My Psychedelic Journey at Choosing Death Fest

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Okay, bear with me, because there’s a lot to process right now. Ready? Here goes. Choosing Death Fest is/was the event put on by Decibel to celebrate the new, expanded edition of that titular book, which is a documentary of death metal, and so on and so forth. I went to the festival armed with a dictaphone and capsules of psilocybin.

choosingdeath

The day began as I hungoverly boarded an eastbound trolley to Philadelphia’s Eraserhood where us nerdy attendees gathered for a “Grimposium” of workshops and panel discussions. The first was a creative writing lecture by JR Hayes of Pig Destroyer. He unpacked his method of filling 180 notebook pages in a marathon session, leaving that notebook alone for a few months, then going back to fill the last twenty pages with the best lines, and constructing them into song lyrics. He, at one point, used the Hunter S. Thompson quote of “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.” This will become relevant later in the article.

There was then a death metal vocal workshop, which was very 101-level, by her (the vocalist of Vastum‘s) own admission, a panel discussion with Dan Seagrave and others about album art, and another panel discussion about the economics of the scene with Neil of Krieg, Megan of Couch Slut, two of the Misery Index guys, and a battle-jacketed business professor. There were interesting points made throughout, and Neil had an effortlessly entertaining personality.

grimposium

At about 2pm, I went out for a cigarette before they began an advance screening of a documentary about Chuck Schuldiner. Outside, I began fanboying at JR. He and David, his buddy from his hometown, ask if there’s any decent food nearby. It gave me the opportunity to play the local guide role in finding us lunch at a Spanish place. Along the way I pointed out the apartment building in which David Lynch lived, serving as the inspiration for Eraserhead, as well as the mural of that character. Needless to say, JR was pretty thrilled about this.

With about an hour to kill before doors, we headed to a local bar where Vermin Supreme was sitting and coloring ponies with some gnarly-looking crust punks. “The trick,” he tells us, like the old prankster wizard he is, “is to color outside the lines.” When I asked him if his mandatory tooth-brushing policy would extend to the toothless, he said yes, but there will be flossing exemptions. As we left, he thanked us for coming to his “rally.” By this point I was debating whether or not to put that mushroom-dust into my system, knowing that I would have to write about all this, and maybe do some fucking networking. However, once the photo was taken of me, JR, and Vermin, I knew exactly what the universe expected of me.

JRvermin

Between this bar-stop and doors, we ran into Richard Johnson (Drugs of Faith, Agoraphobic Nosebleed) and the conversation turned to Napalm Death, which is good, because it prevented me from expressing all the omg-yr-my-favs vibes that had been in my stomach since beginning to chat with JR. I met up with some buddies, then put something else entirely into my stomach. I had already bought the ticket, and it was time to take the ride.

By that point, there was much fuss over headliners Dying Fetus having cancelled due to the flu. This fueled rabid speculation among some of us as to who would be called to fill in. “What’s Mortician up to these days?” we wondered, whispering a dream of perhaps Suffocation swooping in to save the day.

As Taphos Nomos begins to saturate the air with grim, earthy death-doom, my roommate arrived. He’s a non-metal dude, but he’s super active in strength training and martial arts, so I felt honor-bound to welcome him into his first pit. The pit, however, would not arrive for some bands still, though nor would the effects of those ‘shrooms. From my voice recorder: “Taphos Nomos – fucking solid doomy, riffy glory.” Sounds about right.

Derketa, the world’s first female death metal band, took the stage next and took the slow misery of Taphos Nomos several steps further. As I put it to Diane: “The cavern has opened deeper, and doomed we are still.” It was a clever move, putting more head-bobby, thoughtful bands first to bring us into the psychic purview of this world before unleashing the violence. Ever been to one of those bills with, like, 8 brutal bands? Even the most slammin’ among us need some variety, man.

The billing also showed some forethought in gradually raising the levels of intensity. After Derketa was Horrendous, Philly’s rising stars, whose last album was named the top album of the year by Decibel itself. I saw them open for Skinless late last year and, even between now and then, they’ve hit a new level of competence. I ran into some of them at the bar later on and they credited this newfound proficiency to their new bassist, who was using maybe a dozen different tones, few of which were typical to death metal. He kept his playing very complex and very hypnotic, drawing the listener deeper in to the nightmare realm of Horrendous, in which, yes, there is triumph, but it too comes tinged with a dark sadness. I made a voice-note that Old School Death Metal (OSDM) should really be called OG Death Metal (OGDM), but later decided we can use these two terms to differentiate between old-school-revival bands and actually-old-school bands.

