Archived Arts & Entertainment

Mountain Metal Fest raises a joyous noise

By Chris Cooper

Hold one of your hands up, left or right, whichever you prefer. With your palm facing outward, curl your middle and ring fingers, as well as your thumb, into the palm of your hand, leaving the index and pinky fully extended. You are now making the universal “metal’ sign, similar to the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign. You may use this particular gesture either in lieu of (or as a precursor to) clapping after a song. If you wish, it can be used to indicate the “metallitude” of someone or something, as well.

The amount of dedication, organization and heart displayed by the bands and individuals that made this show happen is amazing. In spite of having no “official” venue and a modicum of public and media support for the music, these guys gave over 200 kids a place to go and be themselves for several hours, let alone delivered more metal than you could possibly shake a stick at. Really.

Yeah, there were a few of those inevitable “moments,” as in; whether the singer for the second band, Closer To Home was even going to show up, or Thousand Year Reign’s bassist frying his amp a minute into the first song. I watched a skinny little kid make a brave, if somewhat pathetic, attempt to tackle Jeremy, the guitarist for Cerberus. Jeremy is a big guy. It didn’t work out so well for the skinny kid.

With things running unusually ON schedule, Canton’s AUX kicked off the evening. Hitting some surprising vocal harmonies here and there, and trading the sing/scream/growl vocal thing between three members, their short but furious set had an unexpected depth of sound- far better than some of their online demos would indicate. Guitarist Cog’s allegiance to old-school metal riffing, and keeping the spirit of the late Pantera guitarist Darrell Abbot alive was quite apparent in his choice of guitar and style. Between the tapped flurries of notes and air-raid siren harmonics, he didn’t hold back on the pyrotechnics, and combined with the more modern, underground metal approach the rest of the band brings, AUX seems pretty close to finding a comfortable stylistic hybrid of their own.

Closer To Home was the first band to play the smaller side-stage, and a few things struck me about their sound and inclusion in a metal show: no double bass, more actual singing, and a guitarist that seems more into texture and atmosphere than straight ahead riffing. These aren’t bad things, just a bit out of the ordinary when you hold them up against the other bands on the roster. Drawing from what seemed like a little more of a Deftones meets Incubus place, they demonstrated an unusual (if sometimes inconsistent) take on heavier music. If the singer could have paid more attention to where his mic was in relation to the monitors, some feedback could’ve been avoided, but hey- it’s rock and roll, right? With the band soon undergoing some lineup changes, it’s difficult to say which direction they might head, but it’ll be worthwhile to keep an eye on them.

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In my little notepad, I remember scribbling something like “brutal kids” about halfway through Thousand Year Reign’s portion of the show. Not “kids” in the condescending sense, but “kids” in the “I can’t believe these guys are mostly still in high school and are this good” sense. And not only did the bass player’s amp decide to kick the bucket in the first song, but another member apparently broke a finger or something... and they STILL came through. Axl Rose could take some cues from these fellas regarding the whole “show must go on” concept. TYR (no, I’m not going to type the full name every time) has amassed a startling command of the modern metal lexicon in a sickeningly short amount of time- there’s no telling what they might develop into over the coming years. Though their influences are prominently displayed on their sleeves (Lamb of God is a big one) it’s an easily forgivable offense for a band this...did I mention young?

Thoracopagus. OK, there’s this “thing” in death metal where your band’s got to have a name that’s kinda creepy, hard to spell, and difficult to pronounce. These guys deliver on all the goods, in that respect. In the screaming, crunching whirlwind of noise that Thoracopagus kicked up, I noticed that even the moshers had a difficult time keeping up. Complex, warp speed riffing is the deal for this band, so those expecting an occasional ballad have a huge misconception of what death metal is, exactly. Not to harp on the “youth” thing, but drummer Sam Stone is a technical marvel already, at the ripe old age of (almost) 17, and I feel sure will be a musician to watch over time. And in wholly un-gloom and doom fashion, singer Benjie Stewart dropped to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend after the last tune of their set. Who says metal doesn’t have its romantic side? Hmmm?

It’s really nothing new to say that Cerberus is one of the best bands of this genre in the area, and the sense of gravity that seemed to pull the night along and into their set was undeniable. Maybe it was the role they played in organizing the event that gave their performance such weight, maybe the fact that they’re just really good at what they do; either way, the crowd flocked to the stage and remained there for every note. The pit was furious, David Ammons dug down deep, and they even whipped out mutated version of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” much to the crowd’s delight. When the only altercation of the evening nearly broke out (sadly, between a grown man that obviously took the moshing thing a bit too seriously and a kid that couldn’t have been more than a teenager), Ammons firmly explained that a show like this isn’t about anybody fighting, and if anyone needs to vent some steam, it happens in the pit — nowhere else. Thus, the rocking continued.

For a gig this size, the amount of things that went off without a hitch was truly impressive. By setting up a side stage with a completely separate sound system, there was very little down time between bands, creating a more seamless transition from group to group. Being in control of two stages, let alone making anything sound good in a gymnasium, has potential to induce “instant migraine syndrome” for any soundman. But Brian Baumann handled the task with a focused concentration, and the necessary dose of humor. The bands were happy, the crowd was happy, and all that was left was to pack up get out by a rather parent-friendly cutoff time of eleven o’clock.

In talking to Seth Sams, who handled much of the booking and promotion for the event, I learned that there would be more shows at the Waynesville Armory, as well as another Mountain Metal Fest next year. Though it may not be the ideal venue, it’s big enough for larger crowds, the kids don’t have to worry about being carded (it’s not a bar masquerading as an “all ages” hall) and the only limits are imaginations and budgets of the bands that book it.

So the official “Mike and Zeb” evaluation of the show was, and I quote: “That was, ummm...awesome.” Which surely translates into the highest possible rating based on whatever method of measurement you might choose. The kids have spoken.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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