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Now Deaf: Highlights and Photos of Every Band That Played Chicago’s Forever Deaf Fest


To be honest, I’ve been woefully out of touch with my city’s local metal scene. I hear about a slew of Chicago metal bands throughout conversation and Internet lurking, but I routinely fail to follow-up or see shows (with occasional exceptions, of course). Inundated in metal from across the globe, sometimes it’s easy to for me to completely lose sight of what’s right in front of my face every day. To be fair, having unlimited access to virtually all metal from anywhere ultimately dissolves locality (typically a negative) while also connecting everybody (typically a positive). I nevertheless live and breathe through this city just as this city lives and breathes through me — that’s always been my philosophy at least — and its structure supports my very existence, just as mine does its. This intimate relationship opens doors to exciting artwork and scenes of interesting people, and I’ve been remiss to only peek instead of walk through the one labeled “Chicago Heavy Metal.”

Shame on me.

So, in a massive counteraction against my local laziness, set aside all Nonessential Bullshit to attend this weekend’s inaugural Forever Deaf Fest, a true showcase of Chicago metal talent if there ever was one. Featuring 11 Chicago bands (only four of which I was previously familiar with) from across the metal spectrum stuffed into Beat Kitchen over two jam-packed nights, it was both hectic and momentous. It was also entirely intersectional: various micro-scenes were blended right on the spot across the bands’ subgenres and varying levels of popularity. The only thing that mattered was calling Chicago home; all else was left to meeting new people and having a kickass time.

And so I did, and so it was.

Shoutouts to fest organizer Nick “Fury” Lawrie who helped make it all happen, the guys from Varaha for being such great friends (and my strongest tie to the Chicago metal scene), and show photographer Joe Naranjo who captured some of the photos you’ll see below alongside my own.


Day 1


The privilege of opening the fest was handed to these masters of gritty, thrashy death metal — for sure, Bloodletter’s music’s belligerent energy and wild riffage unwound the night’s anxious anticipation perfectly. The band more than unleashed their thrash-fueled energy — they blasted it to total annihilation, ditto any tension in the air as we all awaited the night’s offerings. Dancing from lick to lick, drum fill to drum fill, and shriek to bloody shriek, Bloodletter exercised significant aplomb in both their execution and stage presence. As a blend of death metal’s morbid seriousness and thrash’s fun factor, this band exemplified the fest’s spirit perfectly; as near-perfect executors of their craft, this band set the bar pretty damn high.

Snow Burial

Forever Deaf Fest was a showcase of not only the depth of Chicago’s metal talent, but its breadth as well — Snow Burial’s doomy post-metal for sure starkly contrasts Bloodletter’s high-energy death assault. But this doesn’t mean they can’t pair beautifully under a cold Chicago night sky: Snow Burial churned and chugged through dense layers of groove-infused, mathy riffs, capitalizing on the boost of energy from Bloodletter’s attack but offering something more introspective and head-noddy. The band’s experimental nature was on full display; their obtuse, sometimes abstract metal seemed to emerge from the air rather than simply emanate from their various electric gizmos.


Fuzzy and cosmic, REZN fully accessed that moody headspace cracked open by Bloodletter and widened by Snow Burial. It’s clear this four-piece (including ample synth) can produce some serious noise and weight: doom indeed reigned hard upon us as synthmaster Spencer Ouellette maintained total composure behind the exposed wiring of his complicated musical machinery. REZN’s stage presence was serene and stabilized, but far from lame. Gentle when needed, but thick and gritty when desired (and the build-ups are wonderful), this band should be in everyone’s Saturday afternoon docket.

Immortal Bird

Few bands match the vivid intensity of Immortal Bird’s blackened, technical performance. This four-piece did sensationally well with their 2015 debut Empress/Abscess, entering into the ranks of False and Krallice for sure. With complex songwriting and instrumentation (lots of crowd-pleasing stop-starts) and superbly demonic stage presence, Immortal Bird is a sight to behold. Indubitably, the crowd had to hold onto their butts for the maniacal blasting during the set’s most intense and loud moments.

