(Concert Review) PSYCHOFEST 2021
Written by: Mark McQueen
Here is my report of four days and nights (and the 44 bands) that I got to watch in that time frame in Las Vegas from August 19-22. Psychofest is the biggest and longest of the festivals I go to on any given year and, as a result, its review is the longest thing I write all year.
This one is no different as it clocks in around 5000 words, (which frankly is 4500 more than most of my friends want to read). This is what I enjoy though, so this is what I do. I am no professional critic, just a guy who’s been watching and listening to Metal for over 40 years and that means I know what I like and what I don’t. That doesn’t mean it is even close to what YOU know or like. I think I write with some intelligence, a bit of humor and a flair for keeping you engaged. This mixes my experience over the four days with how I felt and what I thought while checking out these bands and sets.
I hope you enjoy reading along with my adventures and hearing about some of the many acts this fest brings to bear. Maybe I interest you enough to attend yourself in 2022!
Disclaimers and Guidelines to this Review:
· Only the individual set witnessed is being reviewed. This is not an evaluation or reflection on the band as a whole
· Slotting can affect the number/ranking. An average set following a below average one will likely result in a higher number than the same set following one which tore the roof off.
· Technical difficulties in sound, equipment or lighting can adversely affect the ranking even though this may not be the fault of the act performing.
· This only reflects my personal opinion, (and is therefore colored to some degree by the genre/subgenres I enjoy). Do not feel the need to punch me in the face if I don’t like your face!
Less than 70: Frankly I didn’t enjoy your act
70-79: You were fine for the moment, but I likely won’t remember you and won’t seek you out
80-89: Good set. I enjoyed you and would want to see you again.
90+: Excellent act. Definitely want to see you again, and I probably bought some of your merchandise.
· Finally, if you enjoy this review, tell everyone Mark McQueen is great. If you hate this review, my name is Bob Sackamatchu.
Worst to First
44. Curl Up & Die 59/100
Las Vegas local band Curl Up & Die came up snake eyes for me this year. I did not enjoy their fusion of punk and metal finding their screaming vocals and overall sound to be very off-putting. As a matter of fact, I left about halfway through their set.
43. Foie Gras 60/100
This San Fran artist combined bits of pop, synth, rock, and drone. Sometimes when you mix ingredients that don’t really belong together, you get an amazing finished product. Sometimes though, you also get “Foie Gras”. Fatty goose liver is definitely NOT for everyone and neither was this act. The merger of styles was off-putting, as was the silly shoulder ruffles singer Iphigenia Douleur sported as her stage outfit. Overall, I was not a fan.
42. Kanga 65/100
This was one of my mistaken “audibles” . I had some time and checked out about four numbers from this electronic artist. She had a synth in the corner of the stage and she played some “house style music” then danced some. I felt that as an aerobics instructor, she had something. As an act at Psychofest, not so much.
41. Drab Majesty 68/100
The closing act of the festival was a darkwave duo who looked like Andy Worhol's illegitimate twins. In fairness to them, I am not an electronic act fan, and it had been a long 13 hour day of music after 3 previous long days of music. As such, I probably didn’t have the patience left to give this band the chance they deserved. It did seem that chicks dug them, but the guys mostly sat on their hands and stared vacantly like I did.
40. Full Of Hell 68.5/100
I grew up liking metal from the late 70’s on. I have always had my favorite genres and sub-genres. And as the years go by I expand my knowledge, and ultimately my appreciation, of styles such as thrash, black, and death metal (which aren’t what I naturally gravitate towards). That said, grindcore remains an art style I just cannot appreciate. I know THAT is its beauty for its fans. They don’t want me to like it. In fact they want me to hate it. Mission accomplished.
39. Black Water Holy Light 69/100
This five piece female band played second on the very first day at the pool stage. Their brand of depressive, almost emo/psyche, music, although tolerable, never captured my attention musically or vocally until the very last song where they kicked it into gear and actually sounded like a rock band. If they had done a set of songs like that, they would be much higher on this list.
