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Memories of Migration Fest 2016

Krallice -Photo by Andrew Rothmund
-Photo by Andrew Rothmund

Dizzied from our journeys, some cross-continental, Migration Fest breathed deep our collective anticipation: 100 pre-release tickets sold out in four seconds *back in February*. Dedication made real. The subject of catharsis transforming into object, gestating over three days of profound extreme metal, doom metal, black metal, etc.

Crashing upon Olympia, Washington (population: 48,000), a blackened seawave (population: 1,000) occupied Fifth Avenue Southeast. Also, Burial Grounds, a gothy coffee shop across from Capitol Theater. Compatriots sipped lattes with skulls in the foam. Coffee shakes named Zombie Attacker and Ice Cold Corpse were more chuggable. The impeccable Rainy Day Records across the block hosted fest merch.

Capitol Theater, venue extraordinaire: mostly seated, with a floor section frontward, plus cathedral acoustics. The layout allows for reclining, absorbing, and nodding/leg-bouncing at high BPM. The floor populated by active listeners, fists pumping, invisible oranges gripped way high. High-fidelity surround sound (dozens of fucking speakers encircling the walls and balcony above) allowing true vocal delay and headphone-quality encasement.

Warm bodies and petrichor saturated still air, freshness was just outside. Sweat beads down backs and faces; white salt stains tarnish black fabrics. Pale Chalice has now erupted in a total darkness, dimly illuminated only by shafts and slivers. “Lights low as possible,” frontman Ephemeral Domignostika demanded prior to breakout. And so it was, a weekend of darkness christened by darkness itself.

All the while, your caffeinated heart beats for Panopticon’s Saturday debut. It’s still Friday afternoon. Thou: crushing. Yellow Eyes: ripping. Obsequaie: incredible vocal performance from live-only frontman Brandon Almendinger. We stand before giants, giants to us at least.

The Olympia townspeople later praised our politeness and overall coolness. A graffitied pizza joint and some pubs pepper the map. You can feel warmth and welcome, a smooth foray toward deeper places.

Yellow Eyes -Photo by Sangdi Chen
-Photo by Sangdi Chen

We’re broken in. Just in time to witness Krallice, whose performance was impossibly technical. Witnessing Ygg Huur tracks hammered out live was enough to see, no less hear: leader Nicholas McMaster redefined spacetime with a six-string bass. Fingers with gigabyte memory contorted like our necks and arms. Brooklyn’s established black metal scene scooped and dropped on opposite side of the country.

So what does it take to melt faces into fleshy gel? How about legal marijuana? The bent, Gonzo experience was for sale: intensity attack from all angles. Fórn likewise did not relent. Vocalist Chris P. tortures his gullet. You ignore the mutual pain, but you stand in captivation. Is this a process of self-healing, or self-realizing? Our passion is furious, speaking in the language of intensities. The experience is yours to mold, wet clay in stiffened and clammy hands.

The pentagram tattoo on False frontwoman Rachel anonymous-last-name’s chest, evocatively symbolic, blast beats in syncopation with synapse firing; obscure riffing spreading goosebumps like plague. Black drapes of hair, shirts with cuss words on them, plus a living tattoo gallery. The loss and reclamation of musical control, in parallel with body function, each outlandish sensory outburst precipitating waves in the flesh.

A hazy and loud but not boisterous crowd bulges the door-side sidewalk. Inside, someone’s reading ‘Hideous Gnosis’; over there, someone’s eyes are sewn shut. Generally, two brands of fans coexist: the concaves (sensei beard stroking, inward) and the convexes (fist pumps, outward). Migration Fest was synchrony among disparity. Two poles harmonizing instead of repelling. Our musical destination one, many leads running outward.

Panopticon was sublime denouement. Their debut performance live, the orgasm was first-time fierce. Unison bloomed between Austin Lunn and followers. Hearts were yanked taut, anticipation soldered us, this was the moment that necessitated the festival’s existence. A full 90 sacred minutes of fall-to-your-knees bliss as the indisputable …On the Subject of Mortality materialized. Lunn situated himself offset stage left, softly fathering a distinctive burliness, statuesque and howling a surprise track from Kentucky. There were tears in his eyes because he knew what this meant, a true culmination of the years past.

Also live first-timers, Mizmor gripped tight and seized all opportunities. Yodh, released on August 12, amalgamated the discordant aspects of black metal and doom into something of odd beauty. Mizmor undulated the crowd, waveforms all chiseled raw; movement as contemplation, your temporal scope narrowed to the time it takes to fire a nerve. If the memory eventually dies, cool satisfaction will rest in its void.

Vhol -Photo by Sangdi Chen
-Photo by Sangdi Chen

At night, the other side of the block hosts grubbier action, at least for those who ditched the two after shows at Obsidian. Gyros in hand, metal dudes strolled past two unfortunate junkies under the attention of ambulances and firetrucks. Tzatziki sauce drips on cold sidewalks and looks like bird shit. Sleep is impossible, as your skull echo-chambers, and being late to a set is unacceptable. Tune out, tune back in.

Hell. The band Hell. The heaviest band of the weekend, darkened doom roaring forth and testing the venue’s bass capacity. Slowness trudges forward, an odd relief from Mutilation Rites insanity. Chest thumps cannot be simulated, these actually compress you from all sides like water pressure. Krallice demanded your attention. Dead To A Dying World commanded your heart. Hell demanded your soul.

No better send off than Mournful Congregation. It’s in the name, this crowd plagued by demons, coming together in rare social form symbolizing a singular truth: everything is better when you’re around like-minded folk, even funerals. And depressurizing like a valve, Olympia perhaps relieved of The Crowd, which departed like an overnight cavalcade, stealthily back into shadows and the embrace of the apparitions who inhabit them.

-Andrew Rothmund

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