October 5-8, 2017

Majestic Ventura Theater, Ventura, CA

By Solomon G

First thing I’d like to get out of the way in this review is; Frost & Fire is one of the three or four top metal festivals in the US right now. As with the Maryland Doom Fest and Psycho Las Vegas, the lineup is designed to attract basically the most stalwart of metal/hard/heavy fans - true metal fans, not trendy festival types. Heavy on the old-school vibes and brotherhood/sisterhood of metal, F&F is right up there with the best.

The layout for watching bands is simple but ingenious: two bandstands [small and large] at either ends of the hall, through the bar or outside merch area, with staggered shows and quick turnaround so that nobody has to miss a single band and the party never really stops - unlike certain other overwhelmingly huge fests that make it a tough choice on whom to see at times.

As Ventura is driving distance from where I live, but not exactly close, I chose to skip the Thursday pre-show, and the Sunday wrap up - but I believe I caught another stellar lineup of unbelievable trad metal greatness. Unfortunately I missed a few earlier bands [*see: long drive ^] on either day as well, but wow, did I catch some great ones! One of the bands I missed was Bewitcher - but fortunately was able to see their show downtown L.A. the following Monday, and holy shit, they ruled [any band who does a faithful cover of Maiden’s Wrathchild is an instant favorite of mine]. Great authentic trad/thrash sounds!

Okay, full confession: this review is recorded weeks after the event, from memory, so details may be a little, er, off - but I’ve done my best for you here…

Night 1 [Friday]:

Upon entry, the party was already in full swing: tons of people drinking up and partying inside and outside the venue [the merch midway was huge and well-stocked with awesomeness], and heavy music of course blasting through amps and PA. First band I witnessed at the fest is Volture - with guest singer, none other than the amazing John Gallagher of Raven!! What a way to kick of the fest for me! Though this arrangement must have been a hectic situation [Gallagher so new as to need some sheet music - though that never dampened the mood or performance], these guys have otherwise obviously spent some time honing this act, which is clear in their sound and stage show. This was probably the best way for me to walk into this festival, as this vibe really set the tone for the remainder. Hell yeah \m/

A new [to me] band was the very pleasant surprise of Vancouver BC’s Spell. From the looks of their mid-70s Rush meets Uli John Roth attire, I could tell these guys were going to bring something distinctive to the fest, and I was totally right. Though they initially reminded me a tiny bit of Slough Feg, they were really a fresh amalgam of vintage styles, and were not afraid to get fuckin’ heavy with the riffs. They were in the right place for that - because the crowd ate it up! Seriously: I had so much fun at their show, and really look forward to seeing this act again.

Next - I was somewhat floored to see fest organizer and frontman for Night Demon, Jarvis Leatherby fronting the NWOBHM titans from Bristol, UK: Jaguar! Holy shit, they were awesome! I mean, you can probably imagine how cool this was, seeing and hearing these legends for their very first appearance in the US!! All I can say is: these guys have not lost a thing over the years. Their performance was tight and punchy, and brimming with killer NWOBHM riffage! \m/

Next band I recall seeing is none other than scene legends, Cauldron, who played the front stage next after Spell. Cauldron have really matured in their sound since the first time I heard them on MySpace a million years ago. I used to think they were kind of a comedy thrash throwback, which in and of itself ain’t so bad - but now, having finally experienced this band live I can tell you they are no joke. Fat fuckin’ metal riffs upon intense thrash velocity that isn’t afraid to go straight-up trad. Again, these guys were in the right place at the right time that night, and so was I.

Last band for me this night was whom I had been waiting all night to see - Savage Master!! I have been a huge fan of Adam Neal and his band Hookers for ages, especially after seeing them on the Saint Vitus tour a few years band with Pallbearer [Hookers totally stole the show], and especially dig everything about Savage Master. Honestly, this is the kind of band I would dream up un high school and design logos for on my folder and shit - but here they are, fully formed and bigger than life!! First thing everybody should know is their music is dead on serious trad metal, with touches of speed/thrash and sometimes doom elements - but mostly kickass trad! On top of this they have a theatrical stage show that is so fun and must be seen to be believed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: where are all the other bands like Savage Master? A: There aren’t any - only Savage Master!! 

Embarrassing confession - I dipped out without seeing one of my favorite bands of all time: Raven. When I see a show, it’s full-on audience participation for me. I’m a very enthusiastic headbanger, and even at my age I can and will pit. Once I start, I cannot dial it down: I kind of live for this stuff and become very excited. It’s exhausting. So after five killer bands straight in a row, I’m spent! And anyone who has experienced Raven knows they are a full-contact sport. You can’t wuss out at a Raven show - but I was literally exhausted [especially after the Savage Master show], and so slinked out the back, Jack. Of course I know they were killer - I don’t even need to ask. All-hail to Raven - the undisputed kings of NWOBHM speed!! \m/\m/

Night 2 [Saturday]:

Soon as I got to the place and cued up by the box-office, I witnessed a situation between an evidently unprepared musician and fest organizer, Jarvis Leatherby. I just caught the end of it, but it ended abruptly with Jarvis telling the dude, “No, man - that’s the law!” Seriously, that was the end of the conversation. Now, Jarvis is a dude who remembers me every time I remind him I helped get his gear offstage in NYC when Night Demon opened for Raven a few years back, and he’s widely recognized as one of the nicest dudes in the biz, so I was laughing hard in my hand, not at anything in particular, just that is was so rad to see behind-the-scenes-Jarvis taking care of business with such an iron hand. Right on, dude! 

