I went to bed at 4 A.M. on Saturday night. I was tired, fatigued, my entire body hurt, and my stomach quivered from the stress. All I wanted to do was rest, but somehow I managed to pick myself up to tough it through another day. Just a cup of coffee and a cold shower was all I needed before I took the hour-long trip to Oakland for the second day of the Bay Area Death Fest.
The show was off to a good start with Bay Area locals Wolf King and Floridians Ovid’s Withering. Wolf King is a Converge-inspired hardcore band with a distinct blackened atmosphere. Packed with raw energy and in-your-face punch, the band set the bar for the chaos we were to face today. Ovid’s Withering has a very old-school stage presence paired with the sound of the new wave of technical death metal. On first glance the members reminded me of Vital Remains, but once the music kicked in I was reminded of symphonically influenced technical metal in the vein of The Faceless. With their unique mix of old-school and new-school elements, Ovid’s Withering has the ability to appeal to all kinds of metal fans.
No Altars were one of the bands I was most keen to see. Their recent album, Chambers Ov Eternal Punishment, is quite simply adrenaline-inducing. Their live set was no different: between its fast-paced hardcore grooves and vocals, old-school tremolo-picked death metal riffs, and beatdown-influenced slams, No Altars had it all. The band’s distinctive guitar tone was by far my favorite part of seeing them live. A wide sludgy tone backed with a ton of feedback and punch seriously helped their music come alive. By the end of the set I felt like my ears had been sonically hammered.
There’s nothing more interesting than hearing what a death metal band with a Toys “R” Us-inspired logo sounds like. Party Cannon were definitely a fiesta to experience live, blending traditional slam death metal with themes of adolescent debauchery. As they moved around on stage throwing bags of balloons into the crowd, you couldn’t help but smile. One of my favorite things about Party Cannon was definitely the band’s vocalist. The music may be slam, but Stony isn’t afraid to bring dynamics into the game. By the time Party Cannon finished, I was filled with joy and delight – it’s rare that you encounter a death metal band that truly knows how to party onstage.
Then The Kennedy Veil, a death metal outfit with the speed and technicality of Origin paired with the atmosphere and blackened elements of Behemoth, took over the stage. The Kennedy Veil never disappoint: KC Childers’s guitar playing is always 100% attentive to the notes he hits, an admirable feat considering his non-stop onslaught of riffs. Gabe Seeber’s drumming backs Childers’s accuracy. With speed topped with top-notch accuracy, it’s clear why this man is considered one of California’s best drummers. The Kennedy Veil’s performance was a clear example of the high quality of musicianship that California brings to death metal.
Another of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was Epicardiectomy. For years now the band have taken over the Internet and been dubbed “wigger slam.” Why? Well if it wasn’t the grills that drummer Milan Moškon put on his teeth, it was definitely the unorthodox fashion they brought to the stage. The band is not a group of guys that keep themselves confined to the styles practiced by most metal heads. Epicardiectomy do what they want, and don’t let anything stop them from slamming faces into tables. The band’s music was a perfect example of traditional slam: nothing but slow-chugged chromatic riffs backed by Moškon’s impressive drum performance. No toms – snare, cymbals, and kick were all Moškon needed. A great example of the power that simplicity and minimalism can have, Epicardiectomy brought the crowd an energetic performance that was short but sweet.
Typically with technical death metal, you see musicianship taking over stage presence. Arkaik is one of the select few bands that stray from this path. The band meets the fine middle ground between musicianship and energy. The guitar work of Greg Paulson and Miguel Esparza was especially impressive; they know how to harmoniously synchronize in a way that’ll leave you with your mouth hanging wide open. At the same time, the band continued to pack their music with riffs that made me feel sucker punched right in the face and dragged hundreds of fans into the pit.
Alterbeast is another one of the select few that can express both musicianship and intensity. Whether it’s the guitar playing of Andrew Lamb or Rusty Cornell, you couldn’t help but have a sense of admiration for what these guys do. A melodic blend of technical death metal in vein of The Black Dahlia Murder, Alterbeast made everyone in the room want to mosh while simultaneously playing air guitar. Alterbeast was again backed by the insanity of Gabe Seeber’s drumming and headed by Monte Barnard’s ferocious vocal performance. It was more than difficult to stay still during their set.
