Blue Ridge Rock Festival, Alton, Virginia, September 8-11, 2022

I returned to Virginia this year for another round of Blue Ridge Rock Fest. I sure did. The headliners for 2022 were Slipknot, Disturbed, Ghost, and Mudvayne.

Mudvayne

There were a few issues last year at Blue Ridge Rock Fest, and they were widely publicized and discussed. I was there, and, as I wrote at the time, there were rough spots but certainly the line-up was great and the music was fantastic. This year, the festival moved to a new venue to address many of the concerns from the previous year, and, given that earlier experience, one might reasonably expect this year to be a lot better. I have a few thoughts on that. The upshot is that this year’s line-up and music were once again excellent, and there were still a few noticeable problems.

Sevendust

The new venue was not an improvement over the previous one. The biggest problem last year with the venue was parking. It was a tough slog. This year at the Virginia International Raceway, I thought there would be parking lots on location. I had never been to the speedway, so this was just in my imagination. In fact, this time the festival used remote parking locations and shuttle busses. Guess what. There were long lines for the shuttles. Like last year, the first couple of days were the worst and things improved as the weekend went along.

Shadows Fall

Many of the problems from last year were indeed mostly solved this year, and that is good news. The big issue besides the long wait for shuttle was the layout of the venue on the festival grounds. Last year, one of the best things about the festival was that the stages were relatively easy to get to. No so this year. There was a total of five stages. The two main stages were near the entrance and set up side by side. That is a good arrangement. To get to the third stage, you had to trundle up a long sloping hillside. It wasn’t too bad, but it was a bit of a slog.

Alice Cooper

The final two stages were past the third and down a steep hill, lying at a considerable distance across a rutted field. Once you arrived at any of these three separate regions, it wasn’t so bad as long as you stayed there. Moving between stages was very difficult for me. I am an out of shape older dude, so you could say that my complaints are my own fault. Fair enough, but whether it is my own fault or not, it was a situation for me. Anyone with mobility issues would have faced a considerable challenge (you can read Heather Koepp’s discussion of this at the link below). I was at the festival primarily as a photographer, so moving between the stages is what I had to do, all day every day. After a while, I started making choices about which sets to shoot based upon whether I would be able to make it in time or not to the next stage. You always have to do that at a big festival to some extent. At Blue Ridge, it was a bigger than usual problem.

Ghost

What else do you need to know about the Blue Ridge experience? The music was fantastic. Alice Cooper, Down, Halestorm, Tenacious D, Cannibal Corpse, Kittie, Anthrax, Municipal Waste, Baroness, Jelly Roll, and so many more. The headliners were OK, too. You can tell some of my favorites from the photos I have included here. There will be many more to follow in individual photo galleries in the coming weeks. There is also a feature article at Ryze-Up Magazine that uses my photos, if you want to see them (link below).

Down

Oh yeah, the weather. I know I sound like an old man talking about the weather all the time. Guilty. These big outdoor fests are at the mercy and whim of Mother Nature, though, and that’s the truth. There wasn’t any weather that was dangerous enough to affect the program schedule, but wow it did rain on Saturday. Drenching, cold rain. Tough conditions. The music continued to be excellent, even as the conditions worsened the experience, through no fault of the organizers at all. Saturday wiped me out so much that I have only foggy memories of Sunday.

Apocalyptica

I am on the fence about whether to go back next year. We’ll see. For able-bodied fans who aren’t seeking a physically comfortable experience, Blue Ridge Rock Fest offered great music this year and will probably do the same next year, too. After two years of experience under my belt with this festival, it is coming down to a question of stamina for me. I’ll just have to wait and see which way the wind is blowing in 2023.

Municipal Waste

Photos by Wayne Edwards.

Links.

Blue Ridge Rock Festival, https://blueridgerockfest.com/

Rival Magazine article by Heather Koepp, https://www.rivalmagazinela.com/live-show-reviews/what-went-wrong-at-blue-ridge-rock-festival-2022

Ryze-Up Magazine feature, https://www.ryze-up.com/ryze-up-magazine-current-issue/ryze-up-magazine-october-2022/

© Wayne Edwards

Blue Ridge Rock Festival, Alton, Virginia, September 8-11, 2022

Goatwhore, Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven (Metal Blade 2022)

New Orleans metal band Goatwhore reach a new plane on their eighth album, Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven.

