Las Vegas is a town that is under the constant pressure of the ebb and flow of chaos that is created by humans. A whirlwind long weekend or a one-night stand can bring whatever you may desire giving it the appropriate name Sin City. The weekend of August 18th-20th was no different as the Hard Rock Hotel was transformed into a Heavy Metal Sandals Resort with the second annual PsychoFest.
What started only a few years prior in Southern California, with only a pile of amps and bands armed with fuzz boxes, has grown into an all-out renowned music festival. Imagine the three stages of a multi-million dollar Las Vegas resort crumbling under what some bands were pumping out, and a casino floor littered with battle vests and long hair. A lot of trust was put into the promoters for letting them host such an event, but a huge thank you and a congratulations is in order for putting together one of the best modern metal festivals. Also, apologies to the families and guests who arrived and were unaware of the festivities going on that weekend, the name Hard Rock was put to the test and a lot of you got caught in the crossfires.
If you were following our Instagram that weekend you will already know of our travel mishap which resulted in us completely missing the pre-festival pool party that was headlined by Pentagram, Conan, Yob, and Subrosa. So, when we finally did arrive at the Casino shortly after midnight, we were happy and relieved to see people still partying at the center bar. After we checked into our room, which sat with the most perfect view of the Pool Stage, we raced back down to catch a drink and try sniff out some details of what we had missed. Exhaustion quickly set in as we returned through the corridors lined with clothes shops and tattoo parlors so we opted for a plate of fries at the 24-hour diner before heading to bed. Fat middle-aged me once again defeated the fun loving headbanger dying to get out and party.
The following morning worked in our favor as it got us up quite early with the time difference, it gave us a chance to get our senses of the facility that would house us for the next 3 days, with a healthier choice of a fresh café out the foot of our elevator we made this our HQ and formed a plan of attack. We decided with the merch hall opening two hours before any of the bands started that we would burn through that portion of our budget nice and early. While the merch hall was plentiful with t-shirts, albums, hoodies, and patches (including PsychoFest’s own line of incredible products) the downside to this room was the layout. Large tables were fitted in an L-shaped fashion with the merch hanging on the wall that was separated by boxes upon boxes (obviously being a festival they needed A LOT of product) which created a gap so much so that you needed binoculars to see what was hanging on the wall. Despite the design flaw, the merch was great and we were able snag a nice pile of loot.
With our wallets a little lighter we headed over to The Joint, Hard Rock’s main event space that houses an impressive 4,000 people, to see Mothership open up the festival. If you haven’t listened to Mothership do yourself a favour and do so, they were making a lot of buzz early this summer with being the runner-ups in the Metallica Hit The Stage contest; a contest I strongly feel they should have won. The Dallas natives brought Texas-sized stoner rock to a filling room through Hard Rock’s impressive sound system and, despite a few equipment failures on the last song (a big trend through the weekend), the boys left the stage with a warm response.
An upside to how this festival organized was the timing of the sets, with hard-nosed efficiency only a ten to fifteen minute break would be required so not soon after we returned from being steam rolled with our discovery of sixteen dollar beers at the bar, the place was filled up once again for Wolves in the Throne Room. WITTR and a few other black metal bands were a new addition this year as the variety of music now reaches beyond the stoner and pysch metal genres. So, with a packed house the Northwesters brought a 4-song organic, grass-fed marathon for us to enjoy. Most people who have only heard WIITR on record hear it as just raw, striped-down black metal, and…. it is just that live. But done live they achieve something great, and with an impressive light show, the 12-minute blast beats and atmospheric guitar tones transform the room into an overwhelming being. It was definitely an interesting set, but perhaps a tad early on in the day for such a thing.
