Some quibble, but fans generally agree that heavy metal was born in 1969 when Birmingham’s Earth tuned down, swapped blues for doom, then changed their name to Black Sabbath. Since then, while some acts remain true to the original blueprint, others have taken the form in directions barely recognizable as the great Sabbath’s progeny.
Like a species adapting to its environment, metal has weathered fluctuations in a cultural landscape that has seen critics proclaim it dead with greater frequency than fresh Elvis sightings. Today, as pop charts are dominated by hip hop, quasi-R&B acts and teenagers selected for looks over talent, metal continues to flourish, filling arenas and festivals despite little attention from the mainstream music press. Iron Maiden, for instance, perhaps the greatest and longest-lived metal act of all time, currently tours the world in their own custom 757, hauling not just the band but an entire road crew and stage show to cities from Dubai to Calgary. Metal lives, worldwide.
Upholding the metal legacy at the local level has proven more difficult. Nonetheless, Demonlily Entertainment, a stalwart in promoting the genre in Missoula, intends to summon all the denim, leather and multi-pierced diehards from their lairs and jam rooms with MetalFest III. On Saturday, May 17, 11 bands will take to two stages at The Other Side and fill 12 hours of music.
Though Missoula bands comprise most of this year’s lineup, MetalFest III also showcases traveling talent from across the state, Nevada and California. And as the bill features a wide variety of metal subgenres, it also highlights the common threads that unite all of these bands: aggression, volume and passion for a music style that refuses to roll over and die.
Here’s your guide to navigating this year’s lineup.
The outdoor lineup in the beer garden is dominated by local bands, with four of the six acts based in Missoula. The two out-of-town bands include Great Falls’ rage-meisters Switch Off Safety, and Butte’s River Runs Red, the latter returning to Missoula after an appearance at Thunderkissed Thursday, a series of metal shows promoted by Demonlily last winter.
Of the four locals, Uprooted is a relative newcomer, making their MetalFest debut. Mahamawaldi, a veteran death metal band on stage frequently of late (including a blistering opening slot for Slough Feg and The Sword last month at The Badlander), also makes their first MetalFest appearance.
The two remaining Missoula bands have made great strides this year. Walking Corpse Syndrome was one of the finalists at Pabst Blue Ribbon’s Montana Band of the Year competition and recently emerged from Habbilis Records with their debut album, Forsaken, slated for release later this month.
No other local band has been as integral to the local metal scene as Blessiddoom, who finish the outdoor segment of the show. With a new record due in August and their own appearance at the PBR finals in March, the band deserves a much higher slot, indoors.
By evening the focus shifts inside, where three Montana bands set the stage for the co-headliners. After several hours of growls and bulging neck veins, the melodic metal of female-fronted Sixteen Penny should be a welcome respite. While certainly heavy, the lone Bozeman representative should provide an excellent change of pace, clearing the path for Missoula’s final representative, Universal Choke Sign. UCS has been quiet lately, skipping live appearances in favor of working on a new album—via Great Falls indie label, Coalition Recording Artists—with a release date yet to be determined.
Finishing up the evening for Montana is UCS labelmates At Home in Hell (Great Falls). Their self-titled Coalition release came out in 2006, and their industrial death metal is complemented perfectly by an ambitious stage show that features computer samples, a ghoulish backdrop, masks and black lights. Their stage performance has recently been updated; MetalFest is the first opportunity for Missoula to see what is new.
Rap metal certainly had its day, but lately has fallen somewhat out of fashion. That doesn’t concern Ruckus (San Moreno Valley, Calif.) founder and lead singer Zach Foy. His passions remain rooted with one foot in rock and the other in rap, creating an amalgamation of sounds that are processed through the metal blender. Of all the bands that are playing MetalFest, it is likely that Ruckus has a sound evolved farthest from the Sabbath family tree. Their new album, Respect the Next Generation, is due out on Jake Records on June 15.
Darque Carnival (Reno, Nev.) close out the show with a bang in support of their album, All For Naught. The Carnival pride themselves on delivering over-the-top live performances, taking the stage in a blur of lights, candles and even a 10-foot spinning Ferris wheel bedecked with skulls. They are also one of only two Jagermeister-sponsored bands out of the state of Nevada. Fans who have braved eight bands and several hours of live music will certainly be rewarded for hanging tough.
MetalFest III kicks off at The Other Side Saturday, May 17, beginning at 2 PM. $10/$8 in advance.