Interview with Mantas of Venom Inc.

Recently I was given the opportunity to speak with Mantas, a founding member of the highly influential band Venom. These days he’s playing guitar in Venom Inc., a band with two other former Venom members. Venom Inc. is wrapping up their US tour at Baltimore Soundstage this coming Monday, October 2nd, and I hope this 18 minute interview helps shed some light on one of the founders of black metal and helps to get you pumped for the show. You can stream the interview by pressing the orange play button below or you can download the interview as an mp3 for free here or you can read the transcription. As always, my words are in bold.

This is Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com and today I’ve got Jeffrey Dunn, better known as Mantas, on the phone with me. Mantas is one of the founding members of Venom but he’s also playing guitar in Venom Inc. right now who just released their debut album, Avé, in August on Nuclear Blast Records. Venom Inc. is currently in the middle of the Bloodstained Earth North American Tour with support from Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust and the Convalescence. The final date of that tour will be at the Baltimore Soundstage on October 2nd. So to start things off here Mantas, what can fans expect from the Venom Inc. live performance?

I suppose what you’ve always expected from us. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be chaotic. Everything you want from a Venom Inc. show I suppose plus the fact we’re including some of the new songs off of the new album and so far everything’s going really well. We’ve had, I think it was, three sold out shows so far, the rest have been absolutely packed, just below sold out. First show in Philly, oh it was incredible. They actually oversold that show and they opened the side doors of the venue so that people on the street could watch the gig as well. It’s just gotten crazier and crazier as we’ve been going on so it’s going really, really well so far. Very, very pleased with it.

Mantas of Venom Inc.

Mantas of Venom Inc.

That’s cool. The Venom albums Prime Evil, Temples Of Ice and The Wasteland had [a] very similar line up to the line up that Venom Inc. does right now. That era of Venom also consisted of Demolition Man [Tony Dolan] and Abaddon [Anthony Bray] as well as yourself. Do you consider Venom Inc. sort of a continuation of that era of Venom?

Personally I don’t know. I mean, a lot of people have said obviously that it is because it’s essentially the same line up but I just think that we’ve got a good, strong, legitimate line up here. And I think personally I don’t look at it as a continuation. I think you might get a different answer from the other guys, cause we hadn’t been together for so long. But obviously when we did come together, which was purely by accident and none of this was planned. We did not plan to continue this long it was going to be a one off show in Germany. There was certainly no plans for an album. Everything’s just been fan driven, promoter driven, and it was only in the later stages that Jon Zazula came in as management as well. And he was the one that said, “one great album could change everything for you guys” and really we’d never thought about that. But yeah, we’ve had a few people saying it’s good to see the Prime Evil line up back together again and I suppose yeah, it is, but I don’t know if I’m looking at it as a continuation because it was such a huge gap. It has taken us a long time to come together again but it’s rolling and to quote a cliché we’ve all just strapped ourselves into the roller coaster and we’re seeing where it takes us now. So far, so good.

Do you still talk to Al Barnes at all? Do you think there’s any chance that he could end up joining Venom Inc. to complete that Prime Evil era line up?

Ohhh no, no. Al is all settled down with a family and everything now. Got a really good job. I think he still does some sort of little acoustic gigs and things just by himself but I don’t think we could drag Al out. Maybe a one off if we’re in London or something like that and he jumps up and plays one of the Prime Evil songs with us but as a permanent member I don’t think so, no.

So do you see Venom Inc. staying as a three piece for the foreseeable future then?

Oh definitely. Yes. Absolutely. It’s working great and you know the old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. No we’ll continue the way we are. It’s good.

In April of 2012 I saw you perform with M:pire Of Evil at the U Street Music Hall in Washington DC along with Onslaught on that tour. You guys put on a great live show with lots of energy. M:pire Of Evil played a mix of old Venom songs as well as new material. Do you guys play any of those M:pire Of Evil original songs still or is that something you’ve kind of moved on from and you just stick to the Venom and the Venom Inc. stuff now?

Yeah we just stick with the Venom and the Venom Inc. stuff. We have thought about that but we thought no, M:pire is a completely separate entity for us. There is a new M:pire album ready. It’s ready to go it just needs bass and vocals put on. I think in January Tony [Dolan] is coming over to my studio and we’re going to finish the album off. It’s been sitting there in the can for a couple of years now. It would have been out and done by now if it hadn’t been for the Venom Inc. tour. We sort of have put M:pire on hold but it’s definitely not over. We still plan. We had a great time doing that band so that’s something that we want to continue but at the moment it’s difficult to do anything else to be perfectly honest, because of the live work that we’re doing. Even recording Avé we had to take time away from live shows to get the recording done because the deadline was tight but now that we’ve started touring again I mean, we’re going to be on the road forever I think. There’s offers coming in all the time and when we get back, I think we get back on October 6th, and we’ve got about a week or so off and then it’s European festivals then the first week of November we have a UK tour which spreads into a European tour and that won’t see us home until December 18th and then February we’re going to Japan and Australia and possibly back to America in March. That’s the plan that Jon Zazula had anyway but the Japanese shows are definite. So everything is just forging ahead. There’s going to be no time for anything. Even fitting another Venom Inc. album in is going to be difficult. We’ll have to take time away from touring again.

Cover of Avé by Venom Inc.

Cover of Avé by Venom Inc.

One thing I’ve been curious about is the line up of Venom Inc. is very similar to M:pire Of Evil. Of course the main difference, I think everyone knows, is that Abaddon is now on drums with you guys. So how did he end up connecting with you again and joining Venom Inc.?

It all came about when Tony Dolan did a Atomkraft show in Newcastle, our home town. And it was a sort of North East festival called Brofest which is a sort of old school new wave of British heavy metal festival. So he was asked to do an Atomkraft set and at that particular point I was still living in Newcastle so he said to me, “do you fancy jumping up for a couple of songs?” so he came to Newcastle, we went [to] our rehearsals. We went though a couple of the Atomkraft songs and I joined them on stage and there was a Canadian band I believe called Cauldron who do [a cover of the Venom song] “Die Hard” in their set and they asked me to jump up and do “Die Hard” with them so I did that. And there was a promoter from the Keep It True Festival, Oliver Weinsheimer, he was at that festival and so was Abaddon and he spoke to Abaddon and said, “I’m surprised that you didn’t get with those guys.” Well, to be brutally honest, at that point, myself and Abaddon, and Tony Dolan and Abaddon, we hadn’t spoken since 1998 after the big split in Venom. Tony received a call from Oliver and he said “Look, I’d like to book M:pire Of Evil for Keep It True.” It was at that point that Tony says, “Oliver has asked if Abaddon was there would you consider doing a few Venom songs?” and I have to admit at that point I said no. It was going to be a no go for me. But we spoke again and we sort of said, look it’s only going to be for five songs, maybe six and it’s just for the fans and we do the songs and then that’s it. It’s going to be a one off. So we all agreed to do it. We flew into Germany. We had no rehearsals whatsoever we just got the songs and rehearsed them at home. Went on stage, did the set. The reaction was incredible and then Tony’s phone was ringing off the hook the next day from promoters and agents that we had worked with and that’s when really we were booked for China and Japan. Then we got the call for Heavy Montreal Festival. And then it was a European tour and an American tour and like I said none of it was planned. We had to speak again and say, “look are we going to do this?” because I’ve got a life beyond what we just planned to do. So we all said, “Ok then, let’s just get on the bus and see what happens” and to me that’s what we’re doing, haha, just getting on the bus and seeing what happens. And now that we’ve got management and things obviously we’ve got guidance but up until that point it was nothing you know we were just doing it by ourselves. So it was all fan driven and it’s totally exceeded my expectations all together, including the album. It’s overwhelming to be perfectly honest, to think that we’re in such demand. This tour that we’re doing now which will be our third tour of duty in America and at the end of this tour that will be sort of 90 shows in America within I think a year, 18 months, something like that. And so we’re just working hard and whatever offers come in we look at them and nine times out of ten we say yes. But like I said, totally unexpected. We’ve got to thank the fans for that. It’s great.

One thing that’s been a bit of a point of debate among fans is Venom’s genre classification. Obviously you guys coined the term black metal but I’ve also heard you guys called by various people as speed metal, thrash metal, new wave of British heavy metal, all kinds of stuff. So what kind of sub genre of metal do you consider the music you play to be?

You know, obviously we gave the name to black metal, if you want to say we created it, we did. We had an album called Black Metal, we had a song called “Black Metal,” and what followed on after that was exactly the same as what we did to our heroes. Bands were looking at us and thinking “we can take it a stage further.” So black metal has evolved into what it is today. Without evolution you become extinct. That’s one thing I’m quite proud of, is to think that black metal is still around today and it’s very, very strong. Classification wise, do you know what it is? I think there’s too many genres and sub-genres around these days. Let’s get back under the flag of heavy metal. Me personally, I look at ourselves as just a heavy metal rock n’ roll band. That’s all I see us as. It’s all about the music for me. I’m not talking about the genres or sub-genres whatever people call us. I’m in a heavy metal band. It’s as simple as that.

