In our little world of heavy metal there’s nothing quite as magical as a multi-day festival. Some bands will plan a tour around them, others play a one off show and hang out, and hundreds (if not thousands depending on the festival) of metalheads pour into a city for a weekend to sweat all over one another and paint the town black. These are all part of the reason I found myself overwhelmed with excitement over the inaugural edition of Migration Fest. The other, more obvious reason is that the festival is curated by two of the hottest labels on the planet right now: Gilead Media and 20 Buck Spin.
A three day festival showcasing the monstrous talent signed to both labels was an absolute no brainer, and the fact that it was to be held in Olympia, WA and provided me a reason to escape my hell-on-earth existence in Texas was just icing on a very sweet cake. I could hardly contain my anticipation, but finally the weekend arrived. Migration Fest was here. It was time to board the plane and head to beautiful Olympia. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to the pre-show on Thursday night, featuring Eos, Cavernlight and False (playing Emperor covers!) as I didn’t get to my hotel from Seattle until about 12:30 am. Needless to say, I went the hell to sleep and prepared myself for the weekend ahead.
The first day of the festival had a late afternoon start time, affording me and my friend the chance to explore the town of Olympia a little bit and get acquainted with our surroundings. That’s all really just a fancy way of saying we camped out at Burial Grounds coffee and ingested as much caffeine as we could like the java freaks we are. Semi related: Should you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and stop by Burial Grounds and order the Zombie Defender. You can thank me later. After brief bit of wandering around and picking up my wristband, it was time for the show to begin. Kicking things off was San Francisco’s Pale Chalice. Adorned in corpse paint, and with all of the lights off, the band took the stage and proceeded to rip through several cuts from last year’s Negate the Infinite and Miraculous. It was an incredibly cool atmosphere and a great way to kick things off, setting an eerie and tense mood for the rest of the evening.
This mood more than carried over for the collaborative set between The Body and Krieg. Though I’m quite a fan of The Body’s utter weirdness and desire to experiment as well as most of Krieg’s back catalogue, their collaborative album is one that slipped through the cracks for me. After seeing them perform it live I found myself wishing I hadn’t allowed that to happen. Perhaps it was for the best, though, as the sheer intensity of the performance caught me by surprise, the whole thing culminating with Neill Jameson on his hands and knees screaming into his microphone and pounding the stage in a fit of madness. It was one hell of a thing to behold.
It’s at this point that everyone I know will absolutely kill me: Khemmis was up next, but I opted to scope out the merch area and get some food instead (I can feel every single one of you sighing right now). Last year’s Absolution just didn’t tickle me the way it did so many others, but I’ll be the first to admit that the preview track from their upcoming album Hunted is pretty promising. I returned with time to spare for Obsequiae, one of my most anticipated acts at the festival. As soon as the band took the stage there was an electricity about the theater, the likes of which was topped only once the rest of the weekend. Everyone knew how special seeing Obsequiae was going to be; we just didn’t know how hard they would kill it. The medieval melodies and castle-heavy riffs of Tanner Anderson perfectly translated to a live setting and had everyone moving, even vocalist Brandon Almendinger, who could be seen frequently swaying back and forth to the music when he wasn’t screaming his guts out over top of it.
Finally, with the crowd still riding high atop an armored horse of adrenaline from Obsequiae’s chivalrous jams, Krallice took the stage. I know that their technical wizardry and the complexity of their songs get brought up in every conversation, but to see such dense and intricate songs brought to life with such fury and energy was like witnessing a miracle before my very eyes. Though every member was in top form, it was drummer Lev Weinstein who got the majority of my attention. The man is an absolute monster behind the kit, and I honestly would not be surprised if they buried his drum set out back after the show because he beat it to death. Did I mention after a 90-minute Krallice set he headed down the street to play with Anicon at the after-show? Absolute. Monster.
Despite wanting to see Anicon and Bell Witch, I skipped the after show because the venue was packed to the point of immobility. I decided I’d just save my energy for day two because I am an old person and as an old person you need to consider things like that. I returned to my hotel room to steel myself for the rest of the weekend. I was going to need it.
After some beer and a late lunch, I arrived to the Capitol Theater just before Yellow Eyes took the stage. On a weekend full of anticipated sets, the New York quartet’s was easily near the top of my own list. The band easily lived up to any and all hype, self-made or otherwise, as they tore through their set with nary a moment spared. Perhaps the best part of seeing them live is that it really gave their more melodic tunes the chance to soar in a way they can’t on record.
Up next was Portland’s death/doom duo Nightfell, who thankfully brought a full live band with them for maximum eardrum destruction. A very nice perk of this festival being held in a theater is that there is a balcony that overlooks everything, so I decided to grab a beer and check out Nightfell with a bird’s eye view. Even from high atop the theater the riffs of Todd Burdette were absolutely crushing. Following Nightfell was one of my favorite set’s of the weekend: Vastum. They were the equivalent of a bulldozer demolishing everything in their path, sometimes even the audience (courtesy of vocalist Daniel Butler). He provided enough stage diving, head grabbing, and face screaming for a lifetime in a brief 30 minutes, all without ever missing a line. The rest of the band weren’t exactly slouches either, bringing their own high levels of intensity and playing tighter than the tightest pair of jeans in the crowd.
