Frost and Fire II
October 8, 2016 (Day II)
Review by Taylor Wilson
After a very successful first Frost and Fire festival in Ventura, California last year, organizer Jarvis Leatherby of Night Demon decided to hold it again this year. This time, there were twice as many bands spread across 3 days and 2 venues. Most of the acts included great new NWOTHM bands as well as a few old school ones to create an audience with a nice blend of old and young diehards. The major draws this year included the reunions of White Wizzard’s High Speed GTO lineup and Cirith Ungol- this being their first performance in 25 years. I was unable to attend the first day of the festival and missed the bands that played on the third day, so this is primarily a recount of Day 2.
Spellcaster took the stage at 3:30 sharp with their usual intro soundtrack and confusing lack of fog. They kicked into their first song, “I Live Again” from their latest album, and it was so exciting to see so many fellow Spellcaster fans headbanging and singing along. I was so used to being among 1 or 2 other people in a small bar who love this band, and it was really empowering to have maybe 40 people all crowded at the barrier just for them. The setlist was composed of mostly new songs from Night Hides the World, as well as one song from each of the 2 previous albums. Their performance was extremely tight as predicted because they had been playing basically the same set on tour for the past few months. The thing that really struck a lot of fans who hadn’t heard/seen Spellcaster before was the amazing and intricate solos of lead guitarist Bryce VanHoosen. Having a unique spin on a blend of influence from Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Ritchie Blackmore, his talent is best described by what I heard many people say this weekend: “Wow, that guy can fuckin’ shred!”.I really cannot say enough good things about this band and all the kind, talented guys in it. This was definitely the best way to start the festival!
Axxion was up next. Before they even got onstage, I saw guitarist Sir Shred and new bassist Jason Decayon each side of the stage dressed in a