A three-day music festival in the woods with rock, punk, metal, copious amount of drinking, and an undying sense of community… throw that all in a blender with some camping and yard games and you get RPM Fest. The “Heaviest Party of the Summer” and the unofficial end to the summer in the New England metal scene. This was my 2nd year at RPM Fest so I knew what to expect, but at the same time, I didn’t know what to expect. As it is never a repeat of the year prior at this loud and dirty circus.
Getting there a day early, as I was volunteering for the festival again this year just as I did last year, stage set up, vendor booths, sound cables running, everything had been basically done from scratch over the course of the last a week prior. This really is a community effort and entirely done by everyone involved to make this happen year after year. It truly is a beautiful sight to behold when everything takes shape.
All right, enough stalling. Let’s dive, horns first, into this heavy metal camping trip!
First up for the weekend and setting the tone for the day was Thunderforge. Do you want to listen to something that sounds like Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, and Wintersun was thrown into a blender? Then God damn do I have a band for you! Riffs, vocal chops for days, and a rhythm section that rattles the core.
Next up on the docket for day one, Bask, chunky and heavy psychedelic metal. A band that truly seems to be lost in time, but in the best kind of way. These guys sound like they were taken straight out of the ’70s and given modern production tools to piece together some of the grooviest and most fun music I’ve heard in quite some time. Bringing the noise in the main stage after Bask, we have the original RPM Fest band… Lich King! RPM Fest founder, Brian Westbrook, laying down to the drums for this band since 2007, hinted at Lich King’s triumphant return to the festival at the end of last year’s RPM Fest. And let me tell you something they did NOT disappoint! During their third song, there were some technical difficulties with the microphone. Which lead vocalist, Zack Smith, to proceed to climb the PA system next to the stage and take command of the audience from about 25′ up in the air. But really, with the vibe and reputation of the festival, nothing is really shocking at this point and it’s only day 1 of three full days of music. Intense and fast Thrash Metal out of Greenfield, MA in the vein of Slayer and Exodus. Song of the set for me, ‘Combat Mosh’ and their cover of Motley Crue’s ‘Live Wire’. Long live the (Lich) King!!
After Lich King tore the main stage up, we have Conforza and Thoughtcrimes taking part in the festivities. Both sets were punishing, visceral, and in your face. Conforza definitely still retains its title and respect for having one of the most intense performances in the MA and NH area. Thoughtcrimes, was on another level. Piercing guitar tones, thunderous vocals, and a rhythm section that could rearrange your DNA. Fun fact, Billy Rymer of The Dillinger Escape Plan is on drum duties.
Closing out the first night of RPM Fest 2019 we have the comedic stylings of the Chicago band, Psychostick! What do you get when you take the humor of Weird Al and mash it together with the musical stylings of Pantera? Well, you get Psychostick! Rob Kersey a.k.a. The dude in the Sonic The Hedgehog helmet. Josh Key, otherwise known as the riff master general in the referee pants. Matty Rzemyk, also known as Matty J Moose (self-explanatory)m, and Alex Dontre, the one “normal” one in the band. Together these four fine, upstanding gentlemen of the mosh pit make up what can really be described as stand-up comedy mixed with metal. I haven’t seen these guys since 2014 in Rhode Island when they were on one of their many tours with Dog Fashion Disco, so I was very excited to see what they had in store for the show. And it’s always fun to catch up with bands that you’re friends with. Which is why I also just love this festival as a whole, it’s all about the community and just enjoying the company of friends and the bands we all know and love.
Huge amounts of crowd participation with lyrics, the song “NSFW” which is quite literally a medley of other songs but all the lyrics are replaced with the word “fuck” for the entirety of the song, to “Get the motherfucker with the sombrero!!” To their majestic cover of the Kenny Loggins classic, “Danger Zone”. Nothing I say here in this review can really, fully describe what a Psychostick show is like… you really do have to experience it yourself.
