We’ve made no secret over the years that we’re a Pittsburgh-based site, even though our reach is worldwide, and we write about bands from every corner of the Earth. But we represent Pittsburgh, and this coming weekend, one of the finest metal festivals going will emanate from here. To say we’re excited is a vast understatement.
The festival came to life six years ago as Gilead Fest, and it took place at Gilead Media’s home headquarters city of Oshkosh, Wisc. The event returned to the same place two years later (which was my first experience there) before Gilead joined up with 20 Buck Spin to create Migration Fest, which took place in Olympia, Wash., in 2016. The event highlights most of the artists from both labels’ stellar rosters, as well as some hand-picked favorites. This year’s event takes place at Mr. Smalls in Millvale, which is just a few minutes north of the city limits, this Friday through Sunday, July 27-29, with a pre-show event taking place at Cattivo Thursday night in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh (if you go, do NOT fuck up and forego the pizza). If you see me at the fest and want to say hello (and I don’t know why anyone would care to, but whatever, I’m socially anxious), please do. I’ll have on a black denim vest with a huge Sunn 0))) backpatch and other assorted shit. I mean, I’ll have other clothes on, too. Anyway, you’re here for the bands, so let’s talk about them:
Thursday, 8 p.m., Cattivo. Pre-show:
PYRITHE: A relatively new band (their first show was New Year’s Eve), this foursome creates some of the most interesting and progressive sludge anywhere. That’s not even a great description because it’s so much weirder than that. Definitely make sure you get there early to see this band, who might come at you with one of the strangest Metallica covers of all time.
SLAVES BC: This band has been lightning rooms on fire in Pittsburgh for several years now, and they just put out their hellacious new album “Lo, and I Am Burning,” which finds the group moving even closer to black metal terrain. We talked about it several months ago when it was released, and the record keeps getting more and more devastating with each visit.
BUILDINGS: One of the few bands on this festival that really isn’t metal at all, which is cool, because you need a change of pace. These guys build noise rock, post-hardcore, punk, and many other styles into their formula. Their third record “You Are Not One of Us” was just released by Gilead Media last year, and not only does it pack a punch, it also has really strange album art, which is always a plus.
SOMAFREE INSTITUTE: Very little is known about this band other than it contains members of Mournful Congregation and folks from Broken Press, and their music is a very strange and cosmic mix of synthesizers and beats. This is going to make for a fascinating experience, especially since so little is out there about the band so far. Lucky for us, there’s a Bandcamp page.
Friday, 4 p.m., Mr. Smalls Theatre:
CLOUD RAT (4:20): Michigan grinders Cloud Rat could not be a more explosive way to kick off the formal festival, and they will melt the place down pretty quickly. Their blasts of chaos and melody center on subjects such as women’s rights, veganism, and other social issues of that ilk, and their passion for that can be heard in their killer music. If you miss this, you’re an asshole.
COUCH SLUT (5:10): If there’s a chance of any of the band members on this entire tour getting injured, it’s got to be Couch Slut’s devastating vocalist Megan Osztrosits, though we definitely hope she doesn’t see her own blood again. This band’s noise and metal combo is blunt as fuck and pulls zero punches, as their music is punishing, sobering, sometimes funny, very often sad. Oh, and grab a copy of their re-pressed “My Life As a Woman,” and def let your neighborhood conservative bore see the cover art.
FORN (6:00): These purveyors of doom will enshroud the room in total darkness as they rip out their mentally abusive material. They have a new record “Rites of Despair” coming out in September, and no doubt it’ll be another trip into human misery and suffering that will leave you hanging on the edge of sanity.
DERKETA (7:00): This legendary Pittsburgh death metal institution was severing heads alongside other genre giants Death and Incantation in the early 1990s, and they are recognized as the first all-female death metal band ever (they do have a dude doing the drumming now, but history is history). Their first full-length “In Death We Meet” landed in 2012, and it’s a fucking beast, as is this band. All hail.
YELLOW EYES (8:00): This NYC-based band has proved there still are creative ways to play black metal, and it just takes some imagination and a little ingenuity. Their “Immersion Trench Reverie” was our No. 1 album of 2017, and it’ll be super exciting to see these guys do their thing on an even bigger stage. Get ready for riffs that’ll tangle you in knots.
