Jun 122023

(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 on Day 2 here. Below you’ll find his write-up of the third and final day, accompanied by photos again made by the excellent photographers John Malley and Jimmy Stacks, and by our editor islander.)

When you hit day 3 of any festival, it always feels like an accomplishment. If you’ve made it to this point, you probably deserve a merit badge for endurance or alcohol tolerance. And why not?

Personally, I’d settle for one more night of ear-splitting music and behaving badly in public, but that’s just my preference. My only goal for tonight would be to remain coherent enough to feverishly type on my notes app while trying not to get swallowed up by a rampant mosh pit.

I took my last remaining shreds of enthusiasm and trudged once again into the black hole of Neumos/Barboza. One more night of terror was all that was left. What madness would await tonight? What insanity would Ghoul unleash upon us as the closing headliner? And more importantly, would the inflatable animals make another surprise appearance?

It was time to get answers. Onward!


As predicted, my time catching up with old friends on a day-drinking tour around Capitol Hill resulted in a late arrival at the venue, so first thing first – apologies to Lilith and Solicitor for not catching their sets. All opinions I heard of both were universally positive, though, so I’m sure they both killed it. (The disadvantages of being a one-man review team tend to rear their heads sometimes.)


The good news? I made it down to Barboza for the Portland industrial-metal duo At the Heart of the World. Their music had caught my ear earlier in the week on the NWTF playlist – it struck me as a mix of HEALTH, early Nine Inch Nails, and Skinny Puppy.

I have a gigantic soft spot for this kind of heaviness. Growing up as an angry teenager, Broken and The Downward Spiral were on constant repeat. ATHOTW captured that same energy during their performance. Despite their only equipment being a couple of microphones and a mixing board, these guys brought a metric shitload of energy and stage presence to their set. The song that initially caught my attention was “Retroject,” and it lost nothing during the performance. They even thrashed so hard on stage that they accidentally tore down their own banner. You love to see it.


I was super pumped to catch Tacoma hardcore/crossover punks Denial of Life down here next, but I also wanted to come up for air to catch Pink Mass upstairs. I was glad I did.

Clad in BDSM wear consisting of not much more than chains, black hoods, and boots, the members of Pink Mass were drawing a gigantic crowd of gawking spectators. Their noisy variety of crusty grindcore was only adding to the spectacle, but it was the only music imaginable to match what was happening. It was probably the most intense 30 minutes of the weekend so far, both visually and sonically, and I was fascinated by it.


Back downstairs, Denial of Life was getting primed for what would be a bone-crushing set. The band’s first full-length album No Reason was released last year, and like so many other bands I’d watched to this point in the weekend, this Tacoma outfit feels like they’re ready for big things. Vocalist Brenna Gowin is a force to be reckoned with on stage, delivering a hardcore punk shout that fuels the sick riffs laid down by guitarist Logan Miller. All told, Denial of Life sure as hell didn’t end up denying anyone a good time. Their closing choice of the Type O Negative cover of “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” made me even more of a fan.


At this point, I was beginning to memorize how many steps there were on the staircase leading up to Neumos from Barboza. Was this a sign of exhaustion or just my ADHD making some weird attempt to keep me sane? No one knows; certainly not me. What I did know, though? I was about to catch another band I knew next to nothing about – Christian Mistress.

The Olympia, WA-based five-piece play a trad, old-school style of metal that harkens back to Ozzy’s glory days. Turns out, they’ve been at this whole heavy metal racket since 2008. They confidently breezed through a fun set married with psychedelic guitars and head-nodding grooves that reminded me of Lucifer. The festival organizers did an incredible job this year of picking acts that really spanned the metal spectrum, seemingly leaving no subgenre untouched. Catching all of Christian Mistress also chipped away at the FOMO I was still feeling from missing Nite on Friday. They definitely scratch the same itch – using the spikes on the leather jackets, of course.


After the requisite beer refill and amusing myself with the ridiculousness of Ghoul merch, it was time to pop back downstairs to catch Abstracter. With their inclusion on the bill, there was a noticeably strong showing of bands from Oakland this year at NWTF. Their menacing, shadowy presence sent chills down the spines of onlookers, and there was nary a moment of breathing room in between the suffocating intensity of their blackened sludge metal.


Even the heaviest of metal fests needs a break amidst the insanity, and the folks in Serpentent were happy to give us the respite that we needed – even if most of us stoic, tattooed metalheads might not be willing to admit it. Serpentent featured bass from the one and only Dylan Desmond of Bell Witch infamy, and a guest appearance from Exulansis’s Andrea Morgan on violin added an extra layer of beauty to the group’s already-layered ethereal soundscapes. It’s not often that you can see a non-metal band this good at a metal festival. Behold, friends, the beauty of Northwest Terror Fest.


