Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oasis de Satanás, in which a black metal festival is held in a Latin disco

Saturday, Dec. 15, I went to a black metal festival hosted by Maryland Infernal Horde at El Oasis in Baltimore, Md. Metal shows are not that hard to find in the mid-Atlantic from month to month, but ones devoted to metal's most extreme and controversial subgenre are a rarity. If you follow Metallomusikum at all, you know I am all about black metal, so I could not miss “Satan’s Unholy Abomination Fest.”

Black metal, by definition, is grim and hopeless. Its themes are dark, malevolent and unholy. But among this subgenre, there are sub-subgenres that focus on pagan ideas, metaphysics and nature. I like all kinds of black metal. I also like to have a good time, so I was really hoping this show would deliver everything I was looking for. I was not disappointed.

Before I get into the particulars of what went down at the festival, I want to commend and congratulate the main promoters -- Chucky Malignant, Manuel Lopez and Hondurator (and many other unseen people) -- for executing what turned out to be an amazing event. The diverse and international mix of bands  as well as the size and location of the venue, the reasonable cost ($20 at the door for 12 bands) and the addition of add-ons like a nice vendor area and proximity to restaurants and other conveniences made this day really enjoyable. It was a long, LONG day to be sure, but overall I had many more compliments than complaints.

I arrived at El Oasis at 3913 Eastern Ave (in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore) a little bit after 1 p.m. A few weeks ago, the organizers had to move this event from a smaller location in Silver Spring, and I am really glad they did. El Oasis is generally a Latin disco, so they have a decent sound system and lots of lighting. The long bar has seating and there are tables and chairs and bar stools all around, so if you get tired of head banging, you can find a comfy place to perch and still see and hear everything.

I parked my car right next to the venue in a lot. I don’t know if that is El Oasis’ lot or not, but no one seemed to be bothered that people were parking there. There was also plenty of street parking. This stretch of Eastern Ave has a lot of retail so there are public lots and street parking. The area is well lit also and busy. I felt safe.

I was under the impression that music was going to start at by 2 p.m. It didn’t, but I was not hugely concerned. I was meeting up with an old friend, and we walked up the street to grab a bite to eat (sandwiches at G&A, YUM!). When we ambled back to the venue after 2 p.m., there was still not much going on. People were slowly arriving, but many of the bands had not arrived yet. Oh well, I could hang out and chat indefinitely.

At this point, I should mention that photographer Joe Giordano had set up a backdrop and lights along the wall opposite the bar so he could capture images for his project “Killer Angels: Faces of Death (Metal).” Joe, who is a professional photographer for Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine, hopes to capture as many fans and band members as he can that represent the diversity among metal heads—a taxonomy of the death metal community, if you will. He was busy snapping anyone willing to step onto the backdrop.

The fact that he was at a black metal show and not a death metal show didn’t seem to bother him. I kept thinking about the fact that he wasn’t actually capturing death metal fans. Some people don’t see a difference in metallers “style,” but I do. I know, I know, I am being a black metal elitist. Besides, what does a black metal fan look like? I don’t know… me? I look like someone’s mom, which I am. Frankly, I claim Gaahl as my fashion inspiration: monochromatic color scheme (i.e., black) and limited accessories (inverted cross). Dressing up more than that, and I feel start to feel conspicuous. But I digress….

I spent some more time hanging with friends, watching Joe shoot photos and browsing the merch tables. Shortly before 4 p.m. one of the organizers shooed everyone not in one of the bands out the front door and started collecting money. This thing was getting started!

First up was Damnatum, a tight little trio from Queens. Damnatum set their stage with skulls, candles and incense—a nice way to kick off an evening of what some would call ritual. Songs were riff driven and a bit doomy with great drumming. From what I could tell, some of the lyrics were in Spanish. There is not a lot of published work on this group, just a couple of songs on YouTube, but they do have a demo. I liked them.

Haethen, from Philadelphia, followed up with some pagan-inspired ambient metal. If you like older Darkthrone and/or late Abigail Williams, you’ll probably appreciate them. That may sound like I am casting a wide net—but Haethen had a very old, old school black metal feel interpreted through the lens of newer school black metal coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Definitely melodic. Definitely epic. Definitely worth checking out. They make it easy because they have a free download on bandcamp.

During Haethen’s set, someone attempted to turn on the stage lights, which had not been on during Damnatum. The problem, though, is that El Oasis is a disco equipped with a ridiculously colorful lighting system. Sparkly lights are not conducive to the proper enjoyment of grim and unholy black metal, so at once several people set to work trying to disable some of lights. This meant climbing around the above stage area individually disconnecting the unwanted lights. Haethen took it in stride and continued their set, sparkly lights and all. Eventually the lighting was brought under control, though it still could have been somewhat less than it was. I am sure some of the subsequent performers would have preferred to play by candlelight or even in complete darkness, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Moving on, Baltimore’s Extermination Angel took the stage and got the growing crowd revved up. More a blackened death metal band, this trio performs precise and energetic songs and are a lot of fun to watch. Although it was still early, vocalist Shawn Wright built a strong rapport with the audience and got the mosh pit officially started.

Next up was Unholy Spirits from New York, who, like one of my favorite bands Inquisition, only has two members, a guitarist/vocalist and a drummer. Amazingly though, they produce a mighty wall of sound. They were also the first band of the to use war paint and throw on some chains and spiked gauntlets. The music was simple but satisfying.

Speaking of satisfying, let me pause for a second to talk about booze. I think after Unholy Spirits played, I attempted to buy my second beer of the evening. Unfortunately, El Oasis has raised the price of a can of Modelo that had been $3 to $5. That was the last beer I bought from the bar that night. I guess that’s one way to keep people from drinking too much. My next drink of the night was a cola from the Walgreens across the street.