Goatwhore came to life in New Orleans a couple of years before the turn of the last century. After a demo and a split, the first full-length album they released was the raw The Eclipse of Ages into Black (2000). A few years later came Funeral Dirge for the Rotting Sun (2003) and then, the first one I heard when it came out, A Haunting Curse (2006). The next couple of albums were break-outs for the band in many ways. My favorite of them all, looking back, has become Constricting Rage of the Merciless (2014), but the new album has given it a run for its money. It is the intensity combined with the relentlessness that gets to me when I listen to Goatwhore. The band is Louis B. Falgoust II (vocals), Sammy Duet (guitar, vocals), Zack Simmons (drums), and Robert “TA” Coleman (bass).

After the eerie invocation there are eleven blazing tracks on Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven, beginning with the bestial “Born Of Satan’s Flesh.” It is a rampage of savage metal. Speed and wickedness are the guiding principles, and they are executed to the extreme. The growling and howling vocals are an active threat; the guitars an attack. The lead guitar break is surprisingly lyrical, luring your attention away before a counterattack. “The Bestowal Of Abomination” follows and falls in line. Here the guitars soar at the beginning and the opening percussion is even more in your face. And, here too, the lead guitar at first gives a look that stands in contrast to what is happening around you. When it returns, however, it is a craven menace.

The title track, “Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven,” comes third. It is dark and dramatic. The opening bars set up a story from which you cannot turn away. A superior depth is plumbed here. The odyssey you are on with the album comes into sharp focus, as the does the realization of the magnitude of the band’s achievement. I am impressed with every song, and I have a special attachment to the sequence of “Voracious Blood Fixation” and “The Devil’s Warlords.” In both, and for different reasons, the guitars are especially vivid to me.

The set ends with “And I Was Delivered From The Wound Of Perdition.” This last piece has its own set-up and culminates in a voracious consumption of doom. It is my favorite track on the album for the way it brings together and connects all the thriving elements employed in Goatwhore’s music into an overwhelming compelling amalgamation. This record will live on in your mind and will haunt you for as long as time exists. Highly recommended.

Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven is out on Friday, October 7th through Metal Blade Records in all kinds of vinyl and the usual other formats.

Photos by Wayne Edwards.

Links.

Goatwhore website, http://www.goatwhore.net/

Bandcamp, https://goatwhore.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/thegoat666

Metal Blade Records, https://www.metalblade.com/us/

© Wayne Edwards

Goatwhore, Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven (Metal Blade 2022)

Behemoth, Opvs Contra Natvram (Nuclear Blast 2022)

The twelfth album from Behemoth is a milestone in the band’s historic career: Opvs Contra Natvram.

For more than thirty years, Polish black metal band Behemoth has been one the leading bands in heavy music. They are known for black metal, but their music is more of a combination of black and death metal, and traditional metal as well, in combination with dramatic and complex arrangements. Often imitated but never equaled, Behemoth does truly stand apart from its contemporaries. The band is Nergal, Inferno, and Orion.

It took me a long time to finally catch up with Behemoth live. I saw them on Slayer’s final tour a few years back, and I remember thinking at the time that they were the best act on the card. I have been looking forward to this new album for a while.

Talking about the album, Nergal has this to say … “The album title means going against the current. It’s the negative of the values and morals and ethics that I stand against. I’ve seriously been wrestling with destructive tendencies in pop culture – cancel culture, social media, and tools which I feel are very dangerous weapons in the hands of people who are not competent to judge others. That’s something which I find very destructive and disturbing and extremely limiting coming from an artists’ perspective. This is my middle finger to that.” That’s a fairly positive message for such a villainized band, huh.

