This Is Hardcore Festival 2014, the first metal festival I have ever been to where I didn’t have full press credentials, or any sort of guaranteed backstage access. I knew I could get interviews, but I would have a motherfucker of a time handling it. What kind of madness would overcome me, would I be able to fend off the terrors of a festival where I couldn’t legally drink? These where the questions that raced through my mind on the initial car ride, from my sleepy suburban home in Downingtown, to the vaunted Electric Factory in Philadelphia.
It was a long car ride, traffic was tense. Me and Nick from Fisthammer chatted about life, the universe, and everything, blaring death metal and headbanging, much to the concern of drivers around us. Nick confided in me that he in fact wrote the first two Fisthammer records, even though he was not technically a part of the band at the time. While I find this claim to be of questionable veracity, what do I know? This world of heavy metal is a strange one, and trying to understand the mysterious ways of a genre that God forgot, well, isn’t that why I’m writing this?
It’s important to remember, the last band I had seen live was about a month prior, and that band was Black fucking Sabbath. How do you follow up something like that? Apparently in my case it was with the extremely solid hardcore act Expire. Their sound is ferocious and fun, the sort of hardcore band you go see live and just immediately fall in love with. Their sound is not incredibly unique but they have a great power when they play, it’s extremely engaging to watch these guys come out and rip the stage up. The legions of stage divers, often ripping the mic from the frontmans hands only added to the madness, kicking off my night in grand style.
Up next was one of the bands I had most hotly anticipated, Noisem. This extremely young death metal act are not afraid to bust skulls. Sure there were hardcore dancers rather than a mosh pit, but they certainly drove their point home with crushing growls and circle pit inspiring riffs. These guys are part of a new generation of death metal masters, and watching them rip up the stage was a pleasure. They understand how intense death metal needs to be live, and they gave the entire a personal experience, the sort of soul touching magic that defines what heavy metal should be about. These guys get death metal, and their vicious youth allows them to triumph.
After hanging out with some of the local hardcore and metal brethren and finally getting to meet Casey from Mishaps, it was time to bring the mosh once more, this time with super-heavy hardcore favorites Xibalba. Now, I go to see a lot of doom metal bands live, but a lot of them would be challenged to be as incredibly destructive as Xibalba were last night. These guys have a sort of primal hatred running through their veins which allows them to charge forward, vicious and destructive, unholy and hateful hardcore masters who will not be stopped. There is something kind of magical about a band this powerful, the way they tear your body apart, making you a slave to the crushing groove.
It was time to slow down a bit now, I knew I wanted to see Code Orange Kids, but first I had to go to talk to my friends in Crowbar who had only just arrive. It was kind of surreal, tonight I would see Crowbar for the third time in five weeks. There is no better feeling than having one of your favorite musicians, along with his wife, recognize you and shake your hand. It’s the sort of incredible experience that makes all of the hardships of this job worth it. Somehow, knowing that at the end of the day, you know your heroes and they know you, even if it is only in passing, makes it all seem like a triumph over the darkness that surrounds us.
I hurried back inside to catch Code Orange Kids, a band who many of my American friends had raved about. Watching the bands female guitarists hair fly, and the insane frontman charging around the crowd like a thing possessed was a real treat. These guys have the vicious hardcore anger and destruction that makes hardcore great. But more than that, they have a certain honesty, with their fans and with themselves. They are not aspiring to be greater than they are, but simply the hardcore kids they were born to be. Something about that is very beautiful to me, and in a way, I might even describe it as refreshing, to see a band who understand themselves in such a deeply personal way.
At this point I wandered back to the stands and decided to talk to the Relapse guys. It was around this time that I found out about a Relapse aftershow which would feature the almighty Inter Arma. I was old friends with these guys, and I hadn’t even thought I would have had the chance to hang out with them again. So I feel I was understandably pumped, knowing that after Crowbar my night would only get better. I was also introduced to the ever-friendly Gordon from Call of the Void who decided to do a really cool and interesting interview, not so much about his music as much as art and the way it interacts with extreme sounds. This is the sort of intellectual and beautiful talk that just makes this life worth living, discovering brave new worlds of sounds with masters of their genre.
I also ran over to the aftershow venue in order to try and set up an interview with Inter Arma. I was stoked to see all of my friends in the band, especially the always interesting TJ. These guys know where it’s at, and getting to hang out with them is always fun. After slamming my first beer of the night and chatting with Ultramantis Black I knew it was time to rush back to the Electric Factory and soak up the magical vibes of Crowbar. This may not be the heavy metal apocalypse everybody expected, but it was certainly better than any that I had hoped for.
As I mentioned before, this was my third time seeing Crowbar in 5 weeks, so, suffice to say, I have a pretty good grasp on their current live set. After getting shoved to the front and trying to avoid hardcore dancers (Seriously, fuck those guys, fuck them right in the ear) I found myself having a very personal experience with some sludge legends who were truly in their element. The powerful grooves of this band and the crushing bottom end resonated within my soul, reminding me why sludge and doom are some of my favorite metal subgenres. As I stage dived on the bands last song (My first in far too long) I felt truly alive, a slave to all that is heavy, but finally free of the trials and tribulation of a world that never seemed to understand.
Now it was time for the Relapse aftershow (Because seriously, who wants to watch Unearth and Killswitch Engage, the headliners for the night, in 2014?) I stumbled over to the venue just in time for Call of the Void to start playing. Their set was incredible, violent, vicious, but also very personal. There was maybe 50 people in the room, and that’s being generous. These guys just threw themselves out there with the bands vocalist prowling in front of the stage, tearing us apart with screams seemingly from the abyss. Despite this, it seems clear that these guys have fun on stage, tearing bodies apart and allowing us all to headbang together as sons of a darker master.
I had noticed that halfway through the Call of the Void set, Tyler from Noisem had walked into the venue. When I went over to request and interview he seemed friendly and intelligent. We had a very deep conversation about being young, and deeply involved in the metal scene. He’s one of the guys who just understands what all this madness and beauty is about. Getting into it with a guy who feels the music and lives it, this is what makes festivals so magical. Perhaps when I wrote about the magic of Hellfest a few weeks ago I was wrong, perhaps there is just a magic when a group of dedicated individuals come together to mosh, party, and drink.
Now it was time for my personal highlight of the day, a band who get what doom should be about and who bring it with all of their might, Inter Arma. These guys are more than just doomsters, there is a certain beauty to the colossal riffs on their new record Sky Burial that I just can’t put into words. Inter Arma is the sound of mountains moving, shifting under the weight of riffs so incredibly heavy that mortal man does not know what to do with them. Mike, the bands singer, has a sick stage presence, screaming as if he is dying and making the music all the more real because of it. If you haven’t seen Inter Arma yet, you need too, these guys are pushing the envelope, turning it up to 11.
As we drove home, Danzig blaring in the car, I felt complete. It had been far too long since I went to a gig and got to find myself. This is the sort of thing I live for, not just because I like it, but because I have no other choice. Is this what defines success? Finding your way in a precarious world to get at what you love? I don’t know. Nibbling carrots with the bassist of one of my favorite death metal bands as we roll down the highway was a bizarre experience, but perhaps that’s what’s going to define the rest of this weekend. Bizarre experiences with men who make a living off of our obsession with darkness. It certainly should be interesting.