That’s a cool way to look at that. There’s been a few metal bands with multiple incarnations recently like Entombed, Gorgoroth and Queensrÿche for example. Most of those bands seem to be tied up in lawsuits fighting over bands’ names. That doesn’t seem to be the case with you guys. Are you still amicable enough with Cronos? Is that something you’re not worried about or…?

No, no, no. I’ll stop you in your tracks right there. There’s absolutely no contact with that guy whatsoever. The bridges are firmly burnt. Yes we did receive a couple of lawyers’ letters at the beginning and I responded to both of them and we haven’t heard anything since. The thing is that I’m the founding member of Venom. Abaddon designed and hand drew the original Venom logo and Cronos was the last person to join, by invitation, and it was my invitation. And when he went out as Venom in 2005 I think it was when he started Venom, it was at that point that Cronos had called me regarding the license of an album and I just didn’t care. My head was firmly embroiled in family. Everything was about my mother at that point. She had cancer and essentially she was dying and she passed away in December of that year. And it was during the course of the conversation he asked me if I was ok with him continuing the Venom name and at that point I said “I don’t give a shit. I really don’t care what happens with the Venom name.” I wasn’t thinking about bands or anything. However he did not ask Abaddon and he said, “well if he had asked me I would have said no immediately. It just needs to be buried.” So that’s why I think it’s the fans and the promoters and the industry who are turning around now and saying that we are the real Venom. We’ve never once said that unlike Cronos who’s trying to stamp that point. I really don’t care about that. He can go out there and do what he wants to do with his two hired guns and we’ll go out and do what we do. And I mean Tony Dolan said, “Is it not better that you can go and see this guy and then you can come and see us?” And he just plays big festivals. We go into the smaller venues and we’re right in your face. So I don’t think there’s any confusion any more, let’s put it that way. People know who he is and what he does and people know who we are and what we do and that’s fine by me and that’s as far as it goes as far as I’m concerned.

Well for what it’s worth, I’ve seen you at least with M:pire of Evil and I thought you guys were fantastic live. I’m really excited to see you as Venom Inc. If it’s anything like the show I saw in DC about five years ago it should be really exciting. I’m looking forward to the one coming up here in Baltimore on October 2nd.

Oh don’t worry we will deliver. We will deliver.

Mantas at U Street Music Hall

Mantas at U Street Music Hall

Venom has been a huge influence on countless other metal bands over the years however I would like to know what your biggest influences are as a musician.

Ohhh. Well, the thing that changed my life was 1979, May the 28th, and it was Newcastle City Hall and it was Judas Priest on the Killing Machine Tour. My musical growing up occurred during the 70s so I came up through Slade and T.Rex and the Sweet and you know the sort of glam rocky era that was going on in England. And for me it was always something which was guitar driven. If there was guitars in the band I was fascinated by it as a kid. The first 7″ single that I ever bought with my own allowance money was “Seven Seas of Rhye” by Queen which I suppose was the first sort of dipping the toe into heavy rock. And then I remember being in a department store with my mum and there I just saw Kiss. I’d seen the Alive album and I was absolutely fascinated by these guys on the front but I couldn’t afford it at the time so there was a beaten up old copy of Hotter Than Hell behind it so I bought that. I’ve been a Kiss fan ever since, well you know, early Kiss obviously. But then, the guy that I started the band with, we met at a tae kwon do club, we were training together, and he had a guitar. He had a lot of metal. He was a little bit older than me so he was sort of into Deep Purple and stuff like that. So I discovered Purple through him and then we used to go to concerts all the time. The first concert I’d ever seen was Blue Öyster Cult. That was around ’77 I think. We went to everything, we’ve seen Rory Gallagher live. Like I said, anybody who had a guitar. But seeing Judas Priest, and I just remember being in the audience and looking at stage left as I’m in the audience and K. K. Downing was on and fucking, *pff* that was it. I just thought to myself, “this is what I want to do.” He just became like a distant mentor if you like. I was fascinated by his playing. He looked the epitome of a heavy metal guitarist. It was just all that kind of stuff and you just gotta hold up people. If someone said to me you could only listen to one guitarist for the rest of your life it would be Gary Moore. [I’m] a huge, huge Gary Moore fan. And I discovered Frank Marino on a Mahogany Rush album Mahogany Rush Live. I think he’s a phenomenal guitarist. And my other favorite guitarist is Zakk Wylde. So that whole sort of blues based guitarists that I like cause honestly I’m pretty old school when it comes to stuff like that. I’m not so much into the neoclassical shredders and all that kind of stuff. I’ve said many times in interviews now that I’ve got no desire to be looked upon as a virtuoso guitarist. When I’m on stage I see myself [as] more of an entertainer interacting with the crowd than some guy who stands there playing at a million miles an hour. But if someone was to offer me either one of two gifts, one would be to be the greatest guitarist the world had ever seen or to be the greatest songwriter the world had ever seen, I would choose the songwriter every single time. But yeah influences with all those tastes you know, Judas Priest, Motörhead. You know when I first heard Motörhead I was blown away by them as well. And I just used to search out anything I possibly could. So anything that was up and coming, anything that was going around. New wave of British heavy metal was around then obviously. At [the] time my favorite new wave of British heavy metal band was Samson, again a sort of more bluesy kind of a band. But yeah it was anything guitar driven I was just fascinated by it and I sort of made that decision and just gave it no option but to happen I suppose so here we are and it’s not over yet.

Are there any bands around, like newer bands today that you’re a big fan of?

I must admit I love Machine Head. I really do like Machine Head. You know you said newer bands, Machine Head is hardly a newer band, and I still like the Metallica boys as well. I still like that stuff but again they’ve got a few years under their belt, everybody has. I think metal went through a phase where it all started sounding the same to be perfectly honest with the production side of it and all that kind of stuff. Like I said I’m pretty old school. If I’m going to put something on at home it’s still going to be a Priest album or an early Kiss album or Gary Moore or something like that. I do like Dimmu Borgir but I’ve never really explored a lot of the newer bands. The time that I hear a lot of it is when we’re on tour and I have heard some good bands. Goatwhore are really good that we’re out with now but there’s an Australian thrash band called Desecrator. Everybody should check them out they’re really good and an English thrash band called Divine Chaos. They’re really good as well. We’ve been out with both of those bands and they’re excellent so check those two bands out.

Yeah I definitely will. Do you have any favorite song to play from your whole history of you know songs you’ve played?

Um, do you know what it is it’s difficult to choose. I mean, I still love doing “Countess Bathory,” I still love doing “Witching Hour,” “Black Metal,” “Live Like an Angel,” “Die Hard,” “Don’t Burn the Witch.” I don’t think I’ve got a particular favorite to play. They’re all just great fun to play. To see the audience reaction is phenomenal. It’s not a case of getting bored with those songs because some of those songs are like 35, 36 years old. I’ll never get bored with them. They’re just a joy to play. I mean who knew that people would be calling them classics these days. I was just a kid from Newcastle who wrote some songs and people dig them. That’s the way I look at it. But the things that surprises me is when I meet fans and they tell me that the effect that these songs have had on their lives it’s, it’s overwhelming. It’s great. Some days I can’t take it in because naturally I’m quite shy and I just stay in the background. On stage is a release for me but meeting the fans afterwards you got telling me all these things. All I’ve got to say is thank you. [It] comes from the bottom of my heart. It’s a big thank you because without those guys we wouldn’t exist. But I still enjoy doing all the songs, all the old songs.

Venom Inc. at Baltimore Soundstage

That’s about it for my questions here. I wanted to say thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with me and answer some questions here.

No problem.

It’s been really cool getting the chance to talk to one of the true legends of underground heavy metal and again I’m very excited to see you guys play at the Baltimore Soundstage on October 2nd. I know when I saw you with M:pire of Evil, one of the cool things I thought about your live performance, it’s just really cool seeing how much fun you guys are having on stage playing together. That’s something you can’t really fake. There’s a lot of bands, they’ll go out there and they’ll just go through the motions but you guys, like the way you interact with the crowd and the energy you’re putting out there, it’s a lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to be at.

Yeah. I don’t think we could do it any other way because that’s who we are. That’s genuinely us on stage. We’re not play acting on there. I think that heavy metal fans, they’re very knowledgeable and if they know that you’re faking it, they know, and we don’t fake it. We go out there and we enjoy every moment on stage. I enjoy all the interaction with the crowd. It’s great. Like I said, for me it’s a release and that’s my point to meet the fans really. But nah we love it. We have such a blast playing together as well. So when you come down to Baltimore you’ll have to introduce yourself so we’ll have a chat.

Oh for sure, for sure. That would be my honor, thank you heh heh.

No problem.

Alright well thanks again for your time and I can’t wait to see you guys in Baltimore. It’ll be great.

