The Metal Files

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Frost and Fire Metal Fest Concert Review, Ventura, CA, October 17, 2015

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This past weekend I attended the Frost and Fire Metal Fest in Ventura, CA.  This fest could also have been called the “I can’t believe I’m hanging out with Cirith Ungol Fest.”

When this festival was announced several months ago, just based on the lineup and who put it on, I wanted to be there.  Jarvis Leatherby of Night Demon is the organizer and is a good friend of mine.  Night Demon stays with me every time they play Austin and I love those guys.  Shortly after the show announcement, it was updated to say that Tim Baker and Robert Garven would be at the fest to sign autographs.  Even more of a reason to go.  As the fest drew nearer, Mike Flint and Greg Lindstrom were also added to the meet and greet.  WHOA.  That’s a big deal, especially in the traditional metal realm.  So I bought my ticket and booked my flight promptly.

I got to LAX around 5PM and got my rental car pretty quickly.  There were major traffic snarls north of LA (shocker, right?), so I decided to kill some time in Hollywood at The Rainbow, which makes some of my favorite pizza ever.  I’m there pre-rockstar hour but just wanted to relax a little before heading to Ventura.  Chrissy comes on for her shift and recognized me from past visits.  “The Texas guy” she calls me.  My drinks and pizza got comped because of whatever, so score!  I get my car from the valet and make my way up to Ventura.  Traffic was still a little heavy but not too bad.

I get to the hotel, drop my bag and walk over to an Irish pub where my friend Rodney is hanging out with some of his friends from Mexico and Spain, one of which I knew already from Ragnarokkr 2014.  We’re all hanging out, drinking beers and such and are joined by a British guy named Tom Draper who played guitar for Angel Witch from 2013-2015.  Great guy.  After that we walked to the beach for a late night stroll.  It was a perfect night out there.  Great meeting Ieltxu from Spain, Xole and Sarai from Mexico and seeing my good pal, Mauricio from Mexico.

Rodney and I were sharing a room at the hotel.  It had some issues.  No shower curtain, water wouldn’t shut off in the tub spigot, toilet took about 4 tried for anything to go down.  We let the plumber take care of the shower issues and he said the pipes were all slow, so no help on the toilet.  Way to save water, California!  We headed out to Salzer’s Record store on the other side of Ventura.  I was carrying a slight headache and the incense in that shop were killing me so I hung outside on the bench in the cool air and just relaxed with a sugar free Red Bull.  The weather was perfect. After the record store we meet up with some of Rodney’s friends from Belgium and walk back into town to eat at a BBQ place.  It was alright.  Definitely not Texas style. but it hit the spot.  I was pretty tired from traveling still and went back to the hotel to catch a quick nap.  Doors were at 4PM with the first band, Wolfcross, on at 5PM and I didn’t want to miss any of the action.

After a 25 minute or so nap, I throw on my clothes, grab The Book, and walk the 3 blocks to the venue, Bombay Bar and Grill.  Upon walking in, I’m given my will-call ticket, a raffle ticket, 2 compilation CDs and march myself to the outdoor vending area to find Andrew Bansal from Metal Assault working the merch for Night Demon and official Frost and Fire shirts.  Andrew is an awesome guy and works with Night Demon when they’re on the road.  The kid loves metal and works hard at it.

Most of the bands had some merch out and it was great seeing some of the folks that I knew already.  I was especially pleased to meet the Davis brothers from Ashbury.  Great guys.

And then like clockwork, Wolfcross comes on promptly at 5PM.  Here’s the breakdown and my opinions of each band in order of performance and some backstory that I have with a few of them.  Bands alternated stages and no two bands played simultaneously.

