(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com – *All Pics Courtesy Of Will Bouton/Fugo Films)
As you all know, or at least should know by now, Riff Relevant recently helped sponsor the second annual Steel & Stone Festival in Asheville, N.C. The burgeoning gathering of underground bands went down for its second year at The Odditorium and I was present for all the festivities.
I won’t go into a bunch of lengthy details or undue blathering but suffice to say, it was an incredible evening. The reason it was so great was the widely diversified roster of bands that made the trek to the mountains of North Carolina for this happening. I thought it’d be cool to deliver readers a post-fest wrap up, one spotlighting each band’s performance and what they brought to the stage. Here goes….
First to play would be Hickory, N.C.’s own The Asound, featuring the trio of guitarist / vocalist Chad Wyrick, bassist Jon Cox and drummer Michael Crump. These guys play a mash of heavy Southern-infused stoner metal, it’s aggressive and riveting. They incorporate a bit of sludge-y nuances to it at times and they’ve been actively road-testing songs from their recent Split 7″ release (with Intercourse) as well as ones for their upcoming Doomsayer Records release, Controller. If you think music that sounds like a cross between High On Fire and Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. is something you’d like, then definitely check out The Asound as that best describes their sound I believe.
Next was a band I was somewhat unfamiliar with but that didn’t matter as AVL’s own The Shrünken Heads came to party. And that is exactly what they did with their heavily Eighties-influenced sound. Like the 80s, these guys – Don Joel Rios (lead guitar & vocals), Jason “Cowboy” Jones (lead & rhythm guitar) “Killer” Troii Harris (bass) Van Calloway (drums) – were all about having a damn good time and rocking the hell out while doing it. Obviously a local favorite, TSH had The Odditorium crowd fired up and singing along to their songs. This was definitely one of the liveliest-on-stage bands I have seen in a long time and if you get the chance to see them, you definitely should do so.
South Carolina’s Grüzer took the stage next and unleashed their gritty riff-driven assault. A bit doomy, a bit sludgy, they tore into each track with vigorous enthusiasm. The band, guitarists Jason E. Brown & Travis Nicholson, bassist Matt Campbell and drummer Jay Crosby are in the process of working in their new vocalist, Jordan Condery. He brings some new dimensions to the band vocally and I was able to address that and more with the guys via an on-camera interview (here).
Another set of Asheville’s favorite sons commandeered the stage next, Temptations Wings. The band has been on a tear throughout 2017, garnering intense critical acclaim for their release “Skulthor Ebonblade” and their live performances. As for the latter, tonight would be no different as guitarist / vocalist Micah Nix and drummer Jason Gardner were joined by guest bassist Ryan Fox (Chad Barnwell had previous commitments). The trio pummeled the onlooking masses with their style of epic stoner doom and power metal, receiving great response while doing so too.
Next up would come my own personal “best discovery” of the night so to speak. I was only vaguely familiar with Akris to be honest, in name and having heard a mere handful of songs previously. Several people from established bands I know told me to make sure to catch them and boy, did I! The trio, Helena Goldberg (bass & vocals), Tim Otis (drums) and Paul Cogle (guitar & vocals), play a powerful blend of sludge and noise rock. Each member is clearly well adept at what they do and it pretty much mesmerizes you as it happens. They incorporate both male and female vocals, abundant energy and I just have to mention that Tim is a madman on the kit.
AVL’s own noisy sludge, semi-doom merchants Horseflesh and their hard-hitting onslaught of punk rock angst-fueled music were up next. Bassist / vocalist Jamie Ward, guitarist Eric L. Foster and drummer Dani Boyer play an energetic, furiously paced barrage of heavy, acidic rock that comes in the form of a wall of sound. It pummels you with wave after wounding wave, like a caustic cacophony of audible aggression. This trio hammered us all with that unrelenting wall’s weaponry too and it was obvious that they have a strong fan base here at their home stomping ground.
Not to be out-horsed, West-By-God-Virginia’s own equally equestrian tagged progressive heavyweights Horseburner bridled up next. To be honest, I have what comes across as an almost stalker-ish relationship currently with the quartet of Adam Nohe, Jack Thomas, Zach Kaufman and Mike Lorenzen. I have seen them at least 4, maybe 5, or 6, times in the last six months or so and they never fail to impress. Their mind-mangling ability to blend progressive, dual guitar fueling to their volatile audibility is mesmerizing no matter how many times experienced. I truly believe the band are on their own path to placing themselves aside the world’s progressive metal greats like Mastodon or Baroness in due time. Tonight’s performance served to reinforce my belief and the guys symbolically brought down the house with a blistering, powerful festival-closing showcase of their talented skills.
So, year two of the explosive Steel & Stone Festival in Asheville, N.C.’s beautiful mountain surroundings went off without a hitch. Organizer Jason Gardner once again outdid himself with recruiting some fantastic bands to play this year and many bands are already expressing interest in year three. I have no doubt in stating that I expect S&S to pull in other amazing names in the future and thus bring some of the best multi-genre bands to the rustic confines of western North Carolina for Steel And Stone Festival III in 2018!