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Live Report: Northwest Terror Fest (Day One)


Those There

Northwest Terror Fest (NWTF) to those who witnessed it: three days of multifarious audiovisual stimulation, headlined by Wolves In The Throne Room, Cephalic Carnage, and Coven. NWTF to those who played it: three days of opportunity, seized with top-game attitude and heartfelt passion. NWTF to those who organized it: three days of consummate payoff, printed all over fans’ permanent fuck-yeah faces. NWTF to those who covered it: three days of enthralling content, uncaptured by any one perspective. NWTF to those in mere proximity: who are these goddamn freaks?

Metalheads are by definition really into their music, which is obvious even externally, at a passing. And major productions like NWTF (or last year’s Migration Fest, covered here) draw the most serious and involved purveyors. As a result, the in-group cohesion at NWTF was industrial-strength; the social mechanics well-lubricated. Everyone automatically knew everyone else in that special sort of way, from the black metal snobs to the denizens of doom. The ultimate (collective) purpose: to lose yourself in the music, whether it’s the sordid dirge of Lycus or the flesh-eating intensity of Uada. Being around like-minded others makes it possible. Being around like-hearted others makes it highly probable.

We all differ in how we express it. Some just cross their arms and head-nod, others find ways to mosh wildly even to doom metal. Some raise their fists (or swing ’em around), others opt for standing rigid and holding invisible oranges (really heavy ones). In a rare and gorgeous display, NWTF’s crowd covered the entire gamut of physical expressions and gestures in reaction to heavy metal stimuli, straight from Day One. The lineup’s breadth integrated the audience: we came for the event, not just the shows. We came from the above-ground and the below-ground, the here-world and there-world. And high were the stakes of finding a new band to love, especially in the case of last-minute-addition Isenordal.


This is to say that despite whatever minor differences in opinion separate us, we all love essentially the same thing: extreme and uncompromising music. This gets lost in the midst of raunchy opinion pieces or heated discussions about which bands are trve and which are false. Events like NWTF are important not only because they showcase wonderful artists but because they’re intense, shared moments which bridge the inevitable but unnecessary gaps dividing us. You’ll be enjoying music you’d otherwise never enjoy, simply because you’re seeing it with others. Their joy becomes yours. At its dramatic close, NWTF had imbued us with the sense that heavy metal was our music, that these outstanding folk were as good as family, and that Real True Love put it all together.

Finding Things

You’ll find Neumo’s (NWTF’s primary venue) in the Capitol Hill district, a gentrified playground for beer and coffee aficionados, general yuppies, and gift shoppers with serious buckz. You’ll find Barboza in Neumo’s basement, which is also a full bar with dim lighting and plush leather seating. You’ll find Zion’s Gate Records one block away, and you’ll be damn glad you did (though your wallet won’t). You’ll find Highline (which hosted the after shows) just a few minutes’ walk away, near Dick’s Drive-In, which serves ultra-grubby cheeseburgers and cheap milkshakes to drunk and/or high people. You’ll find Seattle in the Northwest, somewhere near Portland or Canada or something.

Outside Neumo’s, smokers and chatters congregate into an undulating black amoeba, sliced by curious passers-by and augmented with randos who want a piece of the scene. A throwback rock outfit jams casually across the street on the corner. A drunk, homeless-looking man shouts nonsense into the crowd from its periphery, meandering about. Cars slowly back up, but don’t beep, as crossing pedestrians step cautiously into their way. Rain dampens everything, including our hair, but lets up later on. Seattle isn’t so big, but feels endless when staring down Pike Street either direction of Tenth Avenue. NWTF feels grandiose and titanic when standing in its midst, as if that’s the only reason anyone would be in this neighborhood.


I usually avoid writing in first-person: it’s a combination of not wanting to expressly transmit my own opinion (admittedly unavoidable) and not wanting to repeat the letter “I” again and again. I sometimes make exceptions, though, and that’s important. I like menthol cigarettes and West Coast IPAs, also important. I really like blast beats and breakdowns. I am the eyes-closed, arms-crossed, head-nodding type, though I used to mosh when all I listened to was technical death metal. I am habitual and obsessive, awkward but approachable. I don’t look like a metalhead (neither does Ian, who will be bringing you “Part Two: The Better Part” of our NWTF coverage).