Fórn were a pleasant surprise, but not because I wasn’t expecting them to be good. I knew their music was fantastic, as seen on The Departure of Consciousness and last year’s Weltschmertz, but I didn’t know how energetic their live show would be. It isn’t every day that you see a sludge tinged doom band with a front man leaping and stomping around the stage like he was at a punk gig. Despite the doom and gloom, Fórn was an incredibly fun band to watch command the stage.
I opted to dip out for Christian Mistress and Magic Circle because neither band does much for me musically and the Vastum set had exhausted me to the point of starvation. I returned just at the tail end of Magic Circle’s set, and while their music isn’t my cup of tea they certainly put on one hell of a live show. At this point, though, it didn’t really matter who had come before because Thou was up next. The sludge maestros played arguably the most dynamic set of the weekend, playing the likes of “By Endurance We Conquer,” a devastating new song, and even covers of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” and folk/blues legend Lead Belly’s “In the Pines.” I assure you it was every bit as astounding and unbelievable as it sounds, perhaps even more so.
Needless to say Panopticon, in their first ever public live performance, had their work cut out for them. This may have been the most anticipated set at Migration Fest, and Austin Lunn and company absolutely delivered the magic and then some. Just for taking the stage the band was greeted with the loudest and warmest reception of the weekend. Austin Lunn smiled and, perhaps realizing the surreality of the situation, half laughed to the audience “We haven’t even played anything yet!” Naturally this was met with even more vigorous cheering. Lunn and his live band, consisting of Ray Capizzo, Andy Klokow, and Jake Quittschreiber, put on a perfect 90 minute display of what Panopticon is all about. After a couple of tracks from Autumn Eternal, the band launched into On the Subject of Mortality in its entirety before “Black Soot Red Blood” and closer “Sigh of Summer” (with some help from Obsequiae). If I had gone into this knowing nothing of the band, I would never have guessed that this was the first time they’ve ever played. Of all the memorable moments throughout their set, I think the one that will stick with me is Lunn’s constant smile and laughter about all of this actually happening.
The third and final day of Migration Fest had possibly the most stacked lineup of the lot, and that is truly saying something. After what had become our morning ritual of 800 shots of espresso, I trekked on to the Capitol Theater and arrived at the tail end of Dead to a Dying World. I had seen them a few times prior since they’re Dallas locals so I didn’t think much of coming in late, but by all accounts they tore the whole place down and were kind enough to rebuild it around the audience for the next band. In a weekend of so many great experiences, this was my lone regret.
I wasn’t given too much time to reflect on my grave error as Auroch took the stage and completely undid all of the rebuilding done prior to their set. After a few oldies, the band rattled off three new songs from their upcoming album Mute Books. While it can be hard to appreciate new material when hearing it first in a live setting, these new songs bode extremely well and indicate that Mute Books is going to be a monster of proggy/weird death metal goodness. The assault didn’t end there as Full of Hell was up next. In an appropriate mirror of their music, their set was a fast and violent explosion of fury and noise. My head was down and banging so hard that I think I killed all the brain cells responsible for this particular 30 minutes.
Lost in the shuffle of Panopticon’s first live performance was the fact that this was also the first live performance of one-man blackened doom beast Mizmor. Fresh off the release of the utterly fantastic Yodh, Mizmor slowed the pace down to a crawl without sacrificing an ounce of the rage that had come from the bands prior. The pace wasn’t meant to last as Mutilation Rites and Vhol were on back to back. These seemed like the best bands to sit back and have a beer to, so I headed upstairs to enjoy a brew, rest up a bit, and watch from up above.
I made sure to get down and as close to the stage as possible for sludge/drone conquerors Hell, and I’m quite glad I did. The band looked like they were having an absolute blast on stage. Live drummer A.L.N. (mainman of Mizmor) was especially fun to watch, looking like the sludge metal equivalent of the drummer at the wrong gig. After Hell managed to squeeze in one last song just under the wire, it was time for False. Their album Untitled was one of my favorites from last year, so I was eager to see them play through a few of those songs live again. Although the setlist seemed (from my faulty recollection) to be the same as the last time I saw them, this performance was far superior. Getting seven people (!) on the same page on a stage and sounding good sounds like a logistical nightmare, but they were absolutely killer. Vocalist Rachel menacingly paced back and forth during their performance, commanding the audience’s attention with her absolutely vile vocals. False are an absolute treat to see live and I’d love to relive their performance over and over.
Since False thoroughly melted me and I’m not much of a fan of Mournful Congregation, I decided to go ahead and call it a fest. I stumbled back to my hotel room to eat and reflect on the weekend. The most astounding aspect of it all is that everything went off without a hitch, aside from some to-be-expected stage problems (broken string, feedback, etc.). In a time filled with bigger and bigger music festivals featuring one thousand bands, Gilead Media and 20 Buck Spin have created an intimate festival with a lineup that rivals any competitor. If this was just year one, I sincerely hope there is a year two, and I can’t wait to see what could possibly be in store for it.