“Post-God Nirvana” is the first of ten tracks on the album, and it functions as an effective introduction to the experience. Loaded with effects and production, the vocals dig deep in your psyche and the growing guitar punches land harder and harder as the song progresses. “Malaria Vulgata” is a more contained song. In its brief two-minute run, the well-defined boundaries are filled to breaking. “The Deathless Sun” is more of a campaign by comparison. The guitar breaks are the sound of a charging weapon, and Nergal’s vocals are commands. The meshed death and black metal is a towering monument that cannot be ignored once it comes into your life, and that ideal is epitomized in this song.

The music continues the story and depth of expression in variety and in encouraged reinforcement throughout the entire set. “Neo-Spartacus” uses dissonance melodically, if you can imagine that. “Once Upon A Pale Horse” is among the most dramatic songs, and its theatrical nature is extremely engaging. The closer, “Versus Christus,” begins melodically, with growing urgency. The music is quite dramatic, and in a way gathers and restates the thesis of the entire work in a new package. Excellent. I recommend this album for Behemoth fans and newcomers alike.

Opvs Contra Natvram is out now through Nuclear Blast Records. Investigate the possibilities at the links below.

Links.

Behemoth. website, https://www.behemoth.pl/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/behemoth

Nuclear Blast Records, https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

© Wayne Edwards

Behemoth, Opvs Contra Natvram (Nuclear Blast 2022)

Autopsy, Morbidity Triumphant (Peaceville 2022)

Oakland death metal band Autopsy is back after eight years with a new full-length album, Morbidity Triumphant.

Autopsy stomped the earth in the first half of the nineties. Their first two albums, Severed Survival (1989) and Mental Funeral (1991), are considered by many to be standards even now. They were a band that cut deeply in the death metal scene, and left carnage in their wake. The band split in 1995, then reformed in 2008/9 and have been cracking on ever since. Their most recent full-length album came out in 2014, Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves, and there have been EPs and splits, compilations, and live albums aplenty along the way. Morbidity Triumphant is Autopsy’s eighth long-player. The band is Eric Cutler (guitar), Danny Coralles (guitar), Chris Reifert (vocals, drums), and Greg Wilkinson (bass).

Autopsy was different from other death bands in the way they used grindcore, punk, and doom in their musical constructions. You get this on the new album as well. The first song is “Stab the Brain.” What a great title. It sounds at first like a disturbed beehive, then a groove kicks in unexpectedly. The chaotic swirl tag teams the groove and hook, showing how well the two disparate ideas can work together. Clever moments of melody and lead guitar bursts elevate the composition to the next level. “Final Frost” is next, and it has an eastern mystical twinge and a moving doom posture walking it to a different space compared to the opener. The second movement of the song is straight up death metal, and then the doom comes back. “The Voracious One” is different still, starting on a groove with a great disarming riff. This one is a top pick for me from the set.

Every song is more than one thing on the new Autopsy album. It is filled with doom and mysticism, and also raging death metal. I particularly like “Tapestry of Scars” for the depths of its doom, and “Skin By Skin” in a similar vein. “Maggots in the Mirror” is a wonderfully stabby punk piece, and “Your Eyes Will Turn to Dust” is perfectly dreary closer. To me, Autopsy has struck exactly the right tone at every turn on this record. Highly recommended.

Morbidity Triumphant is out on Friday, September 30th through Peaceville Records in the customary forms. Check it out through the links below.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://peaceville.bandcamp.com/album/morbidity-triumphant

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100050176223094

Peaceville Records, https://peaceville.com/bands/autopsy/

© Wayne Edwards

Autopsy, Morbidity Triumphant (Peaceville 2022)

Venom, Inc., There’s Only Black (Nuclear Blast 2022)

The sophomore full-length album from Venom, Inc. is an unwavering menace: There’s Only Black.

Venom is the iconic band that brought us Welcome To Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982), essentially creating Black Metal from punk and speed metal. Since then, black metal itself has evolved in a particular direction while Venom had other ideas. At War With Satan (1984) was on brand but it was clear that things were changing, and then Possessed (1985) was a noticeable, clear shift. The seas calmed a bit with Prime Evil (1987), but chaos was coming. The band paused, considered reforming, then split in twain.

