Oshkosh is an interesting place. Aside from lying just north of the fun-to-say-in-a-Minnesota-accent Fond du Lac, one really wouldn't think of it as the prime metal festival location. Come to think of it, the only time I've seen Wisconsin portrayed in a positive light when it comes to metal was when I saw Wormsblood perform at the Matchitehew Assembly back in 2009 - each member draped their amplifier with a "Visit Scenic Wisconsin" flag, and I'm pretty sure frontman Clay Ruby was either wearing a cat shirt or something Wisconsin tourism related, but I digress. With roads plastered with "ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN, WHO WILL PAY YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY?," "JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS," and, my personal favorite, "SUPPORT GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER, SUPPORT FOR MORE THAN THE PRIVILEGED FEW" signs, the idea that I was going to be attending a festival studded with some rather politically progressive bands was an ever growing source of humor. How would the small city of Oshkosh handle so many black-clad, smelly metalheads? Would we get the whole "Demon, I cast thee out!" treatment I once received in Texas? Only time would tell, and, evidently, time was not on my side. As it turns out, Oshkosh's main highway drag, Route 41, was under some excruciatingly painful road construction, and my GPS didn't seem to understand that the exit leading to the La Quinta was closed, leading to many a circle being turned and forehead veins so disgustingly throbbing they would make a drunk James "The Ragin' Cajun" Carville blush.
After checking in to the hotel and grabbing some lunch at a neat little coffee house with some fellow music nerds, I found myself at the Electric Lounge and Lanes. Maybe I'm used to the standard "the bar is the same room as the venue" sort of layout, but this place was rather..interesting. With multiple bars, a ballroom on each floor, and a few bowling lanes in the basement, The Electric Lounge proved itself to be more of a playground than a venue. A metal fest has been going on here since yesterday? Why not? The (extremely cheap!) beer was flowing and I was in the presence of many a friend from all over the country, so venue setup was a complete non-issue.
Pacific Northwest solo entity Mania opened the second day of the fest with one of the most unique black metal live performances I've ever witnessed. Now, I'd heard many a story about main man Nate Myers's, who also runs the Eternal Warfare label, legendary "live drums only" show, but that just seemed like a big ol' absurdity to me. Most black metal bands have everything but live drums, so a sole drum set and a laptop hooked up to a small arsenal of amplifiers was going to be interesting at the very least. Luckily, as a weathered Mania fan, I was fully prepared for Myers's bizarre approach to raw black metal, complete with programmed bass and strange, angular guitar tonalities. What's not to like? It's cold, somewhat orthodox, and definitely ripping. As novel as the whole "drum kit only" live approach is, Myers definitely pulled it off.
I feel bad for missing Baby Boy's set, but, I mean, everyone was there, so I ended up sitting outside with fellow blogster, Blackened Slugs's Nick Horrigan, and other buddies, soaking up the slightly overcast sun and winding down from the rather impressive Mania set. Cue a few more beers (with Old Rasputin at $3.50 a bottle, I might consider moving up to Oshkosh) and I was ready to head back inside to catch the second half of a rather rare Sleepwalker live appearance.
For those of you who hadn't grabbed the Sleepwalker demo from Aesop Dekker's Cosmic Hearse blog, the band's unique, raw approach to the whole "post-black metal" thing might not have sounded so great on tape, but they pulled it off rather nicely live. Powerful, noisy, and perhaps a bit on the sloppy side, these guys could have very well done some mean Rusted Shut covers if they dropped the harsh vocals.
Sci-fi overlord Philip K. Dick-obsessed grindcore band A Scanner Darkly's reunion set was up next, featuring Gilead Media's own Adam Bartlett on voice. I had actually never heard of this band before they were announced as part of the Fest, but I figured I'd stick around and support the guy who put it all together, and it was pretty neat. I was rather surprised to see a grindcore band placed on the more doom-oriented day, but the droning/doomy elements which began to manifest over the course of their set proved their worth alongside their heavier festmates. Oh yeah, Adam did a pretty stellar job on vocals, too, and I hear he's going to continue doing stuff with them. Neato.
After reviewing their last album, Clandestine Abuse, I'd been absolutely dying to see Wisconsin (now) 4-piece Northless. Naturally, I was expecting something heavy, but these guys definitely exceeded my expectations. A pummeling storm of bottom-heavy anxiety and some surprisingly technical guitar work (somehow that slipped right by me on the record), these Wisconsinites definitely performed a great show. Support Northless, and be on the lookout for a nice 10" split with Light Bearer on Halo of Flies Records later this year.
With their latest EP, Gilead Media's I Am Legion, fresh in my head, I was looking forward to headbanging, and, at times, humming, along to the riff fest which was Mutilation Rites. Maybe I missed something when I reviewed I Am Legion, or maybe I just have a subconscious desire to disagree with anything Brandon Stosuy says, but, I must concede, these guys are rather thrashy. Not Sodom or Megadeth thrashy, but there's definitely enough jean vest to go around. With some assistance from a good buddy I managed to swing my way up front for this set, where I managed to stay for the next act...
The Body. Holy crap, The Body. I'd seen Chip and Lee do their thing a few years ago (there's a funny story surrounding that show, but I'm already talking too much), so I was fully aware of the potential/definite repercussions by standing directly in front of Chip King's fortified wall of amplifiers, but, goddammit, this is The Body we're talking about, and, man, were they heavy. Trudging through some familiar tunes off of All The Waters, as well as a nice selection of back catalog material, The Body's live act could be likened to grinding boulders to a fine dust, or perhaps pouring a nice mix of drano and glass shards in your ear. Immense.
Due to a desire for more liquids and a respite from ear fatigue, I missed False's set, though from what I could hear downstairs, they did a nice job. I hear they're doing a split with Barghest sometime this year.
Speaking of Barghest, these Louisianans (Louisianites?) absolutely stole the show (and not just because their singer Dallas writes for us). Armed with a new drummer and some heavier new material, this four-piece's all-treble attack was absolutely ferocious. Absolutely pissed off and mesmerizing, Barghest ripped through some favorites from their full-length (I was especially happy to hear "Mourning"), as well as two new tracks - a retooled version of "Shifting Sands" and a heavy, almost Black Witchery-esque black/death metal song - which will be featured on their split with False later this year. Spotlight? Definitely Dallas's voice. I remember mentioning its wet, throaty sound when I reviewed their album, but, man, he sounds absolutely disgusting in person; almost akin to Det Som Engang Var era Varg. Here's hoping Barghest chooses to play around some more, 'cause more people need to see these guys in action.
Thou's set has been a source of inner turmoil. I absolutely, absolutely adore their first two albums, and the fact that they were going to play Tyrant all the way through was like a dream, but I guess I didn't really take all the standing I had done that day into consideration. Aside from the always awesome "Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean," I hate to say it, but I found myself kind of bored. Aside from a few witty jokes, frontman Brian Funck's stage banter was a little annoying, too. Maybe I was tired, but I ended up heading downstairs about five songs into their set. I legitimately wondered if I didn't like Thou anymore, but, upon coming home, I found I enjoyed the new song on their split with Hell, so I'm going to chalk this one up to 1) dehydration, 2) hunger, and 3) sore ankles. Maybe next time, Thou. I still love you.
Afterwards we all (most of us, at least) took over the Varsity Club in downtown Oshkosh, whose doorway was emblazoned with rather lovely set of dress code rules which delicately implied "NO BLACKS." Isn't Wisconsin great? Their chef certainly loved us. I hope Adam chooses to put on another fest next year, cause, even though I was only in attendance for half the fest, I had way too much fun with all my "bros" and a few "broettes."