As I finish up my final foreseeable year living abroad, I knew there was one event I didn’t want to miss: Netherlands Deathfest IV. I managed to pinch some pennies and make it so I could attend one day of the fest, so I jumped at the opportunity to return to the event that I enjoyed so much the previous year.
Why did I want to attend it so badly? Well, for one, it was an incredibly rare opportunity to see Japanese death metal legends Intestine Baalism outside of Japan. Besides that, it was one of the very few shows that Vomitory were scheduled to play for their brief thirtieth-anniversary reunion. If those weren’t reasons enough, it also had a number of bands that I’ve never seen that I always wanted to see, including Phlebotomized, Revenge, Viscera Infest, and Prostitute Disfigurement.
Netherlands Deathfest takes place each year at the 013 Poppodium in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Tilburg, like much of Holland, is a beautiful place filled with lush green plants, low crime rates, and a thriving populace. They have bicycle roads paved next to each regular road, often with their own stoplights, as many people prefer to navigate across the country by bike. The venue is located in the center of the city, which is a quick walk from the train station. It is always clear when one approaches the venue, as first, you stroll across a road painted with a rainbow over it, and the sound that is played by the street lights when pedestrians can cross over the aforementioned rainbow road is easily likened to a blast beat. Once you cross the road, you walk past restaurants on each side of you, many of which have specialty menus specifically catering to Netherlands Deathfest attendees. Finally, at the end of that row of restaurants, you see a massive glass window adorned with the Netherlands Deathfest logo. From there, you take a left and follow the swarm of other metalheads into the venue. This year was different from last year. Last year, there was a third stage in the church across from the venue, but this year that venue had closed, which made Netherlands Deathfest a more condensed endeavor. Remaining were two stages both within the same building, and the bands were scheduled so that there weren’t any conflicts between them. The lineup was stacked, and no one had to choose one band over another. For someone like me, that likes to experience as much as I can, this was perfect.
The venue was filled with exclusive merchandise, food vendors, and metal fans from all over the world. The main stage is massive, with a floor that goes far back before transitioning into seating that elevates more the further back you go. The other stage is just one doorway away from the first, and it is much more intimate, including a floor space and a balcony, both of which are open to general ticket purchasers. The second stage was my preferred place to be.
Naturally, as this is a show review, my experience of each band will be tied closely to my own musical preferences, so I will be clear about that. Thankfully, none of the bands that I watched had any major sound or mixing issues. With these live reviews, I try to focus on lesser-known bands and lesser-seen bands, rather than the big festival staples. So although Incantation and Deicide were there, and they both put on great shows, they’ve both played Indiana a number of times, so I won’t say much on them. Mgla and Naglfar are regularly on the U.S. festival circuit as well, both of whom I’ve seen previously. If you’re a fan of either band, you would enjoy them live. Mgla were no worse for wear following recent accusations that have been lobbed at them. Now that I’ve mentioned those huge bands, now I’ll get into the stuff I want to talk about in detail.
The first band I was hyped to see was Phlebotomized. They’re local to the Netherlands, and next year will be their thirtieth anniversary. Their 1994 album, Immense Intense Suspense, was one of the first avant-garde death metal albums I ever encountered, and I still love it to this day. It is an adventurous and experimental album, incorporating keyboards, violins, clean vocals, group shouting, acoustic tracks, and more, making for a truly beautiful experience over its forty-nine-minute runtime. They played Barricade off of that album, which was easily the highlight of their set for me. It was also the only song they played that had clean vocals. Although I enjoyed their set, the rest of it didn’t grab me as much. Phlebotomized aren’t the fastest, most brutal, most guttural, slowest, or most orchestral band out there, so at a festival like this, where you have all of those elements at further extremes, it’s hard for Phlebotomized to stand out. I enjoyed last year’s Deformation of Humanity, but it felt a lot tamer than their more experimental masterpiece, Immense Intense Suspense, and I felt the same way about their set. It was enjoyable, but I didn’t feel that it played to their strengths, which are variety and experimentation.
After Phlebotomized were Revenge. This Canadian band, which is often regarded as the biggest “war metal” band out there, which is a term used for especially aggressive, raw black metal, is one that has never quite clicked with me. I own some of their albums, and they have good, intense and abrasive energy live, but I can’t comment much further than that. I think part of it was my mindset since I was unquestionably at the festival to watch death metal, so I had more trouble jumping into the often darker and more serious realm of black metal between death metal binges.
Next were the band I was most excited to see: Intestine Baalism. Intestine Baalism are a Japanese melodic death metal band that formed in 1992, but that description does them a disservice. Most melodic death metal can be overly formulaic and lack any ferocity or intensity. That is not the case for Intestine Baalism. Starting with the 1997 debut, An Anatomy of the Beast, they’ve effortlessly made melodic death metal intense and pummelling, but while incorporating moments of absolute beauty and majesty, such as at the end of the opening track of the aforementioned album, Corporeal Celebration. Their sound was perfect live, and much thicker and more crushing than on album, but when they got to the end of that song, it almost brought tears to my eyes. It was beautiful. I felt privileged to have experienced such a musical experience, especially within the context of death metal music. Also of note is how terrific their alternating vocal approach is, between low growls and higher screams. I can only hope that they keep putting out music and play more shows outside of Japan so other people can experience their splendor. The only downside to their set was the short length of it.