 

From the notes: “Yes, it riseth within me, these psilocybin things and the violent animalistic urge to slam like a muthafucka.” The drugs began to kick in on their own, skyrocketed upwards by a large joint, which I smoked while interviewing the business professor from earlier in this article. He does not feel the Bern, nor wanted “a hit of this.” I went inside for Noisem instead.

It was my fourth time seeing them, and we hung out a bit after an unpublishable interview I did with them a few months back. Each time I see these cats, not only do they get better, but I get better at hearing what’s happening beneath that wall of noise. “I had at one point, like, the sensation that Noisem were throwing concentrated, like, vibrations of this-world, like, in noisey bursts.” Now that I’m in a better state to articulate that, it very much felt like being attacked by the vibrational density of this world, pummeled by reality. I experienced the light show, the rhythm section, and the noise (i.e. all of it) as a sort of relentless pressure pushing my mind inwards towards its center.

 

The mosh-pit of the evening was inaugurated by these wunderkinds of grind. Though it started out small, I found myself feeling like a puppet acting according to the whims of this four-foot-by-twelve-foot ribbon of energy and physics along which two dozen or so of us are strung. In spite of this puppet-sense, I was more in control of my body and its movements than I was able to realize; there was a two-second delay between my doing and my being aware of having done. The aforementioned roommate, also on mushrooms, took to this like a fish to water, and, after having experienced such high-caliber acts, became a quick convert to The Way of The Blast-beat.

After a between-bands beer, Deceased took the helm. They are enormous, long-haired motherfuckers who look scary and fucking sound it too. Unlike that one time I saw Suffocation on acid, there was no sense of incongruity here. During some of the more captivating riffs and leads (and there were plenty), I closed my eyes and entered a fractal realm of colors and shapes until my neck would be bent by a boot, reminding me that I am alive in this moment and must mosh. I took this command far, even to the extent of inciting pits where there were none. “I can’t believe Deceased. You know me, I’m not a riff/thrash guy, but goooooddamn do they play like they mean it.” After so many young bands who worship the old (Derketa notwithstanding), it was about time for the OGs to show us all how it’s done.

 

Outside, more weed was smoked, and I got to catch up with the Noisem dudes a bit. JR checked in on the progress of my trip. It was pretty much at its peak. When Misery Index began gettin’ us all riled up, I got the sense that, in spite of their grindliness, they draw more inspiration from otherworldy themes than, say, Devourment. Their tight as hell set gave me cascading waves of drum-gasms, and the power of The Pit compelled me. This is where both the drugs and I went the hardest. This movement and I were one and the same. Seizure-inducing lights attacked my brain as I was betrayed by the eyes who were supposed to protect it. It began to baffle me how we listen to these albums with headphones in order to cathartically induce negative emotions, yet seeing them performed live invokes such unbridled joy.

 

Burnt though my synapses were, by this point they were made undead by the ferocity of our now-headliners, NAILS. I remembered that, upon first hearing Abandon All Life, I mentally screamed “YES” within the first two seconds. Fun fact: did you know that live they’re more pissed off still? Tight and fast as hardcore, heavy and brutal as death-doom. Their frontman is an inspirational character who, between songs, said something along the lines of “When you say you wanna go for something, all your parents and teachers are gonna tell you ‘Yeah, well you’ve gotta do this, and you’ve gotta do that’, almost as if they’re discouraging you. What they don’t say is ‘You’re smart. You’re talented. Go for it.’”
During this set, I didn’t need to throw myself into the pit, because, wherever I was, it found me, in spite of my crowdsurfing around. A karate-boy crowdkiller was literally walking around punching people in the head. What the living fuck? I learned that they’re a Philly-band [Editor’s Note: California], and look forward to seeing them again and again and again, the way I do for Full of Hell. At one point, John Baizley of Baroness joined them on guitar. Well, um…alright!

 

So, what, in the end, came to replace Dying Fetus? A Sepultura cover band featuring the Jarvis brothers of Misery Index. Richard Johnson (again, AxNxBx) played guitar and vocals on “Territory” and some others. John Baizley (Baroness, I just told you that) shredded for a bit, and Tyler, the vocalist of Noisem, gave a few songs his all, as did Vincent Matthews of Criminal Element. For the three or four hundred people who hung around for that part, it served as a pretty sweet nightcap, in spite of the bitterness of being promised and denied Dying Fetus.

from the Agoraphobic Nosebleed facebook page

from the Agoraphobic Nosebleed facebook page

From the notes that were groggily dictated as I woke up on a buddy’s floor the next morning: “…Brain still scrambled eggs… Sepultura cover set was pretty satisfying, not only because it included the ANB guy, and… so on, but because Sepultura was largely, uh, a gateway for me into extreme metal, listening as a young’n to 102.7 WJSE at midnight, their, um, -oh, I forget what they called it Headbanger’s… something… ugh.”

