“Oh, they should have knownNot to play with the powers of Hell Some people have lost their way Some people have lost their mind”
‘A Dangerous Meeting’, Mercyful Fate
“Have you ever been to Coachella?”
“No… never. Turned down a lot of chances to go, though.”
“Nope, same… never went.”
“Wacken? Hellfest? Anything like that?”
“No, man… I don’t do festivals….”
Now, I’m not exactly the lying type but this isn’t the truth. I just never went to the obvious festivals. The tagline for HardRockChick from the beginning has been “One girl. Lots of shows.” Being that I generally went to most things by myself, I did not think that going to Hellfest by myself would be a smart idea. But mainly, I have traditionally not liked tapas-style music experiences; small bites of sets where you might have to choose between acts and there’s just too much going on for too many days.
But I fully realize, I’m being a bit of a hypocrite… because the festivals I have gone to have been completely insane and filled with moments I’ll never forget. I went to a couple Fun Fun Fun Fests in Austin that had some pretty legendary sets. I went to a ton of Mayhem Fests… but those are only one day, so do they even count? And then there was Orion Fest which was pretty legendary.
But the one I probably reference the most that people get all whoa about is the time I went to Barge to Hell by myself.
When people try to get all metal snob on me… you know what: I let them. I fucking hate metal snobs, I hate gatekeepers- especially the ones that don’t actually know what they are talking about. I enjoy letting them try to mark their territory, and then I come in like a wrecking ball and just casually mention how I’ve been in the Helvete basement or I sailed International waters with Behemoth, Enslaved, Mayhem, At the Gates, etc., or, you know, I’ve interviewed some really amazing people. But I really don’t like to brag…
And now there’s Psycho Las Vegas… it had some moments.
Pulling up to the Conrad on Friday afternoon, I was immediately transported as I walked through the doors. The only way I agreed to do this was 1) it was a friend’s b-day weekend and 2) posh hotel room to escape to at any time. The lobby was littered with road cases and the black masses were scattered about, catching up; this was clearly ground zero for the artists. It reminded me of when I used to go to NAMM and checking into the official hotel was always wild… I can tell you that Steve Vai feels entitled to jump ahead of you in line. And sure, fine, whatever… I guess that’s justified when you can play guitar like that.
Resorts World is a brand new casino and I was a bit shocked that it would be the host like this. Everything was brand new, and here it was teetering with what many would label an ‘unsavory’ crowd. Loud music boomed from multiple stages all across the entire place. Also like NAMM (which takes over a Disney-adjacent hotel), I felt a pang of sadness for the normies staying there that had no idea what the fuck was going on; there were a lot of bewildered stares.
Settled in, it was time to find wristbands. Luckily this was easy and there was no line. I will say there were no maps or real signage anywhere so we just kind of blindly followed where the people in black generally were headed.
Onto the ‘Events Center’- where I would spend the majority of my time- I landed mid set during Wolves in the Throne Room. For being what seemed like a non-permanent structure, the sound was huge and searingly ice-cold. I had forgotten about this band! I am realizing that I saw so much in the initial 10 years of writing that now when someone asks me if I’ve seen someone, unless I saw them a lot- I sadly have to search my site to see. It’s awful, and that’s why I had to take a multi-year break. But what a great introduction to the weekend this was; so dramatic, emotional, and haunting. It was also a huge reminder as to how I got addicted to Black Metal when I was dealing with the loss of my mom along with some other things- the music, but really seeing and experiencing the music live so that I could just have this religious, err…anti-religious, experience. I am far removed from that person now, but this was my first black metal set in about six years and it was an unholy shit moment.
Next up was Carcass. According to archives, I saw Carcass at the Troubadour in 2013. I don’t remember it at all! I’m going to assume this was way more fun. It was a great contrast to WITTR; fast, heavy, snarling. We stood back near the sound board, so between us and the band was a wide swath of partying fans and a respectable pit. It didn’t seem TOO crazy for the size of the room…. the weekend was just getting started.
