June 6, 2017 Blackest Of The Black Takes Over Silverado, CA 5-27-17
There are music festivals, and then there are ones which engulf themselves into cultural events. Such is the case with the Blackest Of The Black destination festival which took place on Friday, May 26th, and Saturday, May 27th, out in Silverado, California at Oak Canyon Park. Hosted at the sprawling 750 acres park, which includes forested mountains and a lake, this Memorial Day weekend celebration saw Glenn Danzig’s creative, dark vision become a reality. Danzig himself said, “I first started Blackest in the early 2000s, and finally my full vision is being realized. Get ready for sensory overload; from films, to comics, to Castle Danzig. This is going to be the real Blackest Of The Black.”
A vision that combined music with a Verotik/Comic Con area, a roaming freak show filled with contortionists, demons, and more, there was also thrill rides, as well as a Sugar Skull Contest on hand. A lineup to die for, it included performances from Suicidal Tendencies, Corrosion of Conformity, Suicide Silence, Discharge, Belphegor, Butcher Babies, and 3TEETH on Friday. Then, on Saturday, the flames of hell fired up even higher with Ministry, VAMPS, Atreyu, Venom Inc, DevilDriver, Combichrist, Ghoul, Ritual, a rare North American appearance from Marduk, as well as a finale with Danzig. Hosted by Full Metal Jackie and presented by KLOS The Rock of Southern California (95.5 FM), it would be a weekend that goths and rockers alike gladly sank their teeth into.
A sunny and warm afternoon, it all kicked off around 1:30 PM with Ritual, Ghoul around 2 PM, before Combichrist took over just before 3 PM. The vision of Norwegian native Andy LaPlegua, Combichrist has been quite active in recent years following the release of We Love You in 2014, leading into This Is Where Death Begins in 2016. Touring regularly to venues big and small, LaPlegua and company were ready to light up the crowd.
Always putting on a high energy show and known for getting the crowd moving, this was no exception. Performing songs their fans know and love, including “What the Fuck Is Wrong With You?” and “Throat Full of Glass,” while their set normally benefits from great lighting in a club setting, the band seem a bit out of place in daylight. Nonetheless, the uninspiring stage setting was definitely made up for as Combichrist devoured the audience with high energy and an intense output. Now overseas on a brief summer tour through Germany and Russia, Combichrist will surely return to the USA for more touring soon.
With little downtime in between, and running nearly on schedule, around 3:30 PM, Devildriver were set to go. A fan favorite of metalheads for years, DevilDriver returned in 2016 with their seventh studio album, Trust No One. Their first album since 2013’s acclaimed Winter Kills, DevilDriver has been out demolishing audiences on the road since.
Led by Dez Fafara, DevilDriver brought a dose of heaviness to Blackest of the Black Festival. Also a bit strange seeing them performing in the broad daylight with no lights or production, but that is one of the unavoidable things about festivals: a lot of bands will have to play during the day without usual setup. No stranger to the festival circuit, having spent years on Ozzfest, Mayhem Festival, and Knotfest, among others, Fafara and band knew exactly how to get fans moving. In fact, they played everything anyone could hope for, old and new, including “Clouds Over California,” making the most of the settime allotted. Like Combichrist, DevilDriver are travelling abroad to Europe for a summer tour, but have no fear, the fiery Metal kings will return for Chicago Open Air Festival on July 16th.
Changing the pace a little bit, following blistering sets from Venom Inc and Marduk, Atreyu began their performance just around 5:40 PM. No, they are not from the Black Metal realm such as the two bands that graced the stages prior, but Atreyu had their own unique blend of Metal that had fans attention. Officially reunited since 2014, following a three year hiatus, they dished up the killer album Long Live back in 2015. While the band has not toured extensively of late, with Drummer Brandon Saller currently out leading his other band Hell or Highwater, the show at Blackest of The Black Festival was one of a few special treats for Atreyu fans in 2017.