Still sore, I have in front of me the task of writing a G-rated version of this show review for a normal-ass music magazine which features no drug use, and, instead, a brief interview with Albert Mudrian, whose book and magazine made this party happen. I humbly offer the Toilet these otherwise unpublishable antics.

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  • Seeing Adam Jarvis play drums is always a treat. Especially when he rips through this burner.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHhF4qhtrNo

    • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

      beastly

    • Man, he makes it look so fuckin’ easy.

      • Joaquin Stick

        The gap between “this sounds impossible” and “not even breaking a sweat” is too great here for me to comprehend.

    • In this digital age I feel like we are desensitized to the fact that there are people playing the instruments behind what we hear. To watch a guy like this really brings it back into perspective. Sweet video.

      • BobLoblaw

        Some people (like Jarvis) bring the ruckus and remind the casuals.

    • BobLoblaw

      Played a show with them years ago and it was a blast watching him from behind his kit. Crashed at our place, watched a live Pantera bootleg and smoked kief, Sparky stepped in a cake barefoot in the middle of the night trying to go take a piss. Good times.

      • RAD!

        • BobLoblaw

          Good dudes.

    • BobLoblaw

      This has always been my favorite, intense as fuck and the facial expressions to match.
      https://youtu.be/oABHw-oeWQg

  • BALLS ROLL

    I like these kinds of posts. I don’t to do stuff like this as a father of a toddler, so it’s cool to get this perspective.

    • Eliza

      I rarely go out, so it’s nice to read the experiences of people who do go out.

      • Ol Dirty Blastbeard

        fuck going out

        • Eliza

          There are others who despise stepping outside the house as much as I do? That’s great news!

          • Ol Dirty Blastbeard

            i work outside 🙁

          • Eliza

            That sucks. Facing the real world is really hard when you have no idea how to deal with it. At this rate, I’ll end writing up on Tumblr.

          • Ol Dirty Blastbeard

            id read that

          • Eliza

            Thanks! If I”ll be able to, I may try to write something for this site. Keeping the self pitying to the lowest possible level.

          • Waynecro

            Totally. I work at home and usually only leave the house once a week to buy groceries. I do go to concerts occasionally, but I sort of have to force myself to go.

          • There was a time in my life when I would have killed to be able to do this.

            Now I realize it would only cause me to kill you-know-who…

          • Eliza

            I’m the same. I only go out to go to school and my Chinese class.

        • more beer

          Gotta go out to go to shows.

        • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

          Fuck yeah! All that stuff outside is the number one cause of death in the world.

  • Eliza

    Is the book any good? It looks interesting.

    • Crab Nicholson

      I remember liking the first edition, so it stands well to reason that his new additions (The Dutch scene, tech-death, and then some) will make it better.

      • Eliza

        So it has parts about tech death? That sounds very good to me.

    • Dubs

      I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it. I tend to take much longer reading non-fiction than fiction because I spend much of workday reading technical literature and prefer fiction for my own personal reading enjoyment at home.

      • Eliza

        Most of the time I dedicate to reading is occupied by assignments from school, so whenever I pick up something on my own, I want to make sure it’s worth the time. I’ll trust you and try to find a copy.

    • Waynecro

      I thought it was a fun an interesting book.

    • Max

      Be on the look-out for a series of upcoming articles of mine which reviews every extreme metal book I’ve got in my library, including this one!

  • BALLS ROLL

    old-school-revival bands(OSDM) and actually-old-school bands(OGDM)…right?

    • Crab Nicholson

      Precisely!

    • Joaquin Stick

      OSRB=OSDM≠OGDM

      • Crab Nicholson

        Wait, what?

        • Joaquin Stick

          I have no idea. I really enjoy your writing style though. Top notch.

          • Crab Nicholson

            Oh, RB is revival bands. Word!

      • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

        Are you down with OPP (yeah, you know me)?

  • OldMetalHead

    Very entertaining read! Thanks.

  • Crab Nicholson

    Does anyone else here mosh on psychedelics? I know plenty of people who mosh on coke, or who see more cerebral bands on psychedelics, but doth the twain meet with anyone else?

