Decibel Magazine’s Decibel Metal & Beer Fest was, to put it simply, stacked. Fourteen bands across all variants of Death, Grindcore, Prog, and Doom, descended onto Orange County for a weekend of heart-pounding jubilation. The two-day event was held this year at The Observatory, a large yet paradoxically intimate standing-room-only venue, intelligently designed to put the audience at three different heights across the entire space, offering uninhibited views of the stage beyond the perils of the pit.
As any regular concert attendee will tell you, something magical happens when the lights go down and a handful of pissed off guys get on stage to assault you with their talent; while California natives Graf Orlock and LA’s own hardcore ragers Xibalba were a welcome sight of course, the weekend brought all kinds of happy and unexpected surprises that made this fest all the more memorable. Veterans of the genre debuted new music; some bands stepped on stage for the first time in years, while others came out to the West Coast for the first time ever.
As in years past, if sampling beers between brutality is your thing, this fest should be high on your list of must-attends. Just outside of the stage area, one room remained crowded with an unending parade of curious dabblers and craft connoisseurs. For a slightly higher ticket fee, fest-goers were invited to sample selections from breweries all over North America, including Unibroue (Canada), Metal Monkey (IL), Hoof Hearted (OH), Societe (CA), Deschutes Brewing (OR) and Brimming Horn Meadery (DE). The souvenir cup, a simple affair adorned with the Decibel Metal & Beer Fest logo, was also pretty nifty.
Arizona five-piece Gatecreeper brought straight Death from their 2019 release, Deserted (Relapse Records), and a few crowd-pleasers out of 2016’s Sonoran Depravation (Relapse). ‘From the Ashes,’ ‘Boiled Over,’ along with their feral, yet oddly poetic, ‘Barbaric Pleasures,’ were perfect fodder for the bodies looking to burn off pent up rage from the week.
As often follows death, the slow march of Funeral Doom came next in the form of Evoken, hailing from the East Coast, to make their first-ever appearance in California. A hearty mix of mid-tempo and sludge riffs, accompanied by the epochal haunting lyrical delivery that has been the band’s defining sound for over twenty-five years, these guys delivered a worthy introduction to the locals that may have never dared to venture out from under the rock they call home.
A personal highlight for my evening, Intronaut also took the stage Friday, their first public performance in over two years. Bringing along drummer Ash Pearson (Revocation) to briefly occupy the space controversially left vacant by former drummer Danny Walker, the Progressive Metal devotees showed no signs of rust from their hiatus as they seamlessly weaved their signature jazz-infused melodies across throaty metaphors laden with themes worthy of the “inner traveler” motif. The band, who, as of this writing, is expected to release their next album in 2020 on Metal Blade, also played their latest single, ‘Cubensis’—where Pearson delivered a notably impeccable performance—and stayed well into the evening to greet fans over drinks and sign posters in the merch area.
Gruesome, the Death-inspired brainchild of singer/guitarist Matt Harvey (Dekapitator, Exhumed) and drummer Gus Rios (Divine Empire) played to the pit with upending tracks from their 2015 debut Savage Land (Relapse), including the album’s namesake and ‘Trapped in Hell,’ ravaging the room with equal parts Thrash and melodic instrumental indulgence. Grindcore mainstays Nails continued the assault with new tracks ‘Endless Resistance’ and ‘I Don’t Want to Know You,’ among other face-melting entries from their repertoire like ‘Unsilent Death’ and ‘You Will Never Be One of Us.’
Closing out Friday night was Possessed, a band that arguably created the Death Metal genre as it exists today. Having recently released their first album in over thirty years, the band was primed to play new music from Revelations of Oblivion (Nuclear Blast Records) as well as, to the delight of old and new fans alike, classics from their debut Seven Churches (Combat Records).
Saturday’s lineup, not to be outdone, showcased the talents of Mortuous and power metal fantasy weavers Visigoth early into the evening. Spirit Adrift, another personal favorite, entranced the crowd with their ambitiously passionate contributions to the genre, equal parts Doom and at times harkening classic arena-inspired sounds of the 80s, plucked from this year’s Divided by Darkness (20 Buck Spin).
Switzerland’s Schammasch took the stage for their first-ever U.S. performance. Visually speaking, the Black Metal sages stood apart from the rest of the lineup, standing in decadently adorned robes of black and gold that enveloped them from head to toe. Two stood as hooded figures coated in a deep ink-like corpse paint, a solid vertical gold stripe centering their faces, while two others stood on either side of them, shrouded in fog. The band’s imagery melted away concepts of individuality as riff after riff washed over and transfixed the audience in a meditative state.
Recently reunited thrash heroes Vio-lence showed no mercy to the pit late into the evening, brutalizing fans with a sizeable helping from their 1988 release Eternal Nightmare (MCA Records), including the title track, ‘Phobophobia’ and the unrelenting ‘Kill on Command.’
Headlining Saturday night, the UK Death Metal juggernauts most assuredly responsible for inspiring most of this year’s lineup into existence, Carcass, annihilated the packed venue with music from across their discography. Pulling from some of their most iconic albums, the band played hit after hit, including ‘Buried Dreams,’ ‘This Mortal Coil,’ and ‘Genital Grinder.’ Carcass even delivered an early Christmas gift to those in attendance, debuting ‘Under the Scalpel Blade,’ a gory earworm for the masses and the band’s first new track in about six years.
December is a season of festivities and family gatherings, the fest overall felt like its own special holiday party for the blackened souls seeking sustenance, debauchery, and camaraderie within these walls. Decibel’s Metal & Beer Fest never disappoints, and we hope they continue to decimate the West Coast in what is quickly becoming a welcome year-end tradition of Metal, booze and riotous fun.
WORDS BY DAHLIA HUNT
PHOTOS BY HILLARIE JASON