DECIBEL METAL & BEER FEST - No Brainer: Suds, With AT THE GATES, CARCASS & More!

April 3, 2018, 3 months ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal black death at the gates carcass

Coinciding with high Holy days for two of the world's three major religions (Passover & Easter), Philadelphia based Decibel magazine hosted a communion of their own, bringing together fans of extreme metal and craft brewing, in an unholy alliance of 20 different breweries and 14 bands. As you may know, in the competitive world of micro-brewing, a catchy (maybe off-color) brand name, graphic novel illustrated label (or high alcohol potency) will do wonders for marketing and getting your "name" known. To that end, many of those offered this weekend gave a nod to the metal world, if not some sort of direct coordination with a band/artist themselves. Still, sorry Broken Goblet, have no interest trying anything with "tea bag" in its name, even as a joke!

Been listening to hard rock/metal longer than my 38 years of drinking beer. Truthfully, never seen/heard more than a couple of the upper tier bands on this bill and hadn't tried any of the 50+ beers on site. Come for the metal, stay for the beer was this weekend's battle cry. So I attempted to enhance the experience, by pairing a different beverage with each (musical) course, but like an epicurean at an all-you-can-eat Atkins Diet buffet, began to crave something beyond hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken. Even the higher quality cuts, chicken, pork chops, lamb, and ultimately the finest steak, grow repetitive. What about an Italian dish, seafood, Asian cuisine or maybe a delectable dessert? For some, Golden Corral is a fine dining experience, satiated by the sheer volume of the food, not its quality. Same here. Like any food critic, not all were to my taste. Sometimes the beer made the music palatable, others, well there's no saving a bad "meal.” Life is about trying new things, sadly, it was not possible to buy any "carry out", to enjoy at home and much of the output from the smaller breweries (especially those outside the Delaware Valley) is not locally available. 

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Hors d'oeuvres
At a wedding, New Year's ball or other formal occasion, the pre-meal snacks are never intended to fill guests up and can be a varied lot, from the good: assorted cheese board, to those never really a favorite: pâté or cucumber-watercress sandwiches. Here, each band got 30 minutes onstage. 

SPIRIT ADRIFT: paired with Personal Coma, by Adroit Theory Brewing (Purcellville, VA)
While the Phoenix based, two-guitar quartet were billed as doom, that's not completely accurate. There were moments bordering on said sound, but the tempo varied, at times reminiscent of so-called ‘70s heavy rock, exaggerated notes, with almost pauses in the music. Solely performing material from last year's Curse Of Conception, the twin leads off "Graveside Invocation" stood out. This beer was not one of those initially advertised as being offered. At 8%, it's heavy on the hops with a slight citrus taste. Claim to fame is a zombified Dan Lilker (Brutal Truth/S.O.D./ex-Anthrax) on the label, as he had a hand in brewing and was on-site, his curly mop of Muppet hair now frosted gray, for autographs and introducing the headliner.

HORRENDOUS: paired with The Heiress by Societe Brewing Company (San Diego, CA)
Well, at least they didn't live up to the nearly decipherable logo. The Philly/DC band is as dichotomous as their "location." Dual guitar foursome, with both axemen trying vocals, stage left Matt Knox (he of the Angus Young solid body guitar and denim vest w/ Dio, Helloween & Mercyful Fate patches. Sadly, none of their music sounds like the aforementioned) has all the guitar god poses: vertical playing, bent backwards, etc. The groove bass is prominent in the live mix, some sort of jazzy, technical death metal. Although the stage presence belies their age, frequently moving about the stage, at times, it seems as if they're all playing a different track. Also need to minimize the backs-to-the-audience stance that begins/ends most songs. The 5.3% Czech inspired brew is smoother than typical entries in the field, with less harsh aftertaste.

EVOKEN: paired with Flaming Longship, by Hammerheart Brewing (Lino Lakes, MN)
The long running New Jersey quintet feature two guitars, plus keyboards for their take on depressive Paradise Lost meets old Tiamat, with a helping of Type O Negative. The punishing slow, monotone delivery comparison isn't hurt when the tall bassist is also the frontman. Like a bruise, the lighting is exclusively red, purple and blue, throughout. Evoken are the only band to really take advantage of the video screen behind them, showing a bizarre assortment of unsettling, b/w early 1900s silent era footage, including someone slowing hacking themselves to death (piece by piece) and what appears to be some North African or South American torture/death ritual. Ended short set (well, each tune is so long) with "Withering Indignation". At a metal fest, how can one not imbibe in a drink named after a Bathory album (and indirectly a label)? At 8%, this Scotch Ale was the lighter of the brewery's two options on tap: opaque, with a smoky, yet smooth, taste.

Soup/Salad
You'd think "salad" is pretty standard, take some lettuce (what type?) and throw in some veggies. Voila! However, there are all sorts of variations on the theme: Waldorf, Ambrosia... Soups are similarly complex, be it simple broths, creamed, chowder/bisque, gumbo and don't even get me started on cold vichyssoise or gazpacho. 40 minutes was afforded each act, at this point.

INTEGRITY: paired with Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume by Oliver Brewing Co. (Baltimore, MD)
Is it hardcore? Is it metal? Actually a combination of the two, without sounding like metalcore: shouted horror inspired lyrics, but with real guitar solos. Left-handed Flying V, stage right and bushy mustache bassist, while burly singer Dwid Hellion (in knee length camo shorts) rages, repeatedly stalking the stage, in circles. The Orioles baseball cap wearing drummer looks so at ease, despite the increased pace, toggling back-n-forth between snare and high hat, with the occasional run around the kit. Opening with "Vocal Test", on the floor, a circle pit erupts, even when they call out a guest female singer, for the tambourine accented "String Up My Teeth", followed by a brutal "Burning Beneath The Devils Cross". Named for the Cleveland act's '17 album, the 5% Belgian blonde has a bit of a sour, citrus flavor.

PALLBEARER: paired with Gearshifter, by Stoudts Brewing (Adamstown, PA)
Speaking of switching gears, there's the feedback heavy, Mastodon-ish sludge from two-guitar four piece out of Little Rock. Their extended jams are accompanied by jerky, spasmodic stage movements. Kind of ironic that at a craft beer event, the singer and guitarist have a can of Miller Lite at their feet. Can take the band out of Arkansas, but not the Arkansas out of the band! Songs included "Fear And Fury", as well as "Dancing In Madness" and, to quote bassist Joseph Rowland, "a brand, f-ing new one". They end with guitars raised overhead, slapping hands of the fans, across the photo pit/barricade. The 6.7% American IPA, possesses a heavy aroma of hops and deep copper color.

Entrée
The real nitty-gritty. Why we "sit down" to eat, in the first place! After a few hours, always looking for a Scarlet Lady, so tried Stoudt's 5%, red tinged extra special bitter, of the same name.

MONSTER MAGNET: paired with Supernatural, by Wayfinder Beer (Portland, OR)
As they took the stage, a certain herbal scent (not present earlier in the day) wafted through the crowd. It wasn't aromatic hops! After five hours, finally a song I know, as a kaleidoscope of lights circle around Dave Wyndorf. The Fu Manchu mustache frontman/guitarist stand center stage, both middle fingers raised overhead during "Powertrip". In fact the F-word was featured prominently in the set, song titles and lyrics. For the title track of the new album, Wyndorf basically sings, his (the third) guitar lying dormant, until the break. Cowbell augmented "Twin Earth" precedes the stomp of newbie "When The Hammer Comes Down", with its three-part vocal harmony for the titular chorus. If he's not interacting with the audience, Wyndorf drops to his knees or stands at the front, shaking his head, side-to-side. Four across the stage during "Negasonic Teenage Warhead" and while punctuated by what are not full windmill guitar sweeps, they're synchronized nevertheless. "Space Lord" is peppered with multiple 'MF' references, the singer gets the crowd to add their emphasis to the curse as his low slung guitar hovers across his knees. Some sort of jumping circle pit emerges. Guess some people have no idea what to do at a concert. Dave blew a kiss and walked off, the rest of the band going into a noisy final crescendo, without him. Supernatural, is there a more aptly named beer for this New Jersey outfit? Probably not, unless there's a hemp infusion (but not here). The 6.5% IPA was a surprised, not announced in the preview literature. The sweet, hoppy, yellow colored ale had a frothy head. Need I say more? 