When I walked in, I immediately felt I’d slipped sideways through some time/space vortex back to the early/mid-80s and walked back into a Thor show [as in Jon Mikl Thor]: there he was in all his power-metal glory, battling some bad guy and bending steel rods to the sound of some hard and crunchy trad metal. However, this was not the real thing but an amazing simulation: Iron Thor, from Germany [where else??] Side note: I just saw the [mostly] original Thor a few years back when the were promoting the film “I Am Thor”, and they were so great to see and so fun, but they really couldn’t fully recreate the past glory of the 80s shows. Iron Thor brought it back in spades - and with a clear reverence for the source material. Let the Blood Run Red!! \m/

One of the most rad surprises of the fest for me was London UK’s Amulet: a young trad/NWOBHM style act that had fucking iron and steel in their blood, and lots of it. These dudes had the whole image and presentation down as if they’d been studying this shit for years, and most likely that’s the case. Seriously, if you plopped them down into the middle of 1979, they’d be scene legends like Witchfinder General or Mythra. There’s no other recent band alive that brings more authenticity and sheer metal force as this lot. Well done, men of Amulet! 

Along the same lines of rad-ness [and really, the whole fuckin’ fest was rad AF]: Twisted Tower Dire! Holy shit - these guys have been around for years but were new to me. So here we have probably one of the premiere epic trad power acts kicking the goddamn doors down. No shit. I would have just stood there with my jaw hanging open, except that [like everyone else] I was bangin’ my fuckin’ head off. Twisted Tower Dire - hit ‘em up, y’all.

As is already most evident, though bears repeating: NWOBHM was strong AF at Frost & Fire III. There’s probably no other US festival that pays as much tribute to our early 80s vanguards as this one. Most of the bands not only reflected this, but some were actually on the forefront of the movement. Now, everyone knows Raven are the Kings of speed/thrash and basically wrote the fucking handbook, or helped to write it at very least, but also strongly representing the movement we had Jaguar [see above], and a few actual forebearers of the scene: Mythra in their first US performance - live at F&FIII !!

I tell you, the atmosphere in the room was reverent, and the band delivered a performance fitting of such. Heads were bangin’, sweat was sweating, riffs amazing the fuck out of everyone. Man, it was like a little Metal History 101. I got there about a minute late and was only able to get up as close at the stage right edge of the pit, but saw Adam Neal of Savage Master right up front and was able to throw the horns back and forth \m/ Mythra’s whole show was really a highlight; their music sounds as fresh as it did new, and that’s exactly how these dudes played up there too. Really amazing. If you’ve ever been to one of those gigs where it seemed like everything was happening perfectly the way it’s supposed to and everyone is having a great time, onstage and off. This was one of those. 

Second time headliners [this time co-headlining with Manilla Road] Cirith Ungol truly slayed with their valiant trad/doom/epic stuff, like they do! Now, I know a good amount of folks have finally caught this music live - though still comparatively few folks - but at least I’m no longer the only person I know [alive] who’s even seen Cirith Ungol. Up until maybe ten years ago, I thought they were completely forgotten, like so many other local bands. But Cirith Ungol always had something special, and as with with Saint Vitus, the people willed them back into existence [the people and Jarvis, ha!] So - for those who know, know, and those who don’t, I recommend you hit ‘em up asap \m/

Wrapping the whole festival [and true headliners, according to Cirith Ungol’s Tim Baker, who asked the audience from his performance not to clamor for encores, and instead book it on over to the front stage for headline fest-closer], Manilla Road blazed their fat bong load of heavy fuckin trad metal for the next hour or so - going overtime a bit at the insistence of festival organizer Jarvis Leatherby “Damn you Jarvis for making us play longer!!”, joked Mark the Shark Shelton toward the extended encore section of the show. And, let me tell you: when I looked around after the show, I could clearly see an audience that just got it’s fucking money’s worth and more.

Neck and throat soreness was severe for all in attendance, I guarantee \m/

Music was of course fantastic. No secret I am a huge fan of metal in just about all forms, and I really do have an affinity for trad stuff, because that’s exactly what I came up with [before there were half a dozen sub-genres of killer metal evulness ], but what also makes a great festival is when it can bring friends together from all over. I am super stoked to finally have met longtime metal-freak internet pals Mujeeb Basha [DC area], Wes Craven [PDX], and Randy Kastner of the formidable Chicago metal scene \m/ not to mention Mr. Neal, whom I did get to party with the next day downtown L.A. with Savage Master and Bewitcher [killer show, naturally].

Final word about this show: Jarvis Leatherby. This dude throws this whole amazing festival [with plenty of help, I’m sure, but he’s the glue], tours and records with his own band, Night Demon [who helped open the fest on Thursday, though I couldn’t make it] - AND played in Cirith Ungol and Jaguar as well. Fuckin’ A, dude! 

Long may the Frost & Fire fest hail! \m/