— GILEAD MEDIA MUSIC FESTIVAL —
ANOTHER HALF-ASSED FESTIVAL REVIEW
The Gilead Media Music Festival.... where to start? What an incredible weekend. Even six days later I'm at a loss for words in terms of what I experienced. It took me a little while to write this and even then I don't think I could ever do it justice. Be prepared for a disappointing account of a wonderful weekend. You had to be there.
Before getting into the bands and their performances I want to sincerely thank Adam Bartlett, founder of Gilead Media and generally humble and awesome dude, for putting this shit together. The fest went off without a hitch — it was very well organized. Much praise to him, his crew and all the people who came together to make the fest an unforgettable experience.
After the break I'll get into the sets and all that great shit. I took some photos and video but the large amount of pro photographers and press allowed me to take it easy on that end of things; I only got shots of those bands that interested me the most but even then the cramped conditions and thrashing going on made it difficult for someone as unprofessional as me to get much — which again relieved me and allowed me to sit back and just enjoy the fest.
Anyway on with the review.
It took place in quiet Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A place you would not expect to see such a large group of underground metal and hardcore acts dealing out loud and heavy jams. I took a bus in all the way from Toronto and it was a long 19 hours indeed (but far more cheap than a plane ticket). I arrived in Oshkosh on Friday and stayed at the La Quinta Inn for the weekend. The venue, Electric Lounge & Lanes, was a perfect fit for such a eclectic mix of bands and people: complete with multiple bars, two ball rooms and a bowling alley downstairs; there was even a wedding happening at the same time as the first day of the festival downstairs which was bizarre to say the least. I wonder what they thought of all the patch-wearing, bearded, crusty metal heads swarming the venue.
The upstairs hall is where the bands set up as well as where the many merch tables were located (some from Cavity Records and Pesanta Urfolk as well as individual bands and artists) and it was packed each day. I myself dropped a fair amount of cash on some great records and merch available as did a lot of others I'm sure. The stage was low to the ground and a little small but it made the setting far more intimate and intense. All the guys who were handling the tables be they band members or label runners were all quite helpful, friendly and excited about the fest. I don't drink but from what I heard from those who I talked to the drinks were cheap, there was food to keep everyone satiated and many places to sit and chat outside and inside for those weary of the long hours of standing.
So getting to the bands, this was the line-up for the first day. The only band that dropped I believe was Lycus which I was a little bugged about initially but it was obvious that it made the remaining bands' sets last longer which I'm all for. You can only fit so much into two days. The sound was excellent in the venue by the way. A great selection of tracks during the intermissions were played too.
(Doors @ 3:30pm, music 4:00pm-11:00pm)
Ash Borer 9:05pm-9:50pm
Fell Voices 8:10pm-8:55pm
Get Rad 6:40pm-7:05pm
Arms Aloft 4:35pm-4:55pm
Darger + Plague Mother 4:00pm-4:15pm
I won't go into full detail regarding all the bands that played, mainly the ones I was excited for or those that surprised me most, but I'll try to touch on all the acts that performed.
Darger and Plague Mother were up first, and played together as a noise/ambient drone act which was less jarring and more ethereal than expected. I didn't know what to expect but it was good and probably the most mellow point of the fest. They played for about 15 minutes and made way for Arms Aloft. Again I didn't quite know what to expect but they ripped out some nice punk/hardcore tunes for a half an hour and was pretty upbeat shit.
The first band to surprise me was Aseethe, and they were also the first doom band to play the festival. They were real heavy, more traditional and droning as opposed to the more melodic styles. If I remember correctly they played two tracks which I assume came off their only full length Reverent Burden, but they also have a few splits and a new EP which is their interpretation of two Barn Owl riffs. So they may have played something off of those. Regardless it was a pleasant surprise and I suggest doom fans give them some attention.
Protestant was one band that I was interested in seeing and sparked the first mosh pit of the weekend. Some absolutely raw and powerful hardcore. They set up in front of the stage and everyone gathered around, but when they started playing the crowd opened up for the furious circling. I really enjoyed these guys. They had some terrific riffs and earsplitting vocals with tons of energy from the members. Because I'm not familiar with their material I don't know what they played but it was all chunky and thrashy goodness.
I went outside after Protestant and came back a little ways into Get Rad's set but what I saw and heard was some really nice grind/powerviolence. I have heard some tracks from their bandcamp previous to this but live the energy level is cranked exponentially. It was a fast set and the crowd was pretty big so I didn't get close.
