THE DAMP, THE UGLY, AND THE BRUTAL: NEW ENGLAND DEATHFEST, DAY 1
The defining moment of the first day of this year’s New England Deathfest – in its second year and already a promising presence on the US metal festival circuit – was the late in the evening set by Wisconsin brutal death outfit Putrid Pile. Or, rather, by Shaun LaCanne, the one man behind the band. Dressed in baggy shorts, a completely unreadable death metal logo shirt, a Devourment hat, and cheapest-frames-they-had-at-Lenscrafters glasses, the man proceeded to play an unrelenting array of blistering death grind with ridiculous slam riffs, croaking gutturally on top of it. While he didn’t headbang or thrash around – his hat remained on his head throughout the whole set – the crowd adored it. As he slammed, the crowd moved with him: a quick survey of the audience during his/the band’s performance revealed a few flailing bodies in a sea of sweaty heads all nodding to the beat in eerie unison. It was a strangely beautiful sight: a relatively sizable crowd of people, half warmed by a glut of $2.50 Presidentes from the bar and half overjoyed by the presence of a pretty obscure death metal band (thought there was obviously a considerable overlap), all incredibly fixated on one average-as-fuck looking guy playing brutal death riffs to a drum machine, with nothing else accompanying him onstage. It should have been boring and unwatchable – the other two one-man acts on Deathfest that day certainly tried one’s patience over the course of their thirty-five minute sets – but instead, it demanded your attention, and rewarded it upon its receipt.
This was the beauty of Deathfest personified: in an age where death meta — a genre initially extreme and violently uncommercial by nature – has become triggered, watered down child’s play fit for the consumption of hardcore kids sick of breakdowns and barking, New England Deathfest exists for those who view it as an invaluable commodity and not a layover between trends. The festival’s downsides – an overwhelmingly disproportionate ratio of men to women and the risk of homogeneity among them – were overshadowed by the purity of the event, the idea that the metal underground isn’t a waiting room for the Lambs of God and Mastodons of tomorrow, but a place where people who like this one thing – this one abrasive, horrific, indigestible-to-99%-of-the-populous thing – can adore and revere it communally, fostering a beautifully dogged loyalty. There were no pretensions of Hot Topic-elevated fame or pseudo-stardom, but instead the idea that the man up on stage could be you or me – hell, I’m pretty sure he may be my IT guy – but happens to play a seven string really fucking fast and have a good sense of how to slow things down as menacingly as possible. In a world as splintered as metal, it’s fascinating to see that there’s this corner of it with dozens of bands you’ve never heard of, complete with fans that will sit through eight hours of blasting and slams to see them onstage, even if it’s just one guy. Deathfest was as much Star Trek convention as it was metal festival: for two days, people mingled with other people to whom extremer-than-extreme death metal was the greatest thing in the world, an alternate universe where people took death metal seriously and treated it not as an occasion to put their fingers in their ears.
For this writer, Deathfest was initially daunting: though I enjoy Neuraxis, Cephalic Carnage, and even Parasitic Extirpation quite a bit, did I enjoy them enough to endure twenty-six other bands of varying familiarity (with most falling in the “completely unfamiliar” bin) over the course of two days? What didn’t help matters was a) the Noah-level rain in which Providence was engulfed upon my arrival and b) my ridiculous decision to park my car about a half mile away because I thought ten bucks would be the cheapest parking I could find, only to discover that almost ALL event parking anywhere – including lots near the venue – was the exact same price. After a harrowing walk over that left me with an Animosity shirt that I periodically needed to wring out and jeans that are still damp as of this writing, eight to nine hours of blasting and gurgling were the last thing I wanted.
And yet, Saturday’s apocalyptic rain – which did let up by the evening – set a perfect stage for the day’s brand of viciousness. An epidemic of grouchiness dissipated once jagged riffs made an appearance. And while “wigger slam” is quickly becoming a dominant force in death metal – and while the slam riff certainly made quite a few appearances – Saturday was all about the lightning-fingered brutality whose intensity perfectly offset the weather.
