Friday, September 04, 2009

New England Deathfest 2009 [Club Hell & Jerky's, Providence, 8/29/2009 - 8/30/2009]

The festival season, at least for me, comes to a successful conclusion again this year with this festival. With a strong step up in quality and a smaller but significant step up in attendance -- and quite a few absolutely epic sets that will increase that going forward as people see the pics and read the writeups and bang their heads against walls and desks and tables for not going this time around -- it's hard to see how this festival won't keep going and continue from strength to strength.

day 1 - 8/29

With some cancellations pushing back the start time (Retch, Atrocious Abnormality, Covenance, and Behead the Lamb -- who are kind of becoming the Bennie Joppru of this festival, hope they can make it next year -- had to cancel from the original billing), I had the luxury of waiting a little to see if the rain would let up; it didn't, and I made my way down to the PVD through the rain and the traffic rubbernecking at the people waiting for the Kennedy motorcade to come by in the other lane. I cairned my crap at the hotel, stretched out a bit, and somehow managed to make my way through Providence's awkward mess of partially-one-way-streets over to the venue without wrecking my vehicle, and in time to see most of Pathogenic's set after getting banded.

Pathogenic [5/7]
Looking at my running order/notes sheet, these guys were the sole deathcore band on the bill, but were worth the while regardless. They were kind of limited, but the argument can be made that the style itself is kind of limited, a thread that will show up again looking at some of the slam bands later on. They played a decent, solid, opening set, and if the crowd wasn't as super into them as the bands that would come on later, they did at least have a full house, which would be consistent for the midday bands throughout the festival. People were intent on getting the most out of their $25/$30 per day, and Blue et al did an excellent job of getting bands that were worth it.

Here I attempted to go up to Jerky's (first set, and all other 'odd' sets until Quo Vadis at the end, were downstairs in Club Hell) using the street entrance, but the door was locked. Two of the guys in ExCx (see below) were also trying to go up to, like, get ready for their set, and also hadn't been informed that we had to go up the back alley staircase. This was a good decision from an organizational perspective -- saves the need for checking this door until Hell closes (see further down) -- but they could have done with a "NEDF - No Entry This Door Till 10:30" sign at the bottom of the stairs, rather than the door into Jerky's itself.

On getting upstairs, I got a beer, ran into the usual and expected coterie of scene stalwarts, and thoroughly assed up my acquisition of one of the few festival shirts. If Drew never stops giving me shit about this, it will be too soon. Said festival shirts are wicked cool, and if they didn't sell out, there is something wrong with the attendees -- a run of 50 should have been gone by the end of the first day, and hopefully this will lead on to a bigger run next year.
EDIT: Said shirts did sell out, and Blue actually did a second run by special order; looks like there will probably be more next year.

Embryonic Cryptopathia [6/7]
I'm not completely sure that they used all of their allotted time, but anyone who was unsatisfied with this set, whether for not running long enough or for some other reason, was probably not even in the building at the time. About the purest grind of the bands that I saw, ExCx absolutely crushed the Jerky's crowd, despite it being this early in the day, in the process of providing one of the better sets of the day. Fucking intense is about the word for it.

Abnormality [5.5/7]
For the first time, I saw Abnormality with a bass player -- Josh (Deconformity, ex-Sexcrement, ex-Neuraxis) Staples, also one of the organizers here -- though the sound downstairs may have held them back a bit. The band's full sound did come off as more complete than when I'd seen them in the past, but maybe not as biting as some previous gigs. The venue sound was, for the most part, really good, but there were a few sags, including this one, that didn't keep the band affected from playing, as in this case, a pretty damn good set of death metal.

Abdicate [5/7]
I hadn't heard these guys before, but was not disappointed; while they didn't stand heads above the rest of the field -- though their gigantic singer did -- they did smash out a bunch of solid music. Just plain old quality death metal and a good time, though there wasn't quite as much motion as they might have wanted. Put that down to being early in the day, or to lack of slam; you can say what you want about the style, but there is a pretty direct relationship between (at least of the bands I observed) slam content and degree of moshing at NEDF.

Polterchrist [6.5/7]
This band, though, thoroughly exceeded expectations; in the middle of the day, from a band you haven't heard of previously (alright, I spend too much time at work and following Celtic among other activities, and put pretty much no effort into following the death metal scene in detail), you're expecting just a solid effort at this festival, but this was a rock-solid killer, intense brutal death flavored with some classic leads, which was a welcome difference from the run of bands leading up to them. Some of this is personal preference, but it's hard to deny that they kicked ass, and the variation in death of all kinds, as Shawn (Insidious Decrepancy/Viral Load) would mention on Sunday, is what makes this fest stronger. Good stuff all the way.