Next was Hell, a band I've noticed getting a lot of good reviews in the underground the past year. Admittedly I have heard some of their first album and it felt a little monotonous but their performance changed my mind drastically. This was some raw doom, 35 minutes of slogging dark riffs and they ended with their recently recorded new track featured on their split with Thou which was fantastic. I really liked it, and I assume they played a track off their second record which I picked up (along with the split) because I liked it a lot more then what I heard on Hell I. Definitely going to give their albums a more scrutinizing listen soon.
Fell Voices were one of the bands I was excited to see and I was right at the front of the stage. I love all of their material and they're quickly becoming one of the best in the crowded genre of atmospheric black metal (along with Ash Borer which I'll talk about shortly). Honestly though I was a little disappointed with the set, not because of their sound or performance which was all excellent but mainly due to the choice in songs. As I said I enjoy all their stuff but I was really, really hoping they would play something off their last Untitled album which was at the top of my list in 2010 and in my opinion is easily their best material (some of the best in the genre in the past few years in my opinion).
Instead they played their side of the Ash Borer split and one older track — both wonderful and thick with atmosphere, they pulled them off very well. From Fell Voices there was a perfect transition to Ash Borer, these bands were meant to play together. Again I was at the front and they performed their songs like pros. They played two older tracks and finished with "In the Midst of Life, We Are in Death" from their 2011 album which was a great way to end. Very impressed with their performance. I've been waiting to see both of these bands play since I discovered them (doubt they'll ever make it to Canada anytime soon) so it was a real treat to get to see them play back-to-back.
The final band of day one was Loss. These guys have built up quite buzz in the underground community with their brand of melodic crushing doom and from what I witnessed it is much deserved. I'm not familiar with their material so I don't know what they played (I assume it was off of their 2011 album) but it was huge and depressive, drenched in despair. There was a big crowd for them and I wasn't at the front (off in the bar to the side) but I'm certainly going to give their record a few spins very soon.
That was the end of the first day. A great start for the festival. Honestly though, it was the second day that I was most anticipating...
(Doors @ 12:30p, music 1:00pm-9:00pm)
The Body 5:40pm-6:15pm
Mutilation Rites 4:45pm-5:20pm
A Scanner Darkly 2:50pm-3:20pm
Baby Boy 1:30pm-1:50pm
I arrived a little late on the second day, so I only caught the tail end of Mania's set but what I heard was some excellent black metal. I can't say much about it though since I didn't see all of it. I've heard a lot about Mania in the past so I was a little bummed I missed their full set.
Now Baby Boy was a surprise. I had no idea that 3 members of Thou (Josh, Andy and Mitch) played in this group so that was neat. I was at the front again. They announced that they're were most likely the least metal band at the festival (and that they would keep it short) which I suppose was true; still they were catchy. Somewhere between screamo and hardcore. They had a really nice tone and I really enjoyed their set (picked up their cd afterwards). I think they played most of their material. It was high energy and really tight which is to be expected from a band with members of Thou. Great shit all around.
Sleepwalker followed Baby Boy. This is the drummer of Fell Voices' side project, also had the guitarist of Ash Borer and the bassist of Fell Voices. I've heard their two demos which are good but I was less impressed then I expected to be honestly. They played 3 or 4 tracks, one of which I caught on video which you can see below. It felt a little loose and dull at points but maybe it was just me. Here's one of their tracks:
And now we come to one of the highlights of the festival for me. One of the bands I was hugely anticipating since they were announce to play: A Scanner Darkly. Wow. I implore everyone who reads this to support and listen to these guys. I posted a review of their album a little while back after Adam Bartlett posted it on facebook many months ago so I knew what I was in for before hand but I was still unprepared for the performance they put on. Adam Tucker (mastermind behind this amazing group) was actually doing sound for the whole show and I got a chance to talk to him after the set. The guy is extremely humble and very nice, he signed my copy of an anthology of Phillip K. Dick books and talked with me a little about the album despite the fact he was a very busy dude the entire festival. I was a babbling fool praising his work but I couldn't help it.
A Scanner Darkly fucking blew me away. I was absolutely in awe. They played their whole album plus a track I didn't recognize, and Adam Bartlett actually did vocals for them. He did an excellent job indeed, it was his third release on Gilead Media and he himself is a huge fan of the band. The material is truly unique, mixing semi-psychedelic grindcore and elements of sludge and noise perfectly into a concept album based on the legendary sci-fi novelist PKD's various books. This mixture filtered through keyboard samples and strange guitar effects replicated the album extremely well, and for a band that quit in 2006 these guys were organized, tight and genuinely had fun playing the set; occasional remarks between tracks and Bartlett giving his praise before the final track.