BONGRIPPER (9:00): Why Bongripper didn’t get the 4:20 slot is beyond me. All kidding aside, this Chicago instrumental doom band returned this year with the scorching “Terminal,” the follow-up to 2014’s “Miserable.” If you’re in the mood for amp and riff worship, this band is for you. If you happen to have some edibles on hand, even better.
KHEMMIS (10:00): This band is slowly rising above the underground, and their mix of classic metal chops and traditional doom is making headways. Their latest opus “Desolation” just came out, and it’s a glorious ride that pairs sounds of old with modern issues such as loss, grief, and remorse. Don’t let the cover art fool you: This isn’t D&D shit. This is real life served with killer riffs and powerful singing.
ZOMBI (11:10): We close out night one with another Pittsburgh favorite in the form of synth warriors Zombi. This band was pulling out B-movie sci-fi anthems way before this latest patch of darkwave artists emerged, and this will be a mesmerizing, fantastical way to end the night, as the crowd is treated to a haze of soundtrack-style cuts that’ll make your skin crawl and mind wander.
Saturday, Mr. Smalls, 2 p.m.:
IMMORTAL BIRD (2:30): Chicago death metal maulers Immortal Bird were a late addition to this lineup, and a totally welcomed one at that. This band has played our fair city pretty frequently, and this will be their biggest appearance to date. Their last time here, they played stuff off their “Akrasia” EP and “Empress/Abscess” full-length, as well as some killer new cuts, and a rock-solid Samhain cover. In addition, they’re Grade A nice people.
SCORCHED (3:20): Pittsburgh got an early helping of this Delaware-based death metal band when they opened up for Demilich on their spring tour. Expect gut-wrenching, throwback death with some really fun wizardry at guitar, and a beating you’ll feel far into the next day. Their second record “Ecliptic Butchery” is due in late September on 20 Buck Spin.
MUTILATION RITES (4:10): Mutilation Rites have pulled their burning wagon out of black metal’s trenches for the time being and rocketed that thing right into grisly death metal on their third full-length “Chasm” that just was released. They’re also back fully with Gilead Media after a sojourn with Prosthetic. Probably for the best. These guys revel in underground rot anyway.
THE OMINOUS CIRCLE (5:10): One of the farthest travelers for this event, Portuguese death and black metal phantoms the Ominous Circle will bring haunting gems from their heavily underrated 2017 debut record “Appalling Ascension” and who knows what else? I’m really intrigued to hear this band in a live setting, which might make for the deadliest set of the festival.
DEADBIRD (6:10): The Deadbird flies again! We haven’t heard from this band in many years, with their last full-length record “Twilight Ritual” dropping a decade ago! Luckily, this sludge/doom machine returns with a new record “III: The Forest Within the Tree” in October on 20 Buck Spin (check the label’s social today to hear a new track!), and we get to experience them in person. This is one of my personal most-anticipated sets.
SPIRIT ADRIFT (7:30): Spirit Adrift have been one of the great feel-good success stories in metal, and sorry if that sentence isn’t metal enough for you. Nate Garrett emerged from a life-threatening battle with alcoholism to create this project that explodes with classic metal and doom. Their first two records “Chained to Oblivion” and “Curse of Conception” both are modern classics (at least by our ears), and it’ll be great to finally see this band in the live setting.
MIZMOR (8:10): The product of sole member A.L.N. (it’s technically spelled מזמור), the project’s punishing, immersive black metal, doom, and drone is thick, impenetrable, and troubling. Mizmor’s second full-length “Yodh” was released two years ago, and it’s taken all that time to work through the murky labyrinths contained within its grimy gates.
PELICAN (9:40): Chicago-based instrumental powerhouse Pelican is one of the bands not associated with either label, and they’re pretty much here because they rule. We haven’t gotten a new record from the band since 2013’s “Forever Becoming,” but they have a stealthy, magnificent back catalog from which to serve the hungry masses. I’ve also never seen them live, which makes no sense.