With Saller behind the kit, Alex Varkatzas on lead vocals, Dan Jacobs on guitar, Travis Miguel on guitar, and Marc McKnight bass, one of the best parts of watching Atreyu’s set was seeing how happy they were performing together. Their energy was contagious and absolutely had an infectious effect on the crowd, who was immediately drawn in and having a great time as they played songs including “Bleeding Mascara.” Matching unhinged screams with speedy solos, they put on a show well worth skipping dinner for as they mixed in classics including “Blow” and “Lip Gloss and Black.”
Yet another surprise during the day’s events, 6:40 PM brought on VAMPS. Hailing all the way from Tokyo, Japan, VAMPS are a Hard Rock band that may not exactly fit the mold of what one might expect at the Blackest of the Black Festival, but they ended up being a highlight. Bringing with them a cult-like following, their audience was one of the most animated and excited as they sang along to every word of every song.
Enthusiastic about the release of their brand new album Underworld, Hyde (vocalist and rhythm guitarist) and K.A.Z (lead guitarist and backing vocalist) led the charge of catchy, emotional tracks including opening cut “Midnight Celebration.” From here it was onto a range of fan-favorites including newer ones such as “Underworld” and “Calling.” Proving to be ultimate showmen, the band became increasingly intense as their 45 minute set moved along and, toward the end, they even won over spectators who did not have a clue who they were.
Unfortunately, the performance at Blackest of the Black Festival would be VAMPS farewell to North America following a month run where they headlined venues around the country amidst touring with I Prevail. Not their first visit to this side of the pond, judging by the buzz around VAMPS, they will be back very soon.
It seemed almost fitting that the sun was setting around the 8 PM hour when Uncle Al and Ministry were ready to deliver their brand of Industrial Rock. A matter of fact, some may argue without bands like Ministry there would be no Industrial Rock. The brainchild of Al Jourgensen, Ministry has withstood their share of changes through the years, but still have remained dedicated to a distinct artistic vision – raw, harsh, Industrial-laden Metal.
Known for their no-holds barred live shows, by the time Ministry began, after a nearly four minute long intro, most of the attendants had left whatever other activities they were doing to gather around the stage to watch this legendary band. As stated, the sun was starting to set over the hills surrounding the festival grounds, thus making for a cool combination of natural sunlight and stage lights, adding to the mood. Heavy and fast, they blasted through a set that saw them play songs such as “Psalm 69,” “Rio Grande Blood,” as well as “Waiting.”
In addition, they threw in surprises with live debuts of unreleased new tracks including “Antifa” and rare live performance of “Bad Blood.” Interacting with the crowd, clearly having a good time on stage, Jourgensen and company, immersed in smoke, chugged through until the end with the hit “N.W.O.” before “Just One Fix” with a guest appearance from Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell, and closer “Thieves.” Receiving a swell of cheers, Ministry proved why they are kings of Industrial Metal. Currently in Europe on tour, Ministry is slated to release AmeriKKKant come the fall, an album guaranteed to be politically charged and uncensored, just how fans like it.
As the night came to a close at Blackest of the Black Festival, Danzig wrapped the affair up with a stellar set just before 9 PM, mixing in older favorites, as well as new songs from his latest Black Laden Crown. One thing was for sure regarding Blackest of the Black Festival, it was one done with a lot of heart. This was not put together for merely monetary gain, it was done in a careful manner for the right reasons.
Between Castle Danzig, fetish dancers with fire, chains, and suspension, maybe the most exciting perk was the $5 unlimited rides deal on the carnival swings, which one has to admit it was was pretty amusing watching a bunch of metalheads rise on swings. That said, of all the festivals out there, Blackest of the Black Festival perhaps ran the smoothest, was the most clean, and high on entertainment all the way through. One can only hope Danzig’s dream does not fade soon and the destination festival returns for 2018 and beyond.Photo credit: Sarah Mankoff Photography