Ok then my friend. I’ll see you very soon.

Alright. Take it easy.

Cheers now. Bye bye.

Bye.

Uhtcearu bringing black metal to Atlas Brew Works

Uhtcearu at Atlas Brew Works

Shameless plug here guys but I wanted to make sure you all knew about the black metal band, Uhtcearu, who are coming to Atlas Brew Works this Tuesday, August 15th! The show is presented by DC Heavy Metal and the entire tour is being sponsored by Atlas with local support coming from the bands Dagger Moon and Helgamite. More details on the Facebook event page here. It’s all ages and $10 gets you in to see three awesome metal bands. Sick tunes and great beers add up to an awesome time so be sure to come out! Now here’s some more info on the bands…

Uhtcearu (pronounced oot-key-are-oo) is a black metal band from Wisconsin and they’ve just released their second album, For Darkness to Subside, on July 28th. Give a listen to my favorite track off the new album below, titled “May Spirits Guide Us Through,” and/or pick up the album for $5 on Bandcamp here.

Dagger Moon is a DC based band that features a couple members of Ilsa. Don’t get them confused though, the band doesn’t sound like the crusty death/doom Ilsa is known for. Instead they’ve replaced the death metal aspects with some John Carpenter-esque synth work to create a unique take on atmospheric doom metal unlike any other metal band I’ve ever heard. Check out their track “Wolfpack” below from their 2016 album Citadel, and you can name your price (including free) to download the album from Bandcamp here.

Helgamite is a doom/sludge band from Luray, Virginia, and they play a psychedelic style of doom/sludge that really goes a lot of places other bands don’t dare to. They’re masters of tense build up though they can also crank out some sick riffs too. Check out their song “Snowdrifter” below, it’s a long one but by the end you’ll feel like you’ve been on an epic voyage through the land of trippy metal. You can also get their latest album, Hypnagogia for $8 on Bandcamp here.

Maryland Deathfest XV Non-Survival Guide

MDF XV Pre Fest at Metro Gallery

OK guys I’m not doing the normal MDF survival guide this year, so now it’s the non-survival guide. Since there are no outdoor stages this year and the fest will only be at Rams Head Live and the Baltimore Soundstage I figure you guys don’t really need things like a map and tips on how to get around and such. If you really want to you can check last year’s post for that kind stuff (here). That said, there’s still a ton of info you may want to know, and I’ve also picked several bands at each venue on each day to write about at the end of this post, almost all of them have some material to stream to give you an idea of what they sound like or just help get you in the mood for this year’s MDF! First up, here’s some quick links you may want handy.

Official Maryland Deathfest:
website
Facebook
Facebook event page
Pre-Fest Party Facebook event page
Instagram

Baltimore Yellow Cab: 410-685-1212 (website)
Both Uber and Lyft operate in Baltimore. They’re usually cheaper than a cab and you can download their apps for free from your app store.

Schedules

Tap/click on them to see them larger.

MDF XV Thursday schedule

MDF XV Friday schedule

MDF XV Saturday schedule

MDF XV Sunday schedule

Getting Tickets

Tickets are still available and there are VIP tickets available as well. VIP tickets do not get you in the door, they are an extra ticket you buy in addition to your regular ticket. A VIP ticket gets you access to a sectioned off area to the side of the stage at Rams Head Live, access to the VIP bar, and will receive a voucher for a festival T-shirt of your choice. VIP does not have any benefit at Baltimore Soundstage. You can still get regular or VIP tickets from Eventbrite (here) or help the makers of the documentary “Welcome To Deathfest” in their crowdfuning endeavor by purchasing tickets from them at a discounted price here. They have both single day and multiple day tickets available in the “incentives” column on the right.

Tips

As always, I highly recommend bringing and wearing earplugs! Tinnitus isn’t cool or fun and even if you’re just going to one day of the fest that’s still a ton of bands hammering your ears all day. If you’re going multiple days you might want to even bring a bunch of extra ear plugs because they’re gonna get gross after a while.

You will be able to get your 4-day pass wristband at the entrance of Rams Head Live starting at 2pm on Thursday. You will not be able to get your wristband at the pre-fest show this year.

If you’re on Instagram I highly recommend following the official account @deathfests as local photographer Josh Sisk will be taking over the account during MDF again this year and he posts incredible great shots of the bands while the fest is going on.

While you’re at it, follow me on Instagram as well as I’ll be posting photos and videos throughout the weekend too. Find me at @DCMetalChris on Instagram!

Rams Head Live does not allow backpacks, but you can check them at the coat check for a couple bucks. Baltimore Soundstage will search your backpack and/or purse, and usually pat you down as well.

Merch and Vendors

There are no food vendors this year. Bummer, I know, but there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance. I highly recommend Pratt Street Ale House who has great food, a wide variety of excellent craft beers, and MDF attendees get 10% off their entire bill (just show them your wristband). Their address is 206 W Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21201.

There will be merch vendors inside both venues and also just outside of Rams Head Live in the Powerplant Area. Here’s the list of merch vendors: ChopoBrujos, DabLizard, Dark Descent Records, Decibel Magazine, Dave’s Metal, Horror Pain Gore Death (HPGD is at Soundstage on Friday only), Indie Merch, JSR Merchandising, Mexico Steel, Pizza Party Printing, Relapse Records, Sabi, Season of Mist, Sevared Records, Speed Clothes, Utterly Somber and Vienna Music Exchange.

Bands will arrive and leave throughout the weekend so if you see band merch you like one day don’t hesitate to buy it, it may be gone before the fest is over as not every band stays for the entire fest, or even more than their 1 day there. Guess what, they take their merch with them. Most of these guys will want cash so I suggest bringing a good amount to avoid ATM fees. Some bands won’t have their own merch guy and will instead opt to sell their merch at the official MDF booth so be sure to check back there often. Speaking of which…

MDF XV tshirt

The official MDF merch booth will be inside Rams Head Live. It will have t-shirts, hoodies and posters as well as metal keychains, pins and Zippo lighters. There will be no preorders for posters and shirts this year. It looks like the shirts come in two different designs and three colors: black, white and red. The posters feature artwork by Lucas Ruggieri and are limited to 150. You can see the poster image at the very top of this post. The custom made Deathvests (seen below) by Kylla Custom Rock Wear will be for sale for $200 at the MDF booth as well.

Announcing our 2017 Maryland #Deathvests – our official festival merchandise collaboration with #MarylandDeathfest @deathfests this year! We have #handmade a limited edition 10 high quality distressed #genuineleather #studded vests in sizes S – XL (2 S, 2 M, 3 L, 3 XL) which will be at the festival merchandise booth Thurs-Sun! We are also taking ONLINE PREORDERS for these, for in-person pickup from me at the fest! Once they are gone no more will ever be made! Extremely high quality durable #leather- each varies slightly in appearance due to the distressing process! $200 each – send your size! Paypal or credit card for preorder: http://www.paypal.me/kylla/200 (or email kyllacustomrockwear@gmail.com for credit card) #KyllaCustomRockWear #MDF #extrememetal #bikervest #motorcyclevest #blackmetal #deathmetal #smallbusiness #metalfashion #metalclothing #deathfest

A post shared by Kim Dylla / Kylla Custom Wear (@kyllacustomrockwear) on

The official MDF Pre-Fest Party is at a different venue this year, the Metro Gallery. It is headlined by Ruinous, a death metal band featuring Immolation guitarist Alex Bouks. Tickets are $15 advance, $17 at the door and available here. Sorry kids, it’s ages 18+ only and doors open at 7pm. Note that MDF wristbands will not be available at the Pre-Fest show this year. For more info visit the Pre-Fest Party’s Facebook event page here.

MDF XV Pre-Fest Party

This year I decided to write about certain bands, several at each venue on each day. Hopefully this sheds some light on bands you might not know about before you get to see them at the fest. This isn’t a “favorites” list or something, some bands I just didn’t feel like writing about and it isn’t because they’re not good, it’s because I only have so much free time. Check out what I’ve written about bands for the days/venues you have tickets for below, and stream some of their songs to get ready for Maryland Deathfest XV!

Thursday at Rams Head Live

The Thursday of Maryland Deathfest at Rams Head Live tends to focus on stoner and doom bands the past few years and this year is no exception.

Samothrace at 5:50 – This Seattle based doom band plays very long and very slow songs, though their sound can evolve into faster paced segments as well. If you’re into stuff like Winter, Grief and Bell Witch, you’ll want to check them out.

Dopethrone at 6:55 – Dopethrone, named after the Electric Wizard album, is a stoner/sludge band from Montreal. They were originally supposed to play MDF last year but for whatever reason they canceled.

SubRosa at 8:00 – This stoner band from Salt Lake City that blends stoner rock with post rock. Three women form the core of this ethereal sounding band which includes a violin player.

Conan at 9:05 – Definitely more barbarian than O’Brien, Conan is a stoner/doom band from Liverpool, England, making a rare appearance stateside at MDF. These guys are crushing live, perfectly blending huge riffs and stomping rhythms.