The fest kicked off with deathcore youngsters Pathogenic, a future Sumerian Records signing if I’ve ever seen one. They were immediately followed by Embryonic Cryptopathia, a feast of technical deathgrind that more properly set the tone for the rest of the day. A perfectly adequate set by Abnormality (otherwise known as “who the fuck are these guys?” when playing Rock Band 2) followed, sadly begging the question, “Would anyone care about Abnormality if they weren’t fronted by a cute – albeit remarkably gifted with a death growl most guys would kill for – girl in a Suffocation shirt?” Sets by Abdicate, one man brutal death factory Bloodsoaked, and Polterchrist (whose brand of Death worship is pretty fucking great) followed, but the fest’s first truly great set was by Massachusetts mindfucking slamsters Sexcrement. Introduced by a six-foot-plus transvestite in dominatrix gear (who danced for their the remainder of the Sexcrement’s set, making more than a few longhairs visibly uncomfortable), the band’s bouncy brand of deathgrind – fronted by a bearded dude in a dress and red and black wig – shifted the mood from grave to kind of fun. Though death metal is a wall of noise to most, Saturday’s schedule paid close attention to the different niches within the genre, at once making sure different sects were represented and providing variety for those in attendance (in lieu of the same metal being played by a different collective of five awkward guys every forty minutes.)
Of course, despite variety being the spice of life, the festival’s setup – a set by a band downstairs in the dark, tr00-atmosphere venue Club Hell followed ten minutes later by a set by another band in well lighted bar Jerky’s upstairs – allowed a chance to see everyone on the bill with a ten minute window in which to socialize and/or smoke. It also provided, sadly, ample possibility for DMF, or Death Metal Fatigue. DMF, still not recognized in most medical journals for some reason, is a danger at any metal fest, but particularly so at New England Deathfest. Even with a break for pizza a little more than halfway through Saturday’s lineup, Malignancy’s brand of squirrelly tech-death sounded uninviting to me at 8 PM.
This is, of course, what bands like Revocation (and the aforementioned Sexcrement) were for: a palette cleanser. Though this writer isn’t particularly fond of retro-thrash – most bands do more aping than they should, even for a genre with “retro” at the helm – Revocation’s death-infused brand of thrash sounded fucking WONDERFUL, once again adding a little bit of fun and adrenaline into the evening. Guitarist/vocalist/Ben Folds lookalike David Davidson’s energy was as admirable as his nimble fretwork, with the rest of the band following suit. The chest-pounding brand of metal the band pushed resulted in drummer Philip Dubois-Coyne’s shirtlessness as a reaction to the humidity in Club Hell. By the end of the set, the whole band was shirtless, seemingly both a jab at and an expression of their genre’s machismo. However, it was neither akin to Manowar nor Dethklok: it was just awesome.
That energy was the lifeblood of Saturday’s edition of Deathfest: enthusiasm, joviality, devotion, excitement. For a fest with so many people scowling, one couldn’t help but notice how pumped everyone was to be there, and how pumped they were to see every band. Going in wet and dreading almost ten hours of death metal with which I was unfamiliar, I was impressed and surprised at not only the quality of many of those bands, but the level of excitement exhibited for them as well. There’s a world – a small world, but a world nonetheless – where Putrid Pile, a one man brutal death collective, can garner the same sort of enthusiasm – LIVE, no less – as an established band like Neuraxis (who were quite excellent as well, by the way). I left right after Neuraxis’ set to begin the trek to my car, initially justifying it by insisting that Quo Vadis, the evening‘s headliners, were a band I’d never heard of, and it was too late and I was too tired to catch up. Judging by the rest of the bands I saw that day, however, I most likely missed the fuck out.
NEXT: Slam, “wigger slam”, and more slam shows up for Deathfest, Day 2!