Venom, Inc. emerged from the schism of the original band. Their debut album was Avé (2017), and I found it enthralling. That one will be hard to follow, but if any band can do it, Venom, Inc. is the one. The musicians are Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan, Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn, and Jeramie “War Machine” Kling.

You can hear the music coming from far away on the first track, “How Many Can Die.” It is a stylized punk attack with a hardcore head and intermittent hooks. The song works, and still this is a chancy approach for an opener – you have to really depend on the fans being in to what you are putting down. And I was. “Infinitum” is a stone cold killer with a battering mission. The lead guitar break will really wind you up. “Come To Me” is a chopper. I love the straight-forward, no nonsense musical construction. An excellent metal song where the vocals take the forefront while the riff and rhythm provide an indelible platform and the dark lead guitar work intoxicates.

I am having a hard time finding anything to complain about on this record. The title track is a stunningly superbly sinister metal song. “Don’t Feed Me Your Lies” begins on a contemplative foot and then turns into a ravager. “Rampant” is a race straight toward a sharp cliff. Every song has a unique appeal, and they all come together to create a solid set you will want to listen to over and again. Recommended.

There’s Only Black is out now through Nuclear Blast Records. Links below.

Links.

Venom, Inc. website, https://www.venom-inc.co.uk/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/VenomIncOfficial/

Nuclear Blast Records, https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

© Wayne Edwards

Venom, Inc., There’s Only Black (Nuclear Blast 2022)

Wizzerd, Space‽: Issue No.000 (Fuzzorama 2022)

Mountain stoner band Wizzerd throw down the fuzz on their third full-length album, Space: Issue No.000.

I don’t know what I have been doing with my life, but I didn’t hear anything from Wizzerd until the Ripple Music split Turned to Stone Chapter III: Wizzerd vs. Merlin. That one turned my head. Stoner mountain music is a real thing. I mean, I always think first of the desert when fuzztones ring, but this manner of music transcends all environments. Doomchild (2016) was the first, followed in 2019 by the self-titled album. And then there are a couple of demos and a string of EPs from Wizzerd circulating in the cosmos – a good chunk of music to make your way through on a journey you will never forget. The band is Jhalen Salazar (guitar, vocals), Jamie Yeats (guitar), Sam Moore (drums), and Layne Matkovich (bass).

The new record has eleven tasty tracks, beginning, appropriately, with “Launch,” which is a ramp of calamity to “Sisters of the Sun.” Listen to the opening bars of “Sisters” and you will know right away which island you have landed on. Happy-go-lucky transforms into a more serious-sounding hammering fuzztone that hangs on to the end, with dashes of guitar enthusiasm. Staying in space, “Supernova” continues the exploration on essentially the same plane. It does feel like the urgency has amped up on this one, and I love the dual guitaring. “Attack of the Gargantuan Moon Spiders” does not take place in space but might as well for the way it fits in with the early tracks. You can feel a down shift, and it is a good, rollicking gear. The psychedelica is kicking in hereabouts and once it gets its tendrils in you, there they stay.

What appeals most to me about this record is the incredible guitar work. The trippyness is fine thing, too, but I will always walk across the room and point at the guitars. There is a loose-form jamminess to many of the passages and those meld better with your psychic self in its altered state, but no alterations are actually necessary to enjoy the music. Watch out for “Space Chase” to give you an adrenaline injection, and “Doom Machine Smoke Break” for a nice hypothetical cool down that is actually a deep dive into the nature of things. This album definitely cooks. Recommended.

Space‽: Issue No.000 is out on Friday, September 30th through Swedish label Fuzzorama Records. In the US, Bandcamp is the easy place to pick it up (once it appears there – at this writing there is only a single showing up … patience).

Links.

Bandcamp, https://wizzerd.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/wizzerddoom

Fuzzorama Music, https://www.fuzzoramarecords.com/

© Wayne Edwards

Wizzerd, Space‽: Issue No.000 (Fuzzorama 2022)

Dark Forest, Ridge & Furrow (Cruz Del Sur 2022)

UK metal band Dark Forest celebrate their twentieth anniversary with a new EP, Ridge & Furrow.