I saw in the faces of NWTF attendees the need for this music. I too probably looked that way, facing various struggles of my own and cherishing those precious moments of peace (no, bliss) when I’m sonically swallowed by both noise and audience. I saw it, outside in relaxed back-and-forths or during the most climactic moments of the show: a collective yearning which had coalesced from the ether into something tangible. I saw an impassioned seriousness, another form of reality. I let it tunnel through me, aiding in my own absorption, and stumbled upon a higher form of at-oneness with things. I have been fighting myself for so fucking long. I have been just so close.

Wonderful places to eat around Neumos’s include 8oz Burger & Co. (slightly manufactured, but solid), Soi (killer brunch), Oddfellos Café (ditto re: brunch) and Ian’s Pizza On The Hill (delivers 20” beasts). Verdict on Dick’s Drive-In: cheap, and worth it. Also, you can ironically visit the Starbucks Reserve Roastery just down East Pike Street. Non-ironically, you can get coffee at Capitol Coffee Works and be completely blown away. There’s no use in listing the places to drink, they’re ubiquitous. Though, as far as bars go, a big shout-out to Highline for being so rad, and having a (smoking-permitted) balcony for those nippy Seattle nights.


All Sorts

Sludgy stoner metal rock. Multifaceted melodic blackened doom. Southern swampy blackened noise. Macabre menacing black metal. Spacey superlative black metal. Righteous recalcitrant blackened doom. Psychedelic pungent hard rock. Bluesy bludgeoning atmospheric doom. Groovy grungy stoner doom. Ethereal entrancing black metal. Day One. All sorts.

Vivid excitement transformed into comfort and awe as the shows charged forward, set up between Neumo’s and Barboza such that no downtime existed between sets. This one-to-the-next onslaught stimulated attendees and tested their wherewithal and dedication, a challenge met head-on. Reprieve, when needed, was granted by the aforementioned outdoors congregation (or aforementioned surrounding amenities) where small groups conversed passionately about favorite bands, referencing shirts, patches, tattoos, etc., stated symbols of steadfast dedication to a certain musical craft. Many, many sub-subgenres were represented, inextricably intertwined. Casual or steadfast, all types gathered as one for moments of silence in a house of sheer noise.

Evoke. As just the second act (after a ripping performance by opener Witch Ripper), Seattle-based Isenordal set NWTF’s bar high with an orchestrally dense performance. Clean singing echoed alongside harrowing shrieks (dual vocalists), compounded with delicate violin and piano passages, all within an ever-shifting doom and black metal framework. Passing from gentle to furious, bright to dim, Isenordal had the swoon and gusto to evoke powerful emotions concomitant with raised fists. True fact: actual tears were shed, the prettiness of Marisa Kaye Janke’s voice and her violin to blame. Isenordal exercised the aplomb necessary to create cohesive noise with so many instrumental and vocal inputs, demonstrating put-togetherness in conducting it live without hiccups.

Frighten. Uada made waves with last year’s Devoid of Light, an exemplar of horror-filled American black metal. Their dynamism plays well live: the textures and colors of noise-walls dance between moments of rigid, old-school riffing, especially when they played “Black Autumn, White Spring,” the album’s final track. This brand of black metal charges you up, but also frightens. As a delivery vehicle for rockable intensity, Uada had the crowd slamming heads but also raising fists, especially when frontman Jake Superchi lets out almighty howls. This band is macabre, though unlike most other macabre bands, they don’t let it define them, or spoil their rockability.

Void Omnia
Void Omnia

Rile. Tearing apart Barboza, Oakland-based Void Omnia delivered their aggressive brand of cosmic black metal, hammering home hits from last year’s debut Dying Light. Taking advantage of the narrow space downstairs, they projected themselves forcefully, complementing their straightforward attitudes and riling up a still-fresh audience. Drummer Cody Stein’s vivid performance established the twisty headspace through which the discordant yet discernible guitar riffs can emerge. Void Omnia made it their job to organically discover melodies and then pound them home with sensational volume, transforming madness into spectacle, awing the crowd. They’re raunchier and more distorted live than on album, and to their benefit, as this complements their outright speed.

