The Power of the Riff 2011

The Power of the Riff kicked off its second year in L.A. with a line-up that would make anyone on the East Coast blind with envy. As if that full day assault of brutal hardcore, metal and crust wasn’t enough, Southern Lord brought their genre and generation crossing festival up the coast with stops in San Francisco and Seattle. Our Southern California correspondent was on the scene for that incredible first day and k martini was onsite for some hardcore action at the Elbo Room in San Francisco. This will be a collaborative post with words from Genji, comments and photos from K Martini and videos lifted from youtube.

Southern Lord have a knack for discovering great bands and releasing great material from those bands and they can now add promoting great metal festivals to that list. The Power of the Riff metal fest was held last week across a couple of different cities, starting on Saturday August 13th in L.A. at the Echo/Echoplex. With almost 20 bands playing, at least half of whom I wanted to see, this was one show I was not going to miss!
All the bands played one of two separate stages — Echo upstairs and Echoplex downstairs. Combined with the excellent attention to performance times and the hustle of the crews to keep the show flowing, all the bands were able to play much longer sets than would be allowed if they all had to share one stage. On top of that, if one so chose, they could get a glimpse of every band’s performance without much conflict. This attention to organization made this the best metal festival I’ve ever seen (at least here in the states!).
With all that said, Echo/Echoplex is still a bar, and as much as I would’ve loved to attempt to see every band, I also wanted to be somewhat coherent to see the headliners at the end of the night, so I showed up a little later in the day and decided to just focus on the bands I really wanted to see, starting with San Francisco‘s Acephalix.

Acephalix (Elbo Room)

Acephalix play the kind of crusty death/thrash/d-beat that I love. They were actually one of the bands I was most looking forward to as K Martini got me hooked on their killer new album Interminable Night. Their songs are heavy and dynamic and that keeps me interested and banging my head. One minute they’re blasting along in glorious death metal fury, next minute they’re cranking out a dirty crust punk riff or Entombed style breakdown. They blasted through songs like Christhole and Interminable Night and their performance was very energetic and intense. Especially lead singer Dan, who was constantly in the crowd screaming his ass off. The only problem was time, it being 3:45pm and with in/out privileges until 7:00pm, there simply weren’t enough people around to give them the proper crowd energy and support they needed (and deserved). I look forward to seeing them when they’ve got more support, but this was a great start to the festival for me.
I spoke with Dan and Luca before their performance at the Elbo Room in San Francisco and they said L.A. went well, but you could tell in their tone that the early set diminished their performance a bit. The (almost too) dark Elbo Room at 7:30pm was a much better platform for their unhinged agression, but even this hometown crowd couldn’t recreate the dynamtics I witnessed at Blast-O-Mat a few months ago. The guys mentioned that Denver was one of the best shows of their tour and I can’t think of a reason for them to lie about that. – K Martini
After Acephalix came Black Cobra. This hometown duo are always good for some bludgeoning noisy metal and they didn’t fail to deliver. Playing a mix of songs from Bestial, Feather and Stone and Chronomega, they delivered a noise metal sermon that had the slowly gathering crowd finally warming up for the rest of the night’s festivities. Their set was tight and heavy and afterwards I even got some vinyl recommendations from drummer Rafael. Very cool guys and very cool band, I highly suggest you check ’em out.

Black Cobra (Echoplex) via dschalek

Next up, new crust/punk/metal darlings All Pigs Must Die were due to hit the stage. Now I know they’re supposedly the next big underground thing but I’m simply not as high on them as others are. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with their sound or style per se, let’s just say I find them a little too perfect and leave it at that. Despite my criticisms, I was excited to see them in the hope they would make me eat my words. With one decent EP under their belt and highly anticipated full length God of War coming out, anticipation was extremely high. And just as I figured, APMD didn’t disappoint. They blasted through their punk infused hardcore metal with plenty of songs from their new album and got the pit riled up, angry kids got their arm windmills flying and the flying back kick a-holes were going all out in violent harmony. APMD were very good and I’ll be giving their new album more spins to see if maybe I might change my mind about them, seeing them live was certainly a big first step in the right direction.
APMD were a highlight in San Francisco. We were situated right in Kevin Baker’s spit zone as he tore through material new and newer and literally knocked us on our asses. I am a BIG fan of APMD based solely on their EP and am really looking forward to spending time with the new album. The only complaint I have about their performance actually has nothing to do with the band. My beef is with the crowd. The lack of a pit or even any real movement was a insult to the guys on the stage. – K Martini

