Kirk Von Hammett’s
Fear FestEvil at Rockbar Theater, 4/11 and 4/12

There are possibly no two things in this world that go so perfectly well together, aside from maybe peanut butter and chocolate, than heavy metal and horror movies. There is one man in metal who stands above the rest at that crossroads, and that is Kirk Hammett, guitarist of Metallica. For years, Kirk’s obsession with all things horror-related has been well-known, and the collection of horror artifacts that he has amassed over the years has grown to astounding proportions.

For the second year in a row, Kirk has put together a weekend celebrating the unity of these two worlds, known as Kirk Von Hammett’s Fear FestEvil. This year’s fest was held at the Rockbar Theater in San Jose, CA. Two days of metal bands, horror luminaries, and more made for one interesting and fantastic weekend in California.

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I arrived at Rockbar mid-afternoon, and a carnivalesque midway was already in full swing. Grotesque costumed figures wandered the premises and vendors hocked their wares, selling horror memorabilia, t-shirts, face painting, and other distinctive homemade goods. A personal highlight here was meeting John Russo, co-writer of the infamous horror classic Night of the Living Dead.

The line for VIP ticket holders snaked around the building, and once the doors opened, they were met with a poster autograph session with Kirk, John 5 (Rob Zombie), Charlie Benante (Anthrax, S.O.D.), and Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour). Making your way through the venue found more vendor tables from both the bands on the bill and various others. In a room off to one side was Kirk’s Crypt—a room full of various items from his prized horror collection. Horror movie posters, masks, props, and memorabilia lined the room, and just this small piece of his collection was astounding.

At the end of the room was Bill Moseley, better known as Chop-Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, or Otis Driftwood from Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

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I wandered the venue a bit, talking to people here and there and was amazed to find out just how far some had traveled for this special weekend. One couple, who I had met the night before at Kirk’s Murder Mystery Dinner at the Winchester Mystery House, had travelled from Ontario, Canada, and I met a couple of fans who made their way from Norway just for the weekend.

Hosts Jose Mangin from SiriusXM and San Francisco DJ Nikki Blakk took the stage, welcoming the crowd to the Fear FestEvil, and introducing today’s horror panel, consisting of Hammett, John 5, Bill Moseley, Benante, and Taylor. The talk was moderated by writer Steffan Chirazi, who started them off with the topic of discussion—psychopaths in horror movies. An engaging discussion followed, talking about great movie psychopaths, their motives, and more. After fielding questions from the audience, the discussion wrapped up, and the FreakShow Deluxe took the stage. Sword swallowing, contortion, lying on a bed of nails…it was very Coney Island, and a fun segue into the first band of the day—Ghoul.

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Kicking off the set by beheading a fake dog, a stream of fake blood hosed down the crowd as the masked members of Ghoul pounded out song after song of furious thrash metal. Bassist Cremator and guitarist Digestor switched off on vocals, sometimes within the same song.

Old-school metal riffs were hurled at full-speed through songs like “Spill Your Guts” and “Graveyard Mosh,” while a freakish cast of characters took the stage at various times, never wasting an opportunity to douse the crowd in gore. The fact that Ghoul is made up of members of death metal bands Exhumed and Impaled and black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room among others, gives all the members a chance to spread their musical wings a bit. Definitely a fun, gruesome set from these guys.

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After another wicked display from the FreakShow Deluxe, the San Francisco quartet Orchid took the stage. Amid low, eerie lights, the spirit of Black Sabbath flowed through the Rockbar, as Orchid channeled the sound of the ’70s metal icons while remaining unique and standing on their own.

They are one of those bands who may not move around a lot and put on a visual spectacle, but the music more than makes up for the subdued stage stance. Singer Theo Mindell posted up at center stage, supported by his mic stand as he led the band through dark grooves like “Eastern Woman” and “Sign of the Witch.” Guitarist Mark Thomas Baker’s guitar tone was thick and fuzzy, and their sound was pure stoner rock through and through.

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Following Orchid’s set, Jose Mangin and Nikki Blakk returned to the stage calling on the contestants of the costume contest. Once the contestants were onstage, the judge of the contest, Kirk Hammett himself, entered and chose a winner among the gruesome and extravagantly costumed figures with the winner receiving a custom Nosferatu ESP guitar from Kirk.

The lights went down and the first day’s headliner, High on Fire took the stage. The ever-shirtless stoner icon, singer/guitarist Matt Pike, welcomed the crowd and went right into the brutal “Madness of an Architect.” What followed for the next hour was absolutely crushing. The enormity of the sound from the Bay Area trio was as if a mythical leviathan had descended down upon the venue, laying waste to anything in its path. The rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel formed an impenetrable wall of metal and Pike’s fiendish riffs and demonic snarl seemingly led the trio through their heavy stoner soundscape.

