The Agit Reader

Decibel Metal & Beer Fest
The Fillmore, Philadelphia, April 22–23

May 10th, 2017  |  by Brian O'Neill

Krieg

Despite the stereotype of the metal fan as someone with a PBR tallboy tattoo, the craft brewing craze has infected heshers as well. Decibel Magazine, curators of this festival, have had a beer column for eight years, and dozens of underground bands—including Municipal Waste and Pig Destroyer, both of whom played this weekend—have vanity brews to their name. Below is the review of the music, but also check out my thoughts on the beers.

Day One

After Crypt Sermon kicked off the festival, self-professed heavy metal comedian Don Jamieson introduced U.S. black metal stalwarts Krieg (pictured above) like a reverb-drenched wrestling announcer, specifically mentioning that Dave Mustaine would be doing a signing later. The crowd went mild.

Standing on the drum riser, Krieg vocalist Neill Jameson had a look on his face as if he was asking himself, “I quit heroin for this?”

Metal (circa 2017) is a strange beast where genre politics that seemed dead decades ago rear their ugly head while actual politics that have been ignored for almost as long are finally getting the attention they deserves. Megadeth megastar Mustaine was met with vehement ennui because he represents the mainstream (and a few more things some might see as contentious). He’s likely seen as out of place here as Keith Emerson would have been at a Dead Boys show.

Krieg took no time to discuss any such polemics. Performing on a stage 10 times bigger than the last Philly venue the band played, they blasted through 35 minutes of its patented raw black metal. As Americans in a genre pioneered by Scandinavians, the band has spent its whole career having to represent black metal to skeptics. On a bill with several other metallic genres, Krieg stood alone and did the old guard proud.

Panopticon is also a practitioner of the dark arts, but with a sound more reliant on atmospherics and, by virtue of its Southern roots, infusing American folk into the sound. Garrison Keillor was nowhere to be found, but this was a major contrast to the preceding group.

It was actually a contrast to its own ideals in many ways since Panopticon is a solo project from multi-instrumentalist Austin Lunn, a recluse who maintained as recently as a few years ago that he would likely never perform live again. (The band’s Facebook page still says “no shows ever” under Booking Agent.) Even with the early start time, it was likely many attendees came just to see this rare event. None of them left disappointed.

The band was fairly stationary, unsurprising given the nature of the project. But the emotional musical output more than made up for such a stoic stage presence. The last track, a new one, was performed practically acoustically with just drums, one clean guitar, and vocals, stunning the crowd with its beauty.

As delicate as Panopticon was at times, Immolation was the opposite in every way. The Yonkers-based band has been making brutal music befitting of its urban home for nearly three decades and seemed perfectly comfortable on the large stage.

One of the world’s leading death metal bands, Immolation seem to know it. They’ve lasted this long because they possess genuine talent across the board. That and the band’s unrelenting enthusiasm for all things death metal ensure they never veer into self-parody. Frontman Ross Dolan is everything you would want in a singer, with a powerfully guttural vocal style, and he commands the stage like the veteran that he is. Musically, the band is the embodiment of pure, unfiltered death metal, with no sub-genre classifications needed. If you tried to add a hyphen, they would crush it right before crushing your skull.

And then, Municipal Waste would drink out of it and do a keg stand, but it wouldn’t necessarily be craft beer. Singer Tony Foresta made that known when he called everyone beer snobs.

Waste, as the Richmond group is affectionately known, hearkens back to when thrash metal and hardcore converged, uniting longhairs and baldies to skank together to the likes of DRI and Corrosion of Conformity. But this isn’t crossover nostalgia. The band performed with a drawing of Donald Trump blowing his brains out as a backdrop, and like any satirists worth their salt, made their points so the common man could understand, while at the same time inciting an old school circle pit.

The group had original bassist Andy Harris come out to sing the hidden song from the end of its Waste ‘Em All debut, affectionately known as “Kite Song.” Adding an emotional weight to the already heavy riffs, they dedicated the performance to drummer Brandon Ferrell, who passed away late last year. Ultimately, Municipal Waste is all about those riffs, and you’ll run out of gas before they run out of them.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Fun fact: Agoraphobic Nosebleed (pictured above) isn’t listed in Encyclopaedia Metallum, the internet arbiter of all things metal. Evidently having no drummer and two vocalists—one a balding accountant-type, the other a blue-haired punkette—and being one of the best grind bands you’re likely to see doesn’t make ANB metal. Well, that’s their loss.