  • Wolfcross – Quality traditional metal power trio.  I enjoyed their set although there seemed to be some sound issues.  Not their fault.  Hope to catch them again sometime.  Cool cover of Roky Erickson’s Two Headed Dog, too.
  • Helion Prime – Probably my least favorite band of the festival.  They played a solid set but their riffs and vocal melodies just didn’t catch my ear.  Maybe a little too much on the prog side for my tastes.  They got a good response from the crowd that ventured to the back room to catch their set.
  • Blade Killer – One of the best surprises of the fest for me.  Their set was powerful and their singer can wail with the best of ’em.  They’ve got the riffs and both guitarists can play quality solos.  I really hope they can do a tour or end up at some of the other US fests.  I wanted a shirt as well but they didn’t have my size, but I did buy their CD EP.  Certainly looking forward to hearing more from them and to seeing them live again.
  • Gygax – I was really looking for to catching this band, primarily because I’ve known their guitarist, Armand, for several years.  His old band, New Liberty, played Austin a few times during SxSW in years past and I became friends with him and Dustin (Night Demon drummer) through that.  Gygax also features the vocalist/bassist from Gyspyhawk who I had seen a time or 2 in Austin.  Essentially, Gygax is Thin Lizzy worship with Dungeons and Dragons lyrics.  Their set was killer and they have a full length coming out soon.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a shirt although Armand told me they brought a few to sell that went pretty quickly.
  • Steel Prophet – Neil Turbin (Anthrax, Turbin, et als) had signed on with Steel Prophet just recently.  The guitarist I played with for several years in Austin, Doug Morrison (from Ventura), was in the band Turbin with Neil when he first moved to LA after his exit from Anthrax.  I had never seen Steel Prophet before and although I had owned a couple of their CDs over the years, I was more familiar with them for their work on several cover albums over the years.  Steven Kachinsky Blackmoor was the only original member left in the band.  He signed the book prior to the first band going on.  Nice guy.  Their set was solid and Neil sounded good but apparently they didn’t get many rehearsals prior to the show as Neil had to use a lyric sheet for the set.  No surprise and it didn’t detract from their performance.  The only negative of their set for me was their cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, a song I don’t like at all.  Beyond that it was a good set.  I caught up with Neil afterwards and had him sign The Book and my Fistful of Metal CD cover.  Their crowd size suffered a bit because the Cirith Ungol meet and greet was happening at the same time.
  • BAT – I’d seen BAT before and knew what to expect.  It was a solid set of power thrash that features Ryan Waste from Municipal Waste, Felix Griffin from DRI on drums and Nick Poulos on guitar.  He’s a shredder.  I loved their set and it was good to hang out with Ryan and Felix before and after the show.  I heard a few people complain that BAT “didn’t fit” the show, but I think otherwise.  They had a great response.
  • Savage Master – I first caught Savage Master earlier this year in Chicago at Ragnarokkr 2015.  I think their Frost and Fire performance was a lot better.  I didn’t think that Stacey Savage was comfortable in Chicago but she certainly seemed that way in Ventura.  Their set was really good and it was great seeing the crowd sing along to some of their songs.  Hopefully I’ll catch them again this week in Austin.
  • Visigoth – I first became aware of them when my now ex-band, Eternal Champion, played with them at Ragnarokker 2014 in Chicago.  Singer Jake Rogers was sick that night but still put on a hell of a performance.  Visigoth has exploded since then getting signed by Metal Blade and doing some touring and getting scheduled for some of the Euro fests in 2016.  That’s awesome for them because they are great guys who have worked very hard.  Jake is an incredible front man and one of the best out there right now.  Most of the crowd was singing along to every song and Jake’s in your face style of stage prowling works perfectly for him.  Their set was filled with 4 songs from their album The Revenant King and three others.  Just totally badass metal.  I think they won over a few folks weren’t too familiar with them as well.
  • Ashbury – They is not a metal band but seemingly fit perfectly in this fest.  Singer/acoustic guitarist, Rob Davis, and I connected recently on Facebook and it was great to meet and talk to him and his brother before and after the show.  The front room packed out when they started their set and everyone there loved them.  Everyone was singing along and it was just an incredible set.  They played the entire Endless Skies album and closed with Tull’s Cross-Eyed Mary.  I can’t recommend the album or seeing them live enough.  They’re playing Ragnarokkr 2016.  Just absolutely incredible.  I bought one of their shirts prior to the show and had both of the brothers sign my CD.  Great guys.
  • Night Demon – This band puts 100% effort into every show they play.  They’re fronted by Jarvis Leatherby who is organizer of the fest.  They hit the stage and just went balls out as they always do.  The band is so incredibly tight and should be for all of the touring that they do.  Brent and Dustin rule.  New tour with Holy Grail starts soon!  Night Demon rocked it as always.  They’re one of those bands that I don’t get tired of seeing.  Saturday made my fifth time since April of last year!
  • Manilla Road – This is the tough one for me.  Manilla Road is a band that I should love but have never really gotten into.  I’ve owned Crystal Logic and Mystification but they never latched on like I feel they should have.  I’ve seen them twice now and they put on a great show.  Mark Shelton is an unheralded guitarist and a hell of a nice guy.  I played with them in in 2013 when I was in Eternal Champion.  The crowd loved them and they were the perfect headliner for this festival.  They’re playing Austin again soon and I’m planning on being there.

See all setlists here.