    • Adrenaline is the only drug I need for moshing. Adrenaline and a gallon of booze.

      • Completely off topic: at the Oktoberfest where I am from, they serve the beer by the half gallon. Which helps ease the mind for mad-polka-moshing. So yeah, the gallon thing is easily measurable.

        • BALLS ROLL

          can get those jugs errry day round here

          • Joaquin Stick

            I was just there about a month ago! Neat place.

          • I am talking about half gallon milk jugs being filled. Giving glass to several thousand ppls is not a great idea.

          • Ol Dirty Blastbeard

            Growlers >>>>>>>>>

          • more beer

            Yes I have 4 or 5 of them.

          • I have to catch up. I think I only have 3.

          • more beer

            I don’t ever think to take them when I go out. Then I end up someplace and really liking a beer. So of course I want to take said beer home with me. So I end up buying another one.

      • xXJoeXXXXx

      • Boss theSpeedMetalBastard Ross

        Straight ed- NOPE

      • Fuck yea, Deftones’ debut is untouchable.

        • NOOOOOOOOO

        • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

          It’s untouchable in the same way that a lower caste leper colony in Calcutta is untouchable.

      • Dave Vincent’s Perm

        I discovered a decent hangover cure on sunday morning.

    • Joaquin Stick

      One time I had a beer and pushed a guy who ran into me. Does that count?

    • Ol Dirty Blastbeard

      rly my least favorite thing to get into but have done plenty of times before in college

    • Stockhausen

      Man, it’s been awhile since I moshed. I’ve become a delicate little flower in my old age of 28.

      • STOCKHAUSEN m/m/

        • Stockhausen

          I sometimes don’t suck!

      • Dubs

        Yah, I stopped moshing sometime around when I stopped getting drunk. Now I just want to enjoy my beer and enjoy the tunes.

        • You hear about that new AUTOKRATOR?

          https://soundcloud.com/godzovwar/autokrator_chapter

          • Dubs

            Yep! Actually wrote a blurb for Toilet Tuesday based on the two songs on bandcamp, and shortly afterward the full stream was posted. Gonna listen to the full thing after this meeting.

          • Oh dang, I got to get on that full stream. This band somehow managed to get even more crushing.

          • Edward/Breegrodamus™

            Tyree I’m jamming this album now. I also peeped that Blessed Offal track you posted this morning and really dug that.

          • RAD DUDE!!! Glad you dug that. I’ll be getting around to the AUTOKRATOR tomorrow most likely.

        • Stockhausen

          I hear that. I think my last mosh pit was Meshuggah, and it was a doozie.

        • Waynecro

          I can thrash around by myself at home. If I actually leave my house for a show, I want to watch the band play, not bash myself into a bunch of sweaty strangers.

      • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

        Only times I’ve ever moshed was when I’d get caught up in one out of nowhere and didn’t really have a choice. I’m there to enjoy the music, not some overweight bros drunk off of overpriced Bud Light whirling their fists around and dancing like methed out whirling dervishes.

        (makes snooty face and gets back on the balcony with my opera glasses)

      • Count_Breznak

        Good bands/sound, and I don’t have to drive ? Moshing is definitly an option.

    • BobLoblaw

      Not in the moshing sense but psychedelics can certainly, I’m hesitant to use the word enhance, change the way you experience the music.

      A little narrative anecdote
      Swim (haha) and friends had procured a sheet of “microdots”, while out of town said friends took 4 segments each (swim and out of town friends had 2 and a very visual fun time) and eventually became bored. Friends went into swims room to raid the rather large cd booklet known to be in the room. A symphonic black metal album was chosen (1/3 metal listeners) and according to hearsay that is what initialized “the trip”. Shared hallucinations of the musics influence on physical structures and what they conveyed to be almost a temporary synesthesia. Cool stuff.

    • Janitor Jim Duggan

      I don’t do drugs or smoke. I don’t drink yet though

      • xXJanitorXXXXx

      • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

        You need to work on that! *slides you a gallon of whiskey and some krokodil*

    • RJA

      My psychedelics days are long behind me – just the thought of them now gives me anxiety. But to answer your question – even when I was into them back in the day – no, no moshing – seems like it would be too much work!

      • more beer

        It is work just being in a large crowd tripping. That is something I would never do again. But I will do them in a small type of setting from time to time.

    • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

      Nope. Never done acid, shrooms, etc., and being high at concerts was plenty good for me. I’d much prefer moshing on X, lol, but I haven’t done that since 2000 and have no intention of doing it again. I think moshing on X might go wrong once the whole “just come on and rub me, bro” vibe kicks in!