I was excited to see Severe Torture, even though I’d seen them before. I’m not sure there is any genre of music that I enjoy live more than brutal death metal, and Severe Torture deliver in spades. The vocals of Dennis Schreurs are fierce and devastatingly low, and the rest of the band seamlessly danced between blasts and crippling breakdowns. I also couldn’t help but admire the Nox Ixaxaar shirt that guitarist Marvin Vriesde was wearing. For the first time in what felt like in forever, I got that adrenaline rush to mosh, so I spent most of their set shoving and getting shoved by a circle of dudes with at least a hundred pounds on me. Severe Torture’s set ended with me beaten and feeling more alive than ever, so without question, this set was one of my favorites of the night.
Next were Vomitory over at the main stage. You can tell that these are thirty-year veterans of death metal because from the opening second, you are crushed by the thick wall of guitars that cement them as some of old school death metal’s progenitors. This band has crushed us with eight full lengths of their brand of Swedish old school death metal, and I can only hope that they’re not through with us yet. Seeing how well they commanded the main stage made me wonder why they aren’t a more well-known and accomplished band than they are.
I had some preconceptions going into Viscera Infest. I had thought that they were merely a grindcore band with a gimmick: a fast blast and the cockroach mosh. I expected a thin, trebly guitar tone, and lots of high pitched screaming, but that’s not what I got at all. Viscera Infest’s combined guitar and bass tone is THICK, making it clear that this isn’t just a grind act, these songs are packed with brutal death metal riffs and low, guttural vocals. I wasn’t at all expecting how much they would crush. And I also wasn’t ready for their sense of humor. I expected some silly antics, considering the existence of the cockroach moshpit, but I wasn’t ready for what I experienced. Frontman Eizo Asakura introduced some songs by oinking like a pig. Let me clarify; I don’t mean the death metal vocal style known as pig squeals. I mean oinking. Like. A pig. So Eizo would say, “This song is called” and then subsequently oink like a pig for a solid forty seconds, while sometimes changing his voice to sound like Donald Duck talking in between pig oinks. He introduced multiple songs like this, with each time making it clearer that no words were being said, and that we were all being trolled. As if the hilarious band weren’t enough, the crowd was also completely insane. The venue had no security at the front of the stage, and no guard rails. People weren’t just moshing during songs; they were moshing between songs too. People would crowd surf onto the stage and then cockroach mosh on the stage before stage-diving back into the fray just to do it all over again. And then, finally, we get to the end of the set, and that’s when the band called for a cockroach pit. The cockroach mosh is a specialized type of mosh pit where all participants lay on the ground on their backs while pointing their arms and legs into the air, and then they flail them wildly to the music. I was eager to be involved in this unique spectacle, so I joined dozens of others in sitting on the ground and laying my back onto the beer-soaked floor of the pit. As the blast beats intensified, we all frantically kicked and lashed out with our arms and legs. My girlfriend was to my left, also striking her limbs into the air. Quickly, the cockroach pit transitioned into an actual mosh pit, so many of the folks in the pit helped up those that were still in the cockroach position. My girlfriend was helped up, and that was her first experience of a metal mosh pit. She was shocked at the sense of community, as it took only a moment for numerous people – numerous complete strangers – to help her to her feet to avoid injury. It is an experience that most people outside of the metal community don’t understand or get to experience.
The last band that I was stoked to finally see live was Prostitute Disfigurement. The menacing looking fellows were from the Netherlands, same as Severe Torture and Phlebotomized. They’ve had an interesting evolution musically, as their first three albums featured a unique inward-singing vocal style, but for the last three albums, vocalist Niels changed to an outward style of growl, maintaining the ferocity of their early material, but arguably losing some of what made their sound unique. With each album, the guitar work also got more intricate, incorporating more solos, but without abandoning the brutality that they’re known for. For me, Prostitute Disfigurement are strongest when they slow it down and embrace groove, like on setlist highlight “She’s Not Coming Home Tonight.” I think where they struggle is with the faster numbers, which are still quality death metal, but that’s when they blend in with pretty much any other death metal band.
Another thing to note is the lyrical content. Brutal death metal has always had lyrics about mutilation and especially the mutilation of women, but Prostitute Disfigurement often have songs that sound more like something Seth Putnam would write, with titles like “Rotting Away is Better Than Being Gay,” “Dismember the Transgender,” and “Gay-Bar Massacre,” the last of which they played at Netherlands Deathfest. In these politically correct times, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it’ll be until their lyrics start raising some eyebrows. That being said, they were crushing live, and I was happy to finally see them.
I might have only attended one day of the fest, but it had everything I could hope for from a day of live music. I moshed like a cockroach, I felt genuinely moved, and I left feeling sore from all the moshing and head-banging. I left with that feeling that brings so many of us to shows over and over again. I felt alive.