AT THE GATES: paired with Dark Lord Chemtrailmix by 3 Floyds (Munster, IN)
A special one-off performance, in town exclusively for the Beer show, At The Gates did not disappoint, even airing a pair from the still unreleased To Drink From The Night Itself (May 18th, Century Media). In addition to the forthcoming title track/single (as on disc, preceded by the short pre-recorded "Der Widerstand" intro), also debuted "Raped By The Light Of Christ", currently only available as a Decibel flex-disc (although since posted online). What had been a rather tame day for the barricade security force soon turned busy enough crowd surfers to chase the photographers from the pit. Didn't help putting the soundtrack to their Slaughter Of The Soul, the best known/masterpiece second in the running order, backed with "Cold" also from said album. There would be an additional four selections from the groundbreaking 1995 outing. Tomas Lindberg was his usual frenetic self, in omnipresent ball cap and denim jacket. Working both sides of the stage throughout the night, yellow and green streaks shone from above, during "At War With Reality". The band is still working in new, bespectacled guitarist Jonas Stålhammar, founder/bassist Jonas Björler undeterred by the absence of his long-term guitarist/brother Anders. Eventually Lindberg removed the denim, revealing kvlt Goblin t-shirt. Concluding "Kingdom Gone" was under a storm of strobes and blue lights. Can't wait to hear all of the new one! The beverage of choice is for dark beer loving Metal Tim, who's a huge fan, and longtime friend of Lindberg. As black as coffee, this 15% Russian imperial stout, is opaque and as heavy as they come. Due to its high octane, could only sample once a day and needed a special ticket to procure that serving!

Dessert
After eating healthy, dessert is a personal indulgence: sometimes sweet or just a selfish want.
To that end, having spent much time in Europe, I'm drawn to German and Czech styles. Thus sampled:

Strangeways Brewing (Richmond, VA)
Helles Frozen Over 5% German style Helles lager. Amber colored, very smooth

Wayfinder Beer (Portland, OR)
Czech Pils 5.1% decorated pilsner. Authentic taste, somewhere between Budvar (aka Czechvar, aka the original Bud) and Pilsner Urquell

DC Brau (Washington, DC)
Brau Pils 4.5% German style pilsner

Stoudts Brewing (Adamstown, PA)
Pils 5.4% German inspired pilsner

King County Brewing Co. (Brooklyn, NY) 
Morbid Hour 4.666% Schwarz bier (aka black pilsner to Americans). The roasted taste was not overpowering, smoothly light.

OK, let's leave some for tomorrow...

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Much like Day 1, doors and pours were at 4:00, however folks were a little less eager sampling the wares, this go round. It's not well documented, but those who buy the cheaper "Just Metal" ticket (one day $42/two days $82) are forbidden to sample any of the micro-brews, relegated to cans from the venue's usual assortment of mass produced beverages, at approximately $8 a pop. So unless you're a teetotaler or only expect to have one or two, during 6+ hours of music, the "Metal & Beer" option ($80/$150) allows unlimited 3.oz samples, the entire event. It's kind of like an Easter Egg Hunt, or morseo Trick Or Treat: walk up to a booth, stick out your cup and receive a goodie. Although several of the scheduled beers were no shows, there were unannounced replacements.

So by 6 PM, the munchies have hit, as Fillmore servers were navigating plates of food through the maze of staggering and zombie shuffling patrons, unwilling or unable to move out of the way. Thankfully, toting around the requisite plastic sampling cup (full or temporarily empty) kept most cell phones in pocket/purse, avoiding an even more dazed crowd. The short intermission between bands saw the lines at the beer stalls (and bathroom) double in size.

Hors d'oeuvres
SUMERLANDS: paired with Haunted Forever, (Yards Brewing, Philly)
Sometimes it's better not to look behind the curtain, Dorothy! While the music, essentially well-constructed re-writes of Jake E. Lee era Ozzy, featuring a pair of young shredders, onstage, the illusion is broken. Sure, they're local, but this is a high profile event and the band somehow managed to get Yards Brewing to allow the band to help brew a beer, so there's precedent for expectations. Might be fine on record, but it's sort of difficult to take them seriously when there's four kids, each in their (varied) favorite band t-shirts and "Dad," a 40-50 something looking Phil Swanson (well-traveled vocalist), in a blue nylon windbreaker jacket, atop light blue crew neck shirt, car keys clipped to his front belt loop, looking like he's waiting to pick up his kids from a high school battle of the bands. Musically, this was the only semblance of traditional metal the entire weekend, but with no interaction, neither the crowd nor one another: no song introductions, no banter and apart from some headbanging guitars, virtually stationary. Worse than Brian Ross fronting a bunch of young pups and passing it off as Blitzkrieg. Guys, it's a live show!  A 6.66% black IPA, the band had a hand in its creation.