I can’t say how much I loved being there and how well-organized this was.  It was obvious that Jarvis and his crew worked hard to make this happen.  Jarvis was in constant motion the whole day making sure everything was running smoothly and that everyone was having a good time.  I don’t know how he had the energy to even get on stage and do what he does after a day like that.  I was fortunate that he pulled me aside at one point to meet Tim Baker from Cirith Ungol one on one for a few minutes.  Tim was as nice and laid back as anyone could be.  He surprised me with a King of the Dead patch.  “This is my last one.”  A gift from the gods!  Jarvis also got me one on one with Robert Garven and Mike Flint to sign The Book.  During the actual meet and greet, I got Tim and Greg Lindstrom to also sign it.  Tim handed me a Cirith Ungol backstage patch during the signing.  Another gift!  I got to spend some time later in the evening with Flint.  What a nice guy.  All of them were.  Apparently this was the first time the 4 of them had been together in about 20 years.  How cool is that?  Let’s hope for a reunion show at next year’s fest!

I met so many great people that night.  One guy named Hector that I know from Instagram recognized me and said, “Aren’t you in Eternal Champion?”  I said, “I was” and he said he was on my friends list on Instagram.  Great to meet him.  He also mentioned the Sword and Steel book that has a poem of mine in it.  That was a pretty cool moment.  We spoke several times throughout the night.  Also met another guy that I met through Instagram and Facebook, Ernesto.  Awesome guy.  One of the younger metalheads that loves the older true metal style.  The evening was filled with those types.

I also met Oliver Weinsheimer, the organizer for the popular Keep It True Festival.  Extra special was getting to hang out with my good pal, Jeff Black, from Gatekeeper.  What an awesome guy.

This festival was the perfect Size, especially for the venue.  not to mention that Ventura is a beautiful city.  I hadn’t been through there since 1997.  At the end of the night when everyone was getting shuffled out by the bar staff, many of us stood out front for some final goodbyes, pictures, hugs etc.  I really love the camaraderie at these fests.  Little to no bullshit although there apparently were 2 fights during Manilla Road and those folks got ejected.  There was also a drunk ass that was talking shit to some friends, but we made sure he took the right decision to walk away.  From there it was back to the hotel.  My feet and knees were killing me and I just wanted to lay down.  It didn’t long to fall asleep once I got settled in.  What a great fucking night!

Rodney had an early flight and left before I did.  I chilled out for a bit, took a shower, packed my bags then drove up to Serra Cross Hill to take in the view of Ventura from up there.  It was gorgeous.  I put some Paganini on and just chilled out up there for about 20 minutes.  I kind of wanted to go to the Observatory and get a closer picture of the Hollywood sign.  Prior to that, I had been talking to my friend, Jill, from Austin who was also in LA on a little vacation with her roommate.  Jill’s boyfriend, Gary, who is a close friend of mine, was also in town on tour with his band, Mala Suerte, so we decided to all meet up in Hollywood at Pinches Tacos on Sunset.  That was a lot of fun and the food was great.

After lunch I drove to the Observatory which was jam-packed.  I didn’t stop and took some time to get back out.  Beautiful drive through there, though.  At that point I just headed back to the car rental place and got a notification that my flight was being delayed an hour.  Once I got into the airport, I found a bar and shared a table with an older ex-Air Force guy who had spent time in Texas, Seattle and Arizona while still in the military.  He liked metal and we got on some good conversations about MSG, Loudness and he brought up TKO.  “Ever heard of them?”  Haha.  Hell yes.  I nerded out with him for quite a while.  After leaving the bar I went to my gate to get in line to board and some other guy came up to me asking me about my vest and just started showing me pictures from a funeral he attended over the weekend.  Apparently he’s good friends with the Dark Angel and Bloodcum guys.  While he was nice, he was also annoying.  I was pretty tired by this point of the evening and then the next thing I know he’s standing next to me with his phone in his hand and says, “I got the drummer for Bloodcum on the phone.  Want to say hi?”  I said not really but he insisted.  It was obvious with the Bloodcum guy was annoyed by the whole scenario as well.  “Sorry man, I’m not sure why he thought we should talk to each other.”  I said it was no problem, we exchanged a quick pleasantry and that was that.  At least I thought so.  Two minutes later the dude is back and said, “hey, save me a seat if you can and we’ll talk metal for the whole flight.”  I told him my plan was to go to sleep the minute I hit the plane and that I was done talking for the day.  Fortunately I boarded way earlier than him and my row got filled quickly.

Again, what a wonderful weekend.  Thank, Jarvis, for putting this one!  Can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year!

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  1. […] year I attended the one day Frost and Fire Fest and had a wonderful time.  It was a foregone conclusion after that weekend that the mighty Cirith […]


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