Blood War: KC Blackdeath Fest in Kansas City, MO 04/17 – 04/18
It’s rare enough to find a couple of people in the Bible Belt who share an interest in extreme music, but a festival full of them? That’s unheard of. This is Missouri – this is the Midwest. We’re all about country music and gospel hymns, right? The first annual KC Blackdeath Fest changed all that over the span of two days. Friday, the 17th, and Saturday, the 18th, brought together a formidable group of underground extreme metal bands and a passionate crowd of fans in a way that hasn’t been done in Kansas City in quite some time, if ever.
The first band of the festival, on the Riot Room’s outdoor stage, was local black metallers Nefirum. Combining the intensity of Marduk and the melodies of Immortal, Nefirum have fast risen to the top of the local metal scene in Kansas City – and for good reason. It’s hard to believe a group that makes such refreshing and heavy music can be considered a local band for this scene. Watch out for them to blow up very, very soon.
Getting straight to the point, Nebraska’s Garoted ended up being one of the heaviest band of the entire festival, despite having two guitar players and no bass. Their brand of death metal hardly needs it, however, because it barely lets off the gas pedal at all. Garoted is basically just riffs piled upon riffs and their set was brilliant chaos all around.
Kansas City mainstays Marasmus took the outside stage in a stripped-down fashion – only having vocals, guitar and drums – but still put on a wonderfully heavy death metal set. With a set comprising mostly of brand new songs, the band also threw in a few oldies. The lightspeed, whirlwind riffing on “Syphilitic” gave a whole new meaning to speed, and the crushing chugging riffs of the stone-cold classic “Shut The Fuck Up And Die” ended Marasmus’ set with everyone wanting more.
The first out-of-town band making their debut Kansas City appearance on the inside stage was Chicago’s Fin – a two-piece black metal group that ended up being one of the highlights of the entire festival. Just guitars and drums, the shrieked vocals and the non-stop guitar riffs created the perfect black metal sound and was an intensely intimate performance. Fin is one of the greatest black metal acts ever to grace the Riot Room.
On the outside stage, another hidden gem was about to start their set. Impaled Offering from New Mexico played a fun blend of death metal and grindcore that had too many memorable riffs and moments from their set to even count. At one point, the vocalist for the group jumped off the stage to join in on the moshpit while the band continued onstage. Impaled Offering definitely knows how to keep their brand of deathgrind fresh and it ended up being another highlight of the festival.
One of Kansas City’s best-kept secrets, Stonehaven brought their brand of black and viking metal to the inside stage and captivated the rabid audience. Transitioning effortlessly between classic, old-school black metal and the marching cadence of viking metal (a la Windir and Mithotyn), Stonehaven put on another classic performance. Clad in animal furs and corpsepaint, the music barely let up for even a moment and was intensely fierce in its delivery.
For one of the more unique sets of the entire weekend, Milwaukee’s Sacrificial Massacre took the stage outside and began a ritual consisting of nothing but a drum beat, burning incense and animals skulls lining the stage. Once completed, the two-piece launched into a suffocatingly dense black metal set that had the atmosphere reminiscent of other groups such as Deiphago and Black Witchery. Extremity personified.
A group for more than two decades, Nebraska’s Ezra launched into a blistering set on the inside stage that showed off their chops as a death/thrash band with tinges of Destroyer 666-esque blackened thrash. After a long day of death and black metal, a little bit of thrash was the breath of fresh air to pick the crowd back up. After their set, local legends Unmerciful put on a typical set from them (that is – unmatched heaviness and brutality) to close out the first night of the festival.
Kansas City heavy metal maniacs Vanlade opened day 2 of the Blackdeath Fest – despite being neither black nor death. Discuss amongst yourselves. Luckily for the crowd, Vanlade’s technical prowess and knack for writing insanely catchy, headbanging tunes won over even the grimmest of black metal fans. Although they may have been extremely out of place on this extreme metal festival, their classic brand of heavy metal went over extremely well.
Taking more than a few cues from Napalm Death and Nasum, Wichita’s Knifewound opened the outside stage of the Riot Room on day 2 with a short and fast grindcore set. With most songs coming in around (or under) one minute, Knifewound blazed through a set that ended up being too short – their brand of grindcore was refreshingly heavy. Hopefully we’ll see much more of them this year in Kansas City.
There must be something in the water in Nebraska – the black metal created there has to be the most sonically unforgiving, riff-filled chaos ever created – as evidenced by Verräter‘s insane set. Sounding like something straight out of the French black metal underground in the 90s, Verräter was full of riffs and speed but have an underlying melody that creates a haunting undertone to their chaotic sound. A fantastic performance from the band.
Another group that featured heavy atmospheric effects, Ritual Decay performed on the outside stage with enough smoke machines to make it look like the Riot Room was burning to the ground. Complete with spikes, leather, bullet belts and corpsepaint, Ritual Decay performed their brand of bestial, no-frills black metal while the smoke and animal skulls adorning the stage dominated all of the senses. At one point, the vocalist lit some torches beneath his microphone and was constantly sticking his hand into the fire – maybe to induce the inhuman screams needed for this kind of music? Extremely haunting, extremely heavy and extremely memorable.
One of my personal picks for best band of the festival, Los Angeles-based Conjuror combined all different types of extreme metal and put on one of the most unique performances I’ve ever seen. A black metal band at the core, the group also combined elements of melodic black metal, viking metal and a few other genres and the result was the intensity and extremity of black metal and the melody and vocal delivery of so many other styles. Hopefully they’ll be back very soon with a longer set.
I was not prepared for Vickers. More of a harsh noise band than any sort of extreme metal, the three-piece from Nebraska began their set by burning human hair and performing on what looked like an axe (the actual thing, not a guitar) that had some strings attached to it to make for a cacophony of noise and a drummer providing blastbeats while the vocalist, clad in a white outfit reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange hopped around the stage and provided his guttural vocals over the top of all the noise. It was a sight you had to be there to believe and no description will ever give it justice, but it was amazing.
Gravespawn took the inside stage next. Originally from Kansas City many years ago, the black metal group relocated to Los Angeles and brought their brand of black metal back with them. A bit more on the melodic side than the rest of this lineup, Gravespawn could still get heavy and fast just like the rest of them. With fantastic black metal shrieked vocals, the band ripped through their set full of black metal influences from every era of the genres existence. A very good set from them.
To close out the outdoor stage was Deathcult, and there couldn’t have been a more perfect choice. A blackened death/thrash band, Deathcult perhaps had the heaviest riffs of the entire festival. The guitarist was wearing a Cianide shirt and it was easy to spot the influence in their music. Their riffing and the drum beats never accelerated to a point where they dominated the music, instead letting the mid-paced beats of the songs take over, creating the perfect music to headbang to. As the last band on the outside stage at the festival, it was near-perfect!
The title of “Most Violent Band At KC Blackdeath Fest 2015″ is a no-brainer: it’s Ritual Combat. Another group with so much smoke bellowing out during their set you could barely see the stage, the black metal group from California was the definition of aggression. Non-stop blastbeats on the drums, non-stop grinding guitar and bass riffs and non-stop insanity from their vocalist who was routinely pushing the crowd and screaming right into their faces. It was an exercise in extremity in an already extreme metal environment and was breathtakingly heavy.
The only way to follow up an intense Ritual Combat set would have to be with the atmospheric black metal stylings of Colorado’s Wayfarer. A much more melodic approach towards black metal with an emphasis on atmospherics, Wayfarer fared well against the onslaught of more raw and brutal bands. Their new album, Children of the Iron Age, was represented well with set opener “The Earth Only Endures” and closer “Forests Ash By Dawn,” along with a brand new song in-between them. Combining the best of Alcest and Agalloch with the heaviness of Leviathan and the melodies of Woods of Ypres, Wayfarer hit on so many black metal styles that everyone can find something to love. After their set, underground extreme black metal group Strix Nebulosa closed down the first ever KC Blackdeath Fest.
For the price of the festival, the quality of the bands and the reaction of the crowd, this honestly is one of the best music festivals I, personally, have been to. And I say that as someone who goes to Maryland Deathfest every year. It’s all too easy to book a touring band, cram the lineup full of 14 local bands and call it a festival, or combine two tours together in one city and slap the “festival” tag on it, but luckily Kansas City now has an extreme festival with heart and passion that will hopefully continue on for many years. The quality of the out-of-town bands matched with the amazing local Kansas City bands was nothing short of perfection. KC Blackdeath Fest 2015 was a success and hopefully 2016′s will be bigger and better.