in excess, from their album and song titles to their artwork and stage antics. Case in point – all three guitar players and the bassist contribute hefty shifts on throat-scraping vocals while shredding away on their instruments.
“So, it’s been 15 years since we polluted Seattle with our medically themed bullshit,” shouted Sewage, whose stage name is still making me laugh like I’m 14 and watching Beavis & Butthead for the first time. Sewage spoke some more to get the crowd riled up, and he did an exceedingly great job of it. Frenzied blurs of tattooed arms and the occasional spilled beer dominated the middle of the floor during the entire set, with highlights being “Dead Inside” and “Up the Dose.”
About 45 minutes later, Impaled had completed their anesthesia-free sonic surgery and left the operating table, giving way for Autopsy to stitch us up and send us back to the salt mines. Fun fact: While Impaled essentially has four vocalists minus the drummer, Autopsy’s main vocalist is drummer Chris Reifert. Another fun fact: I’ve never seen so many drummer/vocalist hybrids at one festival before.
Autopsy wasted no time getting started on their set, which was, tragically, marred by sound and equipment issues. Those issues aside, though, the band was in prime form, taking the audience on a grim tour of their storied career. With relatively succinct song lengths, they managed to cram in at least 15 songs, ending with the satisfyingly cathartic “Fuck You!” Is there another way to close out a metal festival? Yes, but this was Autopsy, and they’ve been out of fucks to give for upwards of 30 years.
I downed my final beer of the night and stumbled uphill to the hotel. Any thought of more revelry at this point was almost laughably absurd, and I had to conserve as much energy as possible for what would await me tomorrow night. Everything about this festival so far had gone down perfectly, from the punctual set times to the wildly skilled crew to the incredible music itself.
And somehow, some way, there was still more of it ahead.