Psycho 2018 adopts a less is more mindset with a slimmer lineup (58 as opposed to 80+ groups in the 2017 installment) and it pays off. They gain steeper footing in the heavy music circuit with another round of high caliber acts bringing their A-game to folks who trek as far as Australia to endure Nevada’s brutal late summer dry heat and the Hard Rock’s $15/$8 beers.
As said last year, it’s once again a gauntlet. Sitting through back to back bands in this genre for hours is exhausting no matter what time of day it is. Psycho’s people realize this and take action by diversifying the bookings this year with incorporating more parallels like electronic, darkwave, world-folk, and a last minute Andrew Dice Clay set to substitute the cancellation of Friday’s headliner, Witchcraft. In the end, it’s all loud, and that’s the only way to experience this weekend. On paper, the lineup is overwhelming, not by the number of bands, but by what each group represents in their aesthetics. The artist curation pays homage to legacy groups (Danzig, SunnO))), Eyehategod, Voivod); reinvigorated groups (The Hellacopters, Godflesh, Coven, Goblin); the left field (Rocket from the Crypt, Tinariwen, CKY, Magic Sword); along with the new blood making rank (Mutoid Man, Cloak, Glaare, S U R V I V E, Necrot) to name a few.
Like any live event, there are memorable moments that stand out. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. through midnight on the Friday evening of Psycho is especially surreal. How often does Rocket From The Crypt blare their horns poolside to a bunch of slobbering drunk/spun out metalheads who opt not to see High on Fire storm The Joint, the 6,000 capacity room a few feet away, with punishing cuts like “Songs of Thunder,” “The Black Pot,” and “Fertile Green” amongst others. Simultaneously across the hall in Vinyl, Disastroid, who is hyper-aware of the task at at hand of competing with John Reiss and Matt Pike, step up in a big way by executing a performance-on-steroids-that even Helms Alee’s Ben Verellen (being in the room as his band’s playing next) gets stoked on and proclaims enthusiastically “Jesus, they need to open for us again sometime!”
Next year’s installment will be interesting. Rumors ran amongst the grounds about Psycho’s departure from the Hard Rock Hotel and relocation a few blocks up to the Strip – – rumors confirmed by Psycho’s PR team with further details coming in November.
Hard Rock had a good run, all things come to an end, but hey, you’re here to read a review and not a venue eulogy.
So, now that you’ve made it this far, here’s some of what happened:
Of all the known figures associating with this year’s lineup, two standouts are Lee Dorian and Justin Broadrick. Why? Collectively these men have 68 years in the heavy music game and have continued to play and record at the same ferocious rate they first stepped in this world with. Having made history on their own terms as past alumnus of Napalm Death’s earliest years, the two men return to America with their post-grind projects: Dorrian’s own With The Dead and Broadrick’s own trailblazing Godflesh unit. Both groups make their Psycho Las Vegas debut and don’t disappoint; they bludgeon with volume every biological organism within earshot.
Saturday mid-afternoon outside the hotel, it’s 100+ and man, does it suck. Inside The Joint, however, it’s a crisp 60s with the AC going full blast, a bit chilly when the beer’s cold enough even. With The Dead changes the mood with a cold, unforgiving atmosphere given off upon the first strike of the chords of the opener “Living With The Dead” off bassist Leo Smee’s dual channel bass amp. The elephant in the room is out; there’s no guitar player! Smee’s compensating for the MIA cohort with having his gear work overtime to get them up to speed. Making their North American debut with only ¾ of the lineup in tact doesn’t faze them in any way as they finish the song and, Dorrian veers out in the crowd to address the situation with authority.
“It was either a stripped down version or nothing at all!”
The man speaks loud and clear, and the three continue on uninterrupted as Dorrian’s hateful snarls, and barks fill the halls of The Joint over the death-march cadences of drummer Darren Verni (borrowed from Unearthly Trance). They play like they’re angry, angry at the bullshit of life and the apathy of man. They play as if they don’t want to entertain, only kill you with the heaviest doom one can muster. Amongst an hour-long set, the three enshroud themselves in dense fog and deep red lighting as they tear through their set with such tracks off their two LPs like “Isolation,” “Cocaine Phantoms,” and “Crown of Burning Stars” amongst others. Seeing Dorrian’s old bandmate, Scott Carlson (ex-Cathedral), walking around the casino earlier put expectations in the air that he could join Dorrian on stage to revisit their Cathedral years. Suspicions turn to reality as Carlson joins the three, Gibson SG in hand, for a chilling rendition of Cathedral’s “Ebony Tears” concluding the set.
