Some people told me I was crazy when I decided I was going to go to the Sick New World Fest, a debut Metal and Rock Festival in Las Vegas. In the month of May. I hate to sound like a boomer and complain about the heat in Las Vegas, which is an actual desert, but the bottom line is I knew in advance it was going to be hot as hell, and it certainly lived up to that prediction. That being said I was really excited to come to the festival enjoy a day with my metal community and see some incredible bands; some I had never seen ever, and some I had not seen in a long time.
After the quick flight from California, and getting in a few days early I made sure to offset the high cost of Vegas everything by hitting the supermarket and getting some supplies I would need daily. Shout out to Mariana’s Supermarket, an excellent small chain of supermarkets, with everything you could possibly need, including an amazing Spanish restaurant right inside the store. Definitely, the best Asada Birria soft tacos I have ever had in my life. I connected with team Ghost Cult: photographer Kim Hansen and fellow writer Matthew Kochek as we got dinner together with friends and then proceeded to take in a night of Stabbing Westward and The Birthday Massacre, and Brooklyn Bowl. The show was part of the weekend of sideshows, which also included the Mr. Bungle-led Geek Tour, which I saw on Sunday ( read our review here). Stabbing Westward put on an amazing show in an amazing in a great venue! I will come back here again someday.
Although I could barely sleep from the excitement, I woke up early on Saturday, ate, hydrated, and continued to get ready for the show. The media check-in was shockingly easy, and was indicative of all of the staff of the entire festival: excellent on every level. This is one of the best and most professional staff interactions of an event I have ever been part of.
One of the few drawbacks of the festival was the packed in schedule with four stages and many bands overlapping slightly on the side stages. It was a hard call to skip, or see many bands you would otherwise love to see as a headliner. That said, between myself and our team, we tried to plot out a day where we could the full flavor of the festival.
The festival grounds were a surreal landscape with the Vegas-ness of it all around you. It was very spread out and I had tons of friends at the fest who could not seem to connect. My homie Amanda from Brooklyn did make an extra effort to find me, which made me happy. We managed to get in early enough to see Scowl on the “Sick” stage and they did not disappoint. Easily one of the best punk bands in the game right now, and I was really proud of this mostly DIY band. Fans who showed up early definitely knew what was up, and sang along to some songs which was great to see and hear.
Then came the rest of the day where you had to choose the bands that you wanted to see the most. Catching Cold for the first time in a long time they were hella impressive. Many fans in the crowd sang along with the hits and the band also played a couple of deep cuts that I really appreciated as a fan. Scooter Ward is one of the best singers ever in heavy music. Quickly running over to catch the end of P.O.D., they whipped up the crowd into a frenzy with their awesome stage presence and many hit songs. Tati from Jinjer, (not on the festival, but need to be next year) even came out to sing with the band for their closing track “Alive.” The veterans always show the new kids what to do by example.
One of the problems of the festival besides the heat, was the distance between the stages. I like that each stage had a partially rotating backline to keep the flow of the bands going, and I like that the two main stages and the two side ones were in close proximity to each other. And while a good festival layout makes use of the entire footprint area, they were overall a little too far apart besides stages in the main stages. I did hear some complaints from other fans that you could almost hear the two stages overlapping, but again if there were no bands competing for time, this would be eliminated.
After catching a bit of up-and-coming band Narrowhead (very early Deftones in sound) and a taste of Lacy Sturm’s return with Flyleaf, I ran over to see most of Soulfly’s incredible set. Max Cavalera is one of the most commanding frontmen in all of metal and it was really heartening to see the crowd respond to him, especially with some new heads who had probably heard of the band and know who Max was originally from Sepultura and his many other bands, but probably not too familiar with the songs. Great set!
Heading over to the press tent to do some interviews I managed to catch up with both Scowl and Scooter of Cold. I liked how understated, comfortable and low-key the press area was. They had AC and water for us as well as a few snacks, and it was a general sense of camaraderie in the room and not the typical competitive b.s.
For the next few hours, I made a quick succession of seeing a bunch of bands, darting back and forth between three of the four stages, and really trying to take in as much music as possible. I caught a portion of the Lacuna Coil set, which was excellent and they really brought the daytime goth vibes to the fore. Next was a set from one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend, the first show back from the reunited Coal Chamber. They did not disappoint. They were incredible live, had a huge crowd response, and definitely the biggest and best mosh pits of any band not on the main stage. I followed this up by catching most of Stabbing Westward’s incredible set on the Spiral Stage. Even though I had seen them last night and it was a different vibe when it was their own headline gig, there were a lot of fans that had not seen the band ever or not seen the middle long time and Stabbing Westward delivered an incredible, uptempo, and heavy as hell set. Definitely pick up their last album Chasing Ghosts (COP International). Then running over to see most of Kittie, It was a delight since I had not seen the band in 11 years 12 years. of course fans want to hear those big hit songs from the new Metal ’90s but really Kittie is a band that came into its own in the early arts with their blackened groove metal songs. They also played a crushing new song, “Vultures.”
I never miss Melvins, so I made it a point to see how they would do in the stark daylight sun, and it was definitely very interesting. The band did not change their stage gear, especially with Buzz Osborne and his distinctive, custom tunic. He had to be broiling under the near 100° heat, but the band played an inspired set. Next up was Sevendust who is typically one of the most flawless bands in rock and metal live. Unfortunately for them, two and a half songs into their set the power blew on their stage and two others. The man hung out for a few seconds hoping they would come back on, but sadly they were done for the day. Many bands on this day also complained about technical issues and PA difficulties.