And then, Mayhem. They appeared on stage in full costume and it was dead silent. The crowd was pissed! Now this wasn’t like the first time I saw them when a noise ordinance caused their set to be turned down… there was legit no sound. Then they fixed pretty much everything but the vocals; it was incredibly discombobulating seeing Atilla up there fully bringing it but not being able to hear anything. The crowd started yelling “TURN! IT! UP!” and finally his vocals popped in and everyone was very happy. But that took way too long and was super annoying. Anyway this ended up being my favorite Mayhem set of the four I’ve experienced; once they got the sound working it worked. I understand bad Mayhem sound may be part of the experience but this was a nice change of pace. I mean it is hard to beat watching them drink Pina Coladas while playing on a cruise ship but this was more or less how it’s supposed to be, yes?
I had never seen Emperor before so this was one of my huge draws to the weekend. As a trve Black Metal enthusiast, I had to see Emperor… I mean this band’s role in the history of this genre is nothing short of integral. I’ll let you delve into their wiki. Another thing that is fucking mental and tangentially related to Emperor is that guitarist Samoth’s ex-wife was murdered in that awful mass killing in Norway last year. So much darkness. Emperor’s more symphonic and progressive elements may have been a bit too nuanced for the sound in this room, but overall they were mesmerizing. It would be the first instances of seeing fans around me just losing their minds, in that I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening way that is generally only the kind of “big” moments festivals can create. My heart rate felt like it was keeping time with the drums. A guy pushed past with an Ihsahn patch on his back. I’m far away so I can barely make out the figures on the stage, so it’s hard to believe that’s really him up there. When someone takes the leap from the music history books to the stage in front of you it just doesn’t quite feel real sometimes. I then realized that the keyboard player is a former HRC interview subject! The night continued to swirl into demented debauchery as I watched people stumble around and then one guy just crumple- first to his knees and then face planting to the ground. He did not spill his beer though (which is good, they were $14). It seemed like no one went to get him help; it felt like an eternity later when I was about to leave to go find someone before this guy just died in front of me in the middle of an Emperor set- which was not the moment I wanted to have at this festival- when two cops walked in and hauled him off. That’s not the kind of help I would have gotten him, but at least he was alive and not stuck with a huge ambulance bill. As the Emperor set came to a close, I realized I must have been really, really into the night’s affairs because I didn’t put my earplugs in (I have custom filtered earplugs because back when I used to go to so many shows, I wanted to keep my hearing!). I hadn’t had “rock ear” in a looooong time.
Bands would continue to play into the wee hours of the morning but I was tired and done for the night. I have to say getting up and down the elevators at The Conrad yielded some of the most hilarious moments of the weekend. It was one of those security key-enabled things but it was finicky as fuck so everyone had a hell of a time getting it to work; which forced us into a lot of funny conversations.
By Day 2 I was slightly hung over and planted firmly into having run into a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in about six years. It felt like what I’d imagine The Blip felt like! I’d look around and wonder if these were a lot of the same fans as before. Certainly some of them were younger. The fashion was very interesting. Men’s crop tops…women’s full bare ass showing. Call me old fashioned, but what is happening?
We started with Frozen Soul, which was my unplanned favorite of the weekend. I mean, if you were there, you know: the push up pit. It was a moment. Heavy, grinding… so much so that this smaller stage’s floor would start feeling like it was going to give away. It was during this set that I had a moment of realization that metal is really coming to terms with some genre-wide issues right now; and let’s be honest: they are not new problems. The vocalist had a fairly long Tony Robbins-esque speech where he talked about seeking help for your mental health and memorializing Riley Gale (Power Trip), Wade Allison (Iron Age) , Trevor Strnad (BDM), and others.
Now, this is where I often lose people… I’ve kind of always looked at things like we all came to find ourselves in these genres because we’re commiserating about something. And art is to be created by people who are not quite like me; who are on the fringes of society and are probably a) sometimes not great people and b) not 100% sober. I’d say maybe that’s just the era I grew up with, or the couple generations before me even… but have you ever seen Amadeus?!
