Images & Words by Sebastian Vazquez
December 2nd 2017, Malone’s, Santa Ana CA: As a tribute, and as a commemorative way of paying respect to the underground metal scene in Southern California, Costa Mesa melodic death outfit Voices of Ruin showcased a hefty lineup of the finest death metal acts the region has to offer. They collaborated efforts with ADHD Entertainment in putting this all together.
The festival was pretty organized, held at the Malone’s bar in Santa Ana, putting to good use the dual stages in a pretty spacious facility. A quality venue for this type of festival.
The bill was stock full of emerging death, black, thrash and doom acts, spanning from as far south as San Diego, to northernmost region of the state, from where the atmospheric, death tech band Fallujah hails. The lineup consisted of the following bands:
Fallujah (San Francisco), Skeletal Remains (Whittier), Voices of Ruin (Costa Mesa), Madrost (Lake Forest), Infinite Death (Whittier/San Diego), Ritual (Los Angeles), Myconith (Los Angeles), Dark as Death (Lost Angeles), October Flame, and Lazarus Casket (Long Beach).
A heavy lineup as brutal as this, with star-studded talent from across California, this festival was welcomed by the local crowd, as many attendees donned their freshly minted RuinFest 2017 shirts and respective band merch. The room filled in steadily, and by 5:30PM on a Saturday night, there was a nice bunch ready for the opener Lazarus Casket to kickoff the fest.
Lazarus Casket began RuinFest with their black metal inspired riffs, often going into slower, much more legato passages. A lot of their songs would move into more legato passages, with some leads backed by a mellowdrone of drums. Their sound was not particularly flashy, but heavy as they come, a proper band to kick off the 10-band lineup, a rudimentary taste of what was to come. They performed gallantly as they tried to get the crowd going, and they did so by paying respect to a lost friend of theirs, performing the song ‘Engraved’. Their crossover elements were the brighter elements in their set, and they left the stage with a healthy howl of the early birds of the event.
On second, October Flame dropped shift into slow gear as the death fest lights quickly went doom. October flame started their set off with very much doom inspired grooves of slow, melancholic passages, as if a grandfather clock was ticking with their performance. The band segued into the tune ‘Longing for Winter’ which carried a slightly more upbeat groove feel and introduced the first clean vocals of the set. One of the better songs they have, it illustrated the band’s ability to weave and comb through other artistic possibilities. The tune dragged on for a bit, but came to a pleasing finish. Their finale, ‘Profound Rebirth’, resulted in welcoming cheer and applause from the audience. The band fit well in the lineup, and their stage setup was definitely appealing.
As October Flame had come and went, Myconith, a self-professed “Disgusting Fungal Death Metal” group graced the stage. Their rather quirky music theme, an intriguing story of space-related infestation of intergalactic oppressive fungi hellbent on enslaving the entire universe, was wholly congruent with the band’s cringeworthy stage banter, overall look, and presence. The wacky bunch kicked up the speed, placing it into high gear after the doomy ambience left by the last band eroded. The death metal act had atmospheric vocals, and often went back and forth between black metal and doomy colorations. The band then attempted to wake up the audience by performing a Sepultura cover and did it well. Despite their efforts well-received, I could not help but realize that this band was easily the most underwhelming group of the evening. The band boasts an original storyline and concept which I think helps with their appeal, so they should definitely include this theme in their set, to help define and polish their sound. They have the full artistic ability to do so.
After the dust had settled, Infinite Death, the death metal act hailing from varying parts of Southern California revived much of the air left from the previous three bands. The venue was starting to fill up rather quickly, giving the band a prime opportunity to showcase their talents. They brought a refreshingly high-energy approach, and for the first time in the evening, I felt that I was witnessing a band with a clear, polished versatility to their approach. The band had a great slot on the bill, and they used it well. I could hear the driving, traditional black metal elements flowing into some thrash, and then right into the classic death metal feel we have all grown to love. Their songs ‘In Despair’ and ‘Purify the Devout’ were the brighter spots in their set. Their sound enveloped many technical elements, and we saw the first circle pit spawn from this bunch! Infinite Death has emerged as one the more polished bands from the SoCal scene, having just recently toured through the Southwest US, performing in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and California.
Up next, a band with ten years of experience in the Southern California underground, was the blackened thrash band Madrost. The band having recently released their third full-length album ‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh’ and performing their album at a well-attended release show over the summer, the band is heralded as one of California’s finest, especially having been featured on the first volume in the ‘No Legacy’ compilation vinyl project. Madrost was also one of the first bands on the bill that brought its committed following with them, as they had healthy amounts of cheering, yelling, and fist pumping. No sooner that they started heir set they had established themselves as a blazingly fast band, a pillar to their overall sound and songwriting structure. The musicianship is certainly without question. The guitar playing was fairly clean, and the drummer was easily one of the best of the bunch on this fine blackened evening. The band was one of the first to maintain solid crowd interaction and that helped them in their presentation. I first saw this band back in January of this year when they opened up for the Canadian traditional metal band Striker at the now defunct Complex in Glendale and they definitely have polished up their sound and playing style. One of the more memorable songs was ‘Eyes of the Deceit’, a track from the new album. With an extended intro into the song featuring their refined blackened thrash sound, the vocals marched on as frontman and guitarist Tanner Poppitt captivated the audience.
