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Live Report: Psycho Las Vegas Day 3

Abbath. Photo cred: Alyssa Herrman
Abbath. Photo cred: Alyssa Herrman

Sunday started much like the previous two days. I needed the same movements and gestures to prepare me for one last onslaught of noises, both musical and otherwise. I was confronted with both relief of having made it this far and sadness that it would soon be over. I would never have come to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino unless it was for something of this magnitude, so it would make complete sense for me to be pretty well burnt out on my temporary home.

But it was quite the contrary. I had found my own reason to be in Las Vegas — my own way to have an expensive, borderline self destructive vacation even without booze. To be honest, I was in a decent amount of pain and discomfort from the sheer amount of walking, running, and standing over the previous two days. My realization, though, helped me to wear the pain as a badge of honor instead of a burden. This spurred me on for the rest of the day… and what a day it was.

The first offering of the day started at noon with Windhand at The Joint. The simple, yet massive riffs alongside Dorthia Cottrell’s haunting and soulful singing was like a large train leaving the station — steady and determined — but still slow and accessible for the those who wanted to take the ride. Looking around at the crowd, I could plainly see the toll that had been taken from the past two days. But it began to melt away as Windhand’s set moved on, acting as a bloody mary of doom curing their headbangovers.

Seeing and hearing Zeal and Ardor for the first time was quite an experience. Two things stuck out: black metal-inspired tremolo-picked guitar and extremely soulful blues-based singing. Well-executed and dismal riffs danced around powerful melodies inspired by spiritualistic hymns and chain-gang chants, cutting right into your core. For a project started on an online comment thread, Zeal and Ardor’s small spark of inspiration ignited into an amazingly well-written collection of music. It is a clear testimony to Manuel’s creativity that he basically created a modern metal version of Robert Johnson.

I have never had the chance to see Abbath or Immortal, so I was well happy to stay put after Zeal and Ardor. Being one of Black Metal’s most recognizable figures, Abbath continues to retain a fervent following after leaving Immortal in 2015. The setlist consisted of several originals with blocks of Immortal covers, as well as a cover of “Warriors” by I. In between songs, Abbath would bless us with his best Elvis impersonation or several lines from Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” (with a hauntingly accurate Lemmy impression). He was clearly smitten by the Las Vegas atmosphere. On multiple occasions, Abbath would hoist up a banana brought on stage — as if to raise a glass to the festival and those in attendance — before plunging back into another frigid song.

Corrosion Of Conformity were running through their last line-checks as I entered The Joint. Mike Dean started priming the sludge pump with the ominous opening bass line to “Bottom Feeder,” soon being joined by Reed Mullen on drums, and eventually getting the signal from Pepper Keenan to sink into the main riff of the song. This led to a slick transition into “Paranoid Opioid” with a considerable uptick in tempo and energy. The rest of the set was heavily laced with tracks from Deliverance, a fitting and well-received choice considering this was the lineup responsible for that record. This set served as a reminder of what Corrosion of Conformity have done in terms of inspiration and influence to a good number of the bands on the bill.

It was now time for the Pool Stage to open itself up to one more night of poolside punishment, starting with Manilla Road. The setlist was a full run-through of the album Crystal Logic (1983) which has been heralded ever since. Those unfamiliar with the band had some interesting reactions: from laughter and surprise to downright confusion. Manilla Road has a more traditional heavy metal sound that apparently seemed cheesy to some, while others reveled in this aspect. I enjoyed the energy and technicality as a welcome contrast to an overwhelming amount of slow-moving music during the festival. The band played the material with a great amount of finesse and authority, and lead guitarist/vocalist Mark “The Shark” Shelton can still shred with the best of them.

Having cleansed my palate with Manilla Road I was ready for something thick and heavy again. Year of the Cobra took over Vinyl. Even though the two-piece does not completely fill their area on stage, they definitely filled the room with people and sound. The music they create is maneuverable and lively, while still being able to bare the classification of doom metal. The symbiotic relationship that has been created is one of the tighter doom rhythm sections in modern times and was well favored by the audience. Johanes Barrysmith is unrelenting behind the drumkit, making up for any open space you would want to fill with guitars or other sounds and has a great musicality with his powerful playing that supports Amy Tung Barrysmith’s articulate yet fuzzed-out riffs. This is a relatively new musical endeavor, so their advancement thus far speaks to their determination and interest from fans.

By the time I had made it to The Joint, the curtains were still closed and preparations were still underway for the heavily anticipated Swans set. When the curtains finally opened to reveal a semi-circle of amps and instruments tightly packed next each other, the members of the band were just moving to take their positions. Front-and-center position was Michael Gira, analyzing lighting and placement of the other members. An imposing single-note swell filled the room and continued to sustain as the band settled in and started to add to the sound. Gira acted as the conductor, moving back and forth, keeping eye contact and gesturing communication with those on stage with him. We were then graced with nearly two hours of a living and breathing performance unlike anything else. The pictures can never do it justice.

With events of this magnitude, there can be times when you wish you were already at the finish line due to fatigue or sensory overload, but once you realize it’s done, you never wanted it to actually be over. I wanted to make sure I got everything I could out of this last performance, and thankfully Mastodon are one of my personal favorites and have been for well over a decade.

Mastodon started their set off with “Sultan’s Curse,” the opening track of their new album, Emperor Of Sand. A good portion of the crowd was already familiar with the song and responded with a decent amount of movement. The setlist was put together with the aim of interspersing the new material in and around older favorites. Seeing and hearing the fresh material live brought new appreciation to the songs I expected to be less enthusiastic about.

With the tunings and techniques Mastodon uses, it can be hard to showcase the heaviness or technicality of their songs on record. To truly give the songs a chance, you must experience them live. They of course played many of their older, more progressive and aggressive tracks throughout the 20-song setlist, making sure to show that they can still pull off some of the more difficult and impressive arrangements. Basically, Brent Hinds stole the show that night. Hinds has always done well to make sure he can fit a guitar solo into as many songs as possible. Every time one of those solos came up, he would crack a smile and put everything he had into it.

With the lights now up, I let the remainder of adrenaline run its course and watched the remnants of the crowd scour the ground for anything of value. We had made it to the end. In my three days here, I did not witness a single fight or altercation, no one got kicked out for bullshit reasons by security, and every single band I was lucky enough to see played with well above 100% effort. The spirit and vibe of this monster event has taken on its own life and is nurturing its own culture and reputation. Even though some of the branding and imagery is a bit over the top, and the “Fear and Loathing” vibe is too much gravy, it is all a part of something that heavy music fans have been hoping for. This is definitely a new high-water mark for the progression and acceptance of what we hold dear as heavy metal fans. Here’s to next year’s lineup.

–Alyssa Herrman & Guy Nelson

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