In its second year, the latest Shadow Woods Metal Fest took place a few weeks back deep in the wilderness of Maryland. A 3-day open-air camping festival that brings together some of the best American metal acts in the current scene, it proves once again to be an excellent newcomer to the festival world. Metal Insider contributor Alix Vallecillo witnessed the event and brings us his experience in the wild.

The first time I heard about Shadow Woods Metal Fest was at some point last year before the first edition of the event took place. The organizer had established a strong online presence by promoting the event so that it was a constant for anyone involved in it. Last year’s edition consisted of a very solid line up from some of the best domestic acts of the underground metal scene; Falls of Rauros, Midnight, Iron Man and Psalm Zero were amongst the many bands gracing the stages hidden in the woods.

After the humble success of the first installment, it was obvious that I had to take part of this event and, considering the accounts of some of the original supporters praising every detail about it, there was no question about it.

The festival consisted of three days of wild madness in the woods at Camp Hidden Valley in White Hall, MD about 1.5 hrs away from Baltimore. Due to my regular responsibilities, I wasn’t able to attend the opening day of the festivities which contained bands like Mantar, Ghost Bath and originally Numenorean, who were forced to cancel due to visa issues. But based on the recurring joke about people screaming like banshees in the middle of the night following Ghost Bath’s set, It’s safe to assume the first day was great.

I arrived to Baltimore on Friday and was picked up by a fellow-attendee, veteran and volunteer of the festival. On our way, we discussed the festival to get an impression of what I could expect and verify if the expectations were comparable to everything I’d heard the months leading to the fest. The consensus was unanimous and it was obvious I was heading to an amazing time ahead.

Once at the festival, I noticed the beautiful weather, green scenery and outstanding atmosphere surrounding the camp site and the only thing I could think of was dropping off my belongings and venturing into the fest.

By the time I was settled, the first band was ready to take the stage, setting the tone for me and the rest of the event. A Sound of Thunder geared up and started their energetic heavy metal set to a growing audience and their performance was as vivid and bright as the sun of the high noon that day. Definitely a myth-breaker for those who, somehow, considered this festival a “black metal festival.”

From that point on, the enthusiasm kept going higher and higher as the quality of every single band was unparalleled to other similar events in the country. From experimental black metal to psychedelic death, the rest of the acts of the day seemed to carry their own fire of style and uniqueness and many were able to see that aside from myself. “Generic” is the last word coming to mind when thinking about any of these bands performing and that made an very special experience for those sharing the same taste in music as the curator of the event.

When discussing this idea with Destroyer of Light, drummer Kelly Turner elaborated on his perception of the fest by stating:

I think the fest is awesomely set in the woods, it’s pretty cool cause instead of being in a club where there’s tons of concrete, we’re in nature. Especially for the kind of music that is being played. A lot of fests try to go one way completely and then it just gets boring but the metal community is pretty diverse. And a lot of people know that and also a lot of people don’t know that’s why you come to a place like this, so you can learn a lot about bands you didn’t know about.

The same opinion was shared by Helleborus’ guitarist Ian Horenman when I asked him about his thoughts on the event.

This is the best festivals I’ve been to in a long time. It’s amazing. Everyone here is here for the music and there’s so many good bands and the area, you can’t get it more beautiful than this. I haven’t camped personally in 10 years so this is amazing. I haven’t done anything like this in a long time.

[The bands] are very eclectic so to say. I came in not knowing the bands, so it’s even more of a gift for me. I was like ‘wow, these bands are sick’ you know? Half of the bands I don’t even know, but now they have tons of more fans, and another fan [with me] every band. I love it.

As it may seem unfair to have a selection of “favorite band of the day” because every band was magnificent on its own, some of my highlights have to go to Genevieve, Helleborus and Surgeon. While the first two have my biased opinion due to my previous affinity to their music, Surgeon was a band I was not aware of but definitely blew me away with an interesting mix of black, death, progressive and many other elements tough to pinpoint. Definitely points for originality and a band I look forward to seeing again.

After an exhausting day of shooting, feasting and laughter with my friends, my first day was done and something was already growing in me regarding my thoughts on this festival.

The next morning, I didn’t suffer any exhaustion I’m used to get after a festival and, in fact, felt a lot more energy than the day before. Maybe the five hour flight from Los Angeles had taken a toll on me the first day but none of that happened on Saturday. I used the same energy to enjoy myself a bit more than the first day, which was mostly dedicated to shooting every moment I could. Since the beginning of the day, the taste and sense of the fest was a bit different and that was good.

Contrary to the first day, where every band stepped out of the common styles of their music genre, this day had many bands worshipping the roots of extreme metal. Black, death and doom metal of the highest quality reigned supreme with bands like Vorator, Cemetery Filth, Grave Gnosis, and Faith In Jane featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich for an amazing sunset performance.

I’m a huge black metal fan so, obviously, most of my favorite were the black metal acts like the previously mentioned Grave Gnosis, who executed a hypnotizing ritual in the middle of the day and Teloch Vovin which took the altar and torches to bring light of the left hand path. On top of them, Corpse Light were the winners of getting my money for the only piece of merch I was able to get due to my limited luggage space. The night ended with a blast from Blood Storm and the only and true Zud which delivered a ravenous set of speed, aggressiveness and extreme metal to those who were able to stay until the end of the whole event.

The overall opinion about the festival was clearly stated by many friends of the fest and its participants. From praising the production quality, the outstanding sound, the feeling of community from everyone and, most of all, the integrity of the organizers in putting this together, it’s highly recommended to attend this event if it happens again in the future.

When I talked to Matt Kilpatrick from death metal dealers Cemetery Filth, he expressed the same sentiments about it:

Production has been great! Like, it sounded great on stage to us and, when I was in the audience, all the venues sounded great. The hall! It’s hard to make a hall sound that good but they really did. I could hear everything perfectly. Down in the woods was great. I can’t complain at all. I’m just so happy to be here.

I recommend it because it’s just a pure representation of the underground right now. You have underground death metal bands, black metal bands, doom bands, thrash bands, everything in between and just a combination of talent and raw passion for this music and anybody who’s passionate about this music, would love to be here.

People are great. Everybody’s awesome there’s no beef between anybody like, clearly, you’re a black metal fan, I’m a death metal fan but we’re giving each other’s a thumbs up, you know? Cheering together.

Festivals, to me always seem to be like a big money-grabbing thing. There’s a lot of corporation and I don’t know, but this one is all about the music itself and that’s what makes Shadow Woods so cool to me. Mary [Spiro] did such a great job on getting everyone here, making sure there’s something for everyone to enjoy and it’s been fantastic. Everybody’s so friendly to each other; the food’s great, the vendors are great, you know? You can’t complain.

Sharing the same opinion everyone else explicitly expressed about Shadow Woods, I have to say that it’s one of the very few festivals where you can shatter any expectation and truly enjoy yourself in an amazing environment. While walking through the woods to attend the next show, there was this growing feeling of comradery that never ceased to shine on everyone’s faces, including mine. If there’s anything you have to do next time the festival takes place, I suggest you cancel it and make sure to come down to have a fantastic metal experience.