Acid King at 10:10 – Acid King is a stoner band from San Francisco that has only in the past couple years become active again. They play some Sabbath worshipping riffs but with the beautiful vocals of Lori Steinberg soaring over their fuzzy riffs.

Tiamat at 11:25 – I’m honestly not sure what to expect of a Tiamat set at MDF. They headliners of the first night at Rams Head Live have changed their sound many times over the years, at this point they haven’t put out an album since 2012. They might play a set more focused on the death/doom metal style of their early years or the soft and moody Wildhoney era material or the more polished gothic metal style they eventually ended up with, or maybe play things from various eras.

Thursday at Baltimore Soundstage

While in the past MDF tended to use the Baltimore Soundstage to host mostly hardcore and grind bands that seems to have changed a lot this year since there are no outdoor stages. The first day at BSS has a lot of death metal this year.

Malignancy at 8:15 – From Yonkers, New York, Malignancy has been around since the early 90s. They play an old school style of brutal death metal reminiscent of older bands from the era like Suffocation and Monstrosity.

Decrepit Birth at 10:30 – Decrepit Birth is heavily influenced by the later era of the band Death. They haven’t released an album in 7 years though they have a new one, Axis Mundi, coming out in July so I expect to hear some new material from these guys.

Cryptopsy at 11:55 – Montreal’s Cryptopsy was once one of the best death metal bands in the underground, until in 2008 they decided to completely change their sound, image and line up to become a metalcore band. When that didn’t pan out they went back to being a death metal band to mixed reception. However for this headlining performance at Maryland Deathfest XV Cryptopsy will be playing their 1996 classic album None So Vile in its entirety. And be sure to check out their drummer Flo Mounier, still one of the best drummers in all of metal.

Friday at Rams Head Live

The RHL line up for Friday is pretty death metal heavy, awesome!

Nordjevel at 5:00 – Every year MDF seems to book at least one trve Norwegian black metal. This year that band is Nordjevel, whose name translates to Northern Devil. Reminiscent of the 2nd wave of black metal bands, the band has only released one full length and one EP since forming in 2015, but they’ve quickly become a buzz band in the black metal underground. Fans of bands like 1349 and Gorgoroth are going to want to check out Nordjevel.

Brodequin at 6:00 – Brodequin is a very brutal death metal band from Knoxville, Tennessee. Between 2000 and 2004 they released 3 intense albums, then basically disappeared. This is something of a reunion show for Brodequin, though not their first show since reforming. Their name translates to “boot” from French, however they get their name from a medieval torture device.

GosT at 9:10 – Maryland Deathfest always seems to have one weird band that doesn’t really fit with everyone else and this year it’s GosT. GosT isn’t a metal band but a DJ and the music reminds me more of old Nintendo game soundtracks than anything else. I guess GosT’s genre is called synthwave. I’m not going to lie, I’m not particularly interested in seeing GosT hit play, er… perform live at MDF, but they are strange enough I figure they warrant mention here.

Macabre at 10:15 – An all time favorite of mine, Macabre is a three piece from Chicago that truly lives up to their name. By blending traditional songs and even nursery rhymes with death metal and grind, they have created a sound all their own. In fact, they call it Murder Metal since all of their songs are about true crime and serial killers. They even tell stories between songs about these killers and tyrants, highly recommended!

Vader at 11:20 – Before Behemoth, Decapitated and Mgla there was Vader, the true fathers of underground metal in Poland. Due to tape trading they were one of the first bands from Eastern Europe to break through the iron curtain to be heard in the West before the Berlin Wall fell. And rightly so, their intensely fast style of death metal has made them death metal legends to this day.

Friday at Baltimore Soundstage

An eclectic mix of bands play Friday at Baltimore Soundstage.

Chepang at 4:15 – Chepang is a grindcore band that is originally from Nepal though now they live in the US. They perform with two drummers. Don’t expect a long set from them, their only release consists of 8 songs clocking in at under 12 minutes total!

Occultist at 5:05 – This Richmond based band is everything that makes underground metal fun. They’re some sort of mix of black, speed, crust and death metal and exploding with energy. Their front woman, Kerry Zylstra, can scream with the best of them.

Stormtroopers Of Beer at 9:25 – Stormtroopers Of Beer is a Stormtroopers Of Death (aka S.O.D.) cover band that actually includes original S.O.D. member Dan Lilker. Adde Mitroulis (of Birdflesh, General Surgery) handles the drums while Jocke Carlsson (of General Surgery) plays guitar and guest vocals will be courtesy of Matt Harvey (of Exhumed, Gruesome). Old school metal heads will remember their song “Milano Mosh” as the theme music for MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball.

Noothgrush at 10:35 – Noothgrush is doom/sludge band from the Bay Area. Their name stems from a Dr Seuss character in the book There’s a Wocket in My Pocket so as you might have guessed these guys have probably never gotten high. They seem a bit out of place on the bill here and would probably have fit better on Thursday’s line up at Rams Head, but hey, good doom puts you in a good mood no matter when they play.

Siege at 11:50 – Headlining Baltimore Soundstage on Friday night is Massachusetts based hardcore band Siege. Despite releasing only about 20 minutes of material before breaking up in 1985 they became popular to bootleg traders and were very influential to the grindcore subgenre. They had a brief reunion in the early 90s with Seth Putnam of Anal Cunt on vocals and now they have reformed again, giving MDF attendees a rare chance to catch these underground legends perform live.

Saturday at Rams Head Live

There’s a lot of death metal at Rams Head Live on Saturday, headlined by one of the biggest names in the genre.

Embalmer at 3:50 – Embalmer is from Cleveland, Ohio, and plays gore obsessed death metal that fans of bands like Mortician and Impetigo will appreciate. In 1995 they released the excellent EP There Was Blood Everywhere and it wasn’t until after a long hiatus that they finally released a full length album, 13 Faces Of Death in 2006. Another lengthy hiatus ended when their second full length, Emanations from the Crypt, was finally released in 2016. This band seems to be very on again, off again so be sure to check them out at MDF while they’re still around, it might be another decade before you get another chance!

Necropsy at 4:45 – The Metal Archives lists 21 different bands with the name Necropsy, making this one of the most over used names in heavy metal. The version playing MDF XV is the one from Finland. They’re a death metal band that released several well received demos in the early 90s before dissolving only to reform earlier this decade. Part of me kind of hopes the guys from local band Noisem will join them on stage for a song, since they were once called Necropsy as well.

Exhumed at 7:50 – Exhumed is a death metal band from San Jose, California, that basically sounds like Carcass around the Necroticism era. Except faster, and with even more hooks. Look, I know there’s a lot of Carcass clones out there but these guys really do it best.

Exumer at 8:55 – I applaud the MDF organizers for hilariously putting Exumer after Exhumed. Despite the similar names the two bands don’t sound too much alike. Exumer is one of the old German thrash bands of the 80s. While never becoming as famous as German thrash contemporaries Kreator, Destruction and Sodom, they did put out some solid records in the late 80s. After disappearing like most thrash bands did when the grunge wave hit, they reformed about a decade ago and have continued to put out some solid thrash albums, including last year’s The Raging Tides.

Root at 10:05 – Root, formed in 1987 in the Czech Republic, is one of the original 1st wave black metal bands, predating the 2nd wave bands from Norway. They have moved to a clean vocal style but their vocalist, Big Boss, has a pretty incredible voice that has held up remarkably well considering he’s the sole original member still in the band. He’s also known for founding the Czech branch of the Church Of Satan. I’m not sure how better to describe them than maybe, they sound like what Ghost would probably sound like if they weren’t a gimmick band.

Grave at 11:15 – Lead by guitarist and vocalist Ola Lindgren, Grave is one of the last remaining of those early Swedish death metal bands (such as Entombed, Unleashed and Dismember) that is still active and has kept their old school “buzz saw” sound. There are many newer bands now that imitate this style, like Black Breath and Gatecreeper, but this is a rare chance to one of the originals of that old Swedish death metal sound perform live.

Morbid Angel at 12:25 – Morbid Angel is back at Maryland Deathfest but after the disaster that was Illud Divinum Insanus they’ve ejected David Vincent and once again added Steve Tucker to the band. They have stated that they will only be playing songs from the Steve Tucker era of the band, which are from the albums Formulas Fatal To The Flesh, Gateways to Annihilation and Heretic, although they have a new album on the horizon so hopefully we’ll hear some new songs too.

Saturday at Baltimore Soundstage

The Saturday schedule at Baltimore Soundstage is dominated by grind with the once in a lifetime chance to see Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Insect Warfare back to back.

Myxoma at 4:40 – Myxoma is a recently formed goregrind band. I don’t know a ton about them other than one of the Maryland Deathfest organizers, Evan Harting, is in the band, I would guess as the vocalist.

Meth Leppard at 8:00 – Meth Leppard is just like Def Leppard but on crystal meth! Ok not really, but they are a pretty sick grind band from Australia.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed at 10:45 – ANb is the spawn of Pig Destroyer guitarist Scott Hull. Their long awaited first live show ever was at Maryland Deathfest XIII and this year they’re back as part of Saturday night’s insane one-two punch of grindcore legends at Baltimore Soundstage. I mean seriously, ANb and Insect Warfare playing back to back? It doesn’t get much better than that for grind fans.

Insect Warfare at 11:50 – Closing out Saturday night at Baltimore Soundstage is one of the legends of grind, Insect Warfare, making a rare live appearance. Their only full length, World Extermination, was an instant classic and now that the band has stated that they will be breaking up soon this will be one of their final shows. You don’t want to miss the chance to see them headline this night! Still not convinced? Then check out our recent write up about IW here.

Sunday at Rams Head Live

Black metal seems to be the dominant style on Sunday at Rams Head Live, though doom legends Candlemass headline.

Encoffination at 3:00 – Sunday starts off at Rams Head with Encoffination, an Atlanta, Georgia, based death/doom band. Both members of this two piece are also in death metal band Father Befouled (who are playing the previous day at RHL).

October Tide at 4:45 – Swedish death/doom metal band October Tide once was a side project of Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse. The other founding member, Fredrik Norrman, ended up joining Katatonia and the band went on hiatus for a while. When Fredrik left Katatonia he reformed October Tide. Alexander Högbom is the vocalist now, who has also recently become the vocalist of Demonical. Despite having harsh vocals, it makes sense that October Tide would play on the same night as Candlemass so if you’re a Candlemass fan and not sure who else to check out on this day’s line up, don’t miss October Tide. Check out our recent review of their 2016 album Winged Waltz here.

Acheron at 6:45 – Often considered a black metal band, Acheron is really a death metal band that spawned from the infamous Tampa, Florida, death metal scene of the late 80s/early 90s, though they are now based out of Ohio. The band is lead by Vincent Crowley, a former reverend in the Church Of Satan. Acheron has stated that they will be playing their 1996 album Anti-God, Anti-Christ from start to finish at MDF and that they will be breaking up in 2018.

Oranssi Pazuzu at 8:55 – This is one of the bands I’m most excited to see this year at MDF. Oranssi Pazuzu is from Finland and have somehow created a psychedelic style of black metal that actually works incredibly well. The band has somehow managed to attract fans of both stoner metal and black metal to their very unique take on metal.

In The Woods… at 10:05 – In The Woods… is one of the first bands to call their music pagan metal. They began more black metal but over the years have shifted to more of a dark prog rock style. The Norwegian band is a spin off of Green Carnation.

Akercocke at 11:15 – Akercocke is from London, England, and haven’t put out an album since 2007. They recently became active again though so this is something of a return for the death metal band. They became known as the “satanists in suits” for wearing suits when performing live.

Candlemass at 12:25 – Swedish epic doom metal band Candlemass returns to MDF as the final band to perform this year. The band is fronted by the excellent Mats Levén these days and they will be performing their 1987 album Nightfall in its entirety at MDF. A bit of trivia: the classic album’s cover art is a painting by Thomas Cole from 1842 that is on permanent display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Sunday at Baltimore Soundstage

Grind, grind, grind closes out the final day of MDF XV at Baltimore Soundstage.

Genocide Pact at 4:40 – Washington DC’s own Genocide Pact plays Maryland Deathfest this year! These guys blend death, grind and crust very well and if you want to check out and support a local at MDF do not miss these guys! They have a new album due out soon so maybe we’ll get to hear some new material too.

Iron Lung at 10:45 – Iron Lung is a powerviolence band originally from Reno, Nevada though they have now relocated to Seattle, Washington. The band members also run Iron Lung Records which releases material by other grind and powerviolence bands as well. Their experimental style includes fast bursts typical of powerviolence along with some much slower, almost doom like segments.

Terrorizer at 11:50 – Terrorizer created one of the most influential grindcore albums of all time when they released World Downfall in 1989. They’ll be playing that album in its entirety when they headline Sunday night at the Baltimore Soundstage. It will be weird seeing Pete Sandoval drum for Terrorizer yet not play with Morbid Angel the night prior.

Review of The Wretched of the Earth by Sickdeer

Band: Sickdeer
Album: The Wretched of the Earth
Release Date: 20 March 2017
Buy on CD ($10) or as digital files ($7) from: Bandcamp

Cover of The Wretched of the Earth by Sickdeer

You may have seen locals Sickdeer as they play out a lot! They seem to be one of the openers on many DIY metal shows in DC. In case you haven’t seen them yet, they’re playing a show at Slash Run tomorrow night (details here). Today we’re running a review of their debut album The Wretched of the Earth that they released this spring. As you might expect, DCHM writer Tal has a lot to say about this album. Be sure to stream it at the bottom of this post while you read.

I was truly surprised to hear of a band like Sickdeer in the DMV area. Usually, haunting black metal seeping with atmosphere seems to come from some far-off, mysterious place, like Eastern Europe or Russia, or at least Washington state or Utah. How could the urbanized and urbane (and sludge-choked) DC metropolitan area spawn something so atmospheric?

However it happened, I’m not complaining. Well, not a lot, anyway. I do have to say that the band’s name didn’t exactly scream “atmospheric black metal,” so it may not be the most effective marketing tool. Same for the album cover – with the black and white design and the medieval font, it channels Venom’s Black Metal pretty hard.

Once they got me in the door, though, I was quickly won over. “Retracting Accusations,” the first song on The Wretched of the Earth, starts off with an acoustic bit at the beginning, which sounds like it could have some Middle Eastern or Spanish influence. It seduces the listener into the album before the black metal barrage kicks in. Sickdeer is a bit more uptempo than your typical ABM band (which tend to have a more doomy tempo) but I’m going to stick with the atmospheric tag because of the sorrowful, cascading riffs that underpin every song.

They also have a strong groove to their music, especially in the second song, “Pitiful Ego.” It starts out slow but relentlessly driving, impossible to resist bobbing your head along to – at a nice measured pace. And then it picks up from time to time, including a little jackhammer death metal interlude in the middle.

That’s not the only death metal-ish thing about this album. The vocals are mostly a guttural roar, more like death metal vocals, only sometimes going into a raspy scream more typical of black metal. The vocals do get just a tad monotonous, but they do provide a nice contrast to the moodier, prettier atmospheric riffage.

Despite its dispirited title, “The Wretched of the Earth” might actually be the most beautiful song on the album, with a drawn-out, doomy melody. It also has the only annoying vocals. It’s pretty hard to annoy me with black metal vocals — I’m a sucker for the dirtiest, snarliest, gargliest black metal vocals out there — but there’s a part in the middle which sounds like a yowling cat which I don’t enjoy. That may be the point, of course, since some metal bands make a point to be unpleasant to the ears. And it may be that I’ll get used to it, as I have to countless other types of, ahem, unusual metal vocals.

Based on the song titles (I can’t make out most of the lyrics) the lyrical themes of the album seem to be typical black/death metal subject matter – how despicable we all are (“Pitiful Ego,” “The Wretched of the Earth”), how fleeting and doomed our existence (“Sand to Dust,” “Awaiting the Trench”). No nature or fantasy themes here. No clean vocals or choirs either.

I wonder if the band set out to create an “atmospheric black metal” album, or that’s just what The Wretched of the Earth ended up sounding like. Either way, it’s still a great gift to our local metal scene – a mysterious far-away place to lose ourselves in when the DC traffic and politics get to be too much.

Decibel Metal And Beer Fest in Philadelphia

I don’t usually cover things outside of the DC area but I’ll make an exception for the Decibel Metal & Beer Fest held at the Fillmore Philadelphia on April 22nd and 23rd. Metal and beer are two of my favorite things and Decibel did a great job of bringing together some excellent bands along with some quality breweries with heavy metal ties for a weekend that was pretty damn fun overall. I’ve been a rather sick since the fest so I’m behind on getting this post up, but there was some cool stuff going on at this fest that I wanted to make sure got covered here even if it is going up a bit late.

I’d never been to the Fillmore in Philadelphia before but I quickly realized that it is much larger than our Fillmore in Silver Spring, maybe about double the size. The doors opened at 5pm each day and bands were still setting up their merch booths as the doors opened. Things were a little disorganized, but considering this was the first fest of its kind it wasn’t that bad. One of Mikkeller‘s beers didn’t show up until the second day and the venue ran out of the small plastic beer sampling glasses rather quickly on the first day which lead to most people getting cups from the bar. Overall those weren’t major issues though and it was a lot of fun talking to the people that work for the various breweries about their beer and metal bands they are into.

Atlas Brew Works at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

Atlas Brew Works representing DC

There were 17 breweries at the festival and each had a booth with at least two beers being poured. The booths were mostly on the ground floor lining the walls in the main concert room, however there were 4 upstairs and 3 in the main entry room, including the massive Unibroue booth. Along with the band merch and beer booths there were a few other merch vendors in the main entry room. Despite being in Philly, between all my beer friends and metal friends I felt like I kept running into someone whichever way I turned all weekend.

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth

Dave Mustaine pouring the A Tout Le Monde beer

The festival did a really good job of actually blending a metal fest with a beer fest. This wasn’t just a metal show with some beer vendors, or a beer fest with some metal bands playing. Decibel managed to bring together metal bands with ties to craft beer with breweries with ties to heavy metal. Burnt Hickory had a beer tap that looked like an Orange amp rig. Trve Brewing and Hammerheart Brewing both had brewers in bands that performed at the fest (Khemmis and Panopticon, respectively). Dave Mustaine was there on Saturday to pour samples of the Megadeth beer A Tout Le Monde at the Unibroue booth, he was certainly getting A-list celebrity treatment. I found Dan Lilker (of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, and a ton of other bands over the years) pouring beer at the Mikkeller booth and taking photos with any fans that wanted one. I talked to him a bit and it turns out he’s really into craft beer and even knows some of the guys at the Danish brewery Mikkeller, which is how he ended up manning their booth. At one point I saw Municipal Waste drummer and craft beer connoisseur Dave Witte at the Cigar City Brewing booth, where the Municipal Waste beer Divine Blasphemer was being poured. And Richard Christy (of Death, Iced Earth and also the Howard Stern Show) was seen sipping the Charred Walls Of The Damned beer from Burnt Hickory.

Dan Lilker at the Mikkeller booth

Dan Lilker at the Mikkeller booth

And let’s not forget about the awesome bands! There was a wide range of metal in the line up. Grindcore, stoner, thrash, death metal, black metal, doom, the focus was certainly on the more underground sub genres. On the first day of the festival I was most excited to see Panopticon. Austin Lunn is the mastermind behind Panopticon and also a brewer at Hammerheart Brewing in Minnesota. Despite forming about 10 years ago, the band has only recently starting performing live. Their first live show ever was last summer at Migration Fest. This is because Panopticon is a one man band in studio and Austin gets other people to fill out the band for live shows. Panopticon is known for mixing black metal with Appalachian folk to create a truly unique sound, sometimes called “blackgrass” as a hybrid between bluegrass and black metal. Unfortunately they didn’t use a banjo live, and their mix wasn’t always great, but it was still pretty awesome getting to see Panopticon live as they have some very powerful and moving songs. I also found Austin’s Hammerheart brewery to be one of my favorites at the fest. They specialize in smoked beer (which is a personal favorite style of mine) and their rauchbier was my favorite beer of the entire fest. Apparently Austin apprenticed at a brewery in Norway for a while and upon returning to the US he moved from Kentucky to Minnesota to start Hammerheart Brewing. The brewery’s name is no coincidence, it is in fact named after the 1993 Bathory album.

Panopticon performing their song Black Soot And Red Blood at the Decibel Metal & Beer Fest!

A post shared by Metal Chris (@dcmetalchris) on

Immolation also played an intense set on Saturday, as they are typically known for. They may not do a lot on stage besides stand there and play their instruments but they do get people going with those crazy riffs. I thought I would see a lot more crowd surfers during Municipal Waste’s set. They were fun as always but I guess the fans were holding back because they went nuts for the night’s headliner. Agoraphobic Nosebleed headlined the first day with a great set. I wish Jay Randall had been there to perform with them, but the band still put on a great show and even played one of their sludgy songs from the Arc EP, “Not A Daughter.” As usual the Chicken Man was there leading the moshing and even got a shout out from ANb.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

Agoraphobic Nosebleed at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

On the second day my favorite performance was probably Khemmis. The Denver based doom metal band put out one hell of an album in Hunted last year and I had yet to see them perform live. Their drummer, Zach Coleman, is also a brewer at the black metal themed Trve Brewing in Denver so their inclusion on the fest’s line up seemed like a no brainer. I had actually met Zach a few weeks before at my own metal show at Atlas Brew Works, and as fate would have it Trve’s booth was next to Atlas’s booth. Trve is best known for making excellent sour beers, though they only brought one sour to the fest, along with their Sleep inspired Nazareth IPA. Trve’s beers are very hard to come by on the East Coast, so this was a great opportunity to get your hands on some.

Zach Coleman of Trve Brewing and Khemmis

Zach Coleman at the Trve Brewing booth

Sleep headlined the final day of the Metal & Beer Fest and they put on a great show as always. Time seems to have no meaning when Sleep is playing live and although they didn’t play any parts of the song “Dopesmoker” like they usually do, they did play some rarities like “The Clarity” single they released on Adult Swim a few years back and “Sonic Titan,” the other song on the original release of Dopesmoker. Pig Destroyer was another highlight of Sunday’s line up. Their lighting was low and there was a lot of fog, less than optimal conditions for photography, but don’t let that make you think their set was anything but intense. They even brought out Dag Nasty vocalist Shawn Brown to perform with them when they covered the Void song, “Who Are You.”

Sleep at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

Sleep at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

Sleep at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

In all the weekend was pretty great! Almost all the best metal related breweries were there, like Burial, Three Floyds, Trve, Holy Mountain and DC’s own Atlas. The only breweries I felt really should have been there but weren’t were Jester King from Austin and Oliver Ales from Baltimore. While Hammerheart’s Weltenwanderer rauschbier was my favorite beer of the weekend, there were other standouts as well such as Wigsplitter coffee stout from 3 Floyds, Ritualknife black braggot from Burial (a collab with Trve), Charred Walls Of The Damned Belgian quad cinnamon apple pie variant from Burnt Hickory, Twisted Doom New England style IPA from 18th Street and Cursed sour pale ale from Trve. I think the best brewery of the event has to go to Burnt Hickory from Kennesaw, Georgia. They were totally in the spirit with their Orange amp rig beer tap as well as bringing by far the most beers of any brewery to the event, including several rare variants of Charred Walls Of The Damned. I hope Decibel does this event again next year and I really hope more breweries get as into it as Burnt Hickory did!

Burnt Hickory Brewery's Orange beer tap

Burnt Hickory Brewery’s Orange beer tap

Thanks for reading to the end of my post. I had some help covering things in Philly from Metal Nick so be sure to check out more of his videos from this fest (and many, many other concerts) on his YouTube page here and more of his photos on his Flickr page here. Maryland Deathfest XV is just around the corner so stay tuned for our coverage leading up to our favorite local metal festival!

Review of 飞狐 / Dilemma. Revenge. Snow. by Demogorgon

Band: Demogorgon
Album: 飛狐 / Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.
Release Date: 31 October 2016
Record Label: Pest Productions
Buy on CD ($9.99) or digital ($5) from: Bandcamp

Cover of Dilemma. Revenge. Snow. by Demogorgon

As 2016 comes to a close you’ve probably seen countless end of year lists of albums, often listing many of the same popular releases. We don’t like ranking music here at DCHM (our album reviews aren’t given a score for this reason as well) so at the end of the year I always give my album review writers the chance to pick an album of their choice from the year that they feel deserves more attention than it received. It doesn’t have to be a local band, and in fact this year they have both chosen bands from outside the US. First up is DCHM writer Tal’s in depth review of the debut release by a new black metal band in China. Be sure to stream the track at the end of the post to give it a listen while you read and stay tuned for our next end of year album review post coming up shortly.

I am once again enthralled by the literary theme of an atmospheric black metal band – this time Demogorgon, a project of members from established Chinese black metal bands Zuriaake (atmospheric black metal), HolyArrow (epic black metal) and Destruction of Redemption (primitive black metal) as well as the eponymous Demogorgon, a major figure in the Chinese metal scene as one of the founders of the magazines Extreme Music (《极端音乐》) and Dragonland Music (《金属乐界》).

These metal masterminds teamed up to produce a short debut based on the martial arts novel Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain (《雪山飞狐》) by one of the founding fathers of the modern martial arts novel, Jin Yong (金庸). I actually started reading Flying Fox, in Chinese, over the summer, but didn’t finish it yet. Still, the context of an exciting, bloody and yet romanticized story set in the world of wuxia (武侠, the martial hero) immediately caught my interest and made this musical work richer for me.

This release contains only two tracks, although it still clocks in at about 25 minutes total. The first song is called “飞狐” (“Flying Fox”) in Chinese and “Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.” in English — I figure this is because non-Chinese speakers may not know the significance of Flying Fox or be able to understand the lyrics, so the English title gives them an idea of the themes of the song. The song is 14 minutes long, in fine atmospheric black metal form. It has four distinct sections, which are so clearly separated that they might as well be individual songs.