All Pigs Must Die (Elbo Room)

I look at Trap Them as kind of the opposite of APMD. Live, front/wild man Ryan John McKenney oozes with emotion, dying a little more with every blood curdling, gut wrenching scream. But on record and songwriting-wise, I’ve felt they lacked a little something. That is until their new album Darker Handcraft dropped this year. It’s a scorcher, their best yet and I was very excited to see them again. They showed up only a half hour before they were set to start, having to drive a van all the way from Detroit to get to L.A. So they were understandably exhausted, but that didn’t deter them from ripping the Echoplex a new one. Tearing through new songs like Slumcult and Gather and Evictionaries, they cranked out a great set and showed the L.A. audience exactly why they deserve some metal love, because they sure loved us enough to drag their asses all the way out here to play.
Trap Them wrapped up the ‘hardcore’ part of the night at the Elbo Room and were the last band I was able to catch. A single night in my old homecity is never enough, so sticking around for some doom after a the first four bands just wasn’t in the cards. Not being a Trap Them fan walking into the venue that night, I walked out a believer. I have to agree with Genji about Ryan (who wasn’t only oozing emotion but also bodily fluids out of a busted nose), I couldn’t take my eyes off this manaic as he paces back and forth on the small stage, spreading his venom evenly across his subjects. Great end of the night for me, but I have to say I’m curious on how the doom that followed couldn’t have been a letdown after all adrenaline producing hardcore that came before. — K Martini

Trap Them (Elbo Room)

After catching the bulk of Trap Them‘s set, I decided to dip upstairs to catch two bands I didn’t know at all, Masakari from Cleveland, Ohio and Alpinist from Germany. I was digging on Masakari’s grindcore blasting — they played with great energy on the tiny Echo stage, and while I wasn’t as impressed with Alpinist, I only caught a couple of songs and know they were playing with borrowed equipment so I will reserve judgement. I did however, really appreciate the fact that they came so far to perform at the Power of the Riff so I will be checking out the split ep they did together with Masakari to see if i’ll be catching them the next time around.

Alpinist (Mezzanine) via DanoD

The one conflict of the night finally came to a head when Pelican hit the stage just before Black Breath were headlining the Echo upstairs. As much as I wanted to see Pelican, I know just how good Black Breath are so I sadly decided to pass and head upstairs. My sadness didn’t last more than a couple of minutes as Black Breath simply tore up the Power of the Riff fest with the strongest performance of the day. Cramped on the tiny Echo stage and introducing a new guitarist on his first night didn’t set them back one bit as they hammered out Black Sin, I Am Beyond and others in bone crushing fashion. With that big classic Stockholm buzzsaw guitar sound tearing the place apart and the tight jackhammer beats pounding everyone into submission, Black Breath had everyone eating out of the palm of their hands. The surfers were out in force, the pit was thrashing and all around heads were banging. These guys are definitely on their way to becoming huge, if you haven’t seen them yet, they are a must see.

