The fourth and final day of the eleventh incarnation of Deathfest hit a bit of snag logistically, with a massive line snaking outside and wrist-banned festival goers forced to miss Speedwolf’s opening set as security did their thing. The combination of a half mile walk and fear of getting snared in the re-entry line meant that the Soundstage was usually pretty empty, until the end of the night when no more bands were playing at Sonar. That said, this was the first edition of the expanded festival, and the organizers hit most of the right notes. However, there was a pretty significant snag towards the end, as both Pentagram and Venom had the stage power cut and their sets abruptly truncated, with a communication misunderstanding about curfew and a subsequent hefty fine for every minute of violating the noise ordinance being the reason.
All in all, attempting to recap seventy bands (unfortunately black metal band Carpathian Forest had to cancel with their singer stuck in Norway, being refused a visa to enter the country, so Speedwolf played twice) is pretty futile, so here’s a quick recap of some of the highlights (day 1 review and photos here, day 2 photos here and day 3 here).
Pagan Altar: UK-based doom band that evoked the classic early Sabbath sound (if you couldn’t figure out, their debut LP was called Volume 1 and had a self-referentially titled song on it) with a rare US appearance. Singer Terry Jones was the only one to put any sort of sartorial effort into it, but the band sounded good across the board.
Integrity: Thrash legends Integrity, led by the sole constant member Dwid on vocals, ripped a virtual hole in the tented third stage with some amazingly powerful riffs and distilled hatred.
Pentagram: Anyone who’s viewed Last Days Here, the frankly astonishing documentary about leader Bobby Liebling, knows that it’s a sheer miracle that the guy is still drawing breath. Vintage doom never sounded so good.
Melvins: Back in the non-Lite version with Jared Warren and Coady Willis of Big Business, it was clear that the road-weathered band had sharpened their material to a fine point following the residency shows in Europe, featuring material from Houdini, Bullhead, Eggnog and Stoner Witch. This was a razor-sharp set list, delivered with punishing force.
Antaeus: I knew little of this French black metal going in, and they seem to keep a low profile in the States, as compared to 1349 or Watain. With a record called Cut Your Flesh And Worship Satan, it’s not too hard to figure out where they are coming from, and it’s some of the rawest, most powerful black metal I’ve heard. I made the unfortunate mistake to leave their set and catch some of Finnish hardcore legends Terveet Kädet, who had but a smidgen of the same energy.
Contrastic: Little was known of this self-proclaimed ‘disco/metal’ outfit from the Czech Republic, and their mix of sampled beats and frenetic hardcore had a massive exclamation point via the on-stage and in-air antics of singer Putti put them over the top in a big way. Hugely entertaining.
Down: Filling the void that Pantera couldn’t, Phil Anselmo recruited a bunch of his southern metal friends for and on-again/off-again project that is back on, at least for the time being. They were the only band at the main stage to clear the front of stage monitors, and spent most of their time at the very edge of it, connecting to the fans directly. Anselmo was clearly studied in the manner of Rollins, and was a writing, heaving presence.
Sleep: Now in their third year of reactivation, albeit with Neurosis’ Jason Roeder on drums, as Chris Hakius has dropped out of music entirely after the initial reunion gig in the UK a few years ago, the trio sets down a few bales of high grade Humboldt and sets a fire that finds its way to the outer reaches of the Milky Way, passing the ghost of Carl Sagan along the journey.