Because this was an eight-band bill, I'm going to try and keep this brief. Two thousand words is as much as anyone can handle.
The 4:30 Main Street MAX never showed up. So, I waited. I did a crossword puzzle. I did another one. And I waited more. I nabbed the 5:00 bus and didn't step off at the Penn Valley Park stop until 5:22. The show was scheduled to begin at 5:00. Maybe metal shows run on punk time too.
I listened intently as I walked through park to determine if I was missing anything. Initially I thought I heard a band, but after getting closer I determined I was only hearing noises. I was right on both accounts. I'm not sure what time Serrated Corridor began, but the solo noise project was done by 5:30. I only caught a few minutes, but what I heard was the sound of a jet engine firing up. Or owing to the day, maybe the sound of witches whooshing about the sky on broomsticks. Or wind blowing against gravestones and occasionally shaking a tree. I'm not sure I'll ever really understand the noise scene, but it was fun to place the ambient tones that Luke Seidler created hunched over his gear into my own movie. After he finished, I sat on a grassy hillside in the park under yellow oaks. It was golden hour and a lovely time to be outside.
Oxytoxin were up next. They're a young band with nice gear anticipating the release of their first full-length album next week. At the best of the times, the quartet leaned into a Sabbath-esque stoner vibe with hints of psychedelia. My dad used to call it Acid Rock. At the worst, it's Nu Metal. The soundman pushed the vocals way up front, and left them pretty dry – neither did vocalist Geoff Kelly any favors. The crunching rhythms were nice. The riffs, pretty dank. And as the short twenty-minute set wore on, I began to appreciate Nick Brown's strong leads and notey solos. Unfortunately, the band failed to draw the crowd forward from their seated posts. And it tried. Probably more than it should have. The second band in a million-band bill playing outside at 5:45pm is never going to get the audience participation it wants. At the end of the set the band urged the audience to snapchat and tweet their music to their friends, even offering, "Please, please, use our music for dick pics."
The next act took a while. There were computers to sync and ridiculous walls of amps and bestial drums to rack. I guess you can never really expect a backline at a metal show. Panzer Kunst played a 25 or 30-minute set of grindcore. Heavy and ugly. Some songs were unrelenting, while others established a bit of a groove creating a sea of bobbing black hoodies. Vocalist Allen Gingerich started with bunny ears and powderpuff tail, but he soon thrashed the ears out of his long hair. He held them the rest of the set, as if he were a Labrador that had done the poor rabbit in, and he was proud of it. Bassist Hank Zerbe played with an enormous jack-o-lantern on his head. I award him the best band member in a costume prize. Guitarist Matthew Khomsi began masked as well. Neither lasted the whole set, but both provided nice imagery as the day turned to night. Drummer Jason Ramadan Khomsi wore a slimming black suit. (And wore it well.) I'm sure there was more to the costume, but I'll just pretend he was dressed as a member of Nation of Ulysses. Lights flashed behind the band, manually controlled by someone in the wings. Smoke was blown across the stage. Smoke was blown in the crowd too, as vape pens were nearly ubiquitous. The audience of 40 came forward for the band, even forming a small pushy-pushy pit instigated by bad-ass girls in revealing Halloween attire. Slutty nuns were a very popular choice.
Petty continued both the big gear and auxiliary support trends. A sampler was the first sound we heard from the band, as it rumbled away while the quartet set up its gear. Eventually the band launched into a fifteen-minute set of speedy and crashing grindcore. In some genres, audiences live by the "don't bore us, get to the chorus" mantra. I don't have witty rhyme for a band like Petty who start every song with the mosh part, and then continues to play the mosh part for the entirety of their brief songs. The band is fronted by Alyssa Jo. They've got a hell of a growl. And in one song, a wicked scream that required such breath control that somewhere a middle school choir teacher just got their wings. (Or maybe their horns.) At the start of the set, they demanded the audience come forward. And they had. And they moved from the first song to the last. Pits circled and bodies crashed to the ground.
By 8:00, Halloween parties all over the city were starting, and the park crowd started to dwindle. Those that were left pushed forward. In fact, those that were left just pushed. Especially the dude in the French maid costume who really got the circle going for Vile Revelation. This drummer-less quartet is fronted by Branden O'Neill, who paced the area in front of the stage, let lose death growls, black metal screeches, and pig squeals. I hadn't heard the last in a while. He gave it his all, and by the end of the set was a wheezing mess. The line behind him of two guitarists (Isaak Clarkson and Kaden Romig) and bass player (Austin Cunningham) bobbed in unison. No long hair pinwheels, but the same synchronized mechanics. The tremolo guitar picking felt black metal, but there were lots of other feels. The backing track (driven from a laptop) not only served as the band's drummer, providing blast and slam beats and orchestrating the unexpectedly tricky stops and starts, but also added industrial noise, and even EDM-esque drops. Despite the lengthy half hour set, I was never sure what I saw, but it lives at the intersection of heady and intense, so they're doing something right.
The night continued with Tenant. They're, well, Tenant. Blackened, sludgy, death? At some point taxonomy breaks down. The band is fronted by Luke Illiff. Before playing, he asked everyone to come in closer. Later in the set he'd ask again, this time corralling the dancers onto what might be considered the stage. The set began with a screed about the inconsistent Liberalism of a town that can name a park for abolitionist John Brown but tolerate confederate flags and overt racism. I think he ultimately hates racism more than Liberalism, but both take a backseat to the contempt the band holds for landlords. They're named tenant for a reason. Illif spent the set shirtless, bent over, screeching, and growling into the mic with his long hair whipping at the edge of the crowd. When he thought the dancers weren't "respectfully beating each other up" enough, he jumped in the crowd to spur on action. He didn't need to though, as the pit was crazy. Like "girl in bunny ears and roller skates tearing shit up in the pit" crazy. Behind that action were the meaty riffs of Thomas Lane, bassist Ashton Pipitone, and new drummer Drew Loyd. Lane also layers additional noises on top of the bands songs, making the compositions just that much more unsteady and unreal. Still, the band's songs find grooves easily, locking the audience into a steady bounce, and then just as easily, explode with a transcendental blast that shoots through your body. Somehow, I hadn't seen the band before. I'll see them again.
Meatshank was tapped to be the penultimate act of the evening. This was a curious booking. Not because the band's ‘80s-styled thrash wouldn't play well with the rest of the acts, but rather because the band's members are nearly a generation removed from the rest of the musicians playing. But as anyone who is into the metal scene well tell you, metal is a common language. It can traverse all sorts of boundaries – even age. The trio's set was as expected – fast, with nimble-fingered guitar solos from vocalist Vincent Camarillo, with pounding rhythms from bassist Murry Sittig and drummer Shane Cook. Each started the first song wearing a pig mask, but by the end of the song, that idea was abandoned. It's hard to find the right costume to play in. Unless you're a black metal band, then that decision has been made for you. Although the band's tempos were wild, and leads sharp, the band lacked some of the danger of the earlier acts – even after they played a cover of Slayer's "The Antichrist." Maybe it was the shouted vocals of Camarillo. Somehow the classics feel quaint next to death growls and blackened wails. I may have been alone in my observations though, as the audience was still roiling during the band's set. While our French maid checked out early along with a good chunk of the crowd, our slutty nun and naughty devil picked up the slack. I award that devil best dancer.
It was now after 10:00. The lights in the skatepark had shut off, and tired shredders came over to see what had been making such a racket all evening. A tech started taking down the lights. Was this to make the show inconspicuous? Did the tech just not want to be there all night, alone, packing up light stands? Did the headliner request no lights? No idea, but this meant Halloween Bash 2 would meet its finale cast in the shadows created by a streetlight filtered through trees and dropping leaves. With the scene set, Varlok took the stage.
Varlok is a band of black metal traditionalists. The foursome wore all black, donned capes, and were masked in corpse paint. While these are not costumes worn once a year, a cool evening at the edge of Samhain seems like the most pleasant time to wear them. The band played a 35-minute set that had both ugly intensity and sorrowful beauty. Most of that burden fell on guitarists Beithir and Strigoi who provided both quick tremolo picking, and more elongated melodic leads that verged on folk metal. Drummer Ghargoyle provided busy and chaotic drums that never stuck with a single pattern for more than a few bars. He's fun to watch but something about his kick drum setup was amiss, and the audience was assaulted with a constant knocking noise that reminded me of every car I had in high school. The band is led by Jotanar. He's tall and imposing with long hair and a viking's beard. His bass follows the guitars – quickly picked, shifting in regular intervals, building scenery. His Rickenbacker seems like an odd choice. His vocals are deep, gargled, and sinister. Between songs he shared song titles in the same indecipherable growl.
By the end, two dozen followers had fanned out around the band. A dozen more sat on the hills in the middle distance. There was continued pushing and revelry at the start of the set, but soon our nuns and devils put on t-shirts to combat the chill and sat down on the curb, effectively closing the pit for the night. An older crowd remained. They were rapt, nearly motionless, only nodding with the changes. At 11:00 the band finished their last song, and then the park went silent. I pulled out my ear plugs, thanked Ashton Pipitone for making Halloween scary, and started walking back to the bus stop hoping the 11:30 would be on time.