In their twenty years, Dark Forest has produced an impressive string of EPs and long-players, most recently in 2020 with the full-length album Oak, Ash, & Thorn. They play a traditional variety of heavy metal told in a melodic way that puts you in mind of traveling bards with stories to tell. Their sound is unmistakable – once you’ve heard it, you will recognize it again immediately. The band is Josh Winnard (vocals), Christian Horton (guitar), Patrick Jenkins (guitar), and Adam Sidaway (drums).

The set opens with “Skylark,” a song that displays rugged pop sensibilities on a wildly enthusiastic, fuzzy charge that has surprisingly fierce drumming. Just when you think this song sounds like something you’ve heard before, you notice things you have not heard before, combinations that have not existed prior to the current instantiation. There are pieces of NWOBHM, epic metal, fantasy metal, prog, and more, and it is tinted in a lovely fuzz. Damn, there is a lot going on here. Josh Winnard’s voice and the clarity of the guitars stand out, although the song deftly uses everything in it to add up to what it does. Sensational. “The Golden Acre” has a quieter start, and a more serious tone when it gets rolling, compared to the opener. A darker story, you might say, told with a similar depth and breadth.

The title track lands in the middle of the EP, and its compositional stature is sweeping. Truly, this album has a good deal in common with the band’s early work in this regard. It is an uplifting story about the endurance of land and how it always has an ability to renew. “Meadowland” is a short instrumental song that posits in acoustic. Beautiful. The final track, “Under The Greenwood Tree,” is a new rendering of a fan favorite that I first noticed on the Dawn Of Infinity (2011) album. It is a zesty bit, and then some – great to hear again. This EP is an excellent way to celebrate twenty years of Dark Forest. Recommended.

Ridge & Furrow is out on Friday, September 30th through Cruz Del Sur Music in digital, CD, and vinyl.

Links.

Dark Forest website, http://www.darkforest.co.uk/

Bandcamp, https://darkforest-uk.bandcamp.com/album/ridge-and-furrow

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Darkforestuk/

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

© Wayne Edwards

Dark Forest, Ridge & Furrow (Cruz Del Sur 2022)

Manic Abraxas, Foreign Winds (2022)

Bangor, Maine blackened punk band Manic Abraxas reveal the third album of their canon, Foreign Winds.

Early on, Manic Abraxas played at a slower pace, focusing on doom. The tempo has since quickened but the darkness has not lifted. Their latest album features music that lies in the blackened realm between thrash, punk, and doom. The band is Tom Bennett (drums), Justin Hamm (bass, vocals, synth), and Dallas Seger (guitar, vocals, synth).

“Red Camo Rock” is a straight-up heavy number with a good roll and the intimation of a groove. It runs on the plus side of mid-tempo and gets the job done. A fine beginning. “Onyxsphere” is very punk indeed in its construction and spat-out lyrics. Quite an attitude is on display with this one. Very nice lead break toward the end. “I Toblakai” lurches toward the creepy, with eerie keys working a number on your spine and stabbing guitars pointed at your orbital sockets. If you catch them in the right mood, a goth might dance with you on this one – careful of the turns and twists.

The title track is the doomiest so far in tone. The count picks up and becomes positively speedy from time to time. Unusual percussion wrong-foots you more than once, and the keys whisper incantations that you can hear but that you don’t really understand. “Canonized” and “Domerunner” both put me in a strange mood. The former pecks at you with great deliberation on a ceaseless unspoken mission. The latter is a constant threat that draws a small amount of blood then nibbles at the wound – again – ceaselessly. They both hang on in different, almost opposite, ways.

The set ends with “Black Destrier.” It’s a ripper, with a cruising riff in a goth-n-roll gear that is wonder of its own. The guitar work is beautifully done. I hope they close every live show with this number. I did not know where this record was going when it started but I am delighted with where it ended up. Recommended.

Foreign Winds hits the streets as an independent release on Friday, September 30th in CD and digital. Bandcamp is the easy get at the link below.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://manicabraxas.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/manicabraxas

Manic Abraxas, Foreign Winds (2022)

Megadeth, The Sick, The Dying … And The Dead! (Nuclear Blast 2022)

The 16th album from Megadeth continues the storied tradition of a legendary thrash band.