Black Breath were the #1 reason I was at POTR in San Francisco. Acephalix and All Pigs Must Die were a close second and third, but Black Breath have been a band I’ve been waiting to see for quite some time. I really imersed myself into their crusty death ‘n’ roll when I started my profile on Southern Lord and I’ve been hooked ever since. Unfortunately we left the venue to grab a quick drink with some friends around the corner and when we got back we’d lost our spots at the stage. The place packed in tight for these long hairs from the Pacific Northwest — it seems we weren’t the only ones who expected Black Breath to be a highlight of the night. They put on an amazing (if too short) set and provided just enough to sustain my hunger until next time they come around (hopefully in a headlining capacity). I also finally met Greg Anderson at this point in the night and made sure to thank him for everything he’s doing for extreme music. — K Martini

Black Breath (Echo) via adamlmurray

I admit to never having heard of legendary act Winter before this year. As a big doom fan I heard all about the recent re-release of Winter‘s Into Darkness/Eternal Frost records so I picked it up and upon hearing it understood immediately the impact they must’ve had on modern death/doom bands. So I was curious to see them in action. The problem was, without being terribly familiar with their material, and with a lot of it being extremely slow, seeing them after Black Breath was like hitting a brick wall after going 90mph on the 405. It was just an unfortunate tempo shift, but I found myself a little bored and though that may be blasphemy to some, I can’t honestly sit here and tell you otherwise. I was more than ready for Eyehategod and have no apologies. Sorry Winter, someday I will appreciate you much more….
I had never heard of Winter a year ago either, but I have spent time with the Southern Lord re-release and I was instantly sucked in to the dark, frigid season of sickness contained within, and if Winter would have performed after Trap Them, I might have been able to stick around (even though I also feared what the change in tempo would do to my liqour-infused adrenaline buzz), but Noothgrush was up next and they are not a band I’ve been able to get into and I had prior engagements and an early morning. I tapped out of the show early and counted myself lucky to have been in town on this particular night — lucky to have caught four great performances. — K Martini

Winter (Neumo’s) via AbortedSociety

Finally it was time for NOLA sludge legends Eyehategod. After a couple of minutes of feedback and a group cheer they started the bludgeonfest with Blank followed by Shoplift. Though they always seem to play with a special edge and intensity, this time around there was some genuine anger as singer Mike Williams berated the lighting engineer for keeping the projector running while they played (something they had not requested). Once the projector was shut off they seemed to be far more at ease in the comfort of the darkened stage and then they really took off. Pulling out classics like Sister Fucker and 30$ Bag out of their arsenal one after the other, and they even played a new song New Orleans is the New Vietnam which got everyone fired up. Jimmy Bower was simply on fire, his sick, dirty sludge riffs always make me want to take a shower. And drummer Jimmy LaCaze was pounding away like an angry stepchild. They are one of a kind and their performance was outstanding, I can’t wait for them to drop a new album on us.

Eyehategod (Echoplex) via VAMPYRVARGFESTEN

The headliners for the Power of the Riff fest were none other than doom legends Pentagram. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from them as Victor Griffin hasn’t been in the band for a long long time and they’ve had a revolving door of musicians for quite some time now. Also, I wasn’t very into their latest comeback album Last Rites, so I was a tad skeptical I would enjoy their performance. The one thing I did know was that I was more than ready for Victor to lay down some serious doom riffage. They opened with new song Treat Me Right off their latest and right away sounded fantastic. Bobby Liebling‘s voice has certainly held up over the years and he was belting out classics like Relentless, Forever My Queen and All Your Sins like they were going out of style. Victor‘s evil riffs rained down upon the crowd who eagerly lapped them up and were thirsting for more after each song. For the encore they came out with The Ghoul before finishing with two more before letting the audience catch their breath. As for my skepticism, it was smashed to bits and a serious appreciation for what they’ve meant to doom and metal in general was cemented in me with their performance. I hope Pentagram continues on down the dark path for a while more….

Pentagram (Mezzanine) via DanoD

Overall, it was a great day/night of metal and I couldn’t ask for a better time. I want to thank the Southern Lord label for putting on such a great show — best metal fest this year in my opinion. This was a great lineup with some great new up-and-coming metal bands, as well as some legendary vets. I had a whole lot of fun, got more metal than I could handle and can’t wait to see what they’ll do next year to top this one!
Couldn’t agree more and planning to attend a full day or two instead of just happening upon it next year! — K Martini