38. Flavor Crystals 69.5/100
When your band title makes me think “hmmm…I should add that to my lemon-aid” that MAY not be the best approach to gaining my support as a musical act. That said, this jam band just kind of found a groove and hung out there for a set. There was nothing offensive about the music although I found the vocals way too soft over the top of the music. (Author note: the previous few bands were screamers…remember what I said about slotting making a difference?) Anyway, like actual flavor crystals, this band probably made water taste like water with some flavor, but they definitely weren’t turning it into wine….or even beer.
37. Here Lies Man 70/100
First band of the entire festival and they tried to present a little of a lot. Some rock. Some synth. Some psyche. Keys and even some flute. I never thought they got off the ground and distinguished themselves. They did up the heaviness of their numbers after a mostly apathetic crowd response to the first few. Once they infused some stoner grooves to the songs, the crowd largely grew more receptive. A bit too little, too late and too early in the festival. RIP.
36. Osees 70.5/100
Setting up, I was interested in this act as they had two drummers. Trying to make that work requires some skill and effort and I was curious what this punk-style band was going to do. Ultimately they failed to engage me with either mid temp or fast numbers. I didn’t hate them, I just didn’t really like them either.
35. Black Sabbitch 71/100
An all-female Black Sabbath tribute act. I wanted to like them. In Psychofest 2019, I enjoyed Motorbabe (all female Motorhead tribute act). Problem here was these ladies didn’t rise to the level they wanted to emulate. I thought the drummer was pretty good, but musically and vocally I just wasn’t impressed by their knock-off Sabbath numbers. I just think the mountain was too high to climb ... and it’s no good if you can ascend only part way up.
34. Adamantium 71.5/100
This punk band with hardcore metal infusions (get it Wolverine fans) were playing for the 1st time in about 20 years. From a distance, the singer looked like Bill Goldberg (which was NOT helping the cause). Nor was that punk/metal sound. Again with respect to the sub-genre they were doing, if you dig that sort of thing, you might have enjoyed them. Me, not so much.
33. Relaxer 72/100
Prog band from Ohio. They were on point rhythm wise, but were also scheduled on the correct stage (the lounge).This act would not have played as well at the larger venues. They were like the competent local act you go to your city’s “cool bar” to see play on an off Friday night. You will like it and them, but you are never going to think “national touring act”. Vocals were clear and inoffensive, and I enjoyed their almost hour long set, but once it was over I found none of it very memorable.
32. Polyrhythmic 72.5/100
These guys are the “pallet cleanser” band of the fest. Essentially a jazz band with full horns. Playing an hour long set early in the day at the pool stage was the right time and place for this act, and in this case slotting got them a higher score than they likely would have received in any other part of the fest. Just a moderately enjoyable hour to splash in the sun with background music playing.
31. Health 73/100
Health is an amalgamation of light and sound. There aren’t “songs” so much as musical pieces. It was perception and pictures in sound. Although I didn’t love it, it was engaging in that I wanted to see where it was going to go next both visually and audio wise. When vocals were present, I did think angry or at least disgruntled emo…maybe if “Angry Birds” were a musical group.
30. Paul Cauthen 73.5/100
Although I stumbled on the last few songs of this act while arriving early for the follow-up act, I found his country music numbers to be enjoyable and fun to hear. Fairness, it was the end of his set and this only reflects a few songs, but for country, it wasn’t bad.
29. Alms 74/100
This 5-piece stoner/doom band incorporated keys and traces of jam band stylings. Semi-clean vocals were not great or strong, but again, this band filled an hour with not unpleasant music. They didn’t stand out but they also didn’t suck either.
28. Pig Destroyer 75/100
Once again grindcore is just NOT a style I like. Superfast, super brutal and there is just no way you understand any of the lyrics. That said, Pig Destroyer are giants in this sub-genre and their “fans” are as brutal as they are. Wholly dedicated to the experience, you definitely wanted to stay far away from the mosh pit while Pig Destroyer was playing ... if you were fond of all your teeth.
27. Bongzilla 75.5/100
Unabashedly a Weedeater tribute act that plays original music, Bongzilla played the pool stage under green lights, trademark joints fired up and in their mouths during the process. They also ingested several weed gummies. I’m not sure these guys ever STOP being high. It’s great to emulate your hero’s, but this was a little too on-the-nose if you are still claiming to be original. A few Sleep-like grooves were the only variations I found. Otherwise it’s just seeing a “Weedeater lite” set.
26. Old Man Gloom 76/100
My second time seeing these sludge monsters and my opinion really hasn’t changed. Although professional and personally engaging, their style of metal doesn’t really resonate with me. I think they are good at what they do, it’s just I don’t really care about what they do.
25. Cephalic Carnage 76.5/100
Much like Old Man Gloom, Cephalic Carnage and their version of death metal has survived 29 years, but mostly it was not for me. I felt they tried too hard to get the audience to chant along with them and although solid, never won me over until that last number where members of Exhorder joined them on stage for one of the most bizarre mash-ups of metal the whole weekend. Between the masks everyone put on, the guitarist with the horse head, and the sax player adding to the death metal cacophony, the last two minutes were fascinating. When it was over, my seatmate looked over at me and said, “What the fuck did we just see up there?”. That alone jacked their number up a few notches. I do have video.
24. Amigo the Devil 77/100
Speaking of bizarre-hard-to-define moments, the act Amigo the Devil (which is defined as murder/folk) was definitely unique to the weekend. Horrible graphic folk songs of death, serial killers, murder dismemberment and debauchery too cruel to describe, all coming from a large pudgy man that was amusing, jovial and very over and engaging to the surprisingly large audience he drew, made for a unique 50 minutes. I’m not even sure how to tell you to get his stuff. I imagine the internet has all things for those who look. I can only tell you to give a listen to a few of Amigos “around the campfire songs”.
23. Psychlona 77.5/100
Groove based stoner sound. Not too heavy or fast. More accessible and appealing to a wide reach of audience. I noticed the crowd steadily grew during this set. Vocals were pretty clear and songs all had good progressions throughout. I think this band just hit the middle of the road overall and thus they are my middle of the pack placement.
22. Unto Others 78/100
Playing a few years ago as Idle Hands at the 2019 Psychofest these guys re-branded into a goth/metal fusion. Although I am not at all a fan of the Robert Smith “Cure” type of sound, the voice IS catchy and sticks with you longer than you might think it would. Additionally, they had a different guitarist who was really good, and if nothing else, I just enjoyed watching him play. Like a goth Yngwie Malmsteen in stage movement if not actual style.
21. Death Valley Girls 78.5/100
Totally missed the reference until the first song. I read it as (Death Valley) Girls. I quickly realized it was Death (Valley Girls). These five women played ballsy music that was heavy and fun to listen to. That in between numbers they talked like 1980’s Moon Unit Zappa clones was initially odd, but I quickly got accustomed to the shtick and actually began to enjoy its originality. The set did suffer from multiple self-inflicted glitches and was pretty disjointed as a result, otherwise the grade would be much higher as I really did like this act and would see them again.
20. 18-Visions 79/100
Another metalcore fusion of punk and metal, marred by technical difficulties. Still I graded them very high considering I don’t like the style. This was a band that grew on me quickly, and the longer they played the more I enjoyed what they were doing. They made good use of lighting and came across as more of a show not just some punk guys playing on a stage. I felt I got a professional act with these guys and my ranking reflects my appreciation.
19. The Sword 80/100
This is a low ranking for these long time established and hit generating stoner guys. Problem was the sound sucked. It was one of the most talked about gaffs that entire day from fans throughout the fest. Most common opinion, “Man the sound guy screwed The Sword”. By the last few numbers it was better, but yeah, this band got a raw deal that wasn’t their fault. Still, I can only grade the set I heard and saw and 80 is where it belongs. Sorry guys.
18. Primitive Man 81/100
Playing on the same stage, Primitive Man got around technical difficulties by remaining the loudest band of the festival. Ultra-heavy death/doom, Primitive Man for an hour is just like having your head stuck inside a bass drum and being clubbed repeatedly. Of course I have never understood a single word of a single song these guys have ever done, and while that usually has me headed for the door posthaste, somehow with these guys and their slow monolithic steam-roller of death/doom, I tolerate it and to some extent even enjoy it. Probably the same reason every five years or so I go see SunnO))). When music is THAT heavy, no words are appropriate and the only thing that fits vocally are unintelligible screams of rage. In 2001 A Space Odyssey when the monkeys were clubbing the monolith, they were secretly listening to Primitive Man.
17. Frankie & the Witch Fingers 82/100
One of the cleverest band names of the fest, I initially wasn’t even going to see them. Fortuitously Kanga and her electronic whatever the fuck that was, so failed to keep my attention that I was able to shoehorn in a set elsewhere, and then run back to catch the end of these guys. I actually would have liked to see the entire set. Garage rock with some electronica, but very well put together, and the last 20 minutes of their set was more enjoyable than full sets of many of the other bands. Worth checking out on YouTube.
16. Silvertomb 82.5/100
Being a big Type O Negative fan, I wanted to like these guys more than I actually did. Featuring two of the former members, including Kenny Hickey on vocals and John Kelly on drums, this traditional doom with synth act was good. I liked the songs and the music, but the absence of baritone Peter Steel and his larger than life stature and presence made me miss what Type O Negative was. I shouldn’t have allowed that to affect the grade for Silvertomb, but I did, so as a result they got graded a little lower than if I would have had no idea who they were.
15. Profantica 83/100
First fully committed black metal act of the fest. Three piece, fully costumed as evil satanic priests or inquisition members maybe, these guys were 100% deep in their attempt to spew out vile horrible black metal lyrics designed to shock and revile the audience. When one of the lines is “I vomit on the son of God” , you know these guys ain’t coming to the church social and bake sale. I definitely don’t need to own any Profantica, but they were a cool watch for an hour.
14. Toke 84/100
Right from go, the low end bass of Toke hits you right in the chest. I was upstairs in the balcony and I felt the physical pressure of that low end. I only imagine what the guys standing 2-foot from stage experienced. Toke is like Sleep and Electric Wizard had a baby. And hey, “Electric Sleep” or “Sleepy Wizard” both make cool band names, but I digress. Ultimately Toke was so heavy they were the first band to actually vibrate my seat. Forget a massage chair, just turn on the Toke and crank it to 11.
13. Vaelmyst 85/100
One of the surprises of the fest, this band opened day three at 11:00am. A lot of people missed this thrash act and will surely regret it if they come back later and hear them. 5-piece and very solid. I have come to appreciate the thrash metal genre much more over the last five years, (thanks Randy Kastner) and these guys were good. Started my Saturday off with a bang and a good ranking accordingly.
12. Lord Buffalo 86/100
Back-to-back surprises as these guys opened Friday’s day two of the fest at noon. 4-piece doom band with violin ... and I don’t mean a little violin to accentuate. This guy was heavy in all the songs and the music was enhanced by it all the way through. These guys may have invented bluegrass/doom. Additionally, the singer was more like a prophet than a vocalist, as he preached in time and rhythm through every number. Mental note…order yourself one of their CD’s. Great opening act.
11. Down 86.5/100
Yep the super group with members from Pantera, COC, Crowbar, Goatwhore, and EyehateGod were the night four headliner at the main stage. Now, none of these bands are on my must see list most of the time, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the presentation. In 2019 I watched Phil Anselmo do his “lounge singer” act with En Minor and was not a fan, so this was my chance to see him really sing. Phil is heavy metal’s answer to Vin Diesel in look and voice nowadays, but on songs like "Temptations Wings", you really can’t have another voice do that song justice. Down played the whole NOLA album and frankly the gritty grungy, grime soaked songs on that release were well served by this band. Watching Down for an hour makes you want to take a shower afterwards just to wash their brand of toxic honey off of your skin and soul. I’m not interested in buying any Down merchandise, but I am glad I got to see the set.
10. EyehateGod 87/100
Keeping with the New Orleans theme of grunge meets metal, this was my first live experience with EyehateGod, and I must say they packed HOB more than any other band the whole weekend. I was glad to be up in the VIP section because that band and their fans did NOT mask up. If you wanted a Psychofest spreader event, it was main floor for this set. The band even looked like they “just” came out of an area Katrina hit really hard and everyone just gave it up for lost these last 10 years or so. Two years away from live performing just gave them that much more disgust to inject into the crowd and they did it with sneers and sharp tongued commentary. EyehateGod are not going to be my type of band, but I had to respect what I watched for an hour and grade it accordingly. It was a stellar set.
9. Integrity 87.5/100
Integrity opened the mainstage on Sunday afternoon and once more for the third consecutive day, the openers set the bar high for the rest of the fest. Cut from the Amon Amarth thread, (without the Viking themes or imagery), Integrity’s gruff aggressive power thrash and awesome energy on stage grabbed everyone (already tired by three previous days and nights of 12-14 hour days of music each), and shook them like a pit bull puppy shakes a new chew toy symbolically saying “wake it the fuck up people. We got one more long day.” Great energy and effort and worthy of a top 10 of the fest finish.
8. Cult of Fire 88/100
First 20 minutes of this set from the curtain opening were as good as anything in the entire festival. Next 20 minutes were more like “okay, this is awesome but what else?” Third 20 minutes was “Okay, I get it. Evil satanic Lords of Hell having a Ceremony. Seriously, anything else here?” Their credit and high ranking goes for their festival best stage look, a truly unique fusion of black metal with Indian and eastern religious influence, and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER braking character on stage. Those evil bastards never blinked for an hour. Did it get repetitious? Yes it did (which is why they are #8) but was it one of the most unique acts of the entire weekend. Damn straight! Check them out on video.
7. Immolation 88.5/100
Doom/death?? Blackened/death? Whatever you want to call this New York act, they were intense. Maybe not as brutal as say Cannibal Corpse, or as fast as Pig Destroyer, Immolation was more able to encase their brutality into a melodic framework which better benefitted the whole experience. Mixing speeds throughout the songs, they remained heavy and powerful but not one dimensional. Immolation has vocals that are probably too deathlike for my tastes but this is one of those acts that on paper I wouldn’t even want to walk in the door and yet here they are getting the number seven ranking for the entire festival. As they say, “that’s why you play the games”.
6. Exhorder 89/100
Throwing down the 1980’s “old school” thrash, Exhorder played their entire Slaughter in the Vatican release on this set. Singer had some kind of Earth magic thrash dance moves going on throughout the set, (or maybe someone dumped a handful of fire ants down his pants right as they went on), either way it worked. Probably the best thrash act of the festival.
5. Weedeater 90/100
This rating is probably enhanced by my love for the crazy ass Dixie Dave and his Weedeater band. Even though I may now be up to 10 times seeing them, they always bring the same energy and absolute insanity to their sets. Rolling through such classics as "ManCoon" , "God Luck & Good Speed", "Jason the Dragon", "Wizard Fight" and, of course, the never-tire-of-it classic, “This last song is about Weed & Monkeys…it’s called WeedMonkey. We hope you hate it as much as we do. Eat Shit!” Then. Of course the crowd cheers. Now, when I try that in my work meeting, I imagine it goes something like this, “Our last agenda item is about Weed & Monkeys. It’s called Weedmonkey. We hope you hate it as much as we do. Eat Shit!...What’s that?? Go see Human Resources and bring all my stuff with me???
Anyway, Weedeater, (like winning), never gets old.
4. Danzig 92/100
No way did I think Danzig was going to be ranked this high. Two years ago, he put on a stellar set for the Misfits reunion but here it was just him. Now, knowing he was going to play Lucifuge in its entirety was enough reason to be there, but Glen is a rock star at heart and often that makes for bad sets. It’s not uncommon for him to bitch out sound guys, the audience, and other band members right throughout his sets so my expectations were not THAT high. When he started 20 minutes late, they weren’t getting any better.
But then when he got going, damn it that was some good shit. Mixing fast and slow songs while keeping the set flowing smoothly, Danzig’s Elvis-meets-Jim Morrison voice was in good form and Holy Crap he actually appeared happy to be there performing! Even laughing and having a legitimate good time with the show. It made him sound better, the crowd reacted at every opportunity and the show was much stronger as a result. “Mother” his seminal hit was thundered back to him by an appreciative crowd. If I’m smart, I never go to another Danzig set again because I actually saw him at his best this time.
3. Khemmis 93/100
Playing their first live set in 20 months, this Denver based doom band owned the HOB stage showing little stage rust and mixing their Monolord-meets-Pallbearer sound perfectly over their hour long set. This one was the best House of Blues set for the entire weekend and a solid third place finish for the festival.
2. Goatwhore 95/100
I was going to skip these guys, as I had seen them in 2019 at the HOB during the last Psychofest. But, they were playing the mainstage, so I called an audible and took off right after Khemmis ended on a different stage. I got there about the second song in and was treated to an awesome set of black/thrash metal. Super high energy, great lights and sound. Vocals (although hard to understand due to that style) were loud and clear in tone and sound. This was a set by a band I am not a HUGE fan of that none the less got me really energized, AND coming on the heels of a great set by Khemmis, Goatwhore defied the usual perils of bad slotting by putting a great set right on the heels of a great set by someone else. Really thought they were going to win it all with that set. Nothing wrong with #2 in the fest though.
1. Midnight 98/100
Awesome Satanic speed metal. Midnight played the main stage and tore the roof off. They started with an announcement mirroring the classic KISS intro, “You wanted the worst? You got the worst. From the virus ridden streets of Cleveland. MIDNIGHT!!!”. On the 3rd song, the band tossed out a full unopened bottle of Jack Daniels to a fan near the front of the stage saying, “That guy just got 40 bucks worth of booze to come to our show.” Even clad in complete hooded masks showing not a trace of any of their faces, Midnight had supremely clear vocals. To misquote Chris Tucker, “I could understand the words coming out of their mouths.” The songs were high energy. They flowed from one to another with minimal wasted motion. Only the guitarist accidently disconnecting one of his cords on two occasions marred an otherwise perfectly executed set by this band. Truly the best set I witnessed all weekend. And given it was NOT one of my must see acts, I am definitely thankful I decided to go that route on Sunday.
So there you go everybody, another Psychofest in the books.
Another review so long, non-metal fans long ago slit their own wrists just to stop having to read it anymore. Cats are now walking and napping on their computer keyboards while they bleed out. Trolls are already furiously typing horrible wishes for me to die in the most agonizing manners because I didn’t think their favorite bands were the most awesome thing that had ever been heard throughout the weekend and frankly in the history of music. Other critics will take me to task for mischaracterizing genres or sub genres or not knowing this that or the other thing about all the bands I discussed. But in the end, all of that is fine because at least you read my stuff.
The worst is the apathetic guy who just says "man this thing is over 5000 words long. Fuck no I’m not reading it all."
For those who did, have or will and for those who pass it on to others, thank you so much for your time and your attention. Keep reading, and keep the metal music alive and loud.