Entrance. Lycus opened with the first and best track from last year’s Chasms, “Solar Chamber,” which contains a perfect transition (at 3:58) from head-hanging operatic doom to orange-raising black metal theater. Like aftershocks, these shifts phase in and out at varying intensities, gently but assuredly entrancing the crowd, keeping them grounded with super-downtuned riffs both catchy and dark. The song explodes again (at 7:51) into atmospheric denouement, tremolo-picked melodies floating evily over nonstop double-bass. Lycus all the while maintained solid groove, a (blackened) doom band at their core, thanks to drummer Trevor Deschryver’s grandiose flair. To put it this way: of all the bands painter Paolo Girardi has lent his work, Lycus best captures his style. Of all the bands at NWTF, Lycus instilled the most vivid dread.


Woke Wolves

Feet go numb. Been so patient. Still setting up. Wait for it. Wait for it. Here they come. Here they go. Eyes well up. Noise so great. Smell the music. It is immediate. It is passionate. Chest is pounding. From the inside. From the outside. They are climbing. Getting even higher. And higher still. The downs break. Noise pours out. Copious and vehement. Metaphysical and divine. This is religion. Just me now. And the music. Among all others. Here we are.

NWTF, like any music festival, was rife with ritual: personal meaning gleaned from prescribed, symbolic acts. Capturing ritual best and translating it into performance was evening closer Wolves In The Throne Room (WITTR), whose use of incense and moody lighting vacuumed the crowd into their atmospheric blast-beat swaths, fronted by a triple-guitar harmony. WITTR is the hip haircut of black metal: messy and long on top for pizzazz, clean and short on the sides for presentation. They’re also hyperbolic in the best way imaginable, slowing down for groovy single-note riffs, gradually building up toward overwhelming climaxes. The experience of witnessing these 10+ minute tracks live, each one a transcendent journey, remains in memory as wavelengths. Hypnotic flashes come back unannounced, and the wild intensity reverberates over your skin once again.

If one band’s music was to capture the ethos of NWTF, it’d be WITTR. Now, that’s dependent entirely on your own perspective. Suffice it to say: seeing WITTR live is an inward experience, but also an outward expression. Physically, you can’t not react. We were all there to be moved by something. From ambient and abstract to full-force onslaught, WITTR challenges your stasis, carrying you away from your presence, a detachment which may be uncomfortable at first but ends up becoming catharsis. Like a solid friend, WITTR never leaves you hanging. They reliably deliver what they promise: Cascadian black metal of extreme potency, with unabashed style.

Wolves In The Throne Room
Wolves In The Throne Room

WITTR has perfected the technique of discovering simple, triumphant leads and milking them for every ounce. They carry them forward on lengthy waves of tremolo picking and blast beats, often sans vocals for ultimate effect, like moments in drawn-out jam sessions when all instruments fall into perfect sync. The resulting blasts reverberated the floors and bodies alike. But WITTR also knows how to quiet down, and with help from the incense, they produce solemn moments of retreat, gearing the crowd toward the subsequent ascent toward yet another culmination. Volume fades and builds, we inhale and exhale; the audience kept in physical lockstep with mountainous undulations.

With all live music, there’s that brief silence between a set’s last note and the audience’s cheers and applause. It was no longer or shorter for WITTR at NWTF, but it felt like a decade. The reasons why are entirely personal and subjective. Theirs is the type of show that leaves you realizing how surreally quiet an otherwise busy street is, almost like walking into sunlight after a long matinee. Although, rain may have been appropriate then, but not necessary. The real tranquility lived inside, if only for a little bit, sanguine and bittersweet. Yet the post-release calm did not dampen enthusiasm for the fact that this was only Day One. Time may have dilated, but in the thick of it, time was of no concern. As true in life: live in the moment, and joy will never cease.

Photo Credit: Bobby Cochran

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