We don’t need to go over the history of Megadeth do we, or its place in metal history? All right. I have been listening to the band’s records since the very first one. There have been ups and downs in the sense that there are big differences in the albums, one to the next. That sort of situation will give fans the opportunity to pick favorites. I like the harder-edged ones, the faster ones, the most, but I can listen to any of them and feel good about it. Megadeth helped define thrash, and that will always be true. The band is Dave Mustaine (guitar, vocals), James LoMenzo (bass), Kiko Loureiro (guitar), and Dirk Verbeuren (drums). The bass tracks for the album were re-recorded by Steve Di Giorgio (Testament) after David Ellefson was excommunicated.

The albums opens on the title track. There is a long lead-in before any guitars can be heard. They step in carefully, then drop the anvil and head down a mid-tempo lane. Dave Mustaine sounds great, and the playing is impeccable, if a little subdued. We do get a couple of blistering lead breaks in the second track, “Life In Hell,” and they are most welcome. Ice-T steps in on “Night Stalkers” and gives it a boost. This is the best track so far, for me, anyway. I like the primary riff and the breaks, and, of course, Ice-T’s pairing with Mustaine’s voice.

Other big tracks for me are “Sacrifice,” which has a delightfully menacing tone and wonderfully whirling guitars, and “Mission To Mars.” That second one makes me think of John Carpenter in title and construction. Once it gets going, nothing will keep it from pushing through. The horror movie feel is fantastic. “We’ll Be Back” is a killer, too. Overall, this is a decent album and very much what I expected. Recommended.

The Sick, The Dying … And The Dead! Is out now through Nuclear Blast Records and is available everywhere. Pick your poison.

Photos by Wayne Edwards.

Links.

Megadeth website, https://megadeth.com/the-sick-the-dying-and-the-dead/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Megadeth/

Nuclear Blast Records, https://www.nuclearblast.com/eu/megadeth-the-sick-the-dying-and-the-dead-cd-1002422

Megadeth, The Sick, The Dying … And The Dead! (Nuclear Blast 2022)

Clutch, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach (Weathermaker 2022)

Clutch throws a curveball on their new album, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach.

The groove metal band from Maryland has moved into its fourth decade. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is the thirteenth studio album they have created, and there has never been a dull moment in the band’s history. Tim Sult, Dan Maines, Jean-Paul Gaster, and frontman Neil Fallon have crafted yet another unforgettable record that will be immediately embraced by fans.

But curveball, I say? Here is a widely quoted comment by Fallon on the new record. I saw this first at Lambgoat. “Sunrise on Slaughter Beach is a weird record. It was, by and large, a studio creation. It reminds me a lot of Jam Room in that regard. Under normal circumstances we may not have entertained the idea of using vibraphones, theremin, or backing vocals (thank you Deborah Bond and Frenchie Davis!). But as they say, necessity is the mother of weirdness.”

Clutch has never been a stranger to innovation and exploration. For example, “In Walks Barbarella” from their previous album The Book Of Bad Decisions was a surprise with its prominent use of brass. The extensions on the new record Fallon talks about are interesting and entertaining, and there is never any confusion about which band is playing when you listen to the set. Clutch is one of my favorite bands, and they have been since the first time I heard them. I have seen them live more than any other act, and I plan to keep that metric going until the end.

Sunrise on Slaughter Beach is out now in all its weirdness through Weathermaker Music. You can stream it anywhere, and you can buy it at the links below. Where will this one land in the annals of the band? That’s hard to say. What I do know is that when I drop the needle on any Clutch record, I never pick it up until it has run its course, and that is a fact. Sunrise on Slaughter Beach is no exception. I could go on and on about each and every track on the new one, but I am not going to do that. Instead, I insist that you go listen to it. The review will write itself in your head. Highly recommended.

Photos by Wayne Edwards.

Links.

Clutch website, https://www.pro-rock.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Clutchband/

Weathermaker Music, http://www.weathermakermusic.com/

Clutch, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach (Weathermaker 2022)