Skipping bankruptcy through beer consumption, we took a stroll to the center bar to grab drinks at a reasonable 8 bucks, before returning to The Joint to see the spiked leather jackets empty out to be replaced by the dusty desert ensembles of the Slo Burn crowd. Sporting a spiffy haircut and proving he still has the vocal chops, John Garcia and crew play for the first time in years to what was a criminally half empty room. Beginning to end the band stayed in their element for a group of die-hard fans, the only shame was that we were not 2 miles down the road to where the city ends and the desert begins to truly hear them echo off the bordering mountains. Now, I would like to take a second to point this out, although some will agree and find this odd to say, but what you may have noticed was the large screens that flanked the stage of The Joint. The screens played Ralph Steadman-inspired images and animations made for the festival or videos that the band requested, but what my old ass found most convenient was the random displays of albums that were released by who was on stage.
Taking a break from the show we left the Hard Rock in search of some fresh air, food, beer and the now legal supply of cannabis. If you haven’t been to Vegas what you should be most warned about is that smoking is legal inside casinos, now they do pump truckloads of scents inside to mask the smell, but sometimes 45 degree desert air comes as a relief. Upon returning from our… trip… we took a nice artistic break to check out Chelsea Wolf. One of the larger names, and not particularly a metal act, on the bill for the day, she brought in a nice sized crowd playing heavily off of the 2015 album Abyss. We cut this set early to get over and catch the underrated Toke blast through a set. Armed with cowboy boots and riding high off recent tours with Heavy Temple and Goya, the trio crushed through their 2016 album Orange providing a heavy rip of North Carolina sludge. The room was full in The Vinyl club for Toke and for good reason, with a growing popularity off their 2016 album the young band played a tight and head crushing set.
With the amount of bands playing over three stages there were bound to be some scheduling issues and unfortunately missing a large chunk of Melvins’ set was one of those problems. What was caught of their set was classic Melvins: loud and heavy, Buzzo wearing something weird and everyone losing their minds like it was the end of the world. But who doesn’t like consistency right? Standing out of what was caught of their set was they super heavy cover of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold your Hand”. After this it was time for us to race back to the room and get into our swim trunks for one of the exciting offers of this festival, the pool stage.
Now I love pools, I love heavy music and I love the desert air so combining the three put me into pure bliss. Hard Rock dons three of the most amazing pools I have ever seen, they’re sand lined, surrounded by palm trees and with a maze of walkways with strategically situated bars. I barely had enough time to take in the magnitude of the space before Young and In The Way started their set. Balaklava wearing bikini babes stood either side of the stage as the blackened crust giants unleashed hell causing rooms overlooking the pool to check out what was going on and a circle pit to erupt in the pool. Up next in the pool was Vhol with Mike Scheidt from YOB on vocals hitting the impressive falsettos to quite a large crowd considering Sleep were bringing down the walls inside. But it was set well worth the miss, once again poolside with popular tracks like Insane With Faith, no one left unsatisfied.
After towelling off and refueling ourselves in the room which gave us a chance to see Sumac shake the shit out of our windows, we decide to go against the grain and skip Mulatu Astatke and Brian Jonestown Massacre in The Joint head over to the Vinyl club instead. Before heading in, we increase our THC levels and only catch the closing songs of Fister which made us both wish we had left earlier to have seen more of their crushingly heavy set. The last band we would catch of the night before absolutely succumbing to jet lag was New York’s black metal ambassadors, Black Anvil. Considering who was playing elsewhere, Black Anvil delivered an on point set to a surprisingly full and musty room opening appropriately with On Forgotten Ways. With what seemed like too short of a set, the band stuck to mostly tracks off their most recent album As Was, and rightfully so it was an incredible album.
Retiring to our room, Pelican gave us a nice send off as their atmospheric metal pierced the forever starless night sky and created enough vibrations to shake us to sleep. Upset to not be down poolside sleep was needed as we had two more days to fight our way through.
Saturday started off with push ups and yoga to make sure our bodies had the strength to last the course of the day, and with Virginian sludge titans Cough giving us a wake n bake as the opening band we would need all the energy we could get. Arriving early to make sure we would receive the THC infused doom at its fullest, we mingled with proud parents and red eyed super fans, one of which was an elderly man in an overly patched battle vest yelling “COUGH FUCKING METAL” and cough fucking metal it was. Surprisingly skipping their well-known Crippled Wizard and sticking with their more recently released Sill They Prey, they slowly pummel through their set leaving ears ringing and rib cages slightly compressed.