ALL HELL: paired with Cold by Trve Brewing Company (Denver, CO)
First trio of the weekend and like many of the brewers, came up from the Carolinas (Asheville, to be exact). If the bullet belt and leather vest, minus shirt, didn't give it away, All Hell play an early ‘80s Euro thrash/death sound, ala Sodom. In fact, found myself essentially hearing multiple versions of "Outbreak Of Evil", with new lyrics. Jacob Curwen guitar/vocals is the real talent here. The title track of their The Devil's Work debut ended abruptly. Between songs, Curwen has a "nice kid" speaking voice, then goes all sinister, in song. "Graveyard Dust" impresses, while "The Castle", off last year's The Grave Alchemist, began as a mid-paced headbanger, before speeding up. Being tethered to the mic, they're unable to fill the large stage/venue. Probably killer in a dark, cellar bar. To that end, a German style, 4.9% kellerpils: almost clear/colorless and slightly sweet. Besides, who doesn't like "Cold" beer?

SPECTRAL VOICES: paired with South Of Eleven by Hoof Hearted Brewing (Marengo, OH)
Two-guitar four piece, from Denver, features the drummer as sole vocalist, offering an array of guttural gurgling, shrieks and screams, all while the band plays in complete darkness. Performance art? More like live streaming, as literally, there was no reason to watch, since you couldn't see anything. Indecipherable logo onscreen should have been a hint. Protracted death/doom, characterized by lots of open chords, with sporadic, jangly guitar notes atop. Conventional theories of tonality are strained, going from labored notes to the equivalent of standing behind a roaring jet engine. Steep price to pay for "free" beer! The Slayer inspired beverage is a dangerously sweet, opaque yellow 10.2% double IPA. When asking for "something one louder", the tattooed and halter top under black concert tee wearing rep didn't understand, nor recognized Spinal Tap. Much like the band too much!

Soup/Salad

INCANTATION paired with Golden Hop by Yards Brewing (Philly)
By contrast, sure longtime frontman/guitarist John McEntee is tired of playing in obscurity, thus Incantation opted for full stage lights. The graybeard (literally) made sure to introduce the songs, thank the crowd and tell a few brief stories. When not singing, made sure to venture either side of the mic stand, headbang with the crowd, never missing a note on his guitar. This is old school death metal: spiraling guitar patterns, the odd squelch, then wild dive bomb runs, with gravel throat vocals over top. "Rites Of The Locust" and "Shadows Of The Ancient Empire" were up early. Cones of yellow light scan the stage and on the slower grind of red lit "Carrion Prophecy", McEntee has his left foot up on the wedge monitor, as a violent circle pit forms. Nice touch, the Necrophagia t-shirt. Having once lived in Ohio, McEntee knew the recently departed founder, Killjoy, and dedicated the closer ("The Ibex Moon") to his friend. "It sucks. There's nothing more you can say." The clear 6% IPA has a sweet taste, hoppy, with a hint of citric aftertaste.

REPULSION paired with Wingman by Weyerbacher Brewing (Easton, PA)
First time seeing the Michigan legends. The fun began even before playing a note, as bassist/singer Scott Carlson announced they were from Flint. Someone shouted, "How's the water?" His deadpan response, "It's fine, look at me." They began with a cover of Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law". Once completed, Carlson said, "You've heard all these songs so many times, we're going to do something different, a set of our favorite ‘80s metal." With that a few cheers, as they launch into the Scorpions' "Rock You Like A Hurricane". After the first bar or two, they quit, saying "April Fools!" It WAS the first of the month, after all, and with that the trio head into the repertoire of short (often rivaling S.O.D. brevity) classics. In fact, "Radiation Sickness" was dedicated to Dan Lilker. "Are you having a good time," the bassist asked. "Let's see if I can ruin it. Here's Canadian Metal". Cue a cover of Slaughter's "Death Dealer". Multi-color lights shine on "Driven To Insanity", in honor of the festival's organizer. Yellow streaks of light flash the stage during "Six Feet Under", which begins with Carlson relating a comical tale about how it was written, in the late Chuck (Death) Schuldiner's bedroom: bloody rag, boogers and Vince Neal wall poster, all mentioned. "Black Breath", cheerful "Maggots In Your Coffin" and "Horrified" close things out. The ample hopped 4.5% pale ale looks like apple cider (maybe Flint's water?), with a thick head, when out of the tap.

