Hell’s Headbash Pt. 4: Total Metal
“Oh, thou who burn’st in heart for those who burn
In Hell, whose fires thyself shall feed in turn;
How long art crying – ‘Mercy on them, God!’
Why, who art thou to teach and He to learn?
–Robert W. Chambers, The King In Yellow
“You’re sleeping in your crap right now. Out of all the things that happened to you, that was the only real thing that, you know, is that you crapped your pants. I mean, it’s a mess out there. I got some on my hands, Morty? And then I got some on the dream inceptor? And a piece fell in my mouth.”
“Aw, man, geez, seriously?”
—Rick and Morty
The last day. Everyone’s feeling that final festival high, when you realize that the past four days were only a microcosm of life, not actually the whole thing. Tomorrow will be all about making a flight, packing a car, and eventually sleeping in one’s own bed. Today’s your last chance to sweat beer, drink hot blood, and enjoy Cleveland’s many treasures. Then, you can flee this wretched fucking place.
The University Hotel & Suites has all the rustic nostalgia of that shitty relationship from college that you can never forget—it’s a horrible mess, but it’s our horrible mess. The toilet has stopped working, the merch nest in my room has grown to a respectable size, and the ashtray is overflowing. The bar downstairs is perpetually host to a line of hulking black-clad dudes choking down down chicken tenders and cheap beers. There’s finality in the air, but we’re not quite done yet.
The Agora looks as tired as we all feel. The humidity within the venue doesn’t build, it’s just there when we arrive, a permanent fixture of the sweat-soaked place. The fan banner is entirely filled with pentagrams, dicks, and various profanities. But the beers are cold, and all the bartenders know me by name, so the time to rally is now. Gravewurm are a perfect opening band for the day, using classic blackened death metal to ease fans into the following ten hours; unfortunately, their use of the Mark Riddick art from their split with Fetid Zombie means that most of the time they are backed by Satan’s rotting cock and balls. Manticore follow afterwards, and though they’re definitely energetic and able, they’re more of the same on day three of warlike black metal.
Nexul’s all-black thrash attack is a lot of evil fun, inspiring the windmilling of heads more than finger blastbeats among the crowd. Nocturnal Blood definitely draw a lot of attention from old-school fans, but they’re nothing compared to Aevangelist, bathing the crowd in bizarre and riffy semi-industrial metal fronted by Miss Viola swam on vocals and saxophone. Their set ends with IO’s own Jon Rosenthal slumped on a PA monitor after basically mourning the death of his bass. Aevangelist are easily the only band of the entire fest who doesn’t sound like anyone else, and it’s a welcome break from the rest of the day’s punishing blackness.
Demonic Christ are damn capable, as are Nyogthaeblisz, but they come on either side of Shitfucker and Deathhammer, and that’s a sandwich you don’t want to be the bread on. Shitfucker absolutely dominate, their unique form of sleazy sexual mania the type of why-so-serious release that the audience has been dying for all weekend; frontman Demonbitch looks like the private life of your high school Social Studies teacher, complete with his mustache and spiked thong. Deathhammer, meanwhile, are the most outright in their thrashiness, and add a dose of breakneck speed and forceful gallop to the show. It’s an awesome one-two—laugh and rock out at one, then headbang yourself sweaty to the other. These two bands easily win the day.
Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder is a total G and smokes me out between sets, but his shit makes mine look like green carpet lint and I’m a fucking space cadet for Inquisition. They’ve never been my thing, but the crowd loves them tonight, and in their defense they play some truly vicious black metal, Satanic Warmaster’s appearance yesterday no doubt taking the controversy pressure off of them. The band sounds full of piss and vinegar, seasoned thoroughly by their big-name touring ventures and ready to tackle a late spot of such a prestigious festival. Black Witchery are evil as fuck, and batter listeners with no sign of tiring at any point. By the time they’re done, everyone’s fucking wasted, and I end up missing Archgoat due to severe incoherence and an inability to tie my shoes.
The final morning in my smoke-stinking room in Cleveland. Time to see if the records fit in the bag, to make sure the ID and credit card came home with me, to dump the remainder of that eighth (wish I’d handed it off to Trevor). The day outside feels less oppressive today, though maybe that’s just the end of the fest talking. These past four days at the Agora have reminded me what a roller coaster these things can be.
They also reminded me of something important that I can’t stress enough here: when it comes to underground metal, you can’t fuck with Hell’s Headbangers. All lip service aside, those dudes are championing this kind of music better than anyone, and they put on the kind of filthy, polluted, hilarious free-for-all that fans of classic Slayer really want. So whenever you’re at big outdoor festival and it’s all a bunch of energy drink-sponsored horseshit, remember that it doesn’t have to be like this. It can be a disgusting endurance contest full of fringe society sewer mutants who sweat like they’re being paid to in a city to which you’ll never want to return
The dream of the Satanic Panic is alive in Cleveland. Just be ready to get your hands dirty.