Novembers Doom

Jenna had a fantastic interview with Novembers Doom frontman Paul Kuhr. Here’s an excerpt:

You’re playing Forever Deaf Fest in Chicago this December. What do you like most about playing on your home turf?

“We haven’t played at home in about a year. We don’t play Chicago very often and I know we catch a lot of crap from that from other bands and scenes saying “oh, you guys are rockstars and you forget about your local roots.” That’s not true at all. The difference today is that the only way that bands make money now is through touring and playing shows. They all know that. You’re not going to make anything off your album sales because they almost don’t exist anymore. So, what does that mean? That means every band must go out on the road. Any given month in Chicago, there’s about 30 shows. Not everybody has the money to go see every show they want to see, so your fans have to pick and choose between all kinds of options. If they see you’re a local band and you play three/four times a year, your crowd starts to diminish. While you were drawing 450, you’re now drawing 300, then 200, and now you’re down to 75 people. People say “oh, I can go see this show instead and I’ll be able to just see Novembers Doom in two months.” We kind of make Chicago a bit more of an exclusive thing now just to get the most draw out the show instead of thinning out the audience.”

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Day 2


Emo-fueled grindcore-ish screamo with tons of excessive noise: probably the best way imaginable to kick night two of the fest off. This six-piece machine of total destruction took advantage of the crowd’s pent-up energy, unleashing their set as if it were their last. Meth.’s frontman drenched himself in beer and rolled around on stage, screaming into the microphone like it opened up to the void of time. Their presence echoed fear and fright, but the noise was abstract and devastating all the same.


Varaha’s penchant is atmosphere, and they unleash loads of it. While some music creates restrictive, claustrophobic headspaces, Varaha opens you up entirely. Frontman Fabio Brienza’s clean and harsh vocals seem to echo endlessly into the night, riding on surging waves of distorted chords and bombastic drum fills. Songwriting is a particular strong suit here: each lengthy piece contains clear highs and lows, and the ascents/descents are particularly dramatic. I’ve seen this band several times, and this was their strongest performance yet: executed to perfection.


Zaius writes intricate post-metal with post-rock vibes, and their performance is expectedly as dreamy. Although with plenty enough energy to sustain the night’s mood, the band seemed to relax and revive the audience (who had been going pretty hard up to this point). Let’s call their brand of post-something “invigorating” to the point where even vocals become subject to option. Or, to put it another way, my drink of choice during this set was a Red Bull.


Huntsmen arrived just as the night was beginning to pique. We were all stoked for The Atlas Moth and Without Waves, plus we had been totally satiated by the prior acts. So, what a perfect moment to nail a perfect set, with mountains of fuzzy, stoner-ish doom to mellow the night and make us feel right at home. Guided by clean and harsh vocals, clean and dirty guitars, and gentle/beastly drumming, Huntsmen took us to both heaven and hell. Metal at its core, but soft on the edges, this band isn’t afraid to delve into post-rock for atmosphere or americana for mood. Dynamic, to say the least.

Without Waves

The penultimate position on the fest’s setlist might be the toughest: you’re up against the bar set by prior bands, and your audience is already primed for the closer. Doesn’t matter, though, because Without Waves destroyed it with their esoteric and expressive progressive metal. The band ranged from staggered, crunchy explosions (some The Dillinger Escape Plan influences here for good measure) with intricate riffing to melodic asides and moments of calm quiet. This band paired well with Huntsmen, actually, as both shined especially well through their progressive/experimental lenses albeit different in their approaches.

The Atlas Moth

Probably one of the raddest metal bands to come out of Chicago this decade, The Atlas Moth have engineered a wild (and wildly heavy) spectacle of sight and sound which has won the band significant acclaim. Their brand of noir-saturated post-sludge actually feels like it avoids classification at every turn. Monstrous, elephant-stomping rhythms emerge from nowhere; then, frontman Stavros Giannopoulos‘s screams take flight amid growing riffs and pulsating backlights. The Atlas Moth perform on-stage drama, to say the least, with their ever-evolving sound and hyperbolic stage presence. Could a cooler band have been chosen to close out this fest? Probably not.

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