Best time to take in Murderfest at the Knitting Factory is early, while it’s still possible to move your limbs. That’s also when some of the best music happens; as you know, the correlation between quality and fame is especially iffy when it comes to modern metal. I logged three hours, six bands (out of 50 for the two-day fest) and four beers, and that was perfect. The Knit had Pilsner Urquell on draft for $4. And a couple of the groups rated special notice.
I strolled in about 5:30, just in time for Burbank’s Watch Me Burn. I’d experienced and dug them at a previous MF, and immediately recognized the aluminum-orange hair and dazed affect of Sawa, the waifish vominatrix whom I’ve come to identify as the Satanic Secretary. She wandered around as if looking for her car keys, then her eyes rolled back, her head followed suit, and a hell-pit shriek erupted from her throat as the quartet pitched into extremely abstract thrash. The abstraction wasn’t limited to that worn-out form, though: This highly proficient crew’s constant math-metal shifts of riff and tempo -- I think I even heard some reggae in there -- kept my head and body electrified. Loud, superintense, possessed. Watch Me Burn’s MySpace site lists among their influences Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and John Zorn along with High on Fire, Cephalic Carnage and God; I knew there was something I liked about these creepheads.
Next on the Front Stage, Kylesa (pictured) was my main reason for being sucked in, thanks to last year’s heavyweight album of the same name on Prosthetic. But I was not prepared for the live impact of this Savannah quintet. Kylesa most reminds me of Black Sabbath, a template few can follow, largely due to the factors of group chemistry and Bill Ward. How did they get around the Wardlessness thing? So obvious that nobody else thought of it: They simply acquired TWO drummers, who pile forward with a united momentum that could flatten a Mack. Two guitarists, too -- Phillip Cope whamming out the fearsome riffs, surly barmaid Laura Pleasants inserting heavily FXed high-string figures that greatly added to the thick, echoing atmosphere. And in the middle, sweating and hopping with the energy of two Bruce Dickinsons, maniacally handsome bassist Corey Barhorst riveted the audience even with the furious activity swirling around him. All three frontfolk yelled effectively. My teeth were gritted in simultaneous disbelief, horror and delight. A band with a SOUND -- Dionysian, ready for anything. Goddamn.
Now here’s where I dump on the festival’s organization, with which most everything except the music is wrong. 1) The Knitting Factory is a clautrophobia trap totally unsuited to this many customers. 2) Why has nobody figured out how to display the bands’ names during their sets? Most of ‘em can’t afford banners, and there’s no time to put them up anyway. No, we can’t interpret the sound man’s attempts to announce them, or the vocalists’ “We’re Xkljrkejlse from Wwkeeknm!” either. We’re constantly asking one another what was that band that we really liked, and nobody knows. Isn’t this supposed to be a showcase? These musicians sure aren’t doing it for the money. 3) The set changes on the two stages were always at the same time, so there were persistent gaps with no music. Stage manager! 4) The merch was in the tiny AlterKnit Lounge, where about 12 shoppers can fit at a time. It was way better when it was upstairs.
Okay, that’s it. I had a good time anyway. Great to see quite a few WOMEN there. Y’know?