The city of Las Vegas perpetually exists within a distorted perception of reality. The usual cavalcade of degenerate gamblers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, sunbathers and vacationing families that collide on casino floors is already an eclectic mix of wildly diverse personalities under one roof. This past weekend, Psycho Las Vegas added over 60 heavy metal and metal-adjacent bands alongside several thousand heavy metal fans to give the casino floors at Mandalay Bay an even more surreal sense of chaos.
This year’s three-day festival — four days if you include the Psycho Swim pre-party — was the first presentation at Mandalay Bay after three years at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Return visitors were initially trepidatious about the move, but once the booze began to flow and the below performances were unleashed, the initial apprehension was washed away for those attending the largest heavy metal festival for West Coast heavy metal fans.
The Original Misfits Save The Day
This year’s festival hit a roadblock after Megadeth, the original listed headliners for Saturday’s lineup, had to pull out after the shocking announcement of Dave Mustaine’s throat cancer diagnosis. Saturday’s headline slot ended up being filled by The Original Misfits. Psycho Las Vegas was rewarded with an additional 1,500 to 2,000 Misfits fans swarming the Mandalay Bay Events Center when Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only and Doyle took the stage alongside second guitarist Acey Slade and drummer Dave Lombardo. Those fans and weekend-long attendees were rewarded with one of Danzig’s best live performances of the last decade.
Heavy metal’s Man in Black is constantly jabbed for perceived self-seriousness and word of the group’s recent reunion shows being designated as part of a court settlement has recently made headlines. On Saturday night, all of that was forgotten as the band tore through nearly the entire Misfits discography with a sense of vigor, lead by a strong vocal performance from Danzig, and an outgoing attitude that implied that he was — gasp — having fun. That vibe translated to the packed arena floor, resulting in the most rabid fan response of the weekend.
Modern Bands At Their Peak
Veteran acts such as Sunday night headliners Opeth and Friday night headliners Electric Wizard pleased their longtime fans, but Psycho Las Vegas programmers also delivered acts that built their names within the last decade and delivered performances that emitted an aura of peak power.
Lucifer was the highlight of Thursday’s Psycho Swim pre-party. The classic heavy rock act rumbled loudly throughout Mandalay Bay’s Daylight Beach Club, and served as the perfect soundtrack for the sunset time slot. Vocalist Johanna Sadonis mightily bellowed with haunting rock croons and affirmed her status as one of the best modern vocalists in heavy music during a set list consisting mostly of songs from 2018’s Lucifer II, a collaborative effort between Sadonis and Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters/Entombed). Hard-driving rockers such as “California Son” whipped the crowd into a headbanging frenzy, but it was the slow-burning doom of “Dreamer” that reverberated most powerfully throughout the pool.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats have hypnotized listeners with a devilish garage-rock din that could have served as the soundtrack to a ’70s British biker flick. The U.K. group’s Sunday performance saw the individual bands members disappear into darkness, instead shrouding show-goers with their mesmerizing riffs and trance-inducing psychedelic visuals. The result was an intensely cosmic emotional experience for the live audience, as if they shared a communal ingestion of hallucinogenics that never took a turn towards a bad trip. Early favorites such as “I’ll Cut You Down” seamlessly rested alongside tracks from 2018’s Wasteland.
Texas metallers Power Trip are the modern flag-bearers for the ferocity of thrash metal. Albums such as 2017’s Nightmare Logic don’t reinvent the wheel, but the raw power of their fast-paced anthems has re-energized the genre. The setting of Mandalay Bay Beach, a large outdoor pool area where bands performed high above the fans on a 20-foot high platform, tripped up several bands used to more intimate surroundings. Power Trip overcame the unusual setting by simply delivering the best thrash metal unleashed by a modern band in 2019. Security clamped down on moshing in the pool area, but those looking to stomp along with the band improvised with a shockingly well-organized no-contact circle pit to keep the energy level high.
