Text and Photos: Bobby Cochran
Since the birth of Norwegian Black Metal, heavy music has grown up a bit, moving beyond modern Satanism and branching out to embrace European Paganism, among other things. Album covers featuring dusky forests and snowy mountaintops, ancient runic symbols and icons of ancient earth religions have risen to replace the tired and derivative pentagrams and upside-down crosses. What better place to embrace this movement in metal than an outdoor festival, nestled in a lush valley next to a rolling river in the mountains of Wyoming with the Grand Tetons as a background? Fire In The Mountains takes us from the two-dimensional album covers into a three-dimensional world where the magnitude of nature meet and match the magnitude of live metal music.
Today was mainly a time for early-attendees to set up camp and get themselves ready for the weekend. During the day, heavy rainstorms dumped on the surrounding mountains and scattered showers across the valley, which couldn’t keep one from wondering how this rain was going to affect things on the festival grounds. Initially there was a dearth of organization and people-power to help guide arriving attendees to their camping and parking areas, but in true anarchistic spirits everyone helped each other get themselves situated and all was good. Folks ended up having to hump their camping gear up a hill and park their cars a half-mile away at the event grounds, but they did it. To travel between camping and music, you had to hike 20 minutes down the hill and across a grassy field, but they did it. The camping site was beautiful, with sweeping views of the distant Tetons and the river below, which was their reward for all their hard work.
The rain cleared as the afternoon turned to evening, and the sunset was spectacular. The weekend kickoff was an acoustic performance by Austin Lunn, the founder of Panopticon. He’s a humble and amicable guy, laughing and joking with attendees as they circled up around a campfire to listen to him play some country classics and original folk songs. It warmed my cold black heart to see all the metalheads sitting quietly around the fire and thoroughly enjoying the intimate performance. The fire burned on for those who wanted to warm themselves while others ambled back up the hill to their tents, getting the party started right.
A good dose of rain decided to move in last night, soaking a few unlucky attendees and turning the steep driveway leading into the festival grounds into a slick of mud, not allowing anyone to get up or down without a heavy duty 4wd vehicle. But the morning turned out to be magnificent and sunny, though still pretty chilly. Around 2:00 the event organizers served a farm-to-festival meal, catered by local chefs and featuring locally grown food. Music was due to start at 4:00, and the crew was working frantically to the last minute finishing the stage and setting up the PA.
Things started a little late, and the show opener was Portland’s Aerial Ruin. Vocalist/guitarist Erik Moggridge started the day wonderfully, his mournful acoustic guitar and somber layered vocals bring to mind monastic chanting and mideval hymns. With the Tetons in the background and a cool breeze blowing over the assembled audience, it was quite a beautiful moment.
The day continued with Colorodan black/prog outfit Velnias who kicked things up a few notches and got people on their feet, leading the way for the epic atmospheric pagan metal of Portland’s Falls of Rauros, whose sheer intensity was a sight to behold. Wayfarer vocalist and guitaristShane McCarthy was also the musical curator of the festival, doing killer work both onstage with his band and off. Wayfarer also managed to get the first pit of the festival in full swing, and had the fortune of playing as the sun was setting behind the western hills. Nice touch, fellas.
Headliners Wovenhand took the stage with a cool glow in the evening sky, and though their performances are always riveting, there’s nothing like seeing them and hearing their music played in a setting that pushes the experience to the next level. Haunting and driving, with hints of old-time melodies and forgotten languages, Wovenhand closed out the first night in an unforgettable fashion.
Falls of Rouros
Today started off cool and overcast, with festivities getting started around 2:00 with another farm-to-festival meal, equally as tasty as yesterday’s. Boise’s Infernal Coil took the stage not long after, and seemed almost built to play in a place like this, in a setting like this. With the grey skies just beginning to burn off and a steady cool breeze blowing, these guys became one with their environment and summoned the pagan gods from their hiding places amongst the trees and surrounding mountains. The wildcard of the day was the immensely enjoyable Saddle of Southern Darkness, who play an amazing combination of old-time country/western and punk rock, though they look like metalheads (except for the bass player).
Saddle of Southern Darkness
Also, there were dudes in battle-vest loincloths. They wore them all day too, which is pretty fucking metal.
Woman Is the Earth’s live performance is understated, but the music is far from it. The trio blasted through majestic, sweeping compositions that sound like they emerged from the eye of a hurricane fully formed and finely sculpted. Again, there couldn’t have been a better setting for their music, a soundtrack to awaken the mountain gods.
Woman Is the Earth
Denver favorites Dreadnought were the sirens who sang down the sun, charging through an impressive set of prog/black/post metal as the air cooled a bit and sunburned metalhead faces enjoyed a bit of relief. Like many of the other bands this weekend, Dreadnought’s music merged perfectly with the craggy peaks and rolling river, filling the valley with sounds of the modern heathen. Krallice blasted a hole through the sky and laid waste to all those before them, unyielding and relentless.
Headliners Panopticon took the stage at the height of mosquito activity time, though it sure didn’t slow them down. A few technical difficulties got things off to a rocky start, but it did nothing to hinder the excitement of the audience or the raging force of the band. Darkness slowly fell and the earth spirits were summoned and celebrated by the power of Panopticon. The icing on the cake was the lighting of a bonfire in the outer reaches of the field during their last song, amping up the pagan symbology and giving attendees someplace to warm their bones in the process.
The festival was a homegrown event, put on by people who simply wanted to create an epic festival in the mountains for their friends and the greater metal community. Sure, there were things about the festival that weren’t “professionally” executed, but the joy of those in attendance and those onstage was palpable, and that’s all that goddamn matters. The festival ran on schedule, people were fed, had places to sleep, and got to experience something very few people get to experience. Metal has found a new home, and it’s in the wild mountains of Wyoming.