I cannot express how incredible these guys are. There was only one other band that entranced me like they did (we'll get to them later). I don't know for sure but the impression I got was that there is a small possibility they may play more shows in the future; whether or not they're reformed or writing more material is a mystery but I hope beyond hope that they play and write more. Adam Tucker clearly knows how write unique, heavy, dark grind that is peerless — the only band that comes close to them these days is Dephosphorus and even then their astral grind is far different than A Scanner Darkly's brand of sci-fi grind. People who I talked to afterwards seemed to agree with my sentiments. Impressive without a doubt. Here's some video of their set for those who were unfortunate enough to miss these guys:
Following A Scanner Darkly was a tough thing to do in my opinion, but Northless managed to do it well. I hadn't heard their release Clandestine Abuse before hand but I was aware of their existence before the festival. The first doom band of the second day and they made a big impression on me. I wasn't at the front but they were huge, crushing and loud. I don't have any band I could compare them too to be honest. I felt like there was at times some Amenra-ish elements that briefly emerged among the dissonant chords and plunging riffs. Go listen to their album on Gilead Media's bandcamp page to get a taste of their sound. I'm confident readers here will be very interested to hear what they've created.
Then came Mutilation Rites with their progressive yet thrashy brand of black metal. They were another band I was really looking forward to seeing and they didn't disappoint. They played around 5 or 6 tracks, 4 of which I recorded: Negative Space, White Death, one new track and The Gathering, The Ritual, The Coming. I'm pretty sure they played at least one from I Am Legion as well. I was really stoked that they played Negative Space and White Death which are two of my favorites in their catalogue. They were really tight and clear. Here's a few tracks:
The Body were on after Mutilation Rites. Truthfully I didn't get the hype surrounding these guys when their album dropped, same with Terra Tenebrosa. It's not like I thought it was bad at all, I just found it a little boring and meandering. However their performance here had me more interested then what I had heard on their record. They were really, really heavy. I'm not ready to say I'm on the hype train with everyone else at this moment but their set definitely showed me they've got something going: huge amounts of droning bass and chaotic forceful drumming. I was at the side bar watching them half way through their set (I stepped outside for the their first two tracks) but I was close enough to get a good dose of their sound. Definitely one band that changed my opinion quickly and unexpectedly.
False. This was more intense then I expected. I've really come around to this band, their Untitled album I liked a lot but originally I didn't like it as much as others did — this changed over time. Their performance here has upped my interest further. I had no idea their vocalist was a chick, and boy can this lady roar. At the beginning of their set she was in the crowd at the front of the stage with all other members on the stage — she really got into it, seemingly in a trance while she screamed and growled viciously. The first track was a new one that hit the 19 minute mark and will appear soon on a split with Barghest.
Halfway through the new one she moved onto the stage in front of me and their one guitarist, while the bassist moved onto the ground next to me and a few chicks that were going ape shit the whole time; and rightly so. In fact the whole crowd was pretty fucking amped for False which surprised me. Occasionally she would share the mic with the guitarist as they screamed into each other. They proceeded to play their whole album, and when that Weakling-esque riff hit during the final throes of Sleepmaker I was fucking floored. They played as if they were veterans. I guess their previous shows have hardened them well because there wasn't a hint that they are a new group. This was also one of the only times where someone attempted to crowd surf (the other being during Thou's set). I got video of their new song, check it out (vocals are difficult to hear though):
At this point we're coming to the end of the festival and aside from A Scanner Darkly, False were the start of bands I needed to see, had been greatly anticipating. Barghest followed False, again containing one member of Thou (Matt). This was their first show but you wouldn't know it from the way they effortlessly performed, and playing with a brand-new drummer that just joined less then a month prior to the fest.
I fucking loved their Untitled album (jesus there's a lot bands with untitled records associated with Gilead Media) and was eager to see them play. They played a new track from the coming False split, Shifting Sands, Reduced To Ashes, and maybe two other tracks that either will be coming on the new split or were on their unofficial demo. The fact they only played one track from their album didn't bother me at all because it was my favorite track from that album. That final riff is so unbelievably heavy and hearing it live that heaviness is multiplied ten-fold. Plus the reworked version of Shifting Sands (apparently going to be on the split as well) was fantastic too, I'm really looking forward to the split — that's going to be a killer album by two amazing bands. Here's video of both tracks:
Now, ladies and gentlemen — now we come to the highlight of the entire festival and indeed the most destructive, crushing, unrelenting collection of sounds I've ever experienced live. Thou. Thou playing all of their first album Tyrant. I shouldn't need to explain further but I will because I need to express exactly what I went through that hour. I saw Thou last year with Wolves In The Throne Room and they stole that show. I was left drained and stupefied, in awe of the intensity this band displayed. This time around though was somehow exponentially more oppressive, heavy, disturbingly intense and personal. I'm still replaying what I witnessed as I write this — I have never been so flattened sonically and unless I see Thou again or Amenra at some point (... please...) I likely never will again.
An amusing side note for any gamers out there: as the other members were setting up, Matt quietly played the opening section of one of the world map themes from Chrono Trigger (Wild Scene) which gave me a rush of nostalgia and a massive grin.
Anyway: Thou played all of Tyrant. Did I say that already? Who gives a fuck, it was immense and deserves repeating endlessly. It was inspiring, breathtaking, formidable. I was right at the front the whole set, right in front of Matt (just like the last time I saw them). In fact I was literally like 6 inches from his Gibson V, I was half on the stage with one leg on the floor and the other next to his. The venue was packed at this point, I literally had nowhere to move but forward. The bassist of Fell Voices was two feet from my right (enjoying himself as much as I was) and Adam Bartlett was on the opposite end of the stage in front of Brian and Andy. I literally was in a full on trance throughout this whole performance. I have never banged my head, grooved my body in full force harder in my whole life than I did in the midst of Tyrant. When the quiet moments in the selftitled track which they opened with hit I got chills, as Brian softly sung breaking from his black metal rasps and Matts delayed clean notes rung out, cycling. When it started to pick up and finally plunged into the heavy moments again I lost myself. This repeated with every track — especially I Was Ignored... there are moments in that track that are so fucking heavy it's almost indescribable when played live. I thought it was oppressive on the album but live... wow. There was one cool moment in between tracks where I looked over to where Adam was standing and we smiled at each other — clearly he had been as excited to see Thou perform as I was if not more so.
If you haven't see Thou live you owe it to yourself to do so if ever possible. They are so fucking tight live. You can tell their constant recording and touring has hardened them, morphing their performance into an unerring tower of professionally played, emotional and intense series of dirges and climaxes that will spellbind any fan of sludge or doom. They played one bonus track from Tyrant (Monstrance) and did one track for an encore (I'm not sure which one, possibly Smoke Pigs). This was all just icing on a very rich, very big cake. Near the end Brian thanked all the bands and Adam for putting on the festival, he also made a few tongue-in-cheek remarks about "hipster doom", cascadian black metal, and a few other amusing things that surely pissed off a few people. After they played I thanked each member individually for making my weekend, they're all really nice guys. Now when I listen to Tyrant my mind warps back to that performance and I get chills all over again remembering that absolutely massive set. I won't forget it ever.
So that was it. After thanking the members of Thou I was gonna leave but Adam came up to me and two other fest-goers and thanked us, mentioning that we're usually the first three names he sees showing up on orders whenever he puts a new record up for order on Gilead Media. That was very humbling. I thanked him and soon after went downstairs only to see it was raining. I ended up chatting once again with that nice aussie dude who was going to go hang out with the Ash Borer guys the rest of the night. I left about an hour later for my hotel as it started to rain, but I was still energized from that last set despite having stood for many hours on end so I stayed up until like 4 am replaying what I had witnessed, still at a loss for words.
For those of you interested, you can see the rest of my videos from the festival on my youtube account, as well as my photo gallery on facebook though there are far more better, professional shots taken by others out there and I'd encourage you to check them out. Adam Bartlett made a post on the Gilead Media blog compiling some of the links regarding reviews, photos, videos, etc. from the festival and you can find it (and follow the blog) over here.
I hope to all hell that Adam decides to host another festival sometime in the future. It was one of the most memorable, powerful events I've ever experienced. Again a huge thanks to him and everyone who put this shit together. It must be a difficult task to achieve all things considered and it went off flawlessly. I must once again ask that those of you who have downloaded anything from this blog with the Gilead Media label attached support Adam and all bands he's involved with to keep shit like this possible. What he does (like those fellows of Enemies List, Handmade Birds, Profound Lore, Dark Descent, and many others) is inspiring and difficult to pull off in this age and he deserves heaps of praise for what he's facilitated and accomplished. Cheers to him and all the bands.
If any of you were at the festival and want to share drop a comment. I know there were a few bloggers and label members that went but unfortunately I didn't meet many.
I'll now resume posting some albums/reviews I'm behind on, feeling a little more guilty then I usually do.