In between here, I spotted someone in a Party.San shirt, and checked a little closer -- this year's! I tapped him on the shoulder about it, and we got to talking about the festival, and the bands, and German festivals and Germany generally. I've got the sneaking suspicion that I saw him around over there -- 10,000 is a pretty small number for three days -- but regardless it was a good time talking with someone else who's been over. Here's hoping that travel prices shake out and more get the opportunity -- and that our increased support of good US festivals will see our experience here growing towards that.

Bloodsoaked [5/7]
While this was going on, Bloodsoaked started up, and though the initial impression was of a stalwart exercise in keeping in time with one's playback, it built up to a decent death metal performance that yes, was still held back by the limitations of being a one-mand-band, but proved to be a good time overall. If you have to sort out the one-man sets of the weekend, yes, this one is on the bottom, but someone has to be, and the two other guys who showed up backed by a drum machine for their sets are really the state of the art in one-man death metal. I don't think anyone was expecting Peter to play them off the stage, but provide a solid set of playback-backed death metal, yes, and he did do that.

Sexcrement [7/7]
The pictures on RTTP, really, say it all when it comes to this set; an avalanche of perfectly balanced gutterslam, transvestites, and Adam in a Queen of Hearts wig. The pit action was enormous, and the tranny go-go dancer a laugh riot, but what really made this was that the music was killer and the sound downstairs absolutely magnificent. After this point, I don't think I saw a single band downstairs that didn't have an exceedingly good treatment from the sound board, though previously things had been inconsistent. Yes, this is in both cases the last three of the night downstairs, and I missed all the 'day' bands on Sunday, but the fact remains. Probably as good a Sexcrement set as I've seen, and while this is not a huge sample, this was also wicked killer enough that it's unlikely to be displaced for quite a while.

Nur in PVD: I go out front after Sexcrement to get some pizza from the shop next door before the last bunch of bands, and the operator of the "spa" next door is haranguing the security about the death metal fest next door, probably concerned that the noise and hordes of black-clad hessians on the sidewalk in the area were discouraging potential customers, and wanted to go in to take a look, no doubt to try and come up with some bullshit reason to call the cops. That got shut down right quick -- no $30 ticket, no admittance; "YOU'd charge US to just come up and take a look!"

On the one hand, this is ridiculous, as the operation is legal in Providence; if someone wants to come and make use of the "spa"'s "resources", they shouldn't be ashamed of being seen by a bunch of death metal heads who don't know them. On the other hand, if she'd seen the billing in advance and looked up some of the bands' lyrics/song titles, she might have a reasonable cause for concern about the safety of her employees; there's an awful lot of material on this fest about killing and dismembering prostitutes.

Malignancy [5/7]
Back upstairs, and back to a good but not exceptional set from Malignancy. While this was still a good, solid, set, it was a bit of a letdown after Sexcrement, and probably, from unreasonable expectations on my part. I hadn't heard anything from them since the Intrauterine Cannibalism disc, but that was ten years and almost total band turnover ago; it makes sense that their sound's changed, and there are a lot of bands that come off flat playing between Sexcrement and Revocation. Good death metal all the same, still.

Revocation [7/7]
Though their sound wasn't quite as huge or the audience quite as nuts as Sexcrement, Revocation still blasted out a characteristically dominating set heavily skewed towards their new material. Well it should be with their debut coming out, and a national (hopefully) tour to promote it; this wasn't the best Revocation set ever, but it was top class and a good sign for what the rest of the country can expect from them opening for Quo Vadis.

I was a little bummed after this set that I'd jumped the gun and gotten my Revocation gear off the Relapse table, as I also wanted to support the band directly. I'll get the new disc off them, though, probably, at their CD release at Church, and for a newly signed band, it also helps to convince the label that they made a good choice in picking them up, and hopefully to give them a hand with tour support. Hopefully, also, the ultimate fate of some of that kit will help with the reaction....

Insidious Decrepancy [6/7]
At this point, despite the good buzz that I'd heard before the Embryonic Devourment tour that Shawn ended up dropping off of, I was not completely sold on the idea of one-man death metal as a live rather than studio endeavor. This set, though, went a substantial way towards turning that around, even if the sound wasn't as good as the downstairs sound for the next two one-man acts. The music was certainly quality, though, and never came off as simple metronome marking; solid brutal death and a fitting East Coast debut.