The mid-afternoon belongs to Dorrian but the early evening of the same day belongs to Godflesh. Their legacy as heavy music minimalists plays a big part in the development of the industrial subgenre with two men on main instruments utilizing electronics to add dynamics to their already colossal sound. G.C. Green’s bass channel alone can rival some of the groups using two guitarists, and Broadrick’s guitar sounds like a razor cutting through skin. The only thing missing that would have made this set complete are the visuals of dystopian scenarios that normally project behind them during their set, it feels like we’re not getting the full experience with that part of the production being MIA. Kicking off their set with the chugging riff of “Anything is Mine” Broadrick barks his nihilistic opening statement “I declare that we’re just all shit/and I believe we’ll die like it” as he gazes upward in his microphone in a trance state with his eyes closed but disoriented when opening. Green looked confident and poised (clearly he’s done this before) as he holds his own while the two men punish the room for the next hour. Their set covers a good range of the back catalog from their recent Post Self album (“Post Self,” “Parasite”) to as far back as the genre-defining Streetcleaner album (“Like Rats,” “Christbait Rising”).
Danzig. As much as people like to mess with this guy, you can’t. Every band on that festival owes a degree of acknowledgment to the man for the path they wander and the lifestyle they’ve chosen, no argument. Headlining night three, the man and his cohorts demonstrate why the second sentence rings true as they come out full force in full physicality to a slammed capacity room, ripping through a set of classic Danzig tracks along with the entire How The Gods Kill LP. From the looks around the room, that album is the soundtrack to some of the people’s best years. Of course, they’re not going to want to miss this! He’s still one of the only groups going with a 30 + year career as a solo artist who can without effort carry an audience in the palm of his hand. Danzig’s set clocks just over an hour and a half as he shouts and punches his way through tracks that carry sentimentalism to those screaming along with the Jersey native. He leads everyone chanting the pre-chorus of “How The Gods Kill,” getting a rise from the group with the see-sawing riff of “Dirty Black Summer” to screaming the lyrics of “Bodies.” Aside from his meltdown over a monitor mix not to his liking, the guy and his men deliver an effective set that rings good words overheard throughout the house.
Tinariwen is one of the more expressive and diverse groups of the whole weekend, one of the bands who you’re glad to hear after listening to a grip of metal bands in a row. Their set consists of an ethereal regional style from North Africa coined Tichumaren music. Think of world, folk, and The Desert Sessions; you’ll get the idea. For years, they’ve flown under the radar of the music world only with publicity limited to parts of Europe and Africa. Their performance at Psycho Las Vegas is their first exposure to this type of audience it seems, looking at past tour dates, and they’re very well received. The band has a humble presence to the crowd and plays to the room in a manner that’s respectable yet forceful of your attention. There isn’t another group on this bill that sounds like them, and they deserve our attention. In recent years, North America has learned of their existence through endorsements via the music press and such names as Henry Rollins, Mark Lanegan, along with others. Their lineups change with each tour, the only steady member being founder Ibrahim Ag Alahabib, who has lived one of the most eventful and heavy lives anyone could experience; he is a refugee, worldly traveled musician, and ex-military of Libya’s deceased notorious leader, Muammar Gadaffi.
“This could be the last time we ever see these guys here” is what runs through my skull after The Hellacopters walk off the stage from their encore of “Gotta Get Some Action.” Some people came from different corners of the globe to see their 8:00 p.m. slot. They were the only band that drew cheers as they set up and we’re called out for an encore with an early set. Their mystique lives on as they look perfectly preserved in time upon taking the stage. The energy was there as Nicke Andersson (guitar/vox) commands center stage with his cream-colored Gibson SG and his old mate, Dregen, donning a Gibson hollow body slung so low it’s practically scraping the floor. With unwavering, non-pretentious showmanship, the two bend, twist, and power their men through a set of hard rock/garage punk cuts that launched countless bands across the world. We’re not watching anyone senile and burnt out here, these men play like they could run circles around half the bands here and then fly to Perth, Australia sleepless only to do it all over again! Together along with Boba Fett, (keys), Robert Erikkson (drums) and Dolf DeBorst (bass), they blast the room with ample nostalgia with such tracks as “Born Broke,” “Carry Me Home,” “You Are Nothing’,” “Hopeless Case of a Kid in Denial,” and a grip more. They don’t stop to address the crowd – they only rock – that’s why they’re here. Reunions are always a risk to see; this one is worth the money you’ll spend to see these guys. The Hellacopters in the present are bucket list material.
Of all the groups playing over the weekend, none come close to the level of hostility the reactivated Chicago doom/sludge outfit, Indian, bring. Here’s their sound described in all its unpleasantness with a visual: imagine yourself naked, suffering from third degree burns all over your body, chained up to the hitch of ‘72 Datsun 521 pickup and dragged through some loose gravel at a slow pace. Imagine the white-hot sensation of tiny, jagged rocks saw away at what’s left of your burnt flesh and exposed muscle tissue. Then out of nowhere, you’re thrown in a salt bath…something like that. To quote R.L. Burnside: “It’s bad, you know.” Opening up The Joint on Sunday afternoon, the quintet unceremoniously takes the stage and greet the room with deafening feedback, interrupted only by lead vocals/guitarist, Dylan O’Toole, requests all color lights on stage be shut off except the whites. For the next hour, they attack the room and worsen the headache from the night before with some of the most caustic and hateful sounding music in their catalog like “Rhetoric of No,” “Guiltless,” “Rape,” along with others. Lindsay screams as if he’s expressing the rage against someone who’s wronged them while the overpowering drums of Noah Leger add a sense of anguish to the whole set. Joining them on keys is Ethan McCarthy (Primitive Man) whose guttural screams add an extra layer of anguish and provocation to the group not heard before in their past. This set proves they haven’t lost their capabilities and remain a standout in the extreme music world.