Before grabbing lunch and attempting our extremely unsuccessful hands at gambling (too bad we didn’t know you can compute single bets right through to more complicated bets such as a Magnificent 7) we caught the last bit East coast doom outfit Summoner shaking a packed Vinyl club. Finishing up with Conjuring, it seems as if they stuck with their heavier and older 2012 release Phoenix, providing a little afternoon delight.
Next up in The Joint was Britain’s most jolly head bangers Carcass, who enjoyed every minute of being there as much as the packed room was. Pushing the house lights to the max while images of ancient surgical tools flashed on the walls the band mastered the timeless art of crowd interaction and provided a melee of classic death metal and an alarming pace. Playing a lengthy set the band ended on a high note as they powered into the ’93 classic Heartwork.
Taking a break from the larger crowds we enter the now completely dark Vinyl club, I mean every light is off at this point, as French metal experts Celeste put a packed room’s lower jaw to the floor with not only their approach to their music but also stage presence. Crashing through their take on blackened sludge and in lieu of stage lights the band donned red headlamps. At first I felt as if I was watching HAL 9000 play a set, but as time moved on, myself along with the entire room became entranced by the movements of these lights. Not at all choreographed but moving perfectly with the music, Celeste creates a mood that can be felt by each and every person in that pitch black club. A highlight of the festival for sure and definite proof that minimalism can sometimes top all.
Taking to the main stage as the evening set in was Earthless with a late start as everyone waited for the KISS army to politely leave the room. With what still feels as if they are recently off of their hiatus the band warms up to the crowd. While playing more recent tracks, they did not disappoint by providing tunes from the 2007 monster Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky. As guitarist Isaiah Mitchell lets loose on ripping guitar solos, rhythm section Mike Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba create an upbeat session that accompanies a psychedelic ride the room took straight to the end of their set.
With a short break for beers back in the hotel room (I would like to thank the incredibly powerful A/C that second as a cooling spot for our CVS beers) we perched over the pool as occult rockers and fellow Torontonians Blood Ceremony took to the stage. Providing a witchcraft laden soundtrack to the surround rooms, the band played heavily off their most recent release Lord of Misrule most notably Old Fires and Half Moon Street. As we exit our room we are carried out by Alia O’Brians flute solos that are reminiscent of Jethro Tull but also a powerful fuck you to the voices heard around the festival who looked down on their musical elements.
We brace ourselves for what is to be expected as we head towards Gojira’s set, we had taken enough abuse by the French today so their hurricane of a set was about to be a knockout punch for us. While most like to push their way to the front of a crowd to watch a band, I strongly suggest taking a step back during Gojira to fully appreciate the grand picture they paint with their stage show. Attacked with smoke and ten billion watt flashing spot lights, there is a back and forth volley between more favoured songs in their repertoire and their latest release MAGMA with them in full swing as they round into Terra Inc.
After drinks at the center bar which is now in full control by sea of denim and leather we poke in to the Vinyl to catch the back end of the skull crushing Heavy Temple led by none other than High Priestess Nighthawk. While still in the underground realm, the release of their 2016 EP Chassit allowed the band to slap a big fat name for themselves up and down the scene. Fully appreciated that night the trio went end to end with no holds barred Philly style doom that would have been sorely missed by anyone not in attendance that night.
With ears ringing and chest plates cracked we head back in to catch King Diamond’s haunted house theatre, a stage set up that has been taking up 95% of the stage since Thursday night. With elaborate stairwells, inverted crosses, burning virgins, and ghoulish old women as part of the performance, the Danish shock veteran delighted the crowd with the 30th anniversary celebration of Abigail. His falsetto vocals can definitely leave you on the fence with your opinion of his music, but his showmanship is a thing that just cannot be ignored.