Do I appreciate a memorial moment? Certainly. But it was like 1p in the afternoon, about half the audience was already intoxicated and the amount of Adderall conversations happening in the elevators already was kind of eye-rolly. What I’m saying is: we can stand there and think about how we need to focus on mental health for two minutes; but what are we actually doing? Same old shit, new pharmaceutical names, really. I guess all I have to say is I left the weekend realizing that the metal scene is a weird vibe these days; it seems very conflicted… like a giant NA meeting or something. Don’t get me wrong: I support my sober friends, my vegan friends, my religious friends… but I am here to say I like things fucked up & evil and I find the new focus on mental health, sobriety, and expectation that all artists should be upstanding citizens to be a bit odd and antithetical to everything the metal, punk, and rock genres have stood for since the beginning…
It was time to find the merch room, but sadly all the tiny sizes were gone for everything I wanted. That never used to happen! I did get some awesome scorpion earrings from Theeth Jewelry. We were looking for a tattoo artist from San Antonio who was supposed to be there working only to learn that she traveled all the way there to learn they weren’t allowed to give tattoos there…WTF?!
Which reminded me: two of the main bands I wanted to see at this festival dropped out in the months leading up to it: Satyricon and Watain. I have not seen Satyricon since 2009, and Watain I’ve seen a ton but they never get old to me. So I was really not happy when I found out these two wouldn’t be there (quite a few other major ones dropped off as well). Then Enslaved posted a poster from a festival featuring both bands (and, mysteriously BDM- which couldn’t be right?!) – as playing an adjacent weekend, which was mildly infuriating (when one band cited more than visa issues being a reason for not going…). I don’t think I’ve ever been to an event with this many lineup changes… let me guess: it’s a Covid thing. Everything’s a Covid thing.
Next was the palate cleanser; something I never thought would happen in my life, especially in the midst of all of this: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I have always had very eclectic taste in music, and I was definitely one of those white-presenting rural kids that record executives shilling rap music successfully targeted to. Creepin on Ah Come Up bumped along The Chronic, Doggystyle, Ready to Die, and All Eyez on Me in my car with speakers in the trunk as they were practically sold as “My First Rap Music Starter Pack™️”. You also have to understand that a mere few years before, I was attending awkward middle school dances set to the tune of Boyz II Men; Bone Thugs just seemed like a grown up version of that. I probably first smoked weed to this. I had no idea who at this festival would be in this audience; did anyone remember Bone Thugs? I had not listened to them in at least a decade and a half. I had not even heard them come up ironically as part of some nostalgia moment. But here I was standing in a good sized crowd and out comes these four guys and the crowd got lit. That’s what the kids say these days right? I mean, I have done a lot of work to destroy my brain but I remembered A LOT of lyrics to the songs and I had a fucking blast dancing along to this set.
One long, hot hike over to Circus Circus and birthday steak dinner later, and it was time for Suicidal Tendencies. As a Texan, I sometimes raise an eyebrow at outsiders in my local honky tonks and BBQ joints; I am protecting a dying cultural heritage. On the flip side, I have lived in California for over 15 years of my life but I will go nowhere near a Suicidal Tendencies pit. But I could feel their energy from the back of the room! It was also the most action I saw that room get by far; it was Saturday night and everyone was letting it loose. Mike Muir’s motivational and political speeches in between tracks fit in with this whole theme of the weekend, talking about struggles and positivity and fighting the good fight in between partying and beating the shit out of each other in the pit. It was great to see another former interview subject on guitar doing all sorts of crazy things per the usual and on bass I heard was Robert Trujillo’s son! We love a second gen moment. However, it was an uncharacteristically rookie mistake to eat a nice meal before a show because I was exhausted and had to leave a little early, as a wall of death was being set up… I mean if that’s not my cue to leave I don’t know what is. But intel has it that caused an injury that stopped the show, and other fun hijinks ensued like inviting the crowd onstage, much to security’s dismay (there was security there?!).