The first section introduces the setting and the story with all the gradual buildup of a movie soundtrack. It starts with a few martial horns blaring and isolated drumbeats, and then distorted guitar notes like thickly falling snow with a dreamlike sad melody floating above. Then it launches into chugging atmospheric guitars, drumming with an irresistible marching rhythm and harsh screams. A duet of clean, solemn vocals poetically describe the desolate wintry landscape:

A cold night with few stars
Shadows vanish and voices retreat
Floating clouds sink away
The white moon is silent and bright
The frosted river, cold and lonely
The mountain forest stands desolate and solemn
Icy peaks like white cranes

The verse ends proclaiming the entrance of the hero: “Through the snow flies the fox!”

The second verse describes the lonely life of the wandering, vengeful martial hero in the same style:

Vengeance spanning generations
Half a lifetime spent wandering alone
Grass and trees flourish and decline
The swan geese fly away and return
A deserted village listens to the rain
I’m alone with my sorrow

The verse ends with an octave jump on the last word, followed by wordless singing in a higher, more emotional register – where before the vocals were solemn, now they give voice to the hero’s loneliness.

Around four and a half minutes, the second section begins, as the chugging guitars abruptly fade out and are replaced by synthesized reed and string instruments, whose long, clear and melancholy notes evoke vast snowy expanses. The harsh vocals that start a minute later sound like the howling of a blizzard. Distorted guitar notes blend discordantly with the vocals, adding to the impression of being lost in a storm.

This time the vocals are conveyed in a harsh, half-drowned scream, once again describing the solitary life of the martial hero:

A free spirit all my life
A wandering swordsman
Used to favor and vengeance
Drawn sword whistling through late autumn

This is followed by a Summoning-like bridge with distorted guitar arpeggios and a gentle keyboard that’s more counterpoint than melody. When the vocals start up again, the vocalist’s extended screams and the vistas of nature evoked by the music make the human feelings in the lyrics epic-sized:

Love and hate are so difficult to lay down
I dream of joy and sadness
And my tears fall in solitude

Just before the nine minute mark, the third section begins with ominous, brassy and discordant notes, like horns sounding before a battle, but in a gloomy key. A repeated clean guitar arpeggio adds to the sense of anticipation before the song plunges into an avalanche of distorted guitar backed by percussion like the clashing of swords and overlaid with harsh screams. The vocals are slightly different again, the screams higher and more desperate-sounding, and the driving, repetitive guitar arpeggio evokes a relentless onslaught of blows. Obviously, this section describes combat, specifically the hero’s prowess:

Blade like sudden thunder
Imposing as the mighty heavens
The vigor of my sword sweeps through the cold sky
The mountains shake with the tiger’s roar
My jade disc travels as a fierce dragon

Then, without relenting its musical onslaught or distraught vocals, the song reverts back to describing the hero’s loneliness and sorrow:

Cherishing
The icy heart of the orchid
Sighing
At the hurried moment of joy and love
Turning my head to look back
The lonely stars weep
A sad moon rises

Then, while the martial drumming, battering distorted guitar and even the harsh screams continue, the solemn duet from the beginning of the song returns for a final sorrowful verse, reprising lyrics from earlier:

The lonely stars weep
A sad moon rises
I dream of joy and sadness
And my tears fall in solitude

In the fourth section, the last 30 seconds of the song is filled with the mournful reed and strings from the start of the second section, as though snow blankets the landscape in the aftermath of battle, and the tragic story fades into memory.

The second track, “悲月 / Sadness Moon,” is very different in style, belonging to the genre of dungeon synth rather than atmospheric black metal. Dungeon synth is a genre of synthesized music that has a medieval feel. This particular track also has a somber, mournful feel at first, as befitting the title. It starts out dominated by long, low tones of synthesized pipe organ. Eventually, resounding drumbeats and a synthesized choir and strings join in, and then a synthesized reed instrument plays a dreamy but lonesome melody similar to the one that opened the album. The second half of the track has a grander and more martial feel, with a marching rhythm, but the final organ tones close the album on a solemn note.

The album purports to “vividly depict the vast lands of northern China” and to evoke the jianghu (江湖, the quasi-outlaw society of martial artists in ancient times). I think it succeeds in creating a certain impression of these concepts, anyway. Both the white-noisey sound of distorted guitar and the solemn or melancholy clean parts lend themselves well to describing desolate, snowy landscapes. This impression is heightened if you watch the lyric video for “Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.” where you can actually see the mountain scenery (in the form of a traditional Chinese painting) as the song unfolds. The jianghu described by Demogorgon, meanwhile, is a solitary existence full of loneliness, longing for lost love, obsession with vengeance, and epic-sized violence – ideas conveyed both by the lyrics and the sorrowful or martial sound of the music. These are not the only or the most important features of the jianghu of Chinese martial arts novels, however – loyalty and seeking after justice are a few others that come to mind – but they are the qualities conveyed by Demogorgon’s work.

That’s not to say I don’t like it, though. Sad atmospheric music is exactly the kind I enjoy, and if it has an epic story tied to it, so much the better. The harsh and distorted nature of atmospheric black metal means that non-metalhead fans of Chinese martial arts novels may not be able to get into the album, or the first track anyway, but by contrast, one does not need to be a fan or knowledgeable about Flying Fox or martial arts novels to enjoy the music as a metalhead. The brooding mood and solemn vocals remind me a bit of Caladan Brood, so fans of that sort of music would probably enjoy the first track, “Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.” The second track, “Sadness Moon,” is not as strong or memorable in my opinion, but then again I’m a bigger fan of atmospheric black metal than of dungeon synth. In any case, the first track is diverse and epic enough to be worth four songs, and a must-hear for 2016 in atmospheric black metal.

飛狐 / Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.:

Interview with Abbath

On Tuesday, March 8th of 2016, I was given the chance to interview the legendary Norwegian black metal musician Abbath to help promote his upcoming show in Baltimore. We covered that and so much more in this over 14 minute long interview. Despite his grim appearance he is actually a quite humorous person, though the interview is rather, dare I say, touching, at points. I have been sick all week and my voice is rather flat in much of this interview, but I think the questions were strong enough for you all to get a better idea of the man behind the corpse paint. You can stream the interview below by clicking the orange play button, or you can download it as a 32.63mb mp3 for free here and of course you can read the full transcription below (my words are in bold).

Photo of Abbath by Ester Segarra

Photo of Abbath by Ester Segarra

This is Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com and today I’m speaking with Abbath via Skype all the way from his kingdom cold in Norway. Abbath is probably best known for his time in the Norwegian black metal band Immortal but in January he released an eponymous solo album on Season Of Mist records. Abbath, the band, will be headlining the Decibel Tour with High On Fire, Skeletonwitch and Tribulation also performing. The tour kicks off on St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17th at the Baltimore Soundstage [tickets available here]. Now to get things started here, am I pronouncing your name correctly?

It’s Abbath [Ah-Baht].

So where exactly did you get the name from? How did you choose the name?

I didn’t choose it, the name chose me. It just appeared in my head.

So what kind of set can fans expect on this tour? Will you be performing any songs from your past bands or all new material?

Not my past bands but my past band, yeah, Immortal, yeah. We’re also going to play a song from the I album, Between Two Worlds album. Yeah and there’s going to be like maybe four Immortal songs and one I song and the rest is going to be new songs.

Now American Gabe Seeber has joined your band as Creature the drummer. How did you find him and how did he end up joining Abbath?

The mighty Creature Gabe yeah. We met this guy in Australia, Brisbane was it? He was an excellent drummer and after the tour Kevin [Foley, original Abbath drummer] left and this guys he told us about Gabriel and he’s just fantastic. He’s just amazing you know. I’m going to meet him in a couple days and [I] can’t wait to do another tour with him you know. He’s the best you know, he’s just amazing and young as well you know. 25 years old and what a fucking talent he is. The best drummer I’ve ever played with. Him and Kevin. I was devastated losing Kevin [but now we] have a kind of a second shot with Gabe.

So the new album has been really well received by fans. What vision did you have for it when you started putting it together and do you think you captured that vision?

It was the carrion call you know? And I was very fortunate to have this great lyricist called Simon Dancaster, who also participated in the early days, who also participated in writing some of the lyrics on Blizzard Beasts. I met him by accident. I haven’t seen him for years and he came to my friend Tore [Bratseth]’s birthday party. Tore from Bömbers my Motörhead tribute band. And we just started working from there you know? I had all these songs, music working and I had these themes and ideas and we just worked around from there.

So what do you think makes Abbath different than Immortal?

Well it’s still my music you know but it’s a different band and it’s different musicians, different lyrics, but it’s still the music you know as it were with Immortal. So it’s just a continuance of myself.

So do you think you’ll ever possibly rejoin Immortal at some point?

Um… I don’t know, you know. I, I, you know, eh… Never say never they say but I don’t, I don’t uh… It’s not a time to think about that right now.

OK so in 2006 you had a band simply called I that also had [Abbath bass player] King Ov Hell in the line up. Is Abbath the band something of a continuation of I do you think or do you see it as a separate entity with its own musical direction?

