Event: Into The Darkness Fest
Venue: Westside Bowl – Youngstown, Ohio
Date: July 29 & 30, 2022
Artists Performed: Hanging Fortress, Cleansing Humanity, Axioma, HAMMR, Mutilatred, Shit Life, Wraith, Bear Mace, Macabre, Vicious Blade, Torn In Half, Corrupted Saint, Throne, Atomic Witch, Intoxicated, Black Mass, Scorched, Maul, Scattered Remnants, Tombstoner, Horrendous, Oxygen Destroyer, Imperial Triumphant, Sentient Horror, Deceased
Anticipation was high for the inaugural Into The Darkness Fest, which took place two weekends ago in Youngstown, Ohio. Even a quick glance at the lineup was enough to light a fire deep within the soul. Such was the case with mine, at least, situated geographically close enough to actually be able to consider attending. Youngstown is a great location for something like this. It’s close to an hour from both Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and less than three hours from Detroit and a multi-day DM Fest of this magnitude in this area is unheard of. Kudos to Tommy Haywood and his Redefining Darkness Records team for thinking Youngstown was the spot.
If Tommy ever thought this was a gamble, it paid off in a big way. Thanks in no small part to Nathan Offerdahl and the folks at Westside Bowl, which is one of the coolest venues in Ohio. The underground spirit is truly alive, well, and in good hands with these two. A sentiment anyone in attendance could easily extend to all of the bands, vendors, and venue staff.
The friendly vibe started in the parking lot, which I mention because that lot could have been a nightmare. Even with planning, a less attentive staff would have let it get that way fast, and nobody wants that pain in the ass. The inside of the place had the same welcoming atmosphere. A bowling alley to the left, the main stage set up on the right, merch tables snaking around both. They had a full menu, with appetizers and pizza, and all varieties of beer (even NA options, which is always a plus for me). Video games set up around a corner, and to the right of that a small record shop.
Among the vendors were Death Comes Lifting, Redefining Darkness Records, Dark Art & Craft, and The Growl (a Death Metal documentary). Gorilla Joe Printing was on site making exclusive Into The Darkness Fest t-shirts, featuring that badass Riddick artwork. A really nice setup.
Memorable sets from Ohio bands Hanging Fortress and Axioma got day one started with a bang. When Mutilatred took the stage, it seemed the temperature of the whole building rose several degrees, stoking the energy of the gathering crowd. I’ve seen Mutilatred four or five times and they never stray from the carnage. Arguably the pioneers of the brutal caveman sound gaining traction these days with bands like Undeath and 200 Stab Wounds.
The staircase to the basement was tucked away between the video games and the record shop; posters of shows past and future lining the walls, along with dozens of novelty t-shirts hung like a giant Metal tapestry. A small soundboard, a small stage, and a small bar area completed the classy crypt-like aesthetic. A more intimate and interactive band/crowd atmosphere for sure. Bear Mace was the draw for me down there on night one. Shit Life was a good time as well.
Back upstairs I was surprised to meet Carolina Perez who plays drums for Castrator. They weren’t playing the Fest, but their debut full-length, Defiled In Oblivion, was just released on Dark Descent, and they were asked to set up a booth and hang out. I listened to the album several times during my drive to Youngstown, so it was awesome to be able to chat a bit. If you have not yet heard the Castrator record, fuckin’ get on in! Watch your balls, gentlemen!
Day one ended with performances by Indiana Blackened Thrash maniacs, Wraith, and Murder Metal legends Macabre. I hadn’t seen either previously, and I’m happy to report I’d go see both again. Wraith in particular, partially due to the fact that they were just cool fuckin guys.
Day two was on fire from start to finish. The schedule was set up perfectly. One band would finish a set upstairs, then an announcement for the next to begin shortly downstairs. There was no overlap, which is often an issue at festivals. No need to pick which band you might want to see more than another or any such nonsense.
Vicious Blade opened the main stage, Torn In Half downstairs. Kryptik Mutation upstairs, Corrupted Saint down. The pace was relentless. Throne, Atomic Witch, Intoxicated, Black Mass… I was starting to get old-man tired. Anybody out of shape and pushing 50 knows what I’m talking about. Anybody older than that would say, “Shit, you’re all just kids,” and then ask us if we wanted to go see Ghost or Chevelle with them.
I considered taking a break, but Maul had other plans. Holy shit! Their album, Seraphic Punishment, came out a week prior and I was a fan, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how great they’d be live. Absolute insanity, every second. I’d really like to see is Maul and Throne do some shows together. Two seemingly different flavors of Death Metal, but somebody with the power to make that happen has to see how cool it would be.
It seems an afront not to single out Tombstoner, Oxygen Destroyer, Horrendous, Sentient Horror, and Deceased and give them each proper recognition. But the whole thing was an expeirience. Between bands it was upstairs, pizza, beer. The old guy with the Fuck Joe Biden hat passed out. Somebody made a pot of coffee for him. Bathroom, downstairs, beer. Ran into the large happy dude named Big Ren from the night before. I have no way of knowing how much alchohol he consumed by this point, but none of it seemed to slow him down in the least. Big Ren was a professional, and he had his own shit going on, as did everyone else, stopping to chat with the bands and the people selling records and merch. When you’re at a festival, you need to enjoy the festivities.
Surrounded by all of these things, having heard such a ridiculous amount of glorious heaviness in various guises, watching Imperial Triumphant was like entering the Twilight Zone as directed by David Lynch. In fact, as evidence that the occupants of Westside Bowl were transported to another dimension two Saturdays ago, I present this short twenty-three-second video:
I swear to you, at one point there were two cowboys. They whispered something to each other, then one of them disappeared. But weird shit like that seems to happen all around your periphery at Imperial Triumphant performances. Things that would appear completely normal were it not for the soundtrack, but IT’s stage presence also lends a hand here. Dressed like ghoulish obelisks, alternating between elegant and statuesque, occasionally going out of their way to carefully splinter the barrier between artist and audience. Or the veil between reality and whatever dark realm the trio happens to be traveling with. They create their own atmosphere, evolved from the combined auras of the room they’re in and one from the city before, roaming the stage like malignant jazz men from The Dreaming. Imperial Triumphant is not a band you want to miss when they come around. They’ll be touring Europe for the rest of the summer, so any of you reading from that part of the world, take note!
Into The Darkness Fest 2022 was everything it promised to be and more, helping Redefining Darkness Records solitify even farther their place in the distribution of excellent Death Metal. There is no news on a 2023 return, but the hope would be that Into The Darkness Fest became an annual celebration. There is no doubt in my mind that it would be a successful venture.
Go listen to some of these great bands! Cheers!
*all photos by MrZero