Psycho California, now that’s a name that suggests things could get weird fast. Perhaps America’s largest doom metal festival we sent our worrisome journalist Matt Bacon out on the trail to try and get to the heart of the fucked up world represented by this festival. Seeing a ton of bands, meeting a lot of people and being surrounded by drugs can lead to a fascinating weekend if nothing else, and as Matt found out – there is a lot more to the demented depths of doom than might initially meet the eye. Read Parts ONE and TWO of our coverage at the links provided!
I woke up wondering what the day would hold. I knew I was going to be able to see Subrosa for the fifth time and be reunited with the whole band – not just the few members I had seen the night before, and I would also finally see Bloodmoon after years of chatting with their singer online, but beyond that, all I really felt was that it would be the best day of the festival. I’d see a lot of friends play and hopefully make some new ones, but the song, that creeping slow song, derived from Black fucking Sabbath would remain the same and that’s all we really need, isn’t it?
The first up was Acid Witch – now I’d seen these guys back in Texas when I had flown down for Housecore and I expected a great show – but nothing of the caliber that these guys put together. Fresh off of thirty two consecutive dates in Europe these guys have a renewed sense of rage that few of their peers can match. The vocals seemed torn open and twisted – full of potent energy and incredibly hateful. Yet that being said, these guys still know how to have fun in the live context. The introduction of every song felt over the top and triumphant, a special highlight for me was the ass kicking joy found in Metal Movie Marijuana Massacre Meltdown (As the bands bassist, Shagrat, decried “This song is for people who like to smoke dope and watch movies!”) where Slasher Dave unabashedly adopted a searing falsetto for the climactic chorus. The point being – these boys have come into their own, and sure they may no longer just be a studio project but they certainly seem more potent and capable than ever.
Within minutes of this ear violating desecration it was time for Anciients to storm the stage with their own very unique and potent brand of… I don’t even know what… It sure is good though. The thing is, Anciients are not afraid to mix in a little bit of everything into their incredibly polished and immaculate sound. Featuring a new song in a dynamic and exciting setlist I couldn’t help but be impressed at how these guys have been able to create a sound that is totally their own. Ominous, bearded and rocking adorable Vancouver accents, Anciients are perhaps the only band in metal who can capture so many different genres (many not even related to metal) in the course of a single setlist and make it work. There is something sublime to the way these guys confidently take on the stage and force you to genuflect in awe at a sound that has been endlessly polished to create something totally unique and distinctive. These guys are opening up new vistas for heavy metal and this show only confirmed their greatness.
Yet as soon as they finished I found myself rushing over to the Grizzly stage to catch Bloodmoon, a band I’ve wanted to see since I was about 15 and who have never really left the West Coast. Suffice to say – it was worth the wait. Their performance was stunningly energetic using jazzy elements alongside more traditional doom ideas to create a soundworld that was wholly unique. Sure – some of the cleans were a bit hard to hear at times, but that was probably because I was right in front of Peter Tomis’s massive cabinets, reveling in the truly stunning tone he has been able to refine over years of hard work. The front of house sound though – mixed by the legendary Billy Anderson – was stunning. It merely accentuated the fact that these guys hit every note – using jaw dropping improvisations and gut crunching riffs to prove that Bloodmoon may very well be the new doom heroes. With a new full length due out sometime this year what else can we do but wait and see what sort of aural annihilation they are able to conjure up? All I’m gonna say is, if they can invoke such a profound audience reaction from a two song set – imagine what the hell will happen when they’re finally allowed to headline.
I suddenly had a moment of pause before Lord Dying came on. I got to talk to the Anciients dudes and raid the VIP food table with them (Side note: Whoever put together the catering for the VIP section – hailz, you saved me so much money, I love you) Peter seemed to be reveling in the triumph of his bands latest set, and the cream of the metal crop (The Metalluminati if you will) seemed all gathered around, talking about tour life and plans for future records. That’s what I love about events like this. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst us all. We’re the drop outs, the one no one thought would make it, and here we are, snacking off killer riders and partying together, enjoying an open bar and each others company. This is what we stand for, and this is what gives us hope for a better tomorrow. We know that we can stand together and guide each other despite the madness that might define our lives.
Enough random soliloquizing though, I have to tell you about Lord Dying! It’s fascinating to me that we live in a world where there is a very real market for Crowbar worship of the sort Lord Dying unleash. Yet – there is so much more to this band than that. Lord Dying are a bunch of grungy and fucked up dudes, but that’s part of what makes it so charming. The way they unabashedly throw themselves into the music to craft songs that – in a word – rock, is a lot of fun. Sure there were a lot of Black Sabbath knock offs at this festival (Which I by and large avoided) but Lord Dying manage to invoke that power without seeming corny or derivative. These guys raged for their entire set time, the drummer, Chris, even going so far as to stand up behind the kit to goad the crowd on. It’s always fun to see a band you love having fun, and that’s what these guys do. They shake rattle and roll in their own distinctly fucked up and charming way and it creates songs that force you to bend the knee to the all consuming power of heavy rock and roll music and its enduring twenty first century might.