KRALLICE (11:00): The mighty Krallice will bring an end to this stellar day with what’s sure to be a mind-blowing performance from a band that almost assuredly must be space aliens. It’s the only real explanation why they can craft black metal this unique and harrowing without sounding like any other band, even for a second. They’ve also become strangely prolific, releasing two full-lengths last year alone. Here’s a link to the most recent one.
Sunday, Mr. Smalls, 2 p.m.:
PYROLATROUS (2:30): If you didn’t get your fill of drummer Lev Weinstein while he was massacring you during Krallice’s set, he’s back with this relatively new blackened death metal project that also contains guitarist Nolan Voss of Anicon, Joe Merolla on bass, and Nicholas Palmirotto on vocals, guitar, and effects. Their debut “Teneral” dropped on Gilead Media last year and went a little unnoticed. Let’s help change that.
DAEVA (3:20): Philly blackened thrashers Daeva have but a single EP to their name (last year’s deadly “Pulsing Dark Absorptions” that has a mangling cover of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush”), and their arrival at Migration means that a lot of people will be hearing and absorbing them for the first time. If an even grimier Aura Noir is your thing, then be prepared to be decimated.
TOMB MOLD (4:10): If you haven’t yet heard Tomb Mold’s new record “Manor of Infinite Forms,” click the Bandcamp link below and listen to it. This story literally will be on this site for years. You have time. This record is one of, if not the best, death metal albums of the entire year in a slew of strong ones, and its “Bloodborne” themes and disease-infested filth will make this one of the absolute must-see sets of the entire festival.
THE CANCER CONSPIRACY (5:10): Curveball of the day comes from Vermont-based math rock band the Cancer Conspiracy, who ceased existence in 2003 following their van being robbed and equipment being stolen. They reunited to play in 2017, and only this show and the Caleb Scofield tribute are on their agenda, so we’re pretty fortunate to land this one.
HELL (6:00): Sole creator M.S.W. returned last year with a self-titled, seven-track record that pushed the band more into doom and sludge, as if Sleep and High on Fire crept slowly into the creative process. It made for a swaggering new look for this morbid beast and one that actually is fun in spots. That’s a big change from his past work that absolutely reveled in drone torture and doom fury that buried you and left you for dead.
FALSE (7:10): One of Gilead Media’s most noteworthy bands, FALSE deliver black metal that crushes your soul but also delivers rays of melody and turns into progressive rivers. Vocalist Rachel looks like a caged animal when she performs, and the rest of the band offers tight, bloody, often epic-length songs that capture you, punish you, and leave you a heaping mess on the floor. Oh, they also tried their hand at shorter songs and killed it. Link below.
THOU (8:10): Those internet motherfuckers have released a ton of stuff already this year in the form of a noise EP, an acoustic EP that recalls the best of “Jar of Flies,” a grunge EP, and their upcoming fifth full-length “Magus” that already contains some of my favorite lyrics of the year. No two Thou shows are the same, and this band absolutely delivers menace and strangulating doom with the very best of them. Actually, Thou ARE the very best of them.
MOURNFUL CONGREGATION (9:20): The winners of the band-that-traveled-the-furthest contest is won handily by Australian funeral doom giants Mournful Congregation. Their latest record “The Incubus of Karma” is an absolute masterpiece of ridiculously slow-moving, absolutely elegant doom that captures heart and soul. This set might be three songs long, and it could go an hour easily. This and our final band are on my do-before-you-die list of artists to see live.
PANOPTICON (10:30): What better way to send everyone home happy than with Minnesota-based black metal band Panopticon, one of the most emotional, hearts-on-their-sleeves groups in all of metal. The Austin Lunn-led group just put out two records this year: “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I and II.” Part one is his traditional black metal, while the second is made up of bluegrass and acoustic-heavy songs that you just know have been gnawing at Lunn forever. If you’ve any beer left when they take the stage, salute these guys and be thankful you’re there to witness them live.
For more on the festival, go here: http://migrationfest.com
For more on Cattivo, go here: https://www.cattivopgh.com/
For more on Mr. Smalls, go here: https://mrsmalls.com