Sep 222022


(Our editor Islander [that would be me] wrote the following concert review and took all the photos that accompany it.)

The literature of anthropological evolution (in which I’m a dabbler rather than an expert) makes a convincing case that much of our behavior is rooted in instincts that evolved over a vast span of time, instincts geared toward the survival of the species. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty clear that in the “modern age” those instincts no longer function very well as instruments of preservation and advancement. Instead, they lead to behavior that’s just plain dumb, or worse yet self-destructive, or still worse yet, dangerous to the survival of the species as a whole.

Unlike almost all other creatures on the planet, our big sophisticated brains give us the ability to override instinct for the better. Sometimes we actually behave in genuinely altruistic ways. Sometimes we’re able to extricate ourselves from dangerous predicaments through the exercise of reason when instinct alone would fail. We just don’t do any of that as often as we should, and there’s a case to be made that time is running out.

These thoughts bubbled to the surface as I reflected on the performance of Heilung I was lucky enough to witness in Seattle on the night of September 20th. On the one hand, the intense primal attraction of the show was a vivid reminder that “primitive man” still dwells within us. On the other hand, it was a testament to the willed creativity of which we’re capable, and the capacity to create beauty and magic. Continue reading »

Aug 102022

(Today our friend Gonzo brings us his third and final report on the recent Fire in the Mountains festival in Wyoming, along with a few of his own photos. You can find the first two installments here and here.)

Day three of any festival hits different. It’s no longer a matter of going balls-to-the-wall for 12 consecutive hours. It’s an endurance contest. It’s a marathon you’re running against yourself. One minute you’re staring bleary-eyed at the roof of your tent before the sun comes up, and the next, you’re chugging espresso you made in the back of a Subaru Outback in desperate hopes of being able to slog your way through the rest of the weekend.

And that’s just the first two hours.

But never mind that. No point in wasting any time lamenting your mental condition, I thought to myself as I threw some extra clothes into my backpack. Today would first be spent outside the confines of our beloved festival, and into the mountain range that we’d only been able to admire from afar. Before any music, we’d be taking a side quest to Grand Teton National Park. Continue reading »

Aug 052022

(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. Continue reading »

Aug 022022

(Our Denver-based contributor Gonzo was fortunate enough to be at the 2022 edition of Fire In the Mountains, which took place in the shadow of the glorious Teton Range in Wyoming. Today we present the first of his reports about the festival.)

I stepped out of the car and gently shut the door. Raising my arms over my head and interlocking my fingers, palms facing skyward, I stretched my body as if I’d never stood up on my own two feet before. Sitting on my ass for over 7 hours in a Subaru Outback through desolate landscapes and wide-open highways with barely another soul in sight for miles does tend to drain you after a while. And looking around now, it was almost fair to wonder if we’d driven through a portal to another dimension.

That otherworldly dimension, for our purposes, was known as Fire in the Mountains, a deeply unique festival experience that was just about to kick off its first occurrence in three years. Set deep within the Wyoming wilderness just outside of Grand Teton National Park, this gathering of metalheads, artists, hippies, weirdos, psychonauts, and anyone in between had gained a lot of buzz throughout the US festival circuit. Some called past incarnations of it “loose as goose shit,” while others described it simply as the best weekend they’d ever experienced in their lives. High praise for a festival that attracts just over a thousand people each year in a setting that requires you to pack in your own water.

Now that we’d arrived, the anticipation that had been building since 2020 was palpable, like a thunderstorm slowly looming over the mountaintops in the distance. More cars were slowly beginning to pull in, sporting license plates from as far as Canada, Ohio, Florida, California, Minnesota, and more. It was clear this was a destination for many. It was time to set up camp and let this experience take us wherever it would lead us. Continue reading »

Feb 212022


(Our Denver-based contributor Gonzo had the good fortune of seeing live performances by Dark Tranquillity, Kataklysm, and Nailed To Obscurity about 10 days ago, and he sent us the following report along with some of his photos.)