— Jason Roche (@JasonRocheLAW) August 19, 2019
Veteran Masters of the Genre
Plenty of veteran acts also re-asserted their mastery and dominance throughout the weekend. The Original Misfits may have brought more casual fans into Mandalay Bay on Saturday, but a back-to-back scheduling of two extreme metal pioneers in the Events Center appealed most to the heavily devoted that were making a whole weekend out of Psycho Las Vegas.
Thomas Gabriel Fischer achieved his greatest notoriety as the leader of ’80s heavy metal icons Celtic Frost, under the guise “Tom G. Warrior”, but he also laid an important building block in the black metal genre with his previous act, Hellhammer. The majority of that seminal act’s songs had never been performed live until earlier this year, when Fischer gathered together a group of musicians to perform as Triumph of Death. The name was taken from one of Hellhammer’s early demos, which was the source of several songs played on Saturday afternoon. Fischer led an energetic charge through a large chunk of the Hellhammer catalog, bolstered by the rock star charisma of bassist Mia Wallace. The adulation from fans witnessing Triumph of Death’s first North American performance was reciprocated by the band, as the highlight for many attendees was Fischer’s leading of a call-and-response of his trademark “UGH!” grunt.
Carcass have played a part in building two different sub-genres Their 1988 debut Reek of Putrefaction was a building block of the gore-grind genre, while 1993’s Heartwork was a booster shot in the arm of melodic death metal’s early beginnings. It is rare that Carcass is in a position to follow a band that steals the show from them, but their usual career-spanning set was still as tight as ever, with the condensed festival-mandated set time inducing an even bigger sense of urgency to everything they did. While they couldn’t quite match the sheer historic catharsis of the set before them, Carcass still inspired the crowd to continue their headbanging spree.
Another notable set was the second live performance from En Minor, the newest project featuring Phil Anselmo (Pantera/Down/Superjoint). Fans witnessed a performance unlike any other they have seen from the usually boisterous frontman. Anselmo took the stage in a black tuxedo, and delivered a subdued vocal delivery atop an hour’s worth of equally subdued experimental country and dark blues songs, some of which don’t even have titles yet as the group’s only release so far is a two-song self-titled EP. The side project – also featuring other members of Superjoint – resembles acts such as King Dude more than any of Anselmo’s previous projects, but was well-received nonetheless by those inside the Mandalay Bay House of Blues.
A Break From The Metal
While doom-metal and heavier strains of the genre were the dominant programming, there were plenty of opportunities for those in need of a break to indulge in something a little less abrasive, though equally engrossing.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown opened the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Friday. The 77-year-old musician defied his age and the early-afternoon time slot by delivering an entrancing set of psychedelic odes to astronomical and anatomical obsessions, complete with some of the most stunning visual enhancements of the weekend, grandiose costume changes between every song, sexually-rhythmic stage gyrations, and of course, a pyrotechnic display during the set-closing performance of “Fire”.
Friday’s performance by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sunday’s performance by Mogwai each whetted the appetites for those with indulgences that lean towards avant-garde post-rock. The former act put on a performance that resembled a live film score, as the lights were mostly dimmed while film projections accompanied haunting strings and guitars that sounded incredibly full when filtered through the Mandalay Bay Events Center’s arena soundboard. The latter act continued to excel at making the most out of quiet parts being quiet, and loud parts being loud, most notably on a slightly altered arrangement of longtime fan favorite, “Mogwai Fear Satan.”
French synthwave act Perturbator closed the Mandalay Bay Beach on Saturday night. The pool stages of Mandalay Bay are more well-known for hosting dance parties than heavy metal shows, and this duo filled the void for those looking to escape loud guitars and dance to pulsating beats. Initially started as a one-man project by James Kent, the apocalyptic din of tracks from albums such as 2016’s The Uncanny Valley has been enhanced in the live setting thanks to the recent addition of a live drummer. The outcome was a much more powerful sound that drove the dance party deep into the night, despite technical issues that resulted in a shortened set.