After the main stage as done for the night, we had another RPM Fest staple, Metal Karaoke! Which, I must admit, I took part in and am terrified if someone got my performance on video. Several adult beverages and a willingness to make an ass of myself resulted in me doing a cover of Afroman’s “Crazy Rap (Colt 45 & 2 Zig Zags)” at roughly 1 am. Ahhhh, good times.
Opening up the second day of the festival was a band that I was very much looking forward to, Black Absence. B.A’s drummer, Liam, who I met last year as we were both volunteers to help set up from the festival, told me about his band back then, and I immediately wanted to hear them, because he described them as, “A shitty garage version of Testament”. And to be honest, they lived up to that description… minus the shitty part. If you want some homegrown thrash metal, check these guys out.
Next up over on the main stage was a band that I really didn’t know what to expect from, the fine gentlemen in Inverter. Take the The Dillinger Escape Plan, add in a healthy dose of adventurous fashion sense from the lead singer, a bass player that looks like he could double as a security guard at any high functioning night club in New York City with a bass tone that actually cracked my chest, and add a hip hop inspired flow to their music. All in all, a very solid shakeup to the main stage.
Heavy Necker was next with their take on down-home, modern blues with solos and swagger for days and a voice that sounds like Zeppelin and Whitesnake had a super talented child together. Go see them if you ever have the chance to do so.
Then back over on Ginger Libation stage after a short break to dump my photos throughout the last day and a half of shooting, we have Connecticut hardcore band, Cry Havoc. Talking about self-empowerment and just simply loving your fellow man in between bouts of screaming into the microphone like a new age Henry Rollins, these guys are definitely one to check out if you want some new angry weight lifting music.
Aaaaand back over on the main stage (this festival also doubles as a great cardio workout), we had the band that I was the most excited to see and shoot on day 2 of the lineup… Carnivora. A band that I have been waiting to shoot for years now, and I’ve just never had the chance to get out and see them. And let me tell you something, they had a party of a mosh pit. Killer riffs, thunderous drums, a little bit of a New England metal reunion on stage (Michael Lentine came on stage for two songs alongside current vocalist Haydee Irizarry from the band’s back catalog, from back when he was the vocalist of the band years ago), and I shit you not, a horse-sized inflatable duck raft that lead guitarist Cody Michaud did a swan dive on to mid solo during their last song and rode around the mosh pit and back towards the stage closing out their set.
After a quick bite to eat and a brief moment of quiet, it was time to go back to work over on the main stage with a band that had piqued my interest from the moment I heard their name… Stonecutters! This is a band that RPM Fest had pitched as Transcendent Death Metal, and let me be the first to tell ya, that’s pretty on the mark. Do you like The Ramones? How about Anthrax? Or maybe you’re even a fan of Obituary. Well motherfucker, do I have a band for you!! Punk rock stage attics (guitarist Nick Burks running around the stage for a continuous 50 minutes, he didn’t stop once), thrash metal mentality and stage presence, and death metal style vocals. It is the loudest version of being a kid in a candy store that I could possibly imagine. Louisville, KY… home of Louder Than Life music festival, enough bourbon, and whiskey to a bring Jim Belushi back from the dead and then kill him again, and these psychos of the riff!
And closing out the main stage for Night Two was a band that I had never even heard of, the fine and thrashy gentlemen of Byzantine. Punishing riffs, haunting guitar solos, and drums that were truly reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin (think the tone of “When The Levee Breaks” level heavy and the speed of Death Angel, but for an entire hour-long set). Pepper in some minor guitar audio setbacks for half a song and you have yourself a damn fine set. A set that almost didn’t happen at all, in fact. Days before RPM Fest opened up for the weekend, vocalist and guitar player ChrisOjeda called up and let us know that his wife was due that very same weekend. So as you can imagine, all of us on staff were waiting on fated breath for the final word if they could make it for the show. Thankfully all went well and now Chris has his beautiful baby boy who was born a mere three days after the festival. So one, Congratulations to the Ojeda family! And two, HOLY SHIT GO LISTEN TO BYZANTINE!
Okay, Day 3 is gonna be short and sweet. Because, to be quite frank, I was a mere husk of a human being by the time Sunday rolled around. Between food, music, friends, and enough liquor to take out a fucking T-Rex we were all hurting by Sunday. All in good fun, mind you, but still… t’was rough!
The first band of the day I caught was Creeping Death, which oddly enough is the name of one of the many vendors that were at the festival as well (Creeping Death Designs). Shout out to these warriors of the festival, because they had to deal with the brutal sun and the thick amounts of dust and dirt all weekend.
So, Creeping Death. Pure and straightforward death metal right out of the heart of Texas. If you were to take Krisiun and bake it in the Texas heat and mix in a healthy amount of old school hardcore attitude.. then you’d get these dudes. A musical punch in the face to my very hungover ass! Their newest album Wretched Illusions (eOne Heavy) has been a regular on my playlists and daily drives to work.
And now we come to the number one band that I was the most excited to see over the course of the entire weekend, Moon Tooth! Anyone that knows me personally knows that their newest album Crux is a VERY strong front runner for my album of the year. Between Vin’s thick and beefy bass tones, Ray’s thunderous drumming that still to this day makes me dizzy just a watch him behind the kit, John’s stunning vocal work, and Nick’s guitar skills and gymnastics act (The man climbed up the PA unit and played an entire solo from 25’ in the air and then proceeded to jump back down in to the stage while STILL continuing to play… the guys in Fever 333 better watch out for Moon Tooth!) I really can’t say a single thing that I would have changed or would’ve liked to have seen more during their set. It was, in my opinion, THE performance of the weekend. And that’s not to take away from anyone else, everyone played phenomenally throughout the entire weekend!!
While I was sitting down to shovel some food in my face to keep myself alive for the remainder of the night I managed to catch the set put on by Hivesmasher… dear God. People, please, do me a favor. If Hivesmasher is playing anywhere near you or you want to experience something that I can almost guarantee you that you’ve never seen before.
After I caught Hivesmasher’s set I rolled on back over to the Ginger Libation stage to catch last-minute add-on for the weekend, Mobile Deathcamp. These dudes are BIG, not just in sound and tone. But in energy, attitude, and overall gratefulness to even be there to be able to enjoy the weekend with everyone else. They were added on after we got word that Swashbuckle was unable to make it for the festival. These dudes really did bring the party all the way from Ohio. They’ve been in the scene for quite some time! Go check them out if you wanna hear what Testament and Black Flag would sound like if they were locked in a room together to record an album!
Closing out the weekend was a band that really left an impression on me, Inter Arma. Hailing from the land of GWAR and Lamb of God (Richmond, VA), Inter Arma is a band that really makes you think. Think in a way that makes you say out loud, “What did I just watch?!” but in the best kind of way. I’d never heard of these guys until they were announced to be playing, but a lot of people I know we were super excited that they were playing. And I gotta say, I’m now a fan as well. They had a super moody set. Atmospheric isn’t really the right word for it, but just very intense and almost sinister in a way. Their drummer T.J. has the most out-there drum setup I’ve ever seen though, laid flat and cymbals turned up at a 65-degree angle, but hey… if it works, it works and it definitely works for his playing style. The man didn’t stop for even a second during the entire set, I honestly thought his arms were gonna fall off. But overall these guys put on a hell of a show that really left an impression on everyone that witnessed it.
In conclusion, RPM Fest 2019 was a grand success! From all the food, the drinks, the vendors, the bands, the yard games, the camping, the sense of community and family, the well… the everything. I love this festival and I love the fact that I can be a part of it every year! I give a massive amount of respect and props to Brain Westbrook, Promotorhead Entertainment, PDP Productions, and everyone that helps this event happen every year. Y’all are the shit!
So if you’re on the fence about coming to the next RPM Fest, I hope this article may have helped sway you over the good side and I’ll see you there next year. Because they just announced the dates for RPM Fest 2020! September 4th – September 7th! I HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL THERE!!
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS SMALL