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Charles Nickles

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 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 day 3 (Saturday, September 16), the second FULL day of music and the last of the fest. Make sure to check out the already-published Thursday & Friday reviews, and stay tuned for some mind-altering interviews in the near future with members of Withered, Woe, Castle, Nechochwen, Black Table, Obsidian Tongue, Toke, Zud and Take To The Woods. I had some 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. If anyone has videos of the artists that I was unable to locate, drop some links in the comments section!

A big shout out to Mary Spiro, Shannon Void, the artists who put up with my inebriated lines of questioning, the boys from Zeke’s coffee, my newly-discovered doppelgangers, my new camp friends and everyone and anyone who made this happen! Hope to see you all in the forest again soon.




Old-school death metal worship. Percussor play straight, no chaser brutality. You knew it was going to be one of the heaviest days of your life when THESE guys were the first act at noon on a Saturday.




Self-described prog doom that leans heavy on the violin, you might be forgiven for thinking you were walking into a gathering of heavy metal elves if you didn’t know Seasick Gladiator were the ones at the end of the trail in the forest.




I am going to let Bearstorm’s own bandcamp description do the talking, and just know that I have not modified this text in any way.

Richmond’s Bearstorm formed in 2008 by metalheads with backgrounds in classical and jazz performance as well as country and old time music. The goal has always been to push outwards on the normal limits of writing, performing, and storytelling.

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Progressive thrash with a heart of onyx, Cut The Architect’s Hand were a welcome surprise for me, and I suspect a variety of people who may have also been hearing them for the first time. Maybe I’m just out of touch.



One of the only disappointing moments during SWMF, aside from the end of the festival itself and the venomous snakebite one camper suffered (and survived), was the late arrival of Danish heavyweights Hexis. Moments into their set, it was clear that this was a performance that would rival the energy of any other throughout the course of the entire weekend. Thankfully they were only a few minutes behind, because they brought the RUCKUS.

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This is stoner metal done right. It helps that Toke’s guitarist could pass for a young Matt Pike, but their sound is also akin to what might happen if Power Trip ate edibles for breakfast and then played Dopesmoker from start to finish. Sweaty, sleazy, and steeped in THC. You can imagine how my interview with them unfolded. Don’t miss out, these boys are it and they’re bringing the gas to Europe for the first time very soon.




Fans of the psych-doom band Earth need not apply (well I suppose you could, but this is not that). The blackened thrashers in Earthling are setting out on a winter tour for their new masterpiece, Spinning in the Void. And all I can say is anyone who catches those dates is in for a bone-snappingly bleak treat of a show.  Bone-snappingly – IT’S A WORD!



Black Table played both the first and last installment of Shadow Woods, having been upgraded to a late-afternoon set in the woods this time around. It was absolutely the right call, and the gang captivated listeners with a ferocious set that included selections from their excellent recent release, Obelisk. Setting out on a tour the following day with Hexis, I was sad to see them go but happy to watch them leave – knowing they were embarking on a quest to deliver the goods to audiences across the country smart enough to turn out for such an epic bill.

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Another new addition to the short list of things from Massachusetts that I like, Infera Bruo truly have produced some of the best black metal – U.S. or otherwise – in recent memory, as one reviewer put it. They also appeared to be one of the most-anticipated sets of the weekend for both artists and campers. This was another band that tested the structural integrity of Camp Hidden Valley’s indoor stage, as well as your eardrums.




2-man atmospheric, technical black metal in the forest. Having toured (and now sharing members) with Falls of Rauros, Obsidian Tongue’s was another highly anticipated set that blew everyone’s expectations out of the water, whether you were familiar with their material or not.



“New” members Ethan McCarthy (Primitive Man, Vermin Womb) and Colin Marston (Krallice, Gorguts, everything) were absent from SWMF, which was admittedly disappointing, but it did next to NOTHING to lessen the misanthropic brutality of Withered’s set. My interview with Mike & Beau was easily one of my favorite moments of the weekend, and my life. Stay tuned.





First-wave black metal, dark punk, weird literary themes – All Hell ticks ALL of my boxes. Side note: very stoked that they were just announced as one of the bands who will be playing the second Decibel Metal & Beer fest – a show I just might have to cover for y’all now that they’ve announced their killer lineup.

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This review is biased, because mere moments into my interview with Woe I knew we were going to be BFF for life! And that was BEFORE they played a blistering, front-to-back rendition of their punishing new album, Hope Attrition. For readers unfamiliar with this band, woe is you, indeed.

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“Tonight, let’s make the woods ring with our joy.” With that, Austin Lunn and his compatriots in Panopticon launched into a set that will be remembered by everyone lucky enough to have experienced it until the end of their days.

Words truly fail when it comes to describing the experience of witnessing Panopticon play this well, in the middle of a forest at dusk, the din of crickets enhancing every pregnant pause, and surrounded by an audience with such reverence for the transcendent spectacle we were beholding.

Panopticon began as a band that would perhaps never perform live. From everyone at Shadow Woods, and on behalf of fans around the world, thank you, Austin, for deciding that your art deserves to be shared in a live setting. We couldn’t agree more, and to think that only some of us have tried your incredible beer!

Side note: I am told that mere moments after I left the late-night bonfire on Saturday, Austin arrived to serenade the fortunate souls in attendance with a few acoustic ditty’s. Come join in my despair & jealousy, and remind me to bring a RedBull if the fest ever happens again.

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Vastum are malevolence personified. You could smell the sulfur. These are the beasts lurking in the shadows of the woods, and we thank them for coming out to put on such a putrid display of raw ferocity. My fingers were bleeding just watching them, and if I’m not mistaken this set may or may not have included some of the only stage-diving of the entire weekend. The perfect band to shut down the field stage one final time, and likely turn it into dust.




Beautiful, unsettling black metal, and yet another expert selection for the second-to-last performance of the fest. The hooded miscreants of Worthless dragged everyone to the lowest pit of despair, just before the meat hooks of Zud flung us back up into the stratosphere.




All hail the reigning kings of shadow woods! Maine’s Zud is the only band to play all 3 years, acting as the festival’s honored closers not one, but all three times. It’s easy to understand why once you give them a listen, which you should – as I suspect this is one of the most criminally-unknown “black metal” bands in the world.

The founder of Zud has previously compared his band’s sound to “Sworn to the Dark-era Watain playing CCR songs with Lynyrd Skynyrd-style solos.” Even that wild and unfathomable comparison barely does them justice, but it’s a good metaphor for what it’s like to watch them play live.

This year’s performance served as the record release party for Zud’s long-awaited, second full-length, A Wilderness Left Untamed. It’s a masterpiece of black ‘n roll that you need to listen to A-fuckin-SAP. At least we ended on a high note (again, pun intended).




While the above may sound like a pretty killer band name, this is another unbelievable installment in non-musical Shadow Woods lore.

After Zud threw down the final performance of the fest, a late-night Black Mass was held during which an effigy of the satellite Cassini was sacrificed to the old gods, and the communal bonfire.

Cassini had been sent on a collision course with the planet Saturn the night before. Its presumably fiery demise, which culminated a mission that provided a distant planet (us) with a bounty of information, was a fitting, and perhaps perfect metaphor to capture the profound loss of something as beautiful as Shadow Woods Metal Fest.

Be jealous. Thanks again, Mary.



Written By

Alex is a dweller of a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason. Born & based in NY. Death to false pizza.

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