Decibel Metal & Beer Fest packs Fillmore with tons of crushing metal and liver-bruising brews

Krieg (all photos by Christopher Woodford)

Last weekend was the first-ever Decibel Metal and Beer Fest, a meeting of the most extreme in metal bands and beverages. The long-running magazine that’s the standard bearer of long-form metal journalism packed a bunch of killer bands and brewers into the Fillmore in Philadelphia for a weekend of hell and hangovers. Christopher Woodford, a fixture in the Pittsburgh metal scene, whose Winterforge Promotions puts on killers shows on a weekly basis, was there to take it all in. That he did. Maybe a little too much… The following is his account of the events:

Physically speaking, my hangover from the Decibel Metal and Beer Fest could be a lot worse.  Sure, the spots above my eyelids look as though I puked my guts out, but I’ve experienced worse hangovers.  Metaphorically speaking, however, the hangover still lingers.  There is an ache to be back in the Fillmore again with hundreds of metalheads consuming beer and listening to live music.  The thrills remain only in memory.  At least the fest ended with nobody going to the hospital or passing out in an alley.

When Decibel announced the Metal and Beer Fest, I was totally excited by the lineup.  Mostly because Panopticon would be performing.  While I knew or had seen the majority of the bands, I knew completely nothing about the breweries invited to the fest.  The experience of drinking new beers is as pleasing as seeing bands for the first time: pure bliss.

With friends in tow, Zakk and Adam, we pumped up the jams and headed out on the highway to Philadelphia.  Those of you who are curious, we listened to The Kinks, Weird Al Yankovic, Extremity, Ulver, Castle, Tanika Charles, and Thundercat on our trip.

Artificial Brain

Before the fest, we hit up the preshow at The Barbary with Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, and Die Choking.  All three bands I’ve hosted for shows Pittsburgh, and all three groups are intense, so it made sense to start the weekend off with these stellar bands.  The Barbary was packed wall to wall, hardly much space to move around in.  Which is good because nobody seemed interested in moshing.  Philly’s grindcore trio Die Choking kicked off the show with a blazing inferno and ended their set with a cover from local hardcore punk band Turmoil.  Pyrrhon followed up with a string of teeth-gnashing, brutally upfront songs, the kind of set you would expect from Swans if they were death metal.  Closing out the preshow, Artificial Brain rallied up the crowd with new songs from their recent album release “Infrared Horizon.”  Fellow Replicants would be have been pleased by Artificial Brain’s sonic assault.  First time listener, Zakk, expressed great interest and approval of their set.

Immediately across the street from The Barbary is The Fillmore, where Decibel’s Metal and Beer Fest was held.  The venue is massive and can easily hold a thousand or more folks.  My friends and I had no issues checking in: ID check, security check, fest wristband, and off you go.  Those who purchased the beer tasting pass were given a small, easily breakable plastic cup.  Later on at the fest, attendees were given small shot-glass sized cups for beer tasting because that makes sense.  A few geniuses (like myself) overcame this issue by asking for a cup of water at the bar, which was roughly an 8-oz. mixed drink cup.  Perfect size to consume copious amounts of free craft beer.

Finding out where your favorite brewer was located involved looking for their table sign.  Some of the craft breweries had big, elaborate signs, while others had colorful folks slinging tasty brews.  I totally forgot which brewer I drank from first.  I do remember it being a saison, and I do remember it being tasty, as are most saisons.  Citrusy, sweet, orange saison.  I became more familiar with the brewers upstairs on the second floor: Hammerheart, Burial Brewing, and Mikkeller.  Hammerheart smoked the shit out of their beers, like some Vikings raided a village, set fire to everything but the brewery.  The Hammerheart Weltenwanderer lager was particularly smoky, which was weird at first, but totally enjoyable.  Burial Brewing turned out to be my favorite brewery at the fest with their Ritualknife Black Braggot.  What’s a braggot?  Sort of like a mead (so there’s honey involved), but more malts are used while being made.  So, the Ritualknife came out dark, inky, and smooth, like a knife in the dark.  Burial’s booth neighbors were Mikkeller Brewery from Denmark, who had Danny Lilker (Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth) pouring the Danish brews.  I was surprised to see Lilker pouring beers, as much as I was surprised by Mikkeller’s Mastodon Mother Puncher Farmhouse IPA.  Both were awesome.

Noticeably, the venue was full, but not packed.  So, there wasn’t a whole lot of beer spillage and enough room to spread out, both downstairs and upstairs. Zakk enjoyed being able to stand wherever and not have someone be on top of you.


Out of all the bands that performed on Saturday, Panopticon stole the show.  There were some mic troubles for Austin Lunn, the main writer/composer of Panopticon, but were resolved midway through the second song.  The joy of finally seeing them live was overwhelming.  Panopticon was arguably the most passionate, powerful music on display at the festival.  Aside from them, other notable highlights were Crypt Sermon, Krieg, and Agoraphobic Nosebleed, who brought the night to a close with utter carnage.

Sunday rolled around with no notable hangovers for our group.  Brunch and urban expeditions in Philadelphia occupied us until the evening.  Dinner at Sidestreet Pho delayed our arrival to Sunday’s fest openers, Cemetery Piss.  If you would like to know, the pho was superb.

Sunday evening at the fest is when things started to get…interesting.  Personally, there was a strong correlation to how much beer I drank and how heavy the music progressed.  Falls of Rauros set the mood with their atmospheric black metal charm.  Kicking myself for not buying a shirt from FoR.  “Oh, I’ll get one later,” I said to myself.  Pro tip: Buy the shirt before you get wasted.  During Khemmis’ performance, I enjoyed myself some more Burial and Hammerheart beer.  Burial’s Garden of Earthly Delights saison is as good as it sounds, and Hammerheart’s Sköll Och Hati smoked chocolate stout was like two Vikings fucking on a burning ship.  At the time, I wasn’t digging Khemmis’ set entirely; perhaps it was too clean for me. But in hindsight, they are actually solid live and will probably grow on me.


At this point, the drink game was well within reason until Hoof Hearted Brewery was brought into the mix.  These party brew dudes and their beer were the catalyst of my demise, along with one, two, three punch from Withered, Pig Destroyer, and Sleep.  Let’s start with the beers first.  Hoof Hearted’s pair of Double IPAs were South of Eleven (10.2% ABV) and Cultrider (11.5% ABV).  I can assure you they were strong, bitter IPAs, but that’s as far as my memory goes.  Things did get hazy after the eighth or so pour of Hoof Hearted’s beer. At some point, I did mix things up and tried out Burnt Hickory’s Withered beer. Sweet and crisp, not at all like Withered, but still fantastic.  By the time Pig Destroyer hit the stage, more people began to noticeably fill the Fillmore than yesterday.  This is around the same time my buzz game was strong.  Side note: more grindcore bands, like Pig Destroyer, would benefit from a noise/hype man like Blake Harrison.  Enthusiasm goes a long way, folks.  Closing out the night for Decibel’s debaucherous extravaganza was Sleep.  In my previous experiences, I know better than to smoke green and drink beer together.  Usually it’s one or the other.  Tonight, I was fortunate to make the decision of drinking more Hoof Hearted Beer and keep on partying like Slurms MacKenzie during Sleep’s set.  I ended up bailing early because my buddy and I got drunk enough.  I don’t remember walking back home but I do remember waking up, noisily puking, and then going back to sleep.  In the morning, I was awakened by our host’s dog licking my face and then proceeding to hump my arm.  Thanks, Jeff the Bull Terrier, you’re a real peach.

Final thoughts on Decibel’s Metal and Beer Fest:
Decibel put together an utterly fantastic fest.  The mix of metal bands made for a well-paced festival.  All the beer I tried was great, except for one brewery who I won’t name here, but maybe other folks liked them.  The layout and sound at the Fillmore couldn’t have been any better:  Quality sound all through the venue, with comfortable seating upstairs for those with drink passes.  According to my straight-edge friend Adam, even if you didn’t drink, the fest was still fun to attend.  Depending on the lineup next time (hopefully there will be a next time [EDITOR’S NOTE: Sounds like there will be a next time]), I’d recommend on attending the fest.  Just make sure to eat and drink plenty of water.

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