Photos by Charles Nickles
The third installment of Shadow Woods Metal Fest, aka sleepaway camp for metal heads, is in the books. You know what it is. Unfortunately for you, me, planet earth et al., what I didn’t realize when I wrote that outstanding preview piece was that this year’s installment was destined to become the LAST SHADOW WOODS EVER! A sad truth*, confirmed to me by organizer Mary Spiro.
*The last one UNLESS and UNTIL someone else decides to take up the Shadow Woods mantle, or create something else like it. More on this later.
Thankfully, your humble author and trusty CVLT Nation shutterbug Charles Nickles made a point to catch every single act at what has easily become the best metal camping festival in the U.S., at least in the opinion of seemingly every person that has ever attended.
Here is a recap of the first evening of music (Thursday, September 14), which featured lineup focused exclusively on acoustic “metal.” Make sure to stay tuned for reviews of days two and three, as well as some mind-altering interviews with Withered, Woe, Castle, Nechochwen, Black Table, Obsidian Tongue, Toke, Zud and Take To The Woods. I had some extra special questions in store for everyone, and their answers are disturbing, enlightening, shocking, all of the above.
Shout out to Youtube user Becky (presumably with the good hair), the Sludgelord and others for some awesome videos of the 2017 rituals, which I have linked where applicable.
“I haven’t been in a place with this many people, who aren’t 12 years old, in months.”
Jo Cosgrove, a self-professed hermit lady, OG Shadow Woods veteran and the brains behind Take To The Woods, set the tone for the fest with a series of hauntingly beautiful acoustic songs. Her lyrical themes are inspired by such things as accused cannibals, group-think persecution, skeletons and witchcraft – aka all of the things you would hope for from SWMF, all within the first hour of music.
The first night’s performances were held in a venue called the Pavilion, a new addition to SWMF that put artists at the front of a small cluster of picnic tables on the edge of the forest. Cosgrove’s gentle, occult ballads drew dozens of metalheads to the wooded scene, even with an early-Thursday-evening start time. The level of appreciation for her performance, and anticipation of the incredible weekend to come, was palpable. Check out Cosgrove’s Barnacle Bones Bindery store on Etsy, and look for her forthcoming interview with yours truly.
Unfortunately for me, the unusually distracting sight of a field of sunflowers on the ride in to the festival (and perhaps the lack of GPS signal) had me and the boys scrambling to make it to the fest on time, if at all. When it was time for Screamin’ Mad Dee to take the stage, your humble author was rushing to set up his tent before the sun went down. Thankfully, Charles was lucky enough to be there to capture his set, which I could still hear from about 300 yards away, and through thick layers of forest.
Screamin’ mad, indeed. With song titles like “Rotgut,” you can imagine the kind of whiskey-soaked riffs Mr. Calhoun was slinging. If Zakk Wylde decided to retreat into the woods with the goal of smashing his acoustic guitar & singing as loud as he possibly could, it would probably still be half as loud as Screamin’ Mad Dee’s set at SWMF. His ability to hold incredibly loud notes with his voice, seemingly forever, was enhanced at least 100 fold as it echoed through the trees. Much respect, and apologies for my absence.
“I give myself to the soil, it is all that I have. Turn my blood to ash, and my bones to dust. For it is all that we are, and all we shall become.”
Green Elder describes himself as an Appalachian folk project, which is naturally the perfect kind of project to perform at a place like Shadow Woods. If Screamin Mad Dee’s set went down like a shot of rotgut whiskey, Green Elder is the barrel-soaked beer you’d want to sip on for a while afterwards. Minimal, mystical, metal and majorly DIY.
Holy. Shit. I mean, seriously – this is some HOLY shit. Nechochwen are the band I was most excited to see going into this year’s fest, and just a few notes into their set I knew I’d be following them for life.
I’ve got an extensive interview forthcoming with the boys, so I don’t want to dwell too long. After witnessing what was apparently the group’s third performance ever, however, it is important to me that I recommend this band to EVERYONE I encounter for the rest of my days.
Nechochwen pray at the altar of atmospheric black metal as much as they do Spanish classical guitar, combined with a heaping dose of Native American mysticism and folklore. It is a combination that is as entrancing as it is fascinating, and their three-piece performance (which they worked on for months to perfect) had the entire crowd rapt throughout.
Ironically, one of my favorite moments from the fest (and any musical experience I’ve ever had) was when I noticed the overwhelming sounds of crickets and other forest critters that filled every quiet moment between Nechochwen’s songs. Taking a look at some of the group’s lyrics, it almost seems like they planned it – or that maybe the forest gods really are following these guys everywhere they go.
Bonds of kinship and the insect nations drowns the chatter of modern man in the chill of dusk
The inner silence that fosters true brotherhood
A journey within the great mystery that weaves itself through all things
*Copperhead is not the name of an underground crust band you’ve never heard of. It is, instead, the name of the type of venomous snake that surprised one festival-goer with a Thursday night nip as he was setting up his tent. That festival-goer, it should be known, remained at the fest for the entire weekend, and easily walks away with the “most metal camper” award for the weekend. In a fitting warning to other campers, organizer Mary Spiro pointed out that all of us were in the domain of creatures just like Mr. Copperhead, dispelling any illusions that the wildlife should defer to us.
It was hard to believe that anyone could match the level of musicianship that we had just witnessed during Nechochwen’s set. Leave it to one-man-wall-of-sound Aerial Ruin to shut me up within moments of his first song.
One of the festival’s more “household names” and a frequent collaborator with CVLT favorites Bell Witch, Aerial Ruin (on tour now) provided the perfect end to a night of occult acoustic revelry. And the weekend had only just begun.