Putrid Pile [6.5/7]
Downstairs for another one-man band, and wow. Shaun killed it on this set, aided by a hammering sound, and also by a greater slice of slam than the other one-man acts; maybe the PA setup was optimized for it, and maybe people were just taking their last real chance to scrum around. Musically, this was better than I was anticipating, and aided by the huge sound; some people were whining before the fest about how a lot of the out-of-region quality was being made up by one-man bands (being cheaper to fly in); these people obviously missed the two five-member Canadian acts that closed out this night and the Coloradan and Californian ensembles airlifted to headline Sunday, but even if this had actually been the case, Blue sure did a good job of getting good one-man acts that may have been cheaper to book than full bands.

At this point Club Hell closed, at least for us, and transformed itself into a hip-hop/Top 40 dance club. After coming out of the pizza joint, there was already a significant lineup going back almost to the Jerky's door, which inevitably summoned up certain Dropkicks lyrics. BETTER TAKE COVER THERE'S A **** **** ON RICHMOND

Neuraxis [6.5/7]
The band was disappointed with a lack of movement, but this late, at a festival this slammy, you've got to expect as a tech-death band to get this sort of reaction. The music was great, the appreciation also, and with this set in the books, it was rational to ask how the day was going to get still better. Even this class outing, though, would get topped.

Quo Vadis [7/7]
Though they took a while getting set up -- especially in taping up a large banner that did not make it all the way through the set -- this band matched the high expectations I had based on their reputation, and thoroughly crushed the remnants of the crowd; at this point a lot of people were outside for some or most of the set. Those who were missed an epic performance of technical thrash-death; Revocation got a good match for their inaugural major-label tour, but also a bit of a tough draw in that Quo Vadis are one of the very few bands out there that they will not be able to either play off the stage technically or blast flat with heaviness. If this tour comes to your area, do not miss it. Both these bands did stunning sets here, and looked to be a lot more on pace than peaking, so it's likely to be what you'll see as well. Amazing.

After this, I dragged myself out to the car, gunned down some caffeine, and made it back to the hotel with less difficulty than getting over to the venue back in the afternoon. Providence is still laid out weird.

total points, day 1: 78
total bands, day 1: 13
average, day 1: 6

Well, that worked out conveniently; also goes to show that this was a damn good festival.

day 2 - 8/30

Unfortunately for me, I had some stuff to handle back home in the morning, so I drove back, got through it, saw Celtic hold on for the win despite being down a player and the ref trying his mightiest to toss the game the other way, took a nap, and woke up in time to drive back down in significantly better weather and still pretty much no traffic, ending up at the venue just in time to miss the end of Fit For An Autopsy. FUCK.

All told, I missed Living Void, Boarcorpse, Hivesmasher, Goreality, Parasitic Extirpation, Composted, Gutted Out, Dysentery, Short Bus Pileup, and Fit For An Autopsy. That's about two very good gigs' worth of bands that I either slept through or was in transit for -- and among them some pretty epic sets as the rumor goes. This makes the pizza joint around the corner and the sausage wagon out front all the more valuable; you really cannot comfortably take time off from this fest without missing good bands.

So, coming in just as the downstairs band was packing up, I went upstairs, got myself a beer, got ripped on by Mark and Anthony for missing Composted, bought a bunch of merch, eventually found the Onyx patch I'd gotten for Composted and gave that over to Mark, and got several random CDs pushed on me for free by the Sevared guy. Solid.

Digested Flesh [5/7]
A pretty basic but still very solid set, these Jersey guys smashed out a good performance of slammy death metal that was probably right in line with general expectations. Not quite as remarkable as Abacinate last year, but good music regardless, and from a personal standpoint it was a good warmup set to get back into festival mode with...though regardless I managed to pull a neck muscle or something headbanging, and kept having it tweak the rest of the night.

Mucopus [6/7]
The impulse is to start this entry yelling "KENNEDY!!!!", but that has zero resonance for anyone who wasn't actually there; Jason put up as good a set with Mucopus as can be generally expected from him with Skinless, if a little weirder banter-wise and a little more slammy on the musical end. A good time was had by all, though there was less motion, relatively speaking, than for the next largely slammish outing, probably because the stage here wasn't tall enough for Jason to realistically throw himself off of, despite the walking and bantering room that it afforded.

Inherit Disease [6/7]
Midway through the bands that I was going to be able to see, Inherit Disease stepped up and pumped out a flattening set of brutal death metal that thoroughly fulfilled expectations. They filled out their time well and hopefully drove others besides me to go support afterwards, even if some band members did "California" things like playing in flip-flops. (I'm sure I've see some hardcore bands have people playing barefoot at some point in time, but I'm not sure that'd fly generally here up in the Far Far North.) That's kind of the point, though; that while this is the New England Death Fest, it would make no sense to just have bands from New England and immediately surrounding territories play. And as long as the bands that come in "from away" are of the standard we got this time from Cali (and Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado, and by-all-reports-even-though-I-didn't-see-them Michigan and Virginia), we'll be glad to have them.