Despite playing shows sporadically at best, the band knows how to put on a show. They reimagine the spastic audio anarchy of Atari Teenage Riot if they recorded for Earache Records in the late ’80s, while singer Katherine Katz (the punkette) careens across the stage as if in a violent wind storm. The worst part of any rock show is the drum solo, but the best part of an Agoraphobic Nosebleed show is the drum machine solo.

In some ways it was actually too intense, too over the top. A pit dutifully formed, but the moshers’ hearts weren’t in it because their heads just couldn’t keep up. They were too busy exploding.  But if you can think of a better way to end day one of a metal fest than exploding heads, you should run your own. And invite me.

Cemetery Piss

Day Two

The 6:00 starting time for Cemetery Piss (pictured above) seemed a lot earlier, most likely due to the beer consumed the prior evening. But the Baltimore band’s proficient and spirited blackened attack made for just the right wake-up call despite the unfortunate name.

For over a decade, Falls of Rauros have been churning out organic black metal with a folk infusion appropriate for a band inspired by Lord of the Rings. This has culminated in Vigilance Perennial, a contender for best metal album of the year.

While other bands with similar interests and influences proffer well-intentioned, but ultimately boring frolics through the forest, Falls never forgets they’re a black metal band. This is even more evident live, where the contrasting styles and volume makes the Portland project even heavier. It’s time to start talking about Falls of Rauros in the same rarefied breath as Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch.

Khemmis

When the metal underground was just getting started, the then-young upstarts aped the traditional metal of the time while adding increased aggression borrowed from other genes like punk to eventually birth thrash metal. In many ways, Khemmis (pictured above) does the same thing for a new generation of heshers. The combination of Phil Pendergast’s clean, stately vocals and the band’s dual-guitar leads and riffs screams “classic metal,” but would work within the context of both doom metal and a new wave of British heavy metal. You can tell they have the Thin Lizzy and UFO catalogues at home, likely on vinyl.

Instead of punk the Denver band looks to black metal, most notably with other vocalist Ben Hutcherson’s hoarse scowl used to upgrade its primordial sound into something truly unique. That originality would be good enough, but Khemmis goes farther by kicking serious ass in the process.

For the last 10 years or so, Withered has toured anywhere and with anyone who would let them. It’s just a shame that their creativity doesn’t match their work ethic. There’s nothing bad about the band’s scorched-earth death metal, there’s just nothing memorable about it either.

There was a time that grindcore attracted the attention of avant garde jazz freaks. This was sometimes stellar, such as when John Zorn embraced it for his Naked City and Painkiller projects. Other times the grinders rebelled, such as when Anal Cunt unleashed the hilariously profane “I’m Glad Jazz Faggots Don’t Like Us Anymore.” But if A.C. didn’t scare them all off, jazz fans should love Pig Destroyer. Drummer Adam Jarvis put on a clinic of hyperactive percussive insanity. When he played slow, it was fast; when he played fast, it was ridiculous. But he kept the entire band together, including ubiquitous guitarist Scott Hull (pulling a second shift after playing with Agoraphobic Nosebleed the day before). Pig Destroyer makes the kind of American that we need now more than ever.

The polar opposite of Pig Destroyer might very well be Sleep, but they’re pretty much used to that by now. When Matt Pike and crew first churned out Sabbathian doomscapes drenched in testosterone and THC 25 years ago, death metal was getting faster and more intense. But it wasn’t as heavy as Sleep. And nobody else who played this fest can make that claim either.

Only three people were on that stage, bathed in a green hue the entire time that you know was not a coincidence. Somehow the trio was louder than everything preceding it, with fuzzy, bleating bass and smashed drums locking in a groove that even gets pasty metalheads engorged with two days of beer to move their hips.

Pike and his beer belly (which even has its own Facebook page!) are the draws here. Even without singing (as he does in High on Fire), he commanded attention from the respectful throng. This genre doesn’t have many guitar gods once you get past the originator Tony Iommi, but Pike is certainly one. And he does it like Lemmy became a bass god, not with notes, but with riffs. You can’t even call them chords ‘cause that sounds musical, whereas this is war with the guitar as the trigger and an amplifier as the weapon.

Metal in many forms were represented at the Decibel Metal and Beer Fest, but having it end with Sleep was perfect because Sleep might very well be the quintessential representation of the genre.

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