A day at the Ed Castle: Churches of Steel II – a few highlights

As a part of an ongoing campaign to weather away at my hobo status, I head out to Churches of Steel II on the 3rd at the Ed Castle Hotel. For those not in the know, Churches of Steel is a metal festival here in Adelaide featuring mostly Australian metal acts. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I went to a music festival (have I ever?) and they do tend to remind me of conventions which I’ve never been big on. But what the fuck, you’ve got to get your ass out and about some of the time, right?

***

Fortunately I wasn’t fashionably late enough to miss the sludgy doom of slovSloven who were up first. Sloven, while blasting out growls you’d expect to hear echoing down from a Scandinavian mountain, got me thinking about a few things. First of all, was how friends with a few years under the belt have been recounting how non-narcotic things they associate with past drug use have been giving them a buzz in the here and now. Sloven just happened to give me a buzz that reminded me of this, which no, is not a confession. (Although call me paranoid, I did later opt to avoid Adelaide Train Station and the potential of sniffer dogs on account of a nutty smell in the beer garden).

The other thing is… well, Jesus fuck, doesn’t Sloven just know how to work distortion? (The answer would be “yes, they do”). Adam Neely has had some interesting things to say about psychoacoustics on his YouTube channel (here for example) that I’ve been watching lately, so subsequently, I was wondering just how much Sloven take advantage of this kind of thing to fuck with people’s heads. That and how and why a number of metal bands seem to sound so much better live than over the radio. Thank you Sloven, you’ve helped me be more neurotic.

execAfterward out on the beer garden stage came the fun of Executus’ brand of blackened thrash. I thought I picked up on geek vibes from these guys, but not in a bad way. The icosahedron on the cover of their Escape Reality EP is a bit of a give away, but fortunately there wasn’t so much as a whiff of Mountain Dew or Hot Pockets in attendance. When I say Executus are fun, it’s because they don’t take themselves too seriously all while still managing not to undermine themselves with facetiousness. This isn’t always an easy balance to manage, and it allows an audience to goof off without being reduced to clownhood.

Years of trying to like Nuclear Assault has taught me that you don’t want to spend your time being relentlessly serious when it comes to thrash.

***

Anyway, it was really fucking nice under the tree out in the beer garden, so much so that I ended up sitting-out Dirty Pagans who were on-stage inside after Executus. All due credit to the organizers, and to the Ed Castle, by the way – landing such a decent venue on short notice after the Producers closed down was an awesome win.

***

Hailing from Sydney, Lethal Vendetta followed out in the beer garden. Hearinglethal them cranking out Liar’s Dice was grounding – Brent Logan’s vocals are so fucking old school, and wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place next to the likes of Bezerker, blasting out over community radio back in 1990.

I missed Bezerker live as a kid, moving to Adelaide just after they’d moved to the UK to try their luck there, and just as local thrash started to wind down during the ascension of grunge. Seeing and hearing Lethal Vendetta live in their own time – now – kind of makes up for some of that in a weird way, which I’m grateful for. Thanks guys.

jimSpeaking of old school, and missing out, I feel like a bit of a dope for not being around the scene when The Loving Tongue began its evolution. Largely to dodge a couple of scary women with knife fetishes, but also to wallow in the darkest, bleakest black metal I could find – which admittedly wasn’t very dark – I started to avoid mid-1990s venues like Cartoons on Hindley Street, which really, I shouldn’t have.

Fortunately Jim got the band back together for a live appearance to the benefit of those of us not smart or fortunate enough to be there the first time around. I’ve only seen Jim on stage twice, and both times he’s been at the helm cranking out an awesome cover – this time we were delivered some Dio, which rocked. If Rino was around, maybe we’d have gotten KISS. It’s near-on impossible to get your hands on a Loving Tongue album these days, so if you ever see any you don’t already have sitting on a merch table somewhere, do yourself a favour before it’s too late.

It should also be mentioned that Big Tom has got a blues infused project of his own (which I really need to get around to seeing). He’s got a gig going on down a bit southward this Sunday, which I’ll be kicking myself for missing.

***

Things got a little confusing in the early evening. Unfortunately Matterhorn didn’t perform owing to illness. I was looking forward to seeing them live having thus far only heard their covers played on DDD Radio, and recently finding out they’d started performing their own material. These things can’t be avoided, so I’ll wait for another time.

asylumThe first real big shock of the night though, was Brisbane’s Asylum. I mean, Jesus fucking Christ. Let me put it this way – imagine seeing a band for the first time that manages to play old school thrash without being derivative, who make you feel almost the same way you did when you were a kid the first time listening to Kreator’s Extreme Aggression. And clearly, most everyone else felt something similar: the crowd went off.

