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Live Report: Stumpfest 2017

Words by Josh Nichols Photos by Alyssa Herrman
Words by Josh Nichols
Photos by Alyssa Herrman

On April 20th, Rynne and Sara Stump once again commandeered Mississippi Studios in Portland Or. to bring life to one of the annual rites of spring in the pacific northwest, the bacchanalia of Stumpfest. Now in its sixth year, the three night metal festival has grown from the small passion project it started as, to one of the most looked forward to events on the metal calendar. Stumpfest always has a strong focus on local Portland acts, and this year was no different with Danava tapped to headline the opening night. But the Stump sisters also reached deep into many a metal heads wish list to come back with east coast giants Windhand and Elder to headline the following two nights making this their most ambitious line up to date.

Day 1

Alyssa Herrman
Alyssa Herrman

The start of Stumpfest coinciding with 4/20, the official stoner holiday, made for a very laid back scene, which proved to have both positive and negative effects throughout the evening, but neither took hold for the local opener. Comprised of former members of bands like El Cerdo, Diestro and Two Hands, Maximum Mad were only working on their third show when they opened Stumpfest. They sounded seasoned with grungy Pantera-ish post metal layered with a Conan style vocal delivery, and set a trend of great opening sets from really talented locals for the whole festival.

The rest of the evening featured more groovy and psychedelic acts. Acid Wash adhere to a fast and loose take on power metal like Diamond Head and Merciful Fate. As any devotee of NWOBHM knows, the vocals must be front and center to make the style work; Calvin Wright’s were too low in the mix to really shine through, or even be heard. That didn’t stop the rest of the band from shredding through a set that featured mostly tracks from last fall’s Big Heavy World.

The next two sets, White Manna and Mammatus, fully embraced the 4 20 spirit with trance inducing psyche rock. White Manna tends to a more washed out desert rock vibe, barely pausing between songs, keeping the energy moving until it’s difficult to tell if it’s still their first song or fifth.

Mammatus leaned more toward a spacey sound with a lot of fast repetitive work on the fret board. The near-constant “O” face on the lead singer along with steady preening and 70’s rock star showmanship gave a playful air to a trippy occasion.

The night culminated with local favorite, Danava, who play a caffeine fueled brand of 70’s rock. Motorhead meets funky grooves with a high pitched Ozzy style vocal. They appeared knew everyone in the room that night; in between songs singer-guitarist Greg Meleney steadily calling out members of the audience left and right while rattling off the names of all the great Portland bands on the bill, giving love to the Stump sisters and paying his respects to Don Rickles. If Meleney appeared a little smashed, riffing about Danny Carey and Lamborghini’s, the rest of the band played tight grooves to a packed house for a great opening night.

Day 2

Alyssa Herrman
Alyssa Herrman

Stumpfest took a much heavier darker turn on night two featuring bands that specialize in various amalgams of doom metal. Dark Castle started the night with a ceremonial air that built from an occult style to sludge filled with desperate wailing and fuzzed shredding. Rob Schaffer and Stevie Floyd, both veterans of multiple local bands, made a huge noise and provided a mesmerizing start to the evening.

R.I.P. followed with chugging stoner doom, blasting an in your face cock rock style and what amounted to a stand-up comedy set from frontman “Fuzz”. Whether quipping about digging our grave with his wild eyed Charles Manson stare or being quick to say “your welcome Portland” after every song, he was hilarious. The line “this song is about you…being dead” he had people laughing out loud.

Lord Dying used no comic schtick for stage presence, just heavy punishing sludge. Big and brutal like Crowbar with minor breakdowns into jammy riffs that go reeling back in pounding ferocity in the blink of an eye. Erik Olsen’s ferocious roar has a lot in common with that of Ben Verellen of Helms Alee. No half measures, just all-out attack from start to finish. The band mentioned being at work on the follow up to 2015’s Poisoned Altars, and after laying down a brief but ferocious set, that release can’t come fast enough.

Bell Witch suffered a minor equipment snafu, and got off to a late start. A restless crowd detracted from the quiet and somber beginning of their set. Once the tension was ratcheted up with their suffocating funeral doom, talking faded and all eyes were captivated. As lumbering slow and heavy as their work is, Bell Witch leave listeners hanging on each massive chord, each smashing cymbal. Cavernous guttural growls emanating from semi-new drummer Jesse Shriebman lend a horror quality to the music, evocative of Cthulhu rising from the sea. Bell Witch may require some patience from their listener, but the payoff more than makes ups for it.

As good as Windhand’s albums are, the physicality of their live sound truly intoxicating. Dorthia Cottrell has a sultry smokey delivery that belies how truly big it is in order to compete with the huge fuzzed out wall of doom being created around her. The Sleep-worthy low end could literally be felt in the back of the venue. Over all of it Dorthia wailed and crooned until the room fell under her spell. The trance-inducing verbiage that gets bandied about in reference to Windhand is all true and well deserved.

Day 3

Alyssa Herrman
Alyssa Herrman

The final night of Stumpfest kicked off with yet another excellent local band. Sol play atmospheric post metal in the Mouth of the Architect style and drew heavily from their recent release, Upheaval. The band swerves from dreamy gloom to apocalypse and back again, forcing the listener to pay attention or be jarred. Though their time was brief, they set the tone for a post metal heavy night.

Norska followed with sludgy offerings from their forthcoming Too Many Winters album. For a band of guys who work sporadically in various projects and five years since their last full length effort, they sounded focused and put together. Front man Jim Lowder has nonchalant stage presence: hands in pockets, patiently waiting his turn to erupt while the rest of the band churned and writhed through their set list. At the end of their set, Danny Carey of Tool took over on drums and Jason Oswald joined Lowder out front to rip through a cover of Tool’s “Hooker with a Penis”.

Mustard Gas and Roses took over next with a healthy dose of last fall’s release, “Becoming”. You can listen to find an in depth analysis of their sound here but don’t miss the opportunity to see them perform it live. They create a more engrossing hypnotic atmosphere in person. Few bands on the weekend caught the audience up their sway the way Mustard Gas and Roses did.

Intronaut next made their return visit to Stumpfest, having first played in 2015. Their brand of progressive post metal was a huge change of pace. They too are threatening a new album this summer, and treated the crowd to a couple of those new tracks along with selections from throughout their catalog. From heavy polyrhythmic riffing to jammy and jazz infused interludes, Intronaut’s progressive post metal made a huge change of pace.

Last, Elder took the stage for a massive headlining set. The Boston trio gets glossed with the stoner doom tag, but they have earthy progressive moments woven throughout their sound. They were the only band of the festival to cause a mosh to erupt as they tore into their first song. While most bands take an opportunity like Stumpfest to go ahead and schedule a west coast tour, Elder played for one night only before heading back east to prepare for the release of their next album, Reflections of a Floating World, as well as gear up for a European trek and later Days of Darkness festival. They were a stellar finale to three days of diverse and amazing bands in one of the most inviting and inclusive festivals on the West Coast.

All words by Josh Nichols
All photos by Alyssa Herrmann. Follow her at Foto Phortress.

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