In October of last year, golden-throated warrior angel Deb Levine appeared at Ventura, California’s fourth annual Frost and Fire Festival as a performer with her remarkable band Lady Beast. It gave her an idea for a throwback metal festival to be held in the Pittsburgh area, one where the sounds of early thrash, power, speed, and New Wave of British Heavy Metal would be celebrated and elevated a la Germany’s Keep It True or Chicago’s Alehorn of Power.
After much fund-raising and fanfare, the inaugural Metal Immortal (named after a Lady Beast record), went on with nary a glitch last Saturday. Stormy, muggy weather did not deter the few hundred faithful, many of whom came in from out of state, who descended upon Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale, a borough just outside of the Steel City, with iron in their blood, steel in their hearts, and electricity roiling through their brains.
Bands alternated between playing the upstairs “Funhouse” and the larger “chapel” (the venue is, after all, and repurposed church) with the exception of co-headliners Night Demon and Razor, who both played the main stage.
Ohioan duo Outline broke the event’s seal with a short blast of dirty vampiric speed, somewhat like Girlschool melded into Exodus, frontwoman/guitarist/alternative model/artist and Chilean transplant Tanza romping through alleys where acts such as Bat and Power From Hell collude as her drummer, J. Hammer, deftly thundered away everyone’s cobwebs for what was to come.
Locals Lady Beast were next, and I still have yet to tire of them despite having seen them so many times over the years. They also, miraculously enough, manage to be even better with every single gig. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it’s true. Deb Levine and Chris Tritschler are the Dio/Campbell tandem of our generation, and every other member of this water-tight, explosive, inspirational trad-metal band makes Lady Beast an ensemble’s ensemble. Deserving of superstardom more than any other Pittsburgh act that has ever pushed air, one day, they will be at the top of the bill at Metal Immortal. People have and will come from everywhere to see these legends in the making. Levine’s vocals were flawless as was every note made by the rest of the band. Be it anthemic stompers or quick-stepping heart-attack freight trains, Lady Beast are Western Pennsylvania’s champions of heavy metal. There is no debate.
Legendry struck next with an epic jousting match of galloping Manilla Road/Heavy Load ecstasy, reserved leader/axeman “Vidarr” spinning yarns of long lost realms, barbarians, sorcerers, and fantastic creatures in the vein of Blind Guardian while the fires burned and swords were sharpened for tomorrow’s campaign of fortune and righteousness. Legendry lovingly wade in the waters of obscure, forgotten heavy metal bands without a care, even if they themselves deserve a wider audience. This power trio is yet another band that helps make the case that the Pittsburgh metal scene is worthy of attention, appreciation, respect, and pride. Hails to these brave paladins. Valhalla will take them when they fall many moons from now.
If any band stole the show, it was Rust Belt sado-thrashochists Destructor. Led by a wily veteran in Dave “Overkill” Just, it was Tim “Hammer” Frederick whose bass rumbles shook the venue like a thousand bulls. Nick “Annihilator” Giannakos and Just outdid other richer, more famous, and complacent speed guitar duos with their acrobatic, impossible fingers as Matt “Flammable” Schindelar blasted the set into a euphoric Running Wild/Anvil/Exciter high, tracks such as “Iron Curtain” and “Pounding Evil” knocking over the uninitiated with the type of maniac march into Hell summoned by Raven. Musicians half their age could not touch Destructor on this steely, leathery evening. Ice-hearted killers and grizzled, battle-scarred crusaders they are, Destructor aren’t close to retiring, unlike a certain other band currently in the midst of a farewell tour. “Metal Spike Deep” indeed.
Moravia, New Yorkers Fatal Curse were to me an amalgam of sleazy L.A. metal and fist pumping Euro metal if their W.A.S.P. and Running Wild covers told us anything. Brothers Mike and Chris Bowen played and sang with a startling conviction as guitarist Dave Gruver picked the thin strings like a young Kirk Hammett. What type of genre Fatal Curse fits into is an argument for another time, but one thing was certain: these lads love the classics.
Like Lady Beast, Louisville inquisitors Savage Master also seem to improve with every performance, post-apocalyptic siren Stacey Savage lording over her pack of frighteningly proficient hooded headhunters with a horror host’s malefic gaze and a night hag’s screech. Deb Levine and Sandy Kruger of obscure Cleveland act Sacred Few even joined Savage Master onstage for a rendition of “Lady of Steel.” Burning bibles and rubber, Savage Master are the true successors of bands such as Bitch and Betsy.
Ironflame were next and yet again were as effortlessly elegant and speedy as they’ve been every other time I’ve seen them, leader and player of many instruments, Andy D’Cagna, commanding his squadron of hotshots a la Ronnie James Dio as heroic Maidenesque melodies and harmonies permeated the smaller upstairs Funhouse. Ironflame may be a one-man project in the studio, but considering the bands members of the live lineup have passed through (Icarus Witch and Brimstone Coven, namely), on stage they invoke the kind of rare “supergroup” quality one heard or hears in Alcatrazz or Demons & Wizards. Bracing and gleaming, Ironflame are poised to rule the power metal genre with their fresh sound, intelligent, creative songs, and rollicking live shows.
West Coast act Night Demon aren’t a band I had entirely warmed to prior to the festival. I love the NWOBHM and its recent resurgence and re-visitation, but I’ve always found Night Demon to be a tad too derivative song-wise. That was until I finally got to catch them in concert. A member of masked, blackened speedsters Midnight (I didn’t know he was there!) even joined them for a surprise song, showing that this power trio has themselves a bit of street cred. Affable voice/bassist Jarvis Leatherby added a bit of Volbeat hipshake somehow to those Angel Witchy, Jaguarian, Gaskined tracks that were transformed into something all their own in the steamy, dripping, boiler room live environment. Dusty Squire was a Tank on the skins as Armand Anthony’s Cirith Ungol pedigree gave his riffs and solos considerable weight and epic verve. They’ve been around the horn a bit, even touring with death metal acts like Carcass, carrying the torch and waving the flag for retro metal, helping create a renewed interest in that which spawned Metallica as if they were evangelists. Blistering sets like they gave us at Metal Immortal are evidence that Night Demon are as authentic as a rare Iron Maiden EP.
Razor finished out the night, demonstrating to all in the flock why they are Canada’s kings of thrash. Like Night Demon, I didn’t pay enough attention to these soldiers of fortune either for too long, focusing solely on their studio output and never thinking they’d ever materialize in Pittsburgh. Dare I say that Razor out-thrashed the reigning thrash aristocracy and its second tier? As violent as a cage match, Razor’s Paul DiAnno-ish frontman Bob Reid was akin to a cyborg on a fatal mission, his low, Cronos-like growl giving songs such as anthem “Evil Invaders” a sense of dire urgency. Moshers had a field day as guitarist Dave Carlo whipped out riffs and solos quicker and more brutally than Kerry King in his prime. Once again, in concert, Razor are a band whose songs have a new life and take on a new form. It was a street fight. It was war. It was Razor. If they were put in an octagon against Overkill, Testament, and Nuclear Assault, Razor would be the way to bet.
Metal Immortal could and should have been better attended, but there were enough hessians who did come out to show that there is an audience for such an event in Pittsburgh. One hopes it will swell in size year after year. Spread the word. Don’t disregard it next time it happens. Your ears will ring. You’ll sweat more than a murderer about to be executed. You’ll eagerly await it the following year.