Next, I tried to hit up some merch since it seemed like there was going to be a break in the action, and I ran over to the humongous merch line. Sad to say that I stood there baking in that line for 30 minutes and we barely moved. This is one of the major flaws of the festival they were just not enough artist merch areas, and for this many fans, approximately 65,000, they need four to eight artist merch areas, not two. Please make them smaller, and more plentiful and thus easier to negotiate, buy merch and leave. This was a failure and I bought no band merch on this day.
After the power came back on and I saw a little bit of Filter play some of their new stuff in a hit or two I ran over to see Spiritbox. Easily one of the most anticipated bands of the fest, it seemed like a lot of fans had never seen them before and were blown away. As good as the band is on album video, they are so much better live. And so much more brutally hard too. The sky is the limit for this group and I was really proud to see them shine.
Due to the power outage early, some of the stages were now running a little bit behind schedule, which was fine as we were closely approaching the hottest point of the day. At this point, I was hydrating all day with my water pack and other free waters (the fest did a seriously great job handing out free water), and after seeing a spirited set from Turnstile, I retreated back to the press tent to cool off, interview Kittie and Sunny from P.O.D., hung out a little with the new lineup of FEVER333.
Luckily, I rebounded in time with energy enough to see a slightly delayed Mr. Bungle (hilarious and punk rock) and Skinny Puppy on the spiral stage just dominate in one of their farewell performances. I’m really glad I got to see them again after all these years and they did not let me down.
Other bands I caught a bit of were Incubus and their brand of hit-making radio rock. I met a fan who was only at the festival to see Incubus, which was pretty cool. I had to miss Body Count and Loathe as well as Ministry but I did see a little bit of FEVER333, HEALTH, and Prayers later in the night on the Sick Stage.
In a fatal error of my day, I tried too late to try to get down front for Deftones and ended up stranded in the crowd for three hours, unable to move. Granted, I had a pretty good sight line to see the stage and the big screens, the crush of the people was a little disappointing. Deftones absolutely rocked and played an incredibly long set of hits and deep cuts. As the sun went down it finally cooled off some. They did have to ask the crowd several times to back up because people in the front were getting crushed. The band played great and it was awesome to see them joined by Stephen Carpenter again who had missed some shows last year. The entire crowd was swooning for Chino and his magical pipes as they ran through hit after hit and I also appreciated the closing tracks of the set which were all deep, old-school, and heavy songs.
Korn was absolutely phenomenal following Deftones, and they played possibly the longest set I have ever seen from the band; over two hours. They were truly on their “A” game especially vocalist Jonathan Davis and drummer Ray Luzier, who had an amazing drum solo worthy of the best death metal drummers. Davis rocked a glittery tracksuit in honor of the “Nu-ness” of it all.
The band blasted through track after track, and you really have to marvel at their almost 30-year career (I had to think about that for a second damn) and just how many quality albums and how much quality music they have put out. I did not possibly think any band could top this performance.
Most fans I talked to over the day and even at the hotel and other places around town this weekend we’re talking about System Of A Down. Many had never seen them or had not seen them since the very beginning of the band and clearly, they held the most mystery and anticipation of any artist this weekend. They were squarely the main draw for most fans. SOAD played an especially fiery set exploding onto the stage with “Prison Song” playing many songs they had never played in many years which is really saying something for a band that values its fans. The crowd seemed completely enraptured by the band’s every move movement and flourish. Serj Tankian held the crowd firmly in his grasp, and they seem to be having some fun up there, which is good to see considering the reputation of the relationship of the guys in the band.
Highlights of the System set included “Soil,” “Darts,” “BYOB,” “Genocidal Humanoidz,” “Deer Dance,” “Chop Suey” and of course, “Toxicity” and “Sugar.”
I started to make my way to the front gate, as is customary for me, in the middle of the headliner’s set, but you could see and hear them throughout the whole festival as I made my way to the gate. I was sad that I was exhausted and could not stay for either Sisters of Mercy or Cradle of Filth, but I felt depleted. I was happy and overall glad that I went to this festival. Here’s a quick list of takeaways I have from the day.
*A great lineup of bands that will be hard to top next year
*Unlimited re-entry is a game-changer for all music festivals
*Free water – giving out water to fans to offset the brutal heat was smart
*The general camaraderie of the fans and the bands: it definitely felt like a family reunion on all fronts
*Please hold this event in March or April when it’s less hot
*Just in order to service the bands and the fans better, make this a 2-day event, with no overlapping clashes of bands.
*Food: I kind of expected the food options to be a little bit better. There were some nice food trucks and a few decent vendors. I heard the VIP and the bands had terrific catering and food, but honestly, I found the options lacking for Las Vegas.
*In addition to my earlier comment about the merch lines I think you need to have some dedicated pathways in and around the major areas of the main stages so people can navigate and get quickly in and out to roam. More security would help with this, but also defined lanes for walking and ADA access, where fans cannot crowd.
All in all, it was a great event. Sick New World – we will definitely be back!
WORDS BY KEEFY
PHOTOS BY KIM HANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY