By Laura Wiebe, Photos by Adam Wills
The Southern Ontario Metal Fest is a few years old now but this was the event’s first year in Hamilton – a move in-city from the wilds of a Port Burwell campground. Whatever fest-goers lost in atmosphere with this change, there are obvious benefits to setting up in a more centralized location, one that can be easily accessed by highway or public transit. (And it turned to be a great spot for me personally!)
Judging by a few visible and audible signs (a frowning bylaw officer with a decibel monitor on Saturday, bands’ jokes about watching their language on the outdoor stage, and the relocation of several sets from outside to indoors), or by the obstacles outlined in this fest preview over at Decibel, the move to Steeltown must have been an organizers’ headache.
Still, the Club Absinthe environ seemed a comfortable home for the variety of harsh underground sounds showcased across three nights and two days, and the bands and fans appeared to be having an excellent time (me and my niece included). In terms of quality performances and visceral sonic pleasure, SOMF 2013 can be declared a clear success.
The event kicked off indoors on Friday night with several bands plus local scribe Kevin Stewart-Panko’s non-musical offering – a taste of the book he co-authored with Justin Smith, Do You Have Anything to Declare?. But Friday’s activities were merely preliminaries in comparison to the all-day onslaught of Saturday and Sunday – bands starting early in the afternoon and running nearly non-stop well into the evening both nights.
The line-up drew from the local and regional heavy music pool but also roped in bands from further afield, including performers from Quebec and the US. For me the fest was a chance to move a few acts from my ‘must see’ list to my ‘must see again’ list – like the matchless (if slightly sound issues-impaired) Fuck the Facts – and to check out some area bands I haven’t had a chance to hear or see before, finding myself impressed by several elements of the local scene and talent.
On Saturday, I was particularly blown away by the extreme tech of Psyopus, who convinced me I was a fool for not paying more attention to them before. Cardinals Pride was another Saturday notable, their two-vocalist melodic hardcore approach winning a new fan in my niece (who has pretty damn good taste for a 14-year-old). And we both enjoyed Dying Fetus (while perched up on the second floor for a bird’s eye view): their fine-tuned death metal attack was the ideal mid-weekend climax, dominating the space and stirring up the crowd.
It feels a little idiosyncratic to highlight only a few performers when I can’t possibly cover them all – and apologies to those of you I’m missing. But for me, Sunday standouts included Greber (just two guys and so earth-shakingly heavy!), American Hell (sweet leads), and TO superstars The Cancer Bats (joined briefly by Psyopus/Hell Bear vocalist Harrison Christy during their “Sabotage” cover). That said, it’s Prophets who win for ‘loyal local following’ plus ‘most moving hardcore group-hug/singalong,’ and Hell Bear for band I most wish I hadn’t missed.
With this year’s fest wrapped up, here’s hoping the bureaucratic powers-that-be are more supportive in future so that Hamilton can enjoy the vicious delights of SOMF for many years to come.