Meanwhile, DC death dealers Genocide Pact, one of the sets I was most looking forward to on the day, was about to start firing on all cylinders. Those riffs, man. They effortlessly whipped up a monstrous pit within the first moments of their opening song, and there was just no slowing down after that. This band came to destroy, and even when they were down a member and playing as a trio, nothing was lost as a result.

A mild bit of exhaustion was now setting in, so I opted to catch most of Drouth’s set while sitting at a booth in the back, shooting the shit with the folks from Lilith and friends. Drouth, to a less discerning ear, had a lot in common with Abstracter, sound-wise, and continued to unleash the requisite amount of destruction unto the enthusiastic audience. Was it time to switch to Irish coffee? Maybe. In another hour, I would probably need to start slapping myself in the face while taking whiskey shots. I hoped I wouldn’t have to sink to those terrible depths.


The second of two DC-based bands would soon be turning Barboza on its head, though – the death-grind warriors in NO/MAS. Grind always has the potential to go so far over the top, so far into another sonic space entirely, that it can threaten to dominate any lineup – regardless of venue, time, or anything else. Before the band’s set, I was debating the possibility of a NO/MAS tequila line with vocalist Roger.

“Uno mas of NO/MAS, por favor?” Yeah, it has a ring to it. Or maybe I’m just an idiot who should stick to writing under any and all circumstances.

I knew there was potential for an awesome set here, but holy Jesus, NO/MAS sent Barboza into a total frenzy. Featuring songs that did anything but overstay their welcome, these guys bulldozed their way into our brains in just about 28 minutes, with the band’s new bass player – who, according to Roger, had joined the band and “learned all this shit in two weeks” – getting so fired up while playing that he broke a string. This one checked off all the boxes on the “how to close out a venue during a three-day festival.” Insanely strong work.


And the grind would continue upstairs – not just for this weary writer, but for the music itself. Cryptic Slaughter, who was supposed to headline this very festival a couple of years ago, only to have COVID-19 derail those plans, was up next. I have to come out and say I had no clue who this band was or anything about their history leading up to this point, but two things I do know after seeing them –

1. They put on one hell of a crushing set
2. They haven’t released any original music in three decades.

Their old-school, no-bullshit approach capped off the night very well, and this was a band that had to compete with the likes of Autopsy and Impaled in terms of resonating with the old guard in the house. They were more than up to the task, as it turned out. At this point, I really wasn’t surprised. The festival had almost zero letdowns to this point, and Cryptic Slaughter’s throwback madness stood up just fine in comparison to the company they were keeping.


At long last, the mystery thrash weirdos in Ghoul would close us out with one last hurrah. With the burlap bags over their heads and garb that fell somewhere between “Garbage Pail Kids” and “Budget Gwar,” these guys lit Neumos the absolute fuck up. I mean, there wasn’t a single thing missing from this set that should’ve been included – ridiculous mid-song banter, the unleashing of insane characters that looked like they’d just walked off the set of a Troma movie, and, AND! the release of the storied inflatable animals, which I suspect the likes of Islander, Andy Synn, and DGR may have had something to do with. (Call it a hunch, I dunno.)

With a malicious batch of songs that spanned the band’s catalog and a lot of shit from their newest output, Dungeon Bastards, having Ghoul top everything off on these magnificently awesome three days was the kind of batshit insanity I was here for. I even bumped into Islander himself outside, while one of Ghoul’s guitarists was standing there, mid-set, ready to charge back in. (He ended up marauding himself straight into the pit while playing a song. And why not?)


All in all, this iteration of Northwest Terror Fest felt like something bigger this time around. As with all festivals of this type, it builds community – I saw many faces I’d recognized from years past, and also a fair amount of overlap from other recent festivals as well. This is what it’s all about, in the end – celebrating the music itself and the community that supports it.

I have to give my thanks to a crew that handled every single moment of every set with the utmost professionalism and gusto, a crowd that was among the best I’d ever been in for any show in Seattle (and I’ve been to a metric shitload), a group of organizers that curated an incredible lineup, and a staff at Neumos/Barboza that did an amazing job having us for three long nights of nonstop fun.

Until next year, NWTF.

  3 Responses to “NORTHWEST TERROR FEST: DAY 3”

  1. Ahh, man, and you get the mighty Ghoul to close it out (on top of Genocide Pact abs Cryptic Slaughter). Kicking myself….seems like an f’n great time. Thanks for the detailed write ups and cool photos for the less fortunate of us!

  2. Very nice write up, but you fucked up missing Solicitor! One of my favorite sets of the whole weekend.

    • To be fair: this was one of the few where any missed set was a tough miss and I say that from having had the lucky chance to work the fest so I could slip in from the sidelines and catch groups even when the venue was packed. Nite fucking ruled, Solicitor were great, Lilith was impressive, Thra equally so. I don’t think there was a single band that I didn’t find enjoyable.

      And I have no clue what you’re talking about with the inflatables.

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