Entrée
MAYHEM: paired with This Is Your Brain On Hops by King's County Brewing Co. (Brooklyn, NY)
Not sure what to make of Mayhem, one of the true godfathers of not just Norwegian, but all black metal. Frontman Attila Csihar's lacerated white face make-up is somewhere between the unhelmeted/dying Darth Vader and the telepathic/bomb worshiping underworld denizens in the original Beneath The Planet Of The Apes film. That's not the issue. It's his purposefully robotic stage moves. At times, especially "Dark Might Of The Soul", felt like I was watching some theatrical synth/goth act: more Marilyn Manson than the dangerous protagonists of metal. A fair share of Wolf's Lair Abyss was included in the set, beginning with "The Vortex Void Of Inhumanity" intro, which led into "Ancient Skin". "Symbols of Bloodswords" wasn't far behind. Alongside the decorated singer, one guitarist plays in a hooded black outfit, mainstay bassist Necrobutcher and the rest are normally attired. Old school shriekers "Deathcrush" and "Carnage" see a cannonade of crisscrossing multi-colored lights flood the stage. After "Freezing Moon", which sees the hulking vocalist play with a human skull (paean to Dead, who originally sang it?), the stage goes black. Mayhem return for an encore, “Life Eternal", with Attila brandishing a hangman's noose, flagellating himself across the shoulders, as he sings and ultimately ending with it around his own neck, pinpointed blue lights shooting into the crowd. This light yellow 8.25 double dry hopped IPA looks like a whiskey sour, even has a tart flavor. 

CARCASS: paired with Amber Smashed Face by 3 Floyds (Munster, IN)
Stripped down stage, no in-rack TV monitors, as on the last tour, but the giant video screen behind the band posted an old style test pattern, announcing Carcass TV, prior to the start. Once the Brits began, a series of images would be shown, including the eyes of various serial killers (could recognize Gacy) during red lit "Buried Dreams" and a peace dove, with its broken neck, for "No Love Lost". Later, lots of Surgical Steel and other album artwork interspersed. The usual self-depreciating Jeff Walker was rather tame, initially joking about how many times they've played Philly in the last few years and wishing us a happy April Fools. Moving off his central mic, complete with billowing electric fan, he joined Bill Steer, stage right. Strange to see his bass, at waist level, as he's frequently playing it vertically, or looking down its barrel, like aiming a rifle. Eerie light green accents on "Unfit For Human Consumption", which see Steer and guitar partner Tom Draper on their knees, facing their amps, at prescribed points. Speaking of Steer (who was visible, walking through the crowd, earlier in the day), the flared jeans (not quite bell bottoms) wearing virtuoso seemed in good spirits, bouncing on the balls of his feet, as he unleashes wicked guitar patterns. He also adds backing growls to "Reek Of Putrefaction". Amazing the sonic improvements Carcass has made in 30 years. "Keep On Rotting In The Free World" gives everyone, diehard or not, the chance to sing along. As always, splendid "Heartwork" to finish.  Although this 7.6% amber ale is named after the controversial Cannibal Corpse song, Carcass too have their arsenal of lethal implements. With strong taste of hops and translucent, deep rust color, it's like Sierra Nevada, on steroids! 

Dessert
You'd think that after two days of gorging, that would be enough, but still a few left to mention:

Yards Brewing (Philly, PA)
Philadelphia Pale Ale 4.6% almost "boring" with all this weekend's competitors, but something you can drink repeatedly, in one sitting.

Burial Beer Co. (Asheville, NC)
Hawkbill 6% IPA

DC Brau
The Corruption so-called northwest style IPA 6.5% stronger hops taste, but not overbearing. Is there anything DC brews better (and more frequently), than corruption?

A whole year to detox the liver. See you next year? Bon Appétit!

Featured Audio

TOMORROW’S EVE – “Terminal” (Amped/Alliance)

TOMORROW’S EVE – “Terminal” (Amped/Alliance)

Featured Video

TOMORROW’S EVE – “Dream Within A Dream”

TOMORROW’S EVE – “Dream Within A Dream”

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