(Apologies if you weren’t a kid when Extreme Aggression came out, but you probably still get the gist).

Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with their body of work, but I couldn’t spot a fuck-up either. Either way their performance was tight, and for the first time in the night I was wondering how the fuck anyone else would follow, and we were only half way through the card. I’m not sure anyone did top Asylum’s performance, and everyone who came afterward earn points just for guts.

“Okay, you can all go home now. Metal is finished.” – My brain after Asylum for the first time.

***

If you can’t out-thrash them, out-Viking them? Brisbane’s Valhaloreval were not what I was expecting. Often Viking metal comes in two general forms; super-serious-folk, sub-Wagnerian, crypto-Nietzschean, Viking metal, and clown-arse Viking metal. Valhalore were neither.

Valhalore did manage to straddle that difficult divide between over-seriousness and the absurd that Executus deftly managed earlier in the night, resulting in something festive and more mead-than-blood-soaked. How many folk/Viking metal bands can you think of that could break into a jig onstage without making a fool out of themselves?

Still, I’m a grumpy, overly-serious kind of old fart who’s been marinated in Bathory for too long, so when I’m told to grab the nearest person to me and dance, I still kind of want to reach for an axe instead. It’s a learning curve I guess.

hiddenNow, if there’s anyone who held a candle to Asylum on the night, in my opinion it was Hidden Intent. They were pretty much as tight as Asylum, and the crowd went wild for them. Of course, people were wound up by that point, and Hidden Intent had the home ground advantage. The sheer shock of hearing Asylum for the first time was a confounding factor too. It’s hard to call and I’m not sure I’m competent to call it, so I’m not going to. Being unable to tell who gave the most awesome performance on a given night is precisely the kind of problem you want to have at these things, so I’ll not complain.

Now I just need to get my shit together and get my hands on a CD of Fear, Prey, Demise at some point in the near future.

Another grounding moment came with Vanishing Point – the amount of times Ivanishing reckon I’ve heard When Truth Lies on DDD Radio is probably less that I actually have, but it’s been stuck in my head and it was welcome familiar territory, coming after a day of hearing songs that for the most part I’d never heard before. When there’s this much chaos, you need these kinds of familiar sign posts to remind some of the older audience members of just what planet they’re on.

Vanishing Point were, as expected, precise in their execution of pretty much everything they did. But by this point I was really starting to wonder about the heat in the joint. I wasn’t feeling it, but I’ve been told the Ed Castle gets hot, and when a vocalist takes a towel to a guitarist’s head mid-solo, you’re reminded of this. You have to wonder how Melbournians feel this stuff when they head up here, not that it made Vanishing Point miss a beat.

***

lichAnd then there was Lich King from the US, bane of my eardrums (which copped a bashing from the speaker a couple of feet to the left of my head). Asylum got an acknowledgement for blowing Lich King away, but if that gave Lich King nerves they weren’t showing it. It’s a bit hard trying to decipher how much competition is going on here between the bands – friendly, obviously – and how much is straight up camaraderie. You know they like playing the same gigs, but are there hidden stakes; beer tabs, dares and running bets?

I’m still trying to make my mind up about a thing or two about Lich King. They made with more of the swaggering braggadocio than other bands on the night, and by the end of their set when people started chanting “Black Metal Sucks”,  something was niggling at the back of my head (which had nothing to do with me wearing a Bathory t-shirt, honest).

I suspect a meaningful difference between Lich King and their Australian counterparts on the night probably comes down to the difference between the piss-take and the roast. The American tradition of the comedy roast doesn’t really have a counterpart in the rest of the Anglophonic world – the piss-take is as close as it gets. While the roast is dry and direct by design, the piss-take is considerably more amiable with much more nudging and and winking. Canadians, New Zealanders and the British all veer towards the piss-take as well – consider Canadian Steve Terreberry’s “How To Be Black Metal!” as an example; it’s not a roast, it’s a piss-take, but touches on pretty much all the same points as the considerably more overt lyrics to Lich King’s Black Metal Sucks.

While Lich King are clearly perfectly capable of laughing at themselves, I reckon there’s a real difference there, and that it’s probably cultural – although it will take more gigs and more listening to be sure. All the more reason for these kinds of festivals, and from what I’ve been led to believe, Adelaide’s probably going to get a Churches of Steel III and IV.

I’ll be looking forward to it.

~ Bruce

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