Despite its status as one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed of the metal subgenres, death metal often gets marginalized by the community at large. This probably explains its often noticeable absence from some of the bigger summer concert tour festivals such as Mayhem Fest and the now-defunct Ozzfest. There is the major label sponsored Summer Slaughter, but even that tour is relegated to some of the smaller venues around the country (think House Of Blues vs The Woodlands Pavilion in Houston, which is where the last couple of Mayhem Fests have played). The subgenre does have an outlet, however, in the many one-off festivals that are popping up in the United States. There are death metal festivals in Las Vegas (where Houston’s Desecrate The Faith recently played) and New York City (where Diminished, also from Houston, recently played). There is also the Maryland Death Festival, which, oddly enough, didn’t have all that many death metal bands this year. In its 4th year, Houston’s Building Temples From Death Fest (and the pre-Fest) has become a destination for some of the biggest names in death metal. Last year the festival was headlined by Cephalic Carnage. This year, New York City’s very own Internal Bleeding, which has been around since 1991, were the headliners.
As with most concert festivals, things started rather slow. The crowds were thin and a lot of the bands were unknown. Such was the case when I arrived during the set of Human Chunks (Houston). Heavy metal bands have a very symbiotic relationship with their audience. The performers on stage feed off the energy of the crowd. The more the crowd is engaged, the higher the level of performance. That’s what makes things difficult for these early bands – the crowds are often small and are often not engaged with the performance. But this is a symbiotic relationship, one where the crowd also feeds off the energy of the performer. Human Chunks (along with the early bands that followed), understood this and made certain that their performances would grab the attention of the fans and allow the symbiotic relationship to form. During each individual set, the crowds grew and remained engaged with the performance onstage, which upped the energy level of the band playing, which upped the energy level of the crowd. This phenomenon is one I’ve only seen in short bursts at big shows that are nowhere near this long – I’ve never witnessed it on this scale, and it was certainly something to behold.
It was after the intermission, however, when Parasitic Extirpation took the stage, that the crowd really began to feed off the energy of the band. Led by vocalist Mallika Sundaramurthy (who was also there with her other project, Abnormality), PE brought out the brutality that had been building in the crowd all day long. These mosh pits were some of the biggest I had seen all day long and only got more violent as the set went on. It didn’t hurt that during an extended instrumental portion of a late set song that she jumped off the stage and reignited a mosh pit that was started to lose its steam.
Things only got more wild from there. With each band, the fans showed no signs of fatigue. Nephrectomy (Denver) and Meshiha (Houston/Dallas) both delivered some of the most violent performances of the night. The performance of the night, however, came from Guttural Secrete (Las Vegas). This act played a 45 minute set of relatively high energy (for a death metal show) violence that brought out the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th winds of many of those in attendance. The mosh pit got so violent that this author, with his very expensive camera equipment, took advantage of his backstage privileges for the 1st time that whole evening just to keep the equipment safe.
The crowd had thinned out a bit by the time Internal Bleeding took the stage. This was probably due to the fact that they didn’t take the stage until 12:45 am and we scheduled for a full 1 hour set. Those fans who stayed to watch these elder statesmen of death metal gave and received the same intensity that was the norm for the entire day.
This year definitely had a bigger feel than last year (although this year we didn’t have the mosh pit GoPro rig going around). It will be interesting to see how they top it for 2015, but I have a feeling that the minds at Ossuary Industries, a Houston metal label, are already at work trying to get the new lineup set (Ulcerate is my suggestion for headliner). If you’re a death metal fan and missed this, well, the best advice that can be given is to clear the date for the last Saturday in September of 2015. You won’t be disappointed.
By Rick Custer