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After ending the set with the classic “Baghdad” and the scorching “Snakes for the Divine,” the band exited for a brief break, then returned to the stage with Kirk Hammett in tow, guitar strapped on and ready for some jamming.

What came next was truly the highlight of the whole weekend as the band kicked off with Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald.” Next up, Corey Taylor and John 5 joined the group, turning things up to super-jam proportions and went into Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” and, after being joined by Anthrax’s Charlie Benante on drums, Motorhead’s “Iron Fist.”

The most common thread on the stage, aside from the fantastic setlist, was the smiles on all the faces of the varied musicians. This was a display of excellent metal musicians of vastly different styles, coming together on classic metal songs that were near and dear to their heart.

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Kirk and John 5’s guitar battle was a sight to behold, and the setlist only got better as the crowd chanted along with Venom’s “In League With Satan.” The surprise song of the set—and winner of best song title ever—was the classic metal song by Riot, “Swords and Tequila.” The night ended with Judas Priests’ “Rapid Fire,” and the faces of the musicians and crowd were indistinguishable from each other. Definitely a fun way to end the first day of Fear FestEvil, and in a special way that’s not likely to be repeated, much less topped.

Day two of Fear FestEvil began much the same as day one, with another huge line eagerly awaiting the day’s autograph session which was sans Charlie Benante. Today’s additional guest was guitar legend Slash, who had opted for a beanie rather than his trademark top hat. After another appearance by the outlandish FreakShow Deluxe, Slash joined the rest of the group for day two’s horror panel. After an interesting discussion on horror movies, Asada Messiah, the first band of the day, took the stage.

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A fun set from these San Fran locals, their straightforward brand of metal—or, as they describe it, “Taco Metal,”—were a crowd-pleaser and a good way to kick off the day. With fake blood running down his face, singer/guitarist Rodrigo Garcia tried hard to make tough metal faces, but just couldn’t keep from smiling. It was a bit refreshing to see a young, hungry (for tacos?) band enjoying doing what they do.

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The second that hardcore veterans Agnostic Front walked onstage, you knew it was about to go down. Guitarist Vinnie Stigma strutted onto the stage with a smirk, snapping his suspenders as if preparing for battle.

After the band played the intro from their latest album, singer Roger Miret joined the band and went into the title track, “The American Dream Died.” Almost instantly, the majority of the floor turned into a frenzied pit, by far the biggest of the whole weekend. The Front careened their way through their set, playing songs spanning their thirty-plus year career, even going all the way back to 1983 with “Friend or Foe,” a few off of The American Dream Died, and many in between. These guys not only proved that they still have what it takes in 2015, but that they’ll do it better than you, and leave you sweaty and bruised when they’re through.

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Another costume contest followed, although this night had about half as many contestants. After the prize guitar was given away, the crew took a moment to wish host Jose Mangin a happy birthday, followed by tequila, cupcakes, and a song from the audience. A lengthy set change later, and it was time for Meshuggah to close out the Fear FestEvil.

The light show that accompanied the heavy onslaught was simultaneously dazzling, brilliant, blinding, and seizure-inducing. In the aforementioned set changeover, it took longer to set up the lights than the instruments. Singer Jens Kidman, foot propped upon the monitor, let loose with animalistic snarls, his face contorted much of the time in his trademark “eyes rolled back, jaw jutted forward” look (a look so associated with Kidman that is has become a meme).

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The persistent chug of the downtuned guitars and the utilization of odd and complex song structures and time signatures sets Meshuggah apart from many of their contemporaries. My only fault with the band, especially live, is that after a while all of the DUN-DUN-DUNDUN-DUN-DUN tends to start to mesh together. Remember when you were a kid and mashed all of your Play-Doh colors together until they turned a swirly brown, and you just lost interest until you got new Play-Doh? That sums up Meshuggah for me.

To many fans though, this is their appeal and there aren’t many bands out there doing what they do and with the surgical precision with which they do it. For that, I give them all credit that is due. Later on, during their hit song “Bleed,” Kirk Hammett returned once again to the stage, joining Meshuggah as he ripped through a guest solo.

Meshuggah drew their set to a close, so ending one hell of an interesting weekend of horror, metal, and more. Time will tell where the Fear FestEvil goes from here. If it follows its trajectory of “bigger and better” every year, then things are looking pretty good for Kirk Hammett’s Fear FestEvil.

HORROR PANEL

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FREAKSHOW DELUXE

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KIRK’S CRYPT

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GHOUL

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ORCHID

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HIGH ON FIRE

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ALL-STAR JAM

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ASADA MESSIAH

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AGNOSTIC FRONT

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MESHUGGAH

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MISC

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