Sunday night’s festivities closed with a live taping of the heavy metal-themed late-night talk show spoof, Two Minutes to Late Night. Corpse-painted host Jordan Olds delivers stand-up monologues that straddle the line between intentionally corny dad jokes and inside jokes that could only be understood by the most devoted of heavy metal fans. The live presentation bordered on the verge of near-collapse at times, which made it the perfect entertainment option at the end of four days’ worth of heavy metal delirium. There was a chaotic wedding ceremony, appearances from recurring characters such as George Moshington and Weird Al-Vira, and heavy metal-themed games such as “YOB-ing for Apples”. The insanity was capped off by Royal Thunder’s Mlny Parsons singing on a genuinely gorgeous rock cover of the Miley Cyrus hit, “Wrecking Ball”.
Best of the Rest
Despite performing on a hot Thursday afternoon under the poolside sun, Primitive Man still darkened the proceedings with an intense display of death/doom. Corrosion of Conformity closed that day’s Psycho Swim party with a tight set of greatest hits from the Pepper Keenan-era. Vocalist Bruce Lamont dominated the Rhythm & Riffs Lounge all weekend, pulling double-duty with equally impressive performances as leader of extreme jazz-metal act Yakuza on Thursday night, and as Robert Plant in his Led Zeppelin 2 tribute act later in the weekend.
Friday saw Yob rain down thunderously emotional doom from atop the 20-foot high Mandalay Bay Beach stage. SoCal stoner-rockers Fu Manchu continued to be that band where the last time you saw them is the best time you saw them. High On Fire continued the annual Psycho Las Vegas tradition of Matt Pike enveloping the entire casino with a barrage of rumbling riffs.
Danava helped the Saturday afternoon crowd shake off their Friday night hangover with a display of overwhelming psychedelic shred-guitar in the intimate setting of the Rhythm & Riffs Lounge. The industrial-tinged post-metal of Old Man Gloom sounded absolutely monstrous in the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Full of Hell‘s nihilistic noise-metal played to a fairly small crowd in the Mandalay Bay House of Blues on Saturday night, but every one of those people took advantage of the floor space to violently crash into each other in a spectacular display of mosh-pit violence. The world-weary vocals of Scott “Wino” Weinrich have weathered with age, but that only gave more power and emotion to the trudging doom-metal delivered by The Obsessed in the midnight hour.
Sunday was accentuated by an afternoon adrenaline shot of old-school thrash from Vio-lence. Integrity showed that it is pointless for any new band to attempt beat-down hardcore when band leader Dwid Hellion is still an incredible force and at the top of that sub-genre after thirty years of slugging it out. Amenra performed late into the night on Sunday with a haunting display of emotionally-draining post-doom.
A Change of Scenery
As mentioned earlier, this year’s Psycho Las Vegas event was the first to take place in Mandalay Bay. Though the unfamiliar surroundings were a little jarring on day one, festival attendees adapted to the new lay of the land once they figured out the pathways between stages that avoided the most casino patrons. The Event Center used as the main stage is much larger than the main showroom at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but a packed floor of rabid heavy metal fans still ensured that performances in that room felt energetic, even during times where the bleachers were mostly empty.
The decision to have bands play late into the night in the publicly accessible Rhythm & Riffs Lounge on the casino floor was a strongly positive move. Those looking for a few more songs to accompany them into the night after the other stages closed found their refuge, and the bar ended up being the biggest gathering place for those looking to keep the party going into the sunrise hours, including many of the musicians that performed throughout the weekend.
There was only one real negative about the new surroundings. The stage at Mandalay Bay Beach occasionally swallowed bands that typically thrive in more standard live music settings. While aforementioned acts such as Power Trip, Yob, and Perturbator thrived despite the distance from show-goers, the serious-issue punk rock of Bad Religion and ultra-black metal of 1349 played awkwardly in the large pool of a mega-casino. Both of those latter bands would have easily played better in the Events Center or House of Blues. However, this could easily be rectified on the programming side should Psycho Las Vegas return to Mandalay Bay next year.
The festival’s first year in a new environment was well-received by everyone in attendance. There were not many people pining for a return to the Hard Rock, but given the programming that was delivered by this year’s festival organizers and the pure carnival aspect of thousands of heavy metal fans descending upon a single casino, Psycho Las Vegas could probably have their pick of any Las Vegas venue they wanted, and heavy metal fans would continue to come from all over the world.