One could say that nascent promoter Steel & Bone Productions has a Marshall Plan in store for the Pittsburgh underground metal scene. To kick off their crusade, we were given a seven-act Saturday night showcase at Cattivo featuring a number of bands that played last year’s Migration 2 Festival, allowing fans to sample what they may have missed out on or relive it if they attended it. Note: Migration returns in 2020.
Abysme, a local act whom I recently caught at Howler’s with Ulthar, began the long evening with a set of Asphyxiating death/doom that turned lips blue, Brad Heiple strangling complacency with his necrotic vocal/axe assault as his rhythm section of Tim Williams and Mike Bolam resuscitated everyone just before they blacked out so that they may be punished further. A slight consolation in the form of a Ramones cover was offered around the end.
Another Pittsburgh band, Ritual Mass, were next, bringing Grave tidings with them as well as a sense of groove to make our mass burial a little more interesting. Ritual Mass have improved since I last saw them, performing with even more proficiency, intensity, and confidence than before, showing that they can slam with the heft of a tombstone.
20 Buck Spin and Migration alumni Daeva followed with a blast of black thrash that invoked bands such a Midnight and Venom. Entertainingly and purposely haphazard, Daeva ripped through selections from their Pulsing Dark Absorptions EP. Watching acid-scarred throat Eddie Chainsaw was akin to being subjected to a Satanic hybrid of David Lee Roth and Chris Jericho, his unpredictable, lunatic, bloodfreak stage presence and snarl making him a deadlier kind of frontman for a less civilized age. Skidmarked pentagrams may as well have decorated the floor of the basement venue as carbon monoxide poisoned the heavy and assailed air. The Philly fiends had set the bar.
That was until Superstition had their say. Having just dropped a masterstroke of a blackened death metal album in The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation
within the past 24 hours, Superstition dazzled with otherworldly instrumentation from band leader Luke Sheppard, formerly of Vanum, whose guitarwork and vocals took on a Schuldinerian might as black holes opened and asteroids collided into doomed planets. Hailing from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and having only formed around a year ago, Superstition played with the collective fury, intelligence, and virtuosity of ten lesser veteran bands. If the small festival had wrapped after this blinding set, I would have been satisfied.
Enter: Immortal Bird from Chicago. Helmed by former Woods of Ypres drummer Rae Amitay, Immortal Bird are another member of 20 Buck Spin’s mighty roster, and did they ever upend the proceedings of Steel & Bone as they did on the second day of Migration 2. Managing to craft a formidable blackened sludge, Immortal Bird also added a dram of Bloodstar to the cocktail and the cybertronic laser riffage of …and Oceans all while the buoyantly evil harlequin Amitay and her cast of carnal instrumentalists massacred less dedicated players, cold-hearted killers Nate Madden, Matt Korajczyk, and John Picillo wielding their chosen sonic weapons (guitar, bass, and drums respectfully) with the authority of Maryland Deathfest headliners. May their scant output grow and their latest full-length, Thrive On Neglect, turn up on many a year-end list.
I’m getting rather acquainted with another 20 Buck Spin/Migration group Tomb Mold. This having been my third time seeing them since last summer, I can testify to their deserved buzz. These unassuming Miskatonic monks from Toronto churned out another tentacled, 40-minutes of terror by way of H.P. Lovecraft and Demlich with the swagger of 90’s Entombed and the tenacity of Bolt Thrower. With their newest record, Planetary Clairvoyance, already racing up the charts of critical acclaim mere days after its release, Tomb Mold had no difficulties reproducing their brand of “cosmic death metal” on stage at Steel & Bone. Dtummer/larynx Max Klebanoff commanded the stage from his Panzer of a kit as Payson Power lived up to his surname as a guitar executioner and Musgrave and Vella planted stakes in hearts string-wise. The standing room-only crowd had become a tide of flesh at this point, ebbing and flowing with each Jupiterian chord.
A decade into their careers of Dismemberment, Horrendous finished off the violent cavalcade with a tour de force of progressive death metal, Possessing a Gothenburg sensibility, Brothers Jamie and Matt Knox were unrelenting in their drum and axework, the latter sharing guitar and vocal duties with Damien Herring, Alex Kulick’s taut bass filling out their sound. Layered, complicated, yet harmonic, creative, and riffier beyond belief, Horrendous somehow channeled Dark Tranquility, Autopsy, old Opeth, and even Sweden’s Carnage at the same time. Theirs was a set that could have gone on forever, the musicality and labyrinthine compositions gaining so much steam live, so much so, that like Superstition, they eclipsed their studio material, as impressive as it is.
Steel & Bone: Vol 1 was not just a success; it was the beginning of a tradition and a movement. This is why and how Pittsburgh is becoming a metal mecca. Between Steel & Bone, Migration, Metal Immortal, and Descendants of Crom, Pittsburgh can be ignored no longer. Our metal heritage is only deepening and becoming richer with each of these festivals. Embrace them all, hessians.