OK, back to the music.

Another group from New York was the five-piece Discordia. What can I say? This band blew my mind with their unholy fucking brutal sound. Their super evil shrill vocals, the raw riffs and the relentless rhythm section made this group a real stand out of for me. Everything they did was kvlt. Definitely check them out if they come around again.

Now I have to make a public apology to Sacristy, because I only caught the tail end of their set and did not get any photos of them at all. I got caught up talking to the members of Black Witchery outside. But there is a very nice video of them on VIMEO. They have a thrashy, black metal sound, which is something I particularly favor. Hopefully they will come around again, maybe with some new stuff they say they will be working on.

When Perversion from Michigan took the stage, I got really confused because they sounded so differently than any of the groups that had come before. I don’t know anything about guitar effects, but what I was hearing was like something out of a time machine. Who was I listening to? Surf-punk Venom? This trio was incredibly tight, thrashy and great to watch. Lots of old fashioned black metal riffage here.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like Hellgoat live, but once again, their live performance outshined the quality of anything I was able to find of them online. Hellgoat, from Atlanta, plays straight up black metal (like Horna or Sargeist) with some doomy qualities here and there to slow down the blast beats so you can better appreciate what they are doing. Their lead singer was dynamic. They performed a true ritual with all the requisite candles, skulls and blood. I heart Hellgoat.

For some reason I kept getting texts messages and phone calls from my family during Satanik Goat Ritual (what time was it now???). I only watched part of this Texas group's set, but what I did see was interesting. Their impressive drummer seemed to know how to use ALL the parts of the drum kit graciously provided by the next band, Nocturnal Fear.

A friend from Pennsylvania who could not make this show said he was sad to be missing Nocturnal Fear. Now I understand why. Most of the other bands had stirred up a bit of a mosh pit. But when Michigan's Nocturnal Fear started playing many people simply stood to witness guitarist Rev. Chris Slavehunter (PhD), who was a joy to watch. Nocturnal Fear play blackened technical death metal. Each note, each beat is expertly executed.  These songs were less riff-driven and more solo driven, but it was a nice change. I also dug watching their drummer finally get to use his fantastic drum kit. (Side note here: the drum kit was equipped with triggers. When you stood in front of the bands, you could hear them clearly. At the side of the stage you could not. I kept moving around during each set to get a good sense of how things sounded.)

OK, two more bands to go!

Morbosidad traveled all the way from Mexico to bring everyone back to the “ritual” atmosphere set by Hellgoat earlier on. Their lead singer doused himself with “blood” at the start of their set and it was on. The crowd was probably largest (promoters say they had about 200 paid entrants) during this band’s performance. This was brutal, satanic black metal. I think this was the band many people had come to see.

Finally it was time for Black Witchery from Florida to take the stage. I have written about Black Witchery before (here) in anticipation of the Maryland Deathfest. A conflict with another band forced me to miss seeing their set at MDF, so I wanted to make sure I did not miss them this time around. They took the stage at about 12:20. Their drummer took some time to disable the drum triggers to achieve the barbaric “swarm of angry bees” sound this band goes for. The stripped down sound of Black Witchery was a great way to end the evening. I actually find them meditative, kind of Zen. I don’t know what is, something about their music must be stroking my reptilian brain.

The audience, on the other hand, was ready to explode for Black Witchery. I saw many people growling the lyrics along with vocalist/bassist Impurath. Their drummer Vaz is like a machine, and I am not sure how he keeps up the constant rhythm. He mixes it up though so that it does not become monotonous. Black Witchery’s guitarist is big fan of doom metal bands like Iron Man, and it is evident in his playing. He breaks out the flashy shredding now and again. Mostly though it is all about the power of the riff—played extremely fast! They had the pit going for most of their set, especially during songs like “Desecration of the Holy Kingdom.”

Over the course of the evening, a few scuffles broke out. There was one catfight earlier in the night and then later, during Black Witchery, some aggression involving a large white cowboy hat (I actually don’t know what the fight was about, but somehow the hat was involved.) Security hustled the offending parties out quickly. Afterward, I noticed someone had a bloodied lip and nose, but I am not sure when that happened.

In general though, camaraderie was high, people were getting along, enjoying each other’s company, digging the bands, and helping people up off the floor of the mosh pit. The Headbangin’ Hot Dog guy showed up and was slinging vegan dogs most of the night. Shortly before Morbosidad started playing, security stopped letting people go in and out. While this was probably miserable for the smokers, most people didn’t seem to care. Outside, I did notice a few people wander by wondering why on earth El Oasis was filled with people wearing all black, and one couple looking to dance seemed disappointed. But I don’t think a few metal heads standing around on the corner of Eastern Ave and Grundy St. in Highlandtown actually caused much of a stir.

I think Black Witchery played until after 1:30 a.m. I was exhausted and headed home as quickly as possible. “Satan’s Unholy Abomination Fest” completely made up for me missing so many shows in November due to a sickness that would not go away. It is evident the promoters worked really hard to put this show on. I hope they do it again sometime soon at this location.

My photos from the fest are posted below:

Damnatum

Discordia

Extermination Angel

Extermination Angel

Extermination Angel

Haethen

Impurath-Black Witchery

Impurath-Black Witchery

Impurath-Black Witchery

Morbosidad

Nocturnal Fear

Nocturnal Fear


Satanik Goat Ritual

Tregenda-Black Witchery

Unholy Spirits

Unholy Spirits

Vaz -Black Witchery

Discordia

Hellgoat


Hellgoat

Perversion


















2 comments:

  1. Mæry A. Spirø,
    I seriously think you need to get your hearing aids checked because Perversion does not sound nothing like a surf punk Venom.

    ReplyDelete
  2. well at least you read that far! >:)

    ReplyDelete