Curated by Metallica’s lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, the second annual “Fear FestEvil” was held in San Jose, California this past weekend, and promised to be an amalgamation of all things horror and metal. For the most part, Kirk and company got it right, finding a good balance between the cheese of old-school horror and the evolution of the current metal scene, but it was not without its own share of miscues and errors.
The instant you enter the venue, you’re greeted by grotesque, life-size statues. Move in a little farther and you’ll be accosted by living monsters, shamans, and mummies. Off in another room, you can see some weird alien thing, the creepy-as-fuck Donnie Darko mask, a truly horrific vampire Kirk Hammett, and much more. All of these individual pieces of horror, executed in a realistic fashion, come together to create a perfect atmosphere for what this festival wanted to accomplish: subtly surreal spookiness.
After everybody accommodated themselves to the opening bizarreness, Kirk, alongside some legendary names such as Corey Taylor, Slash, John 5, Bill Moseley, and Charlie Benante, came out on stage for a 45 minute panel on both Saturday and Sunday. They discussed everything from what they think about the current state of horror, their favorite childhood scares, best horror movies, and more. It was entertaining enough to keep the audience engaged and informative enough to keep the horror-veterans interested. One of the best moments came when Jose Mangin (of SiriusXM fame) acted out a death scene in which he “transformed” into a werewolf and subsequently got shot with a silver bullet by Kirk. Overall, the panels offered a unique perspective on the horror genre while also providing quirk and laughs along the way.
Once the panel finished, a troupe called “FreakShow Deluxe” came onto the stage and performed acts that you wouldn’t expect to see in 2015. These performances included swallowing multiple swords, escaping a straight-jacket faster than you can chug a beer, hammering a nail through the head, and more. While it was a bit of a cheesy presentation, it was still entertaining, and the acts certainly drew out some gasps and gulps, like when “Wereverend” Vincent Wolf showcased his invincibility by sticking his hand into a wolf trap and removing it intact. Those who attended both days of the festival, though, will likely criticize their decision to perform the same stunts on both Saturday and Sunday. It was indeed disappointing to see essentially the same antics from just one night ago, but it was still something, which is actually more than most music shows can say. It makes one wonder why more concerts don’t run some sort of performance in-between musical sets. FreakShow Deluxe, while cheesy and a bit repetitive, was still a well-received intermission from the festival’s main attractions.
Of course, most people attended for the promise of great music, and FestEvil certainly did not disappoint. Kirk did a great job curating the festival, selecting diverse talent from the many different corners of the music scene. Asada Messiah put on a solid performance, and their frontman, Rodrigo Garcia, is one of the most loveable metalheads I’ve ever seen on stage. Ghoul was arguably the funnest band to watch from the weekend, especially given their penchant for spewing “blood” and other fun mystery juices at the more-than-willing audience. Agnostic Front was an enjoyable blast from the past and a clear crowd favorite, as they orchestrated one of the biggest mosh pits of the festival. Orchid, on the other hand, felt a little out of place at the festival, especially given that they followed up Ghoul’s shenanigans-filled performance. Still, they sounded tight as ever and were an interesting deviation from the rest of the music at FestEvil. High on Fire is, to put it simply, everything that’s right about good ol’ sludgy metal, embodied by Matt Pike and his ability to flaunt his luscious gut.
A surprise set came after High on Fire’s performance, with Kirk, Matt, Corey Taylor, and John 5 walking back on stage. They proceeded to perform classic songs from various artists (like Judas Priest) and featured a back and forth shredfest between John 5, Kirk, and Matt. While it was definitely a good bit of fun, it also felt quite forced. It was almost as if one of the organizers said, “Well, we have all of these popular musicians, why don’t we throw ‘em on stage and see what happens?” The crowd’s opinions were obviously mixed as well, demonstrated perfectly when Corey Taylor ripped his shirt off and promptly attempted to pump up the crowd, with little success.
It should come as no surprise that Meshuggah absolutely dominated the festival. The Swedish juggernauts dazzled the audience with their famous light show and played crowd favorite songs such as “Bleed” and “Future Breed Machine.” The only criticism one could make regarding Meshuggah is how much of a contrast their sound is compared to the rest of the festival’s. Even Orchid’s doom-rock could be loosely tied to, say, High on Fire, but Meshuggah has a sound that would seem to fit a more progressive bill. Nevertheless, that is hardly Meshuggah’s fault, and there was not one metalhead in the venue that was complaining.
Sunday’s nightcap of FestEvil was both surprising and controversial. During “Bleed,” Kirk Hammett joined the stage to “help” shred alongside Meshuggah mastermind Fredrik Thordendal. Of course, at that moment, the crowd cheered emphatically, but even after just a day, many online sources were complaining about how it took away from what was otherwise an extremely well played set by Meshuggah, and there is some truth to that. Can you imagine if Thordendal came on stage to play “Master of Puppets” alongside Metallica? Thordendal is gifted as fuck, but it would just feel out of place. The same can be said here. Just like Saturday’s wankfest after High on Fire’s set, Hammett joining Meshuggah for five minutes felt contrived. It’s as if that same organizer said, “How do we make Meshuggah more epic? By adding FUCKIN’ METALLICA!”
Still, while FestEvil had its foibles, it provided as one of the more memorable metal festivals Northern California has had in recent years. It served as a well-needed reminder that the most popular figures in metal (Kirk, Corey, etc.) haven’t become jaded enough to not know good metal, even when it bashes them in the head. If Meshuggammett is shat upon by all metal fans for the rest of time, at least it’s comforting to know that the lead guitarist of the biggest metal band in the world will acknowledge and get down with Meshuggah’s, High on Fire’s, and everyone else’s immense musical talent.
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