What followed Madrost was the Los Angeles based black metal band Ritual, having spawned their roots back in the early 1990s. The crowd had settled in to about a healthy 85-100 people, and the band started off their set. The traditional black metal outfit has captivated audiences with their recent resurgence back on the circuit. A prototypical black metal band, this band clearly demarcated where they stand with their sound. What I really enjoyed about them was how well the reverb-sounding vocals meshed with their music. The band appeared sharp in their studs, masked in paint, and raged on with their sound enveloped in rolling blast beats and chugging speed riffs. The charismatic frontman Ian Fleming did well as he bobbed and weaved in his hypnotic stage movement, sticking his tongue out when his guitar buzzed with melancholic black metal tones. The band appearing sixth at RuinFest, was the necessary bridge between the younger bands into the more experienced, battle hardened groups. Ritual is poised to release a new studio album early next year, so keep your ears out for this historic group.
Dark as Death soon followed, a Los Angeles based death metal band. As their name suggests, they requested the lights to be brought down to a low dim. Easily the heaviest and most brutal band the entire evening, the band benefitted following the much slower paced Ritual. Their songs were short and to the point and in comparison to the other bands, you could tell that their style was not for everybody. After a couple of songs, some of the crowd had simmered out for a smoke break, beer, or a trip to the hotdog stand. Death metal in the most brutal sense, the band sparked some of the heavier and more violent moshing, seemingly igniting the band to perform with an increased fervor. Although I did not particularly fancy their sound, they played an invigorating set that had the crowd rolling into each other. Their songs flowed together with minor variations in song dynamics, and coupled with the low lighting, it felt like a ritual of absolute death was occurring.
In the prime time slot of the entire event, the band that assumed the stage next was the melodic death metal, Costa Mesa titans Voices of Ruin! This band, the organizers of the event, need no introduction. After having toured across the United States with an incredibly brutal tour package of Vader, Sacrificial Slaughter, Micawber, and Internal Bleeding, the band has capped off for what it seems like the end of the cycle for their 2015 LP ‘Born from the Dark’. The crowd roared tremendously as the band sped through death inspired riffage, with Tom Barrett’s leads flowing over the top, creating a well-refined melodeath machine as frontman David Barrett towered everyone, completing owning the stage. The Amon Amarth inspired quintet performed songs from both of their studio releases, reminding the crowd of their extensive history with their 2010 debut ‘Into Oblivion’. Their ten-year career has certainly given the band a tremendous following. The band’s close friends, partners and fans packed Malone’s. After giving everyone the much needed shoutout for helping coordinate the event, the band went straight through the song ‘Death’s Design’, easily one of the strongest songs in their entire repertoire. The slow, gloomy intro, followed by the speedy intro clearly demonstrates Tom’s guitar playing chops. The song features everything a fan of melodeath would appreciate; driving drums, dual lead guitars, and a transition into a heavy breakdown mid-song. It was at this point where everyone in Malone’s went wild, head-banging and creating a bruising mosh pit. What Voices of Ruins does really well is join fast riffage with melodic legato leads that just dance above the music. They played a brand new song, and it definitely shows the direction in which the band is going. One of the more inspiring bands in the Southern California region, make sure to have your ears out for this group in 2018.
The toxicity left by Voices of Ruin had everyone spinning, as they came and went and destroyed the stage. What followed was Skeletal Remains. The lights had dimmed to a mesmerizing crimson, and the traditional death metal band out of Whittier did their absolute best to follow Voices of Ruin’s performance. Oddly enough, the band reminded the crowd of a humble mix of Vital Remains and Death, making their set one for the classic death metal fanatics. A well-respected band, the prolific Skeletal Remains recently just signed a deal with Century Media in collaboration with Dark Descent records, an achievement of all the hard work they have been putting in the last 6 years. The crowd did not let up on this band as RuinFest was slowly drawing to a close. The international touring group displayed immense musicianship as they blasted right through you with their chainsaw-like guitars and incredibly brutal vocals. Their youthful exuberance was actually a refreshing take, a group that has been through it all in their career. Great performance from this band. This band is the expression of a younger generation slowly emerging onto the death metal circuit as the older ones wane and leave the stages for the future ones.
RuinFest was to be concluded with the atmospheric sounding, technical, djenty waves of the mighty Fallujah. They kicked the entire festival into overdrive, bringing the mood to a blast fusion of so many modern, progressive metal elements, anybody could be a fan. The band performed tunes from their recent studio album ‘Dreamless’, and blue, hazy lights cascaded down onto them as the band expressed brilliant musicianship. The guitars whizzed, the drums thudded , and the vocals blasted the senses for the festival goers that remained in the venue. Unfortunately, much of the crowd started to dissipate as the band took the stage a little after 11 PM, almost five hours after doors opened. For those that remained, they received one hell of a performance. Fallujah falls right in line with those who would enjoy groups such as Between the Buried and Me, The Contortionist, and Tesseract. They have done something rather special, in taking the base of what is considered to be classic death metal, and infusing everything that has evolved over the course of 30 years in heavy music.
In closing, the organizers of the event, Voices of Ruin, would like to give a shout out. Here is Tom Barrett’s statement regarding the festival:
“I would like to give a shoutout to ADHD Entertainment, Jason Tyler, Malone’s and their staff, and all the bands including Fallujah since they traveled down here. And of course to all of the fans for attending. Big shoutout to all the guys in the band for their dedication and help in making RuinFest 2017 a success!”
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