  • Sounds like an amazing time. That’s a pretty solid line-up even without Dying Fetus.

  • Gore/noise-grind legends Last Days of Humanity just released some info on some upcoming releases. Super stoked about this. long over-due for new material from these filth dwellers…

    “Last Days Of Humanity studio report @ Dirty Bird Studio’s in Hoogeveen. We have been working on some new tracks that wil be used for two split ep/mcd/10″ The first one will be with FUBAR and will be released by Fatass Records on 10″ and by Haunted Hotel Records on MCD and 9″ The other one is TBA.”

    They also posted a really rough track. Shit sounds like Last Days for sure. Hope they fix that kick drum later on, but it is just a rough take.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1_xeKT6q8Y

    • BobLoblaw

      Fuck yeah! Brutal blast masters.

      • Hell yeah! Not sure who they found to replace Marc Palmen on the skins but he sounds like he can keep up with his intensity.

        • Ooops, scrap that…

          “Line up on this release:
          Marc Palmen – Drums
          William vd Ven – Gitaars
          Rogier Kuzee Bass and backing vocals
          Hans Smits – Vocals

          Music was recorded in 2006, vocals added and remastered in april 2016. Enjoy and spread this video!

          GORE!!!!!!!!!!!”

          • BobLoblaw

            I actually did downvote you there. Haha.

          • Deserved.

  • Crab, this was a very enjoyable reading.

    I’m very interested on how organized and academic it seems to be the “Grimposium” activities. I think that, like we humbling do, metal music needs more analysis and dissecting by their own participants to understand better the social, cultural and musical nuances that we all bring to this living embodiment of extreme music.

    • Crab Nicholson

      No kiddin, and I think enough academics are metalheads and vis a versa for this to be possible. There are a few great books out there on the philosophy of black metal (Hideous Gnosis being the one whose title I can recall off-hand). Unfortunately that business professor was unable to answer my questions about the “trading favors” game of d.i.y. music as an economic structure.

      • I’m doing a Master on Communication Sciences based on New Technologies of Information and Communication. If I wasn’t that placed in the politricks segments of technology I would def made some research on underground metal social networks on the internet 😛

        Thanks for the tip on the book. I think we are living in an era in which your “enough academics are metalheads” opinion can be very true!

        • Crab Nicholson

          TovH Master Thesis!!!

  • Noisem>>>>

    I am loving it.

  • Boss theSpeedMetalBastard Ross

    That was awesome, thank you! I want to go to the Seagrave panel.

  • Stockhausen

    Dude, that sounds like an awesome event. I wish I could make it to stuff like this, but Housecore is the closest similar thing and it’s still 8 hours away.

  • Óðinn
  • Christ that’s one hell of a lineup. Shame about Dying Fetus though, they crush live.

  • Waynecro

    This is a super cool article, man. Thanks for sharing your awesome experience!

  • Pentagram Sam

    Thanks for the unabridged Ah-duhlt version of the show! Book’s pretty historic in the scene and having a fest around it is apropos. MOSH

  • psilocybin >>>>>>>
    or perhaps, the greatest chemical to be catalogued.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      Mushrooms were fun, but LSD was better.

      • hrm… will let you know once i have tried it!

        • Edward/Breegrodamus™

          Please do.

      • Tim Wilsön

        Seconded. Shrooms give me crazy nausia.

  • Dave Vincent’s Perm

    Will somebody share my disappointment at Saba leaving Nails

  • brokensnow

    man, killing gods is amazing.

  • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

    Excellent article! I’ve heard quite a lot about the book.

  • I remember reading this book years ago…Wish i could remember where i lost it…

    • Lisa Ling: Devourer Of Souls

      Welcome to the toilet!

  • Tim Wilsön

    Honestly I commend you for doing psychadelics at an extreme metal fest. I don’t know how you managed to get good vibes off that so well done sir

  • Vivek Venkatesh

    Thanks for your review! I am the creator and curator of Grimposium, and I am really pleased that we were able to attract a sold-out crowd to the event in Philadelphia. The feedback we have been getting from those who attended is that they wish there was more time for these panels and workshops to flesh out the ideas being discussed. Check us out on http://grimposium.com for details of future and past events, and please do check out details of our new documentary film on http://grimposium.com/blekkmetal — you can email me directly on vivek.venkatesh@concordia.ca if you are interested in reading any of my published and co-published pieces in the realm of metal music studies. Onwards and downwards (to the pits of hell!).