No sooner had Lord Dying finished though then it was time for Pallbearer. Now, I’d seen these guys a few weeks prior in Philly and I had been entranced by them, but they seemed a little tired out, it’s hard for a dude like Brett to hit those high notes after weeks of touring. Tonight though they simply crushed it. Every note was on point, Devin seems to have found his place as a veritable rock god, his hair flying as he slams his guitar. Meanwhile, Mark, ever the rabid and mildly insane drummer locked into a groove that gave the entire performance a strange pulsating might. Sue, I had to back out halfway through to see Subrosa, but what I had seen proved to me that Pallbearer are a force to be reckoned with. Good dudes and incredibly down to earth they are unafraid to call out heavy metal’s bullshit and I love them for it. Performances like Saturday’s though are the icing on the cake. They are deeply emotive and seemingly can’t help but force you to rock your entire body in deference to perhaps the defining heavy act of our time.
I managed to get in the room a few minutes before Subrosa started and snapped a few pre-show selfies with Sarah and Rebecca – women my mother describes as my “Aunties” They put on one of the best shows I have ever seen from them. Though this was the first time I’d gotten to see the band in a smaller venue it was clear from their response that this was not a normal crowd. The group singalong on The Usher- which at times overwhelmed the band – was stunning. Subrosa have grown rapidly in the year that I’ve known them, they have come into their own, putting on better live shows than ever before and cultivating a group of rabid superfans who will travel for hundreds (Or in my case, thousands) of miles to see the band. As the show ended and a man started telling Sarah how they “Were better than the Swans” I couldn’t help but smile. It makes me happy that my favorite band is getting the recognition they deserve. There is a sense of destiny here, and live shows like this prove to me that there is no end to the ephemeral triumph they represent.
This was the peak for me, riding high off of Subrosa and Pallbearer I rushed back to the Monarch stage to watch the eternal eerie jam of Earth’s live set unfold. The three piece are truly turned onto something spectacular. The way that they find it in themselves to unleash overwhelming torrents of sound every night is simply stunning, especially when considering how they couch it in a 70s rock sensibility. Their delivery allows them to stand tall as true legends in their own lifetimes. Remember, this is the band who worked with Kurt Cobain back in the 90s this is the band who altered what it means to be loud, this is the band who, along with Swans, are largely responsible for the entire nature of most improvisational heavy performances today. Face tattooed and surprisingly lighthearted their everyday personas were cast aside in the name of the music. Here they stood as triumphant figureheads, conjuring a shamanic mass and guiding people towards the sublime and face melting light of a better future.
Finally, I had a moment to come to grips with what I had just witnessed. Here I was, surrounded by the bearded, the tattooed and the stoned and we were all witnessing perhaps the greatest day doom metal has seen since Black Sabbath played to 300,000 people at CalJam 1974. Subrosa were being lauded by fans, Earth were drenched in applause and Pallbearer were back in the beer line, because, as Devin said (Quotable chap he is) “Such is the nature of alcoholism!” Though Sleep had yet to conduct their green mass I felt saturated. It seemed only fitting that at this high moment I would bump into none other than Bobby Liebling himself who consented to an interview whilst a drunken groupie dangled off his shoulder. A true rock star moment for the Pentagram singer I was left wondering “What the fuck is happening?” It seemed like the whole world had gone crazy, and I was somehow left in charge of documenting it.
Rebecca Vernon of Subrosa fame came with me as we searched for a spot to watch the almighty Sleep. Fifteen minutes before the band went on the air was already heavy with the smoke of funny smelling cigarettes. Though I didn’t take any when the nice man offered some to me (It touched his mouth! Gross!) I couldn’t help but feel really good, like really good yknow? Also my hands suddenly became endlessly fascinating. And like… my place in the universe man? Like what about that? Like woah… I… woah dude…suddenly every movie made sense! Somehow when Sleep came on, and I was able to drag myself away from staring at my hands, and lost myself in the band (And that funny smelling cigarette smoke… I think I have a cousin who smokes these kind of cigarettes!)
Sleep are always incredibly to see. Al Ciscneros seems to have become marijuana incarnate at some point and the way he chants over top of Matt Pike’s incredible riffs is always stunning. Largely improvised these guys showcased an incredible depth to their work with songs from across their catalogue. This is the band who have release one song in the last twenty years, who have based their career on pot and Paranoid, to the point that it’s impossible for a metalhead not to like what they have been able to craft with this live experience, for that is what Sleep provide, an experience. Other bands might be fun to watch, and they might give you a shiver or be inspiring, but Sleep take it to a whole new level. Using a surprisingly basic formula these guys have been able to hone a sound that forces you to reconsider everything you know about heavy music. It doesn’t need to be technical or soaked in distortion – instead it can just be poignant and triumphant. It can speak to the human element and show us that we have the power to use some pretty stripped down improvisational punk rock ideologies run through the lens of a Black Sabbath record or two to make something incredibly special and always memorable.
Coming down from the, what I assure you was a totally metaphorical, high from Sleep was strange. I had in fact almost fallen asleep during the bands set – for some reason the combination of crushing riffs and that strange smoke can do that to a guy. I wasn’t the only one either, many members of this twisted congregation lay passed out, as if they were at home on their couches, soaking in the vibes and wondering what would come next from the twisted gods of stoner metal. Beyond this though, every band I had seen today was an absolute life highlight – how often can you claim that for a festival? I think that is what resonates with me about Psycho CA. The organizers have been able to put together an experience, something that forces you to take a step back and consider your own place in the world and realize, sure, we may be the lost and the forgotten, but fuck you, we can rise up, be stronger, bolder and better on our own terms.