Onto the final day, with a neck sore from so much rocking, it was finally time for the crown jewel of the festival. First up, a hot tip led to an early set by Fugitive, featuring members from Power Trip. It was at the place where I had been grabbing breakfast the last couple days. There’s so much love for Power Trip and I’m happy to see something happening with the other members. It was a short 15-20 minute set and it was pretty good. I mean they are not straying far at all from Power Trip; there is PT riff DNA all over this.
It was pretty clear walking around the casino on Day 3 that there were some people who had come in just special for that day. There were costumes, there were weary travelers, there was heavy anticipation hanging in the air. I kind of took the day to take in the surroundings; admiring every nook and cranny of the casino christened with the black clad: blackjack tables, sushi restaurants, vegan ice cream shops. My last trip through the metal detector- and there were metal detectors at every stage even though it seemed as though they were there for decorum, I mean we all set them all incessantly and I never saw anyone pulled and really searched.
I caught the end of Paradise Lost and then kinda daydreamed through High on Fire, who I’ve seen a million times. I chose to wear my earplugs this time around but the sound for this set seemed horrible.
I have been lucky to have bore witness to a lot of important metal music moments. I was a few rows away when Rob Halford got to accept his first GRAMMY. I was interviewing a bunch of Jeff Hanneman’s friends a few hours after the news hit that he had passed away, at a Revolver Golden Gods Awards. I was in the hotel at the Clive Davis party when Whitney Houston died (j/k). So the fervor is recognizable; emotions are heightened. And I have to say that there were a lot of things not quite right about Psycho Las Vegas that made a lot of us wonder if this was really going to happen up until the moment it actually did. Mercyful Fate hadn’t played the U.S. since 1999, and I hadn’t gotten to see King Diamond ever due to various circumstances. And since this was my year of seeing artists I had never seen for whatever reason, this was at the top of my list: the artist that influenced the artists that influenced that artists I love (and so on).
When it came time, if I had hair on my arms it would be standing on end; it was one of those entrances that was so perfect it entices a writer to drop every cliche in the book: epic… huge… life-changing… but I’ll go with Satanic. It was perfectly Satanic. The whole set would become the perfect alchemy of music, theater, and banter. My experience was further heightened by the guy’s in front of me, who had to physically hold his brains in the entire set, only lifting his hands off, claw-like, to reach for the highest vocals King Diamond set sailing across the room his way. It was the perfect mix of evil and fun, a setlist of the greats and a couple of new songs that fit right in, and sound that magically seemed to work the whole time.
And with that, I was done… a great ending to a mostly solid weekend of fun memories. I might be getting a bit too old for these things, but I can rally still every once in a while, and add a few more memories to the pile.
“Living out the days and nights in absolute fearNever knowing when and where thethreat of the undead draws nearThoughts of…
“Now, listen up She’s a razor sharp If she don’t get her way She’ll slice you apart Now she’s a…
“I’m the walking dudeI can see all the worldTwist your minds with fearI’m the man with the powerAmong the living,…
“And I find it kind of funny I find it kind of sad The dreams in which I’m dying Are…
“The sparkle in your eyes Keeps me alive And the sparkle in your eyes Keeps me alive, keeps me alive…
“It’s early morning, the sun comes out Last night was shaking and pretty loud My cat is purring, it scratches…
“We hold each other closer, as we shift to overdrive And everything goes rushing by, with every nerve alive We…
“I could talk about my world How you brought about ruin I could talk about your greed If you want…
“Always lived, very quiet lifeI ain’t never did no wrongNow I know that life without youHas been too lonely too…
“Livin’ easyLovin’ freeSeason ticket on a one way rideAskin’ nothin’Leave me beTakin’ everythin’ in my strideDon’t need reasonDon’t need rhymeAin’t…