The number of Batushka shirts seen around the hotel is a telling sign this is an anticipated group of the weekend. Watching a large crowd build its way into The Joint on Saturday afternoon, that notion is reinforced by a French Canadian woman who passionately lectures me about the importance of this group and the evolutionary impact they’re already having on Polish extreme music. As the house lights fade and the stage washes in red lighting, choirs echo as the group walks towards their stage get up that consists of a skull ridden altar along with items associated with Eastern Orthodox iconography. The stage production is impressive, and the music is melodic yet brutal. They’re not animated live, they rarely move, and it gives a sense of domination in their presence as they stand idly in place playing at 200+ bpm. Their singer shrieks vocals behind his altar, and while a cloaked men’s choir provides chants and harmonies over the riffs, the group and overall production play out like a carefully choreographed performance. Upon seeing this, it’s understandable why they’re a hot topic amongst discussions in the genre.
The New Blood
Sunday is the comedown day and the decision to have King Buffalo lead off such a day is a good way to start in part to how mellow these guys sound with their psychedelic vibe. The Rochester, NY trio have been in the touring circuit for five years, and their activity speaks for themselves as they’ve hit the road with fellow riffers All Them Witches and Elder in the recent past.
Not new but breaking out of the Bay Area is Disastroid who face fierce competition from High on Fire and Rocket From The Crypt scheduled around their time slot. Doesn’t faze them a bit as singer/guitarist, Enver Koneya, kick-start their set with an appreciation mention to the audience before roaring into the opener “New Day.” For the better part of their career, they’ve remained unknown in the Bay Area heavy music scene but left a lasting impression on the room as they tear the room apart with a sense of underdog urgency playing their brand of heavy rock that combines grunge and stoner punk.
Watching DVNE is like watching a live-action science fiction soundtrack play out before you (same about Austin’s S U R V I V E set during Friday afternoon too). One of the more melodic bands to play the festival, they pull all the punches when tasked with opening up The Joint with balls to the wall set of progressive/post-metal energy that indeed gains new fans.
The Pacific Northwest is well represented throughout the weekend, and Helms Alee needs mention. The thick riffing and clean tone harmonies of Ben Verellen, the overdriven bass of Dana James, and acrobatic drumming skills of Hozoji Margullis are a combination that keeps pumping out great releases and marks them as one of the best underrepresented groups going today. They cut through Vinyl’s with a crushing set of their trademark sludge metal/shoegaze ranging from the James led crunching riffs and James lead vocals of “Unintoxicated,” the pedal effects workout and soaring vocal duo harmonies of James and Margullis on “Tumescence.” Highlights would have to Margullis’s being in a trance with her hypnotic yet frantic drumming on “Tit to Toe” along with the three giving it their all in an explosive conclusion with, “Stillicide.”
Uada is a black metal paramilitary unit with the way they storm Vinyl and grab out attention throughout their set. The Portland trio receives much hype off the new record, but it’s their live show that is likely why people come to see them. Amidst faint green lighting, the black metal trio reclaims the notion that black metal is a threatening form of music with an antagonizing 45-minute set that mixes speed and melodic brutality. Hidden amongst black hoods to hide their features, their sharp movements command the room, and it works as a capacity Vinyl has all the eyes on the five men. James Superchi’s (singer) anguished shrieks and howls cut through the blazing fast playing he and his counterpart James Sloan share as they spar dual leads and bounce melodic passages off each other from their recent Cult of a Dying Sun release to their debut Devoid of Light LP.
Detroit death metal heavy handers, Temple of Void, blister a packed room in Vinyl with a high octane set on Friday late afternoon with a relentless stage show set the tone well for their brand of punishing music.
Also occupying the room was Nashville’s Today is the Day, one of the more savage sounding legacy acts still going. The sole original member and founder, Steve Austin, is no stranger to intensity as he leads his rejuvenated noise rock machine through a 45-minute crushing set of back catalog cuts including a rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.”
Predictions for 2019
Celestial, Einstürzende Neubauten, Valient Thorr, Birushanah, Year Of No Light, Judas Priest, Skyeater, Saint Vitus, Goatsnake, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Dead in The Dirt, Disfear, Daughters, Thisquietarmy, Against The Grain, Author & Punisher, Big (Pig) to name a few.
More Photos from PLV 2018: