August 28, 2018

Migration Fest 2018

By Matt Hinch. I don't travel much. I live a mere two hours East of Toronto and I might get into the city once a year for a show at best. So driving all the way to Pittsburgh was a big deal. But that big deal was Migration Fest 2018.
By Matt Hinch.

I don't travel much. I live a mere two hours East of Toronto and I might get into the city once a year for a show at best. So driving all the way to Pittsburgh was a big deal. But that big deal was Migration Fest 2018. Totally worth the sweaty-palmed eight and a half hour drive. Damned traffic. Three days packed with bands either on Gilead Media or 20 Buck Spin or hand-picked by them. The trust level here was sky high.

As much as I would have liked to I didn't see every band perform. Out of the 26 bands (I think) that shook the foundation of Mr. Small's I only completely missed 4 bands. Not bad if you ask me. So nothing here on Zombi, Deadbird, Pryolatrous, or the Cancer Conspiracy. Sorry. Other than that I'll try and recap the first multi-day festival I'd been to since 1996. I told you I don't get out much.

Day 1

I also missed the pre-show Thursday night because I was taking in a Pirates game, so at the coincidental time of 4:20 Friday afternoon Migration Fest proper fired up with Cloud Rat's violent grind. I wasn't as familiar with them as I thought but their energy pulls you in anyway. Couch Slut followed up with a hugely anticipated set. Their noisy sludge grind sucked people in as vocalist Megan O. screamed, rolled around, bloodied herself, and threw other cautions to the wind. She's a force on stage and the only disappointment was that she wasn't able to get down on the floor and kick all our asses.

I missed enough of Forn's set that I can't really comment much but I heard enough to regret missing most of it. However OSDM locals Derkéta crushed. It's a simple kind of death metal but they were tight and when they locked into a groove there wasn't a head that wasn't nodding. They looked like they were having a really good time too. As did many over the course of the weekend.

Perhaps the most talked about set from Friday was from black metal extremists, Yellow Eyes. They impressed so much their merch basically evaporated. They looked like an unassuming bunch but holy shit did they rip! Fierce, cold, and fast. Vile screams forced attention and the goodness. Such ferocity and power! I thought he was going to break every piece of that kit. Yellow Eyes left many simply awestruck.

Bongripper shifted gears rather abruptly for those taking it all in. Going from Yellow Eyes's lightning-quick BM to instrumental doom, Bongripper was one of the main draws for me and I grinned/scowled the whole time as I watched hundreds of heads all nodding in unison, slowly, as they bulldozed their way through a heavy, heavy set preceding Khemmis.

The Colorado group had the crowd excited. Their newest LP, Desolation is fantastic and I was not alone in anticipating some of its songs blessing our ears. Obviously they did and did well. I started close to the stage but too far to the left. After 4-5 songs and failed attempts at a decent picture I moved to the back of the room and boy, did it make a difference. The vocals were sharp and the twin guitars flourished in an even more powerful way than they do on record. It was one of the best sets of the weekend and a fitting end to MY night. I skipped out on Zombi (never listened to them) in search of grub before everything closed!

Day 2

I know I wasn't the only one anxious to be on time for Day 2. “Last minute” replacements, Immortal Bird were set to open Saturday's festivities. I even heard one fella say it was the only set he actually watched. Hanging out with friends was a big part of the weekend. Immortal Bird, like everyone else, did not disappoint. Their amalgam of styles went over well and served as a killer kickstart. Props to vocalist Rae and the rest of the band for the afternoon adrenaline shot. Especially the drummer!

The crowd thinned noticeably for Scorched. They didn't deserve that. But the young death metal upstarts didn't let the smaller crowd get them down. Groovy and tight, they pounded through some gnarly tunes led by their circle-headbanging singer. On the drive back to my lodgings at the end of the day we discussed rules for a circle-headbanging competition between him and Corpsegrinder. They should just tour with Cannibal Corpse anyway.

I was wandering around and missed the start of The Ominous Circle's set. Shame on me. While I personally enjoyed some of the later sets more I think TOC made the biggest impact. Donning black hoodies under black leather jackets (hoods up obviously) and grim reaper masks the Portuguese monsters made for a very visual display. The singer even wore robes, gloves, and something to make him seem 8 feet tall. Maybe he is. Good god though did they put on a show. The singer openly gestured with his hands when growling from the depths of Hell, and stood stately with hands crossed when his cult mates were doing the heavy lifting. They were surprisingly great and they were quite busy at the merch table as well.

I can't say much about Mutilation Rites as I didn't catch all their set. I was getting a head start on Spirit Adrift merchandise but what I did see held true to their dirty and and wretched style. They introduced their new drummer and otherwise burned through their mid-afternoon set as one would expect. Their new album, Chasm is pretty good by the way. This is also a good time to say that you should not trust the order I'm talking about the bands in. There were changes and it was all just so much fun I may have lost track.

I totally skipped on Deadbird to take a much needed walk and scarf some chocolate bars but you can bet your ass I was back in time to get a decent spot for Spirit Adrift. I was close but with a central spot this time and I could hear it all. Nate's vocals came across different than on record. Less doomy? Still great! Some people even said it was better. With a similar setup as Khemmis their twin guitars soared as well. They've got such a grand, epic style of trad doom that translates extremely well to the stage. Or more likely vice versa. They even played a new song! It was somewhat more urgent, thrashier even, than their previous work and if you're a fan, be excited.

Mizmor. OH MY GOD, Mizmor. Ungodly heavy. Wholly doomed black metal is right! Whether slow or raging the air vibrated with negativity. They switched out drummers a couple times. Both great. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think one of them was Hell's MSW. (I think it was Mizmor's ALN beating the skins for Hell too.) The biggest impact came from the vocals. All those fucking terrifying screams you heard on Yodh are real, man. He pulled it all off live and you felt it in your bones! Spectacular.

I'll admit I hadn't listened to Pelican in a long time. Not sure why. Maybe I heard an EP I wasn't fond of and moved on? No matter. Their set made me want to get back into them. Maybe it was the shared back line or maybe I just misremembered their recorded works but they were heavy! Their musicianship was never in question but they looked like they were having a really good time. So were we. Vocalists be damned!

Due to a faulty Bluetooth connection, broken auxiliary cable, and fickle CD player I listened to Krallice's Years Past Matter on repeat for six and a half hours driving down to Pittsburgh. That didn't mean I didn't want to see the wizards of experimental technical black metal in the flesh. I had mixed feeling watching though. On one hand, gazing with awe at their fingers, hands, and feet and seeing the multitude of notes unfurl was pretty cool. On the other hand, that kind of playing doesn't necessarily make for a lot of stage movement. That was a bit expected but I can still feel a little let down. It didn't seem to bother anyone really though as their Saturday-ending set was met with raucous admiration.

Day 3

OK. The home stretch. I wanted to see Lev Weinstein drum for Pyrolatrous after seeing him in Krallice the night before but pints and puppies at a nearby brewery (Grist House) was too good to rush so I missed their whole set. But, pints and puppies! So Daeva was the first act I caught. It was also their first show! Impressive! Basically thrash metal. Good performers. And the vocalist made me think of a more extreme Dave Mustaine for both visual and audial reasons. I'd keep an eye on these guys.

O Canada! Torontonians Tomb Mold (figuratively) followed me down from Canada to infect the Mr. Small's stage with their filthy brand of death metal. They kicked ass to one of the more packed rooms over the whole weekend. They're a band on the up and up and you could tell by the reaction they received. Their new album, Manor of Infinite Forms is getting a lot of hype and they lived up to it! Just as nasty as you would expect. I'm bummed I didn't get one of their Fest exclusive shirts though.

The Cancer Conspiracy's set was my break for the day. Not that I didn't want to discover but I needed some moving air. The air sure was moving when Hell took the stage. They pushed the PA to its limits with slow, insanely heavy doom. Their mantra is “lower your head” and I did. Parked behind the sound booth I closed my eyes, lowered my head and banged/swayed through their loud and impactful set. I live for this kind of heaving doom that you can feel more than you need to see. Absolutely crushing!

False followed them with keyboard-accented black metal fury. Although I did have some trouble hearing the keys from a couple spots in the room. You couldn't help but hear vocalist Rachel's desperate screams though. Their atmospheric blackness was a nice change of pace from Hell but impressed on their own merits regardless of when they played. I talked to keyboardist Kishel for half of Mournful Congregation's set too. But that was later. There was another big Fest draw to see. Thou.

I'm not as familiar with Thou as I thought I was. That didn't mean I didn't enjoy their sludgy and hard-hitting set. With a third guitarist! They obviously drew a large crowd too being one of the bigger names on the bill. They crushed. In fact, I'd say they're better live than on record. As it should be. Although at the rate they're pumping out releases this year you would expect a band to be as locked in as they were. They kept the set relatively heavy thankfully and they have me excited for the upcoming Magus now!

Yes, I missed half of Mournful Congregation's set but that was only two songs. Their third comprised the other half. Slow, meaningful death doom filled the room as the fullness of night took hold to the delight (despair?) of the sweaty masses. This was one of those sets where I felt bad for not digging into their work more. The emotional performance won me over enough to put their newest slab back on my phone. Everybody wins!

Judging by the enthusiasm Fest closer Panopticon received I felt like I had missed the boat on them. I'm glad I stuck around. Bluegrass doesn't really do it for me but luckily their set was all ripping black metal. Sure, there were some acoustic moments and otherwise not-flesh rending movements but it was the only time the no moshing policy was disregarded, however briefly. They killed it. And made me a believer, as good performances should. Almost every song they played was so triumphant you thought it was going to be the monumental end to the fest. But they just kept throwing out more and more. No one complained. In fact, they even got an encore! People lost their minds for their whole set and with good reason. Plus, Austin Lunn is hilarious. They couldn't have chosen a better band to wrap up the crazy weekend.

Three days, over 25 bands and untold millions of degrees of heat later and I doubt you could find a soul there that left unsatisfied. The quality of bands that performed was rock solid top to bottom. Every band nailed it on stage and it all ran on time! Early even! Kudos to Adam and Dave for putting on such a fantastic festival of noisy, angry, heavy, dazzling, loud, and entertaining underground metal. Fans migrated for the weekend from across continents and Migration Fest was worth the trip however long. The only problem now is waiting to do it all over again.

Max and Matt having fun.

In the words of more than one Fest performer, “MIGRATIOOOOOOONNN!!!!!”
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