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Sleepaway Camp for Metal Heads: A Preview of Shadow Woods Metal Fest III

“Panopticon playing on a stage in the forest? Yes, please.”

This quote was taken directly from an email I sent to Cvlt Nation Witch Queen Meghan MacRae last week. If you are like me, and the idea of Panopticon possibly playing in the forest is enough to have you scrambling for a link to tickets, here it is. Make sure to come back to this article and find out how many more awesome things you have to look forward to at Shadow Woods Metal Fest in September.

Sleepaway camp for underground metal heads: the concept sounds like a dream within a dream for Cvlt Nation readers, and an existential nightmare for almost anyone else. That dream, however, my demon friends, is very real. And luckily for you, I’ve decided to share the secret while tickets are still on sale.

Shadow Woods Metal Festival in White Hall, MD, is a multi-day sensory onslaught that is packed with underground bands, independent vendors, free workshops, yoga sessions, food trucks (vegan included) and camping – ON THE GROUNDS OF AN ACTUAL SUMMER CAMP FOR CHILDREN.


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No, I’m not kidding. Yes, Panopticon is actually scheduled to play on a stage in the forest. No, there are no campers for you to make scary faces at. And I’m not sure how it’s taken you this long to hear about it. You’re welcome.

The Shadow Woods experience is so unique, and its lineup has been so reliably killer-no-filler since its first run in 2015, that your humble author purchased his tickets for both 2016 and 2017 before the announcements of who would be playing. This year, festival organizer/Supreme Deity Mary Spiro and her crew/family/murder/coven/army are killing it YET AGAIN, bringing together a horde of underground acts (and a few more well-known names) that span a galaxy of genres.

Many of the bands playing this year (from September 14-17) are names you’ve probably heard before here at Cvlt Nation: Vastum, Human Bodies, Castle, Woe, Withered, Black Table (playing the fest for a second year), Nechochwen, Aerial Ruin and (as mentioned previously) Panopticon. The full 2017 lineup is here, and for every band you do know there is probably one or two you don’t. The festival’s wizened curators designed it that way intentionally, and it makes for an unforgettable weekend of expanding musical horizons.


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Looking at just a SMALL sampling of the bands from the festival’s first two years proves that this is an event where you can expect some incredibly talented musicians from across the spectrum of heavy music: Lotus Thief, Dreadlords, Tombs, Sadgiqacea, Tengger Cavalry, Acid Witch, Mantar, T.O.M.B., Helleborus, Falls of Rauros, Velnias, Midnight, Blood Storm, Ghost Bath and Sangharsha (who recently launched a GoFundMe campaign for what they sadly suggest will be the band’s final album).

If the expertly curated lineup isn’t enough to tickle your unholy fancy, consider the one-of-a-kind setting where you’ll be watching these bands.

First of all, there’s the camping. Three days of metal and sleeping in the forest. ‘Nuff said. Spiro has suggested she was inspired by other outdoor metal festivals like Stella Natura, and wanted to recapture that same kind of magick on the east coast. Camp Hidden Valley provides the perfect setting to do so, and she should be celebrated for her efforts. (NOTE: this does not mean you should offer her drunken stranger hugs. She does not want your drunken stranger hugs.)


Photo taken by author on SWMF grounds 2016


Details on amenities (yes, there are bathrooms) and rules for camping are here. You can pitch your tent almost anywhere on the campgrounds, within reason (i.e.: don’t park your gear right in front of the stage). There are some bunks, but they get booked WAY in advance.

No open fires (there IS a bonfire). No outside alcohol (there ARE cheap beers for purchase, and you ARE encouraged to bring your drinking horn). Small camping stoves are OK, but most importantly make sure to PACK OUT YOUR TRASH. There are rumors that the campground actually becomes cleaner thanks to the mindfulness of Shadow Woods denizens, a fitting legacy for a gathering that immerses its participants so fully in nature. Again, if you have questions visit the link for details

The timing of each performance is intentionally staggered so there are no overlaps. That means you can literally see every single band perform if you’re willing to simply walk to each stage in the right order. Grab an extra beer for the trip, and prepare for brisk walks on rocky paths if you want to catch back-to-back acts.

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Pro-tip: if you plant yourself in the right spot, you can hear every single note of the fest from the comfort of your tent/hammock/hollow/dirt patch. Why sit in one place, though, when there are three glorious stages to explore: the Field stage, the Hall stage, and the Woods stage.

The “Field stage” is exactly what it sounds like: picture a kids soccer field with a medium-sized stage at the front.  Within stumbling distance of that stage, at the back of the field, is a not-overwhelming selection of food trucks slingin’ everything from local BBQ and fries to vegan cheese steaks (check out this year’s new vegan vendor).

The trucks aren’t open all night, but late enough for you to grab something greasy to take to bed. Of course there’s good coffee and breakfast in the morning. We aren’t savages. Well…

The “Hall stage” is just steps away from the field stage, and is essentially a summer camp dining hall that gets turned into a temple of riffs once the campers are gone. Great for a respite from the sun, plus you can bang your head while browsing the goods from the fest’s independent vendors (vinyl, patches, jewelry etc).



The Hall is also where the late-night performances go down, because what better way to wash down a day of incredible live music than by listening to MORE CRUSHING LIVE MUSIC into the wee hours of the morning. The Hall stage has allegedly played host to movie nights in the past, though I can’t speak from conscious experience. It is also just a short distance from the flames of the late-burning communal bonfire – and the aforementioned coffee stand.

However, the “Woods stage,” known by true OG’s as the “Woodlands Amphitheater,” is really where it’s at. A minimalist platform flanked by a few rows of wooden benches, it is just a short hike into the forest from the field stage (again, GRAB that extra beer). It seems like the perfect setting for summer camp story time. During the rites of Shadow Woods, however, it becomes a forest altar of unholy sonic worship, where listeners are entranced by blackened lullabies while shrouded in nature and starlight.

For a feel of how the Woods stage looks during the daytime, check out this video of Grave Gnosis tearing it up while the sun was still out (yes, they brought enough blood to share with the crowd).

This short video that I took of Tengger Cavalry playing the same stage at night proves that this is likely the perfect setting to watch any kind of music, let alone the kind that is offered at SWMF. The boys in TC just played Wacken Open Air, but I’d still rather see them again in the Woods.

For those of us who can’t attend metal festivals held in Transylvanian fortresses, or down the road from Viking burial mounds, Shadow Woods will have to do. Frankly, it may be just as good – if not better.

If SWMF doesn’t sound like the perfect setting for your metal needs, I’m not sure why you’ve read this far. In fact, why ARE you still reading? Go get tickets, give a listen to Spiro’s meticulously arranged YouTube playlist of the 2017 bands, and start preparing for this year’s nightmares.

Full review coming in the fall. See you at the fest!!!





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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