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Live Report: Psycho Las Vegas Day 2

Myrkur. Photo cred: Alyssa Hermann
Myrkur. Photo cred: Alyssa Hermann

The rooms at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino have some of the most effective blackout curtains I have encountered, blocking out the early-to-late morning desert sun, letting you get the precious rest needed for another day’s marathon of indulgent metal-related activities.

Every Thursday through Sunday, the Hard Rock hosts a daytime pool party known as Rehab. This is marked by an 11:00 a.m. wakeup call of extremely bass-heavy dance music that reverberates through walls and windows, porting directly into your room. The only silver lining to this situation is the resultant haste with which you complete your morning rituals and get downstairs to discover what sustenance the day will require. The most popular choice is Mr. Lucky’s Diner, located on the casino floor.

This is where I ended up.

I used my time during breakfast to map out another day of human ping-pong between all three venues. It was all leading up to a King Diamond finale — like a mountaintop in the distance acting as a beacon (and reward) for making it through another desert day. Having made it through Day One reasonably well gave me confidence and enthusiasm about the long road ahead to The King, so I paid my bill and set off to my first stop.

The music was set to start at 1:00 p.m. at the Joint, and in a rare occurrence for the festival, there would be only one band to choose from: Richmond, VA-based Cough. The doom label gets thrown around so much these days — it is hard to remember the term’s power. Cough, however, does an amazing job of reminding you. The tempo and melodies evoke images and scenarios of true demise and despair, like wounded but immortal mind trapped in a well with no foreseeable way of making it back to land above. As bleak as this may sound, it ended up being a fitting primer for the rest of the day, as there was much more like-minded heaviness to be had.

I decided to stay at the Joint to experience the current form of Diamond Head. I had no basis for expectations outside of the chatter from nearby metal critics leading up to the performance. The general consensus from this gaggle of aficionados was that it would be interesting at best, and a trainwreck at worst. The venue was about 30% full when Diamond Head started, and there was not much reaction from the audience at first. This did not have an effect on the enthusiasm and playing of the band, though. Most noticeably, the range and ability of singer Rasmus Andersen (who joined in 2014 and recorded with the band in 2015 for their most recent self-titled release) was impressive. The rest of the band delivered a solid, but not remarkable, performance. At the set’s midpoint, there was a noticeable increase in the number of bodies in the room, and active crowd participation finally started to appear. While the negative predictions turned out to be untrue (and seeing “Am I Evil?” live was definitely a treat), the new material may take some getting used to.

The debates, slander, love, hate, distaste, and adoration for the next performer have been bubbling and brewing into a frenzy online, and that energy and discussion bled into the real world before the curtains opened. Myrkur is a black metal-inspired project lead by Amalie Bruun, a Danish-born musician and actress, and the center of heated debates surrounding the authenticity of her take on the genre. Some black metal fans take it upon themselves to be more of a council or tribunal that judges the legitimacy of bands claim of black metal-ness. This judgement and policing has been swirling around Myrkur since the project began, and neither side of the argument looks poised to bow out any time soon.

Bruun emerged wearing a long, white gown, giving her the appearance of an apparition glowing in blue light. Her voice pierced through the ambient murmurs of the audience as she started through an arrangement that included the bassist’s use of a bow to create underlying noises and swells. Going through the first song I did hear and see many of the well known hallmarks of black metal influence, such as blast beats, tremolo picking, and folksy 6/8 rhythms. These techniques were used with a different intention when compared to the originators of the genre, and Myrkur should not be held to the same level of inspection as those who claim rank in the true northern darkness.

The pool stage opened its doors at 7:30 p.m. with Weedeater bringing their humid sludge-filled riffs to weigh the sun down below the horizon. Even by their third song, people were still flooding into the pool area to catch what is a notoriously heavy but hilarious set. The charismatic stage presence of bassist and vocalist Dave “Dixie” Collins is entertaining on its own, but when combined with the band’s adept execution of fan favorites such as “God Luck and Good Speed,” it is hard to find anything that compares. A truly unique heavy music experience that you feel personally invited to based on the band’s warm southern style hospitality and inclusive personal engagement with the audience.

Weaving my way through a now-packed crowd at the Joint, I headed toward Vinyl to witness The Skull, a group consisting of members of Trouble, as well as Witch Mountain. Despite being one of the pioneers of doom, Trouble have become a well-kept secret within the genre. While there is a version of Trouble still active, The Skull are the closest to the real thing. Running through songs such as “R.I.P. Assassin” and “End of My Daze,” we were treated to some of the best of Trouble’s catalog. The Skull have been writing and recording their own new material as well, which thankfully does not fall far from the tree of Trouble’s rich Chicago-inspired blues steeped in Iommi’s influence.

And right back into the Joint for Neurosis. From the balcony, the size and scope of the venue could be felt, and it was easier to focus on the performance itself. Seeing Neurosis live has always been a reality check, or at least has aided in contemplative thoughts about personal situations, serious or trivial. The thoughts for me that night, however, were completely focused on the band: I found myself contemplating what makes this band such a complete juggernaut.

When a massive beast or object moves, it appears slow… but it is in fact covering more ground than its more nimble counterparts. It is that type of power and movement that make Neurosis so awe-inspiring. This set also featured the first real display of aggression from the audience, and my vantage point was perfect to watch the bursts of energy from the band result in explosions of movement from the crowd. I was also able to see that a few of the security personnel got swept up in the moment and decided to participate in the pit as well — not to hurt people and get away with it — but for their own sheer enjoyment.

It was time to come down from my crow’s nest and work my way toward the front for Saturday night’s massive resolution. Random outbursts of instruments rang out from the PA as the final sound checks were performed in preparation for King Diamond. The lights finally went dark and the loudest cheer so far of the festival roared, almost drowning out the sample from “Out of the Asylum” from Them (1988). The curtain was now again drawn open revealing a stage set with as much detail and quality as you find for a theatrical production. Right as the sample ended, the drum intro to “Welcome Home” incited for cheering as King and Grandma appeared on stage.

(If you are at all unfamiliar then I urge you to look into the storyline of King Diamond’s concepts for the band’s albums as they are as bizarre as they are entertaining. The music associated with King Diamond requires a large amount of technical ability from every member of the band, and the band that has been assembled and back the show for the past several years is nothing short of amazing).

After running through three more King Diamond and Mercyful Fate songs, it was time to start the full play through of the album Abigail. Released in 1987, Abigail is the second studio album from King Diamond, and the first concept album from the group. The concept is an original story developed by the vocalist that tells the tale of a happy couple moving into an inherited mansion with a bad past involving a stillborn child and adultery. This entire storyline is also played out on stage by King and a woman playing multiple roles. There are props and backdrop changes throughout the set making it a true heavy metal horror opera. You will be hard pressed to find more entertainment and production value in a heavy metal concert.

-Alyssa Herrman & Guy Nelson

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