words by Kim Kelly with intro by BBG, photos by Diana Lee Zadlo
Those of you who travel in the underground metal circles, and live to tell about it, have probably encountered Kim Kelly. The current Philadelphian, whose credits include Terrorizer, Hails & Horns, Metal Injection, Noisecreep, her own PR company (CatharsisPR) and many other ventures, is probably the girl you see on the verge of whiplash in the front row of Eyehategod, or the smiley one with the invisible orange.
In her latest travels, Kelly took a trip to Richmond to take in the Heart of Winter Fest at Alley Katz in Richmond, VA (Friday, Jan 29- Saturday, Jan 30, 2010). The two-day festival featured appearances from Woe, Bastard Sapling, Battlemaster, Evoken, and many others. The "Winter" fest was also, appropriately enough, hit with a major storm that buried the mid-Atlantic in snow. Rather than get buried south of the Mason-Dixon line amidst 24 inches, she and Diana Lee Zadlo opted to leave before it was over, or as the kids call it, GTFO. Her full story is below...
Halfway between Philly and DC and two-thirds of the way through Skeletal Spectre's new joint Tomb Coven, it occurred to me to hit up my boy BBG and see if he was interested in having me churn out a few words to accompany my partner-in-crime Diana Lee Zadlo's killer photos of Heart of Winter Fest II. Armed with earplugs, extra batteries, and a poison pen, the two of us (with 25% of Infernal Stronghold stuffed in my back seat) headed down towards hell to take in some of the sickest underground bands imaginable in the D.I.Y. stronghold of Richmond, VA. Organized by Drew and Elway of Richmond black metallers Bastard Sapling and held together by community spirit, a die-hard commitment to the D.I.Y. aesthetic, and genuine passion for underground music, Heart of Winter II brought together bands from across the extreme metal spectrum in the name of fun, friendship, and heavy fucking metal. Here's what went down.
"This is about sacrificing your soul to heavy metal, baby. Is you ready?" drawled Hot Graves frontman Myk before the Gainsville, FL quartet tore into "Metalblaster," a nasty piece of work oozing with filthy d-beaten grind, deathly doom and crusty blackness. Showing up to the venue a few minutes into Hot Graves' set was like walking into a war zone. D-beats flew like shrapnel past razor-edged riffs and Myk's raw-throated battle kommands as these four Southern boys packed more evil groove and balls-out attitude into twenty minutes than most bands manage to squeeze out of their entire careers (and clearly had a hell of a time doing it). It's desecration time, bitches! Get these guys to record an LP for Nuclear War Now! and throw Ôem on a tour with Bone Awl and Crucifist, for Satan's sake.
The hits just kept on coming as NYC's newest black metal exports, Castevet, took the stage and made it their bitch. Their technically advanced and post-hardcore-informed set was a total about-face from Hot Graves' hot mess, but packed just as big of a punch. Their dissonant, hypnotic compositions spit in the face of the 'hipster black metal" their town is now known for and proved that Brooklyn's got some balls after all.
Hot Graves and Castevet were definitely a hard pair of acts to follow, but hometown boys Battlemaster weren't even worried about it, bro. Stage dives, high fives, lopsided circle pits and beer showers fueled the fire that Battlemaster (which features members of Cannabis Corpse, Withered, Bastard Sapling, and a half dozen other RVA ragers) set alight with their scathing black-thrashing death-grinding punk-as-fuck metal-as-hell assault. You'd have to see them live to understand the inescapable appeal of their dragon-slaying, twin-guitar shredding, double bass pounding, 3 Inches of Blood meets Skeletonwitch meets Iron Maiden meets a roundhouse kick to the jugular intensity. Luckily for you, they'll be on tour with Bastard Sapling and Inter Arma come spring 2010, so get stoked!
I'd never heard of Shadow of the Destroyer before they were announced for Heart of Winter, so I was curious to see what these North Carolinuhh boys would bring to the table. What they brought were sweeping atmospheric black metal odes to nature, sorrow, and, from what I could tell, Ol' Beezlebub hisself, deeply indebted to the classic 90's sound and majestically croaked by a frontman who was blessed with a killer voice for black metal, but a terrible sense of style. Shadow of the Destroyer sounded fantastic, but looked painfully awkward onstage, to the point where I ended up closing my eyes and leaning against a railing upstairs, soaking in the riffs and blocking out the singer's smeared panda paint and melodramatic gnashing of teeth.
Shadow Of The Destroyer
By the time the last band of the night hit the boards a good chunk of the crowd had called it quits, but those of us who stayed were treated with a furious set from Philadelphia, PA black metallers Woe. I've seen Woe countless times by now but they're a band that never fails to deliver and never gets old, especially now that two songs from their upcoming Candlelight debut have crept into the set and injected black new blood into their performances. Woe's rotating live lineup was out in full force, as all three guitarists traded off licks on top of the Madden brothers' pummeling rhythms and Chris Grigg howled mockery at the cross, delving into a deathlier growl and handing off the mic to Drew of Bastard Sapling from time to time during the forty or so minutes Woe spent onstage before the lights came on and the bartenders got antsy enough to herd us all out.
While the whole motley crew of us engaged in various debaucheries and epic arm-wrestling tourneys back at the hotel the fest's organizers has kindly sorted out for the bands and their friends, the snow started to fall. And fall. And fall. When we all woke up the next afternoon, we were greeted by almost a foot of powder that kept piling higher as the day went on. Given the state of the roads and the length of the journey ahead, my travel companions and I were left with no choice but to peace out early, stopping by Alley Katz to pick up an errant guitar and catch a couple bands on our way out. Mutilation Rites from NYC were halfway through their set when we walked in, but stayed on just long enough to blow my mind. They brought total aural devastation, nasty with primeval riffs and impassioned vocals. They were ugly, fast, and distorted, just as a New York black metal band SHOULD be (are you listening, Liturgy?). We also managed to catch all of Benighted in Sodom, who persevered through numerous technical difficulties to bring their doomy, melancholy black metal to life. The last song brought all three vocalists together into one harrowing, overwhelming crescendo; blood was drawn, flesh was cut, and vocal chords were undoubtedly shredded before they were through. The driving despair and moodiness overlying the band's black core makes perfect sense in conjunction with mainman Reuben Jordan's other band, depressive black metal titans Bethlehem (with whom they recently released a split 7"). Overall, Benighted in Sodom were raw, intense, and vital Ð a satisfying end and fitting beginning to our journey out from the heart of winter.