No I mean it’s still my music. It’s just a continuance of my music and with I, I have more old school heavy metal elements, rock and roll, heavy metal elements put into it. I just sit down and make the music I feel like making and if it works for me, it works.

In November of 2015 there was an Old Funeral reunion performance in Bergen, Norway. Is there any chance that another possible Old Funeral show will happen or even new Old Funeral music?

No that was the last Old Funeral performance ever. If I’m ever going to continue it it’s going to be New Funeral. Hahahaha.

What made you decide to go in the direction of black metal instead of a more death metal sound which was definitely more popular in the underground at that time?

No I never, I never follow what’s popular you know. I just do what I like you know. If I wanna do a fucking pop album I’ll do a fucking pop album. That’s simple as that.

Haha.

If I want to do a disco album I’ll do a fucking disco album, it’s as simple as that. I don’t care what’s popular or not out there. I just follow my gut feeling and heart feeling and just make the music I feel like making. That’s what it is you know. Music to me is freedom. It’s the freedom of expression. It’s just me, you know. Maybe I don’t write the lyrics myself but I’m part of it. The music is mine. I make the music and I find the right people to write the lyrics with me. It’s simple as that. It’s just rock and roll isn’t it? Really?

Heh heh. So what is the definition of black metal to you then?

Lay down your souls to the gods rock and roll! Just uh, you know, Venom. Black metal to me is Venom. 1982.

Do you think black metal should just be about the music itself or do you think religious, theistic and political beliefs have a place in it as well? And do you think fans of black metal need to share similar beliefs with the bands they support? For example, can you be a devout Christian that is also a fan of black metal?

You know black metal is, it’s supposed to be rock and roll. It’s the Devil’s music. It’s about freedom and it’s about, fuck off to those who would tell you what to fucking do or whatever the fuck it’s just, be your own god. Work your own mysterious ways. Believe in yourself and have a kick ass fucking time. Bang your fucking head. Be cool, hahaha. It’s rock and roll, yeah, that’s what it is. Without rock and roll you know, without Buddy Holly there would never be a fucking Venom or a Motörhead. It’s just you know, raise your fist and kill.

In March of 2000 I saw Immortal on tour with Satyricon, Angelcorpse and Krisiun in Wheaton, Maryland at a place called Phantasmagoria. I remember seeing you breathe fire on stage and leaving giant black marks on the ceiling and I’d never seen a black metal band put on a show like you guys did that night. You guys really blew me away and I became an instant fan and a couple months ago Satyr of Satyricon, he made some comments in an interview [here] about that tour and he said he disliked playing small bars and clubs in the Midwest on that tour. Do you remember anything about that tour and was it really that bad?

We were touring around the States. We did some shows on the West Coast and we did a couple of shows, we just jumped on the Satyricon tour. We were sharing a van with the Brazilian guys Krisiun. The mighty brothers of Krisiun. And [I] remember Alex [Camargo, bass and vocals for Krisiun] one of his favorite albums, Battles In The North hahaha. And uh we just jumped on the tour, the Satyricon tour, they had their own bus and Angelcorpse they had their van. And I remember, it was alright. It was Satyricon’s gig you know. We didn’t get a sound check or anything but we delivered you know. The show must go on always, whatever. The last show, we’ve been touring a month in Europe and it’s been great and everything. We’ve had a sound check every night and the last show on this tour, Blastfest, we didn’t get a sound check and the sound on stage was horrible but fortunately we know how to play. We didn’t hear jack shit up there. [Abbath makes a lawn mower sound]

Well the Baltimore Soundstage where you’ll be playing on Thursday the 17th, they actually have really good sound. They’re one of the better sounding venues in Baltimore so hopefully that won’t be a problem.

Baltimore, yeah yeah. I’m flying over with my tour manager Steve on Sunday and we fly to Philly to have a couple days of rehearsal there because our bass player is not able to come over so we’re gonna play with another bass player over there.

Oh who’s going to be playing bass on this tour?

Uhh… I don’t remember his name but he’s a friend of Gabe’s and he’s alright.

Abbath performing with Immortal at Sonar in 2011

Abbath performing with Immortal at Sonar in 2011

The last time you performed in Baltimore was when Immortal played at Sonar in February of 2011.

I remember that one, yeah.

Yeah I remember someone threw a bottle on stage during “Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms” [video here] and I remember you stopped the show and got really mad and yelled at the guy. Did you ever find the guy or anything? Did you ever find out who did that?

No I didn’t.

Do you remember anything else from that show? It was with Absu I believe was the opener.

Yeah Absu yeah. Absulutely! Hahahaha. Uh… that show was alright wasn’t it?

It was a great show, yeah.

Yeah. You never know who’s in the fucking audience. It’s like, that’s a part of the battle isn’t it? It’s the front line, you never know who’s going to show up, what’s going to fucking happen. We were supposed to play in Bataclan [the concert hall in Paris, France, where terrorists killed 90 people while the Eagles Of Death Metal performed there on 13 November 2015]. You know Motörhead was supposed to play there a couple days after that massacre you know. It could have been us, it could have been Motör[head]. You never know but the show must go on. You have to go up there because, it’s your life it’s what you want to do you know. It’s just rock and roll and if that’s what’s going to fucking kill you, alright. So if someone throws a bottle, you know, I’m not fucking Axel Rose alright?

Now you were in a Motörhead cover band called Bömbers for a while and I was curious what kind of effect Lemmy [Kilmister, bass and vocals of Motörhead] had on you musically and how did his passing last December affect you. Did you ever get a chance to meet him?

Yeah several times. What a fucking gentleman he was, yeah. Him and Ronnie Dio, coolest guys I’ve ever met. I love my father but fuckin’ hell those were my fathers too ya know. And [it was] just devastating. It was… I still can’t believe they’re gone ya know. Fuckin’ hell. Me and King you know we went to Greece… a couple days ago we came home recently from Greece finishing the video for “Winterbane” and I bought this Metal Hammer special. I mean I had like a five hour wait in [the] Copenhagen airport and [the] Metal Hammer special, Lemmy special and I just sat… there in the bar reading it and, and uh… you know I… I got this lump in my throat and it just… it just, you know… devastating. He was like a father to us in many ways. Lemmy… he was the best. He was the coolest. He was everything. So where do we go from here you know, yeah. Carry on. Carry fucking on. Rock and roll. Yeah.

Lords Of Chaos movie poster

Lords Of Chaos movie poster

So what do you think about this Lords Of Chaos movie [based on the book Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind] that is in pre-production right now? Do you know if you will be portrayed in the movie or have you been consulted about it in any way?

Really? I didn’t know, I didn’t know about that.

Apparently it’s not a documentary it’s going to be an actual movie with a script and everything.

Oh yeah, oh yeah.

I think Ridley Scott has attached his name to it, the famous director. I think he’s producing it or he’s somehow tied to it.

Ridley Scott? You’re talking about the Alien director?

Yep. Yeah I don’t think he’s directing it I think he’s like the producer or something like that. He’s been attached to it. I saw his name attached to it [here].

Yesterday in fact I saw this movie with my girlfriend called The Martian [that is directed by Ridley Scott].

Yeah, yeah. The one where they go to Mars and he’s a scientist trying to stay alive.

Yeah, yeah. And there’s a Norwegian actor in that called Aksel Hennie and that was fucking great I mean, Ridley Scott? Wow. It better be good then! Hahaha.

Hahaha. I mean it’s probably a couple years away still or at least a year I would think but I was just curious if you’d heard anything about it.

Whatever, we’ll see! Hahaha.

Now there’s a brewery in Austin, Texas called Jester King that names some of their beers after different heavy metal subgenres and they make a stout named Black Metal and the drawing in the label is a guy that wears corpse paint and he looks pretty similar to you. Have you ever tried that beer and do you like it?

Jester King's Black Metal beer label

Jester King’s Black Metal beer label

Never heard of it, I probably don’t like it. Hahaha.

Do you like craft beer at all? Do you ever drink the micro brews or anything?

I like this… Ringnes!

That’s something we don’t have over here.

This is what I drink mostly. It’s a good Norwegian beer.

Well 1349, they’ve had a couple beers come out with their name on it like official 1349 beers. Do you think there will ever be like an Abbath Ale?

Abbath Ale? Hahaha. I just did a tour with Behemoth recently and they had a couple of beers they wanted me to try. They were actually good, yeah. Pretty good. Yeah. Everybody is doing that now. Nobody sells records so they gotta fucking sell something. Hahaha.

Well thanks so much for your time Abbath. Is there anything else you’d like to tell your fans before your tour starts here on March 17th at the Baltimore Soundstage?

Die hard! …please come to our show. Hahaha. We’re gonna do our damnedest! Yeah. I can’t wait, I can’t wait. Fucking hell.

Awesome.

I’m looking forward to it, yeah.

I’m really excited it should be a great show.

Thank you Metal Chris!

Alright have a good one man and have a good flight over here on Sunday.

Thank you sir.

Alright, take it easy.

You too.