I never would’ve thought I’d have to say one of my favorite bands is called Parasitic Ejaculation. If you’re from the Bay Area, then the band’s name should be as familiar as any common household item to you. Parasitic Ejaculation has completely blown the competition out of the water since they released Sickening Conduct back in 2012. They have everything you could possibly want from a slam band. Parasitic Ejaculation’s live performance featured tons of movement on stage. Whether it was vocalist Jonathan Neel jumping around the stage or guitarist Parker McClellan throwing punches in the air, the band’s set never lacked stamina. The music had its very own signature groove, and brings a new style to the slam genre. Seeing Parasitic Ejaculation live was seeing slam done different.
One of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was No Zodiac. The band has made a name for themselves completely out of nowhere. Since the January release of Eternal Misery, No Zodiac has been at it hard and has even had the honor of playing at the New England Metal and Hardcore festival. A brutal mix of slam and hardcore, you can see how refreshing it is what these crossover bands bring to both genres. No Zodiac brought fury from the get go. Vocalist Connor Karwowski was a monster on stage. With a menacing posture and intimidating build, Karwowski was the ideal frontman for this kind of music. His vocals were low yet powerful and audible; you witnessed nothing but pure hatred running through him. The instrumentation was just as powerful, too – the crowd couldn’t stop moving for No Zodiac. The pit never seemed to die down, people were endlessly trying to grab the mic to scream the lyrics, and the band themselves never stopped banging around. I had high expectations for No Zodiac, and they completely surpassed what I already thought would have been an amazing performance.
Condemned were up next, and showed audiences the proper way to do brutal death metal. The atmosphere was dark at all times, the slams were ferocious, and riffs were adrenaline pumping. Vocalist Sam Townsley filled Angel Ochoa’s shoes really well. He brought something different to the table than the band’s previous frontman, and further pushed the standards of their live shows. The performance made clear why Condemned are often slotted into the upper ranks of bands such as Disgorge, Defeated Sanity and Guttural Secrete. The pit never seemed to get tired of Condemned, and at one point I noticed the number of moshers was at an all-time high during the premiere of a new song.
But no matter how good Condemned were, I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for what I saw next. I’ve seen brutal death metal live countless times in different shapes and forms, but I’ve never seen it done like this. Disentomb has perfected the orthodox sound in vein of bands such as Disgorge yet has brought something brand new and refreshing to it. There is a doom element to this band that permeates throughout their music, but still doesn’t seem to slow things down. Jordan Philips was the best frontman I’ve ever seen in this genre, a muscularly built man who continually to looked pissed, stomped the ground, and posed in the most menacing postures. His vocal tone itself made you think it was a monster sound from a Godzilla movie. Jake Wilkes’s guitar riffs were just as flavorful. The crowd just can’t get enough of Disentomb; they ended the set with an audience screaming for an encore. This had to be quite possibly the most professional and memorable live performance I’ve ever seen from any band within this genre. Disentomb is clearly going to be put down in the history of death metal.
By this point of the night, I should have been done with death metal. I’ve endured it for more than 15 hours over the past two days. Yet the second Psycroptic got onstage, I got up from my seat and began running around to catch a glimpse of them in every possible angle. I waited five years to see this band live and it was well worth it. I constantly found myself with my jaw hanging open. The performance was incredibly accurate, just like it was on CD. Jason Peppiatt demonstrated the consistency and quality of his vocal tone. Constantly moving and head banging, he encouraged people on stage to headbang with him, and they did. The band was never alone on stage. I continued to see an array of people staring at Joe Haley’s guitar. One of my favorite things about Psycroptic has always been his guitar playing; no other band can replicate his sound. Seeing Psycroptic live was different than seeing most tech-death bands. Typically you’d stand in one place and stare as they showcase their musicianship, but Psycroptic ended the Bay Area Death Fest on a fun note. Everyone was smiling and grooving to the music as hard as they could. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the night – in solace, watching death metal played in its highest-caliber form.
[ P H O T O G A L L E R Y ]
Photographs taken on July 4th of 2015
Disclaimer: All photographs are copyright Cameron Almasi Photography and cannot be used/cropped/printed without the consent of the owner.
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