I’m sure this is the case with pretty much everyone who’s going to read this, but I’m pretty fucking sick of talking about the pandemic, what “normal” looks like, how long it’s been since we saw X band at X venue, and everything in between.

But in the case of the tour that rolled through The O Theater in Denver last Thursday night, I’d be remiss not to frame it against the backdrop of the aforementioned frustrations. Three incredible metal bands – Dark Tranquility, Kataklysm, and Nailed to Obscurity – are touring the US right now and none of them are native to this country. I don’t know when the last time that happened, so that alone is worth celebrating.

It certainly didn’t hurt that all three bands put on shows that made it seem like they – as well as tours featuring international acts in general – were never gone. Continue reading »

Nov 162021


By the time most of you read this I will have begun the trip back to the Pacific Northwest from Reykjavík. Counting the early show-up time at Keflavik Airport, the long flight, the exit process at Sea-Tac Airport, and the eventual ferry ride home, my best guess is that it will take about 14 hours, not counting a pair of cab rides. With luck, I’ll be in bed between 4 and 5 a.m. tomorrow, Reykjavík time. But every minute and every mile will have been worth it.

If you had the patience to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this report on Ascension Festival Iceland MMXXI, you already know how much I loved it. I found something to enjoy in the performances of nearly every band, despite how varied the music turned to to be — indeed, because of that — and I only missed two of those bands over four action-packed days. Continue reading »

Nov 152021


The preamble to Part 2 of this report on the just-completed Ascension Festival Iceland won’t be quite as long as the intro to Part 1 (which you can find here), though I can’t resist including one episode I omitted yesterday.

As forecast, this Part of my report mainly includes commentary about the music and photos from the third and fourth days of the festival. As before, I’ve pretty much just copy/pasted things I posted on Facebook while the event was in progress.

Part Three, whenever I can get to it, will be some kind of wrap-up. Continue reading »

Nov 142021


Ascension Festival Iceland MMXXI come to a glorious end last night, surmounting what seemed like a non-stop swarm of perils to provide a fantastic experience for all who attended. I was lucky to be there from beginning to end, for all four days and nights.

Both for myself and for many others, it was the first live music we had witnessed since March 2020 or earlier. That gave the experience both an extra poignancy and an extra shot of energy. I can hardly imagine a better way to have a taste of “normalcy” after so long, though of course “normal” is now a highly relative term.

Of course the music was only part of what made this covid-delayed edition of Ascension so memorable. It was a reunion of old friends and the good fortune of making new ones.  I’ll remember the people and the conversations as much as the music. Continue reading »

Nov 012021

(Andy Synn reports back from a recent show – remember those? – he was lucky enough to attend)

I was going to start out this article with a comment on how it feels like things are finally getting back to “normal”… but, to be honest, that’s not really true.

Of course, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss all the ways in which the world is still in an incredibly weird and uncertain place, so instead I’d just like to say how lucky I feel to have been able to enjoy a gig like this, when so many others can’t, and that I hope you guys get the chance to do so yourselves soon too.

Continue reading »

Oct 122021


(Our Denver-based friend Gonzo had the good fortune to witness a recent performance by the multinational European collective Heilung at the extraordinary Red Rocks amphitheater in Colorado, and he sent us the following impassioned review plus photos that he took.)

There aren’t many words in the English language that describe what it’s like to watch Heilung perform their ritual in a live setting.

Captivating? Yes.

Immersive? Also yes.

Spellbinding? Definitely.

But just as their self-proclaimed moniker of “amplified history” seems to imply, you’d almost have to come up with new expressions to adequately describe their show to someone who’s never seen it, let alone heard of the band at all.

How else could you describe the thunderous booms of massive drums made from deer skin and painted with human blood? The hypnotic throat singing of Kai Uwe-Faust? The piercing siren songs of Maria Franz? And the modern-day portrayal of an ancient Iron Age ritual that features about 15 other performers, dancers, singers, actors, and enough ambience and atmosphere to be one of the most memorable live shows you’ve ever seen?

I have no idea, but it’s more than worth a try. Continue reading »