Viral Load [6/7]
Downstairs, Shawn Whitaker set up as Viral Load with himself, his amp, and a drum machine, and explained that he'd intended to bring his whole live band along, but when they cancelled, he decided to plug on and do a solo Viral Load set, seeing as he was going to be around for Insidious Decrepancy anyways. The result was a truncated (due to preparation constraints) but still precisely finished Viral Load set that thoroughly overcame my initial skepticism that one guy could sound materially different on two successive nights as he and a drum machine attempt to be two separate bands. The separation was definitely there, Viral Load a little simpler and a lot slammier than ID, and the sound was nail-your-feet-through-the-floor massive, which definitely helped the total experience. The result was a unique Viral Load experience; hopefully Shawn'll come back with the full band in a year or three, but this was a hell of a set as it was.

Speaking of hellish sets....
Southeastern New England. Goratory reunites to headline the slammier day of a slammy festival. The upstairs was flat packed, and as soon as the band started up, the floor exploded with a violence seldom seen even here (yes, I missed the bands earlier in the day where Will (Dysentery) allegedly pushed half a dozen people out the door again and flat destroyed some guy who thought he could mosh hard). They thoroughly justified their legendary status to noobs like me who had never gotten the chance to see them the first time around, and rekindled old fires in the old fans who had been waiting years for this. In the extended time that they had, they crushed through a wide range of slammy and plain-brutal material across the band's entire history, invited Jason (Mucopus) up to do second vocals on "Hang 'em and Bang 'em" (even if his mic was mostly dropped-out for the whole of the song, he was still up there being crazy and diving on top of the pit, inspiring others to do the same), and closed thunderously with "Rice on Suede". Flat amazing. Others have carried on their traditions, and New England is still pretty packed for death metal (seriously, look at the lineups here, about 45% local), but there's still only one Goratory.

Cephalic Carnage [7/7]
Some people might have split; it's late, not everyone could get the day off on Monday (or get into a hotel like I did and have all my work gear in), and there was a reasonable if incredibly naive assumption to be made that Cephalic Carnage might have a hard time topping Goratory. This reckoned without the band, or the fact that, um, they're Cephalic fucking Carnage and have been cleaning up at stellar gigs for a long while. They did, as might be expected, a strong, long, set of highly technical, highly brutal, expertly composed material with strong political and philosophical points between songs, and closed with "Black Metal Sabbath", finishing with humor, strength, and a surprisingly accurate (musically) piss-take on Immortal. Cool stuff, from a band that has been experts at it for quite a while. Few better ways to end this fest, with pure violence upstairs and violently diverse violent diversity down.

Following CC closing up, and after being sure they weren't going to play anything else, I hit the road, sacked out, and managed to get back into work the following morning just after eight. I have no idea how I cycle that fast either.

total points, day 2: 37
total bands, day 2: 6
average, day 2: 6.17

Better on average than day 2 of this year's Party.San, which was the previous high for a festival -- and remember, I missed Goreality, Boarcorpse, Parasitic, and what from all reports was an all-time epic Composted outing. Had I made it for all of day 2, it's conceivable that this could have gone even higher.

What more could you want from this festival? Um, moar? This year took a significant step up in facilities and organization: more vendors in, more bands if I remember right, festival shirts, the signs of a beer partnership (in an indoor setting, you obviously can't get an exclusive beer vendor, but cheap Narragansett was the order of the day), neighboring food shops being open, a sausage truck out front; some of this may have been serendipity, but a lot of it was planned, and a lot of credit has to go to the organizing team, who made a great festival, brought in a ton of killer bands from all across the country, presented a great experience, and probably ended up in the black or at least out of the red. All anyone can rationally want is for the fest to continue; for next year to have more and different non-locals, 'gansett unified on the $2/tallboy price point, and at least as many heads in the building.

Irrationally? Um, move outside 5-10 years ahead of where the fest might do so naturally, and get Katalepsy, Intestine Baalism, and Crackdust? There's a lot of room to be irrational when you've got an organizing team and a festival that is going to deliver the quality at such a high known level. Till next year -- or maybe till the start of next festival season, if the currently half-formed plans to do a black/heathen festival outdoors up in northern New Hampshire floating around in the scene come to anything.

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