We start off the final day preparing for Virginia’s doom giants Windhand by sampling Nevada’s finest sativas for maximum enjoyment of the set ahead of us. Nearly getting lost in the large turnout for Windhand by trying to locate the source of the overly sexist comments about Dorthia’s role in the band (in which you would have heard a giant go fuck yourself opinion out of me… her role is as equal if not greater to the while the dudes “sludge it out”) we finally make our way to the front. A few P.A issues with the guitar and vocals in the beginning but a solid set is had playing heavily off of Grief’s Eternal Flower. A full hour of deep haunting vocals and shit yourself volume guitar tones required a quick walk around and coffee break before returning to catch the festival buzz of Zeal and Ardor.
Zeal and Ardor provided an outside the box approach to metal by combining bluesy almost slave toned vocals that is abruptly interrupted with a fire storm of electronic and black metal hooks. It was an interesting concept that worked well and was received with enthusiasm from the crowd, they should be on most people’s watch list for the rest of this year.
Up next in The Joint is Norwegian festival highlight, Immortal alumni, pioneer in not taking black metal so serious and the source of 100% of black metal memes Abbath. Set on a no gimmick bare minimum stage Abbath immediately lightens the mood with hops imitating riding a horse and sticking out his tongue as he is most famous for. After a few more newly released tracks he yells to the crowd that he is feeling immortal before charging into In My Kingdom Cold which sends the room into a frenzy. Treated fans with Immortal staples like One by One and Tyrants he also provides comic relief by asking about everyone’s gambling winnings and throwing a banana to the crowd. Ending with All Shall Fall the set closes out as one of the most memorable performances of the festival.
A well needed break is taken as we throw on bathing suits and head for the Nirvana Pool, where we are met with bands and fans alike looking to get away from the festival madness. The sun chairs that line the pools sandy edge are occupied by a heavily tattooed crowd looking to soak up some sun with more reasonably priced booze. Before heading in we decided for a quick dip in the most manicured pool I have ever been to. A quick tip for beginners here, the artificial sand that surrounds the pool gets unbearably hot when it is 40 degrees out, I suggest a full on sprint or to wear sandals if you decide to leave your sun bed for the pool.
Check out a recap video of 2016’s event
Dried off we head back to catch NOLA sludge vets Corrosion of Conformity take the stage. Starting off on Bottom Feeder the band builds tempo from a grooved jam and, as Pepper Keenan informs us, ends up rounding off its set with “Heavy shit!” A notable ending with Albatross receiving a warm welcome. Nearing the end of the evening I can’t help but take note of the more seasoned bands on the bill over the past three days sharing the stages with up and coming or more recent bands. It’s another noteworthy perk of attending this festival that the organizers deserve a lot of credit for.
Before the night and festival comes to an end on The Joint stage we slip into the vinyl to catch Swedish outfit Domkraft. I caught up with them earlier in an interview you can read HERE. (ADD LINK TO INTERVIEW HERE) Quietly the trio set up and politely they introduce themselves, this throws people off as they jump into battering our ears with their Scandinavian crafted doom. Unlike the million Swedish doom bands you have probably heard, Domkraft add a psychedelic and fine-tuned edge to the drone in their songs that leaves us wide eyed and our heads in the clouds as they run their set. Playing what is the better part of their EP The Age of Electricity the band exits as they entered, politely and swiftly, leaving us a feeling like we’ve just been jumped.
It was now time to close out the festival and before Mastodon even takes to the stage the room looks tired, the insane heat, millions of gallons of beer, and four days of non-stop heaviness was taking its toll on people. But the mood instantly changed as the four take to the stage and do what they do best. If you know Mastodon then you know they tour, A LOT, and from that a seamless performance is given. Surprisingly, they dip heavily into the back catalogue with tracks off of Leviathan and Blood Mountain but of course show case their latest album Emperor of Sand so that fans old and new have a chance to enjoy their career spanning set. Closing on a fierce note with March of the Fire Ants and delivering kind final words to the crowd, it was now time to end the madness that was PsychoFest.
The name of the festival speaks for itself, having this calibre of bands play in a city where pretty much anything goes, the term “psycho” fits well. But, that being said, there are no regrets, like a vacation and a world class music festival rolled into one, from beginning to end the music, amenities and amusements were in top form. I recommend this for anyone curious and will follow it up with “I’ll see you there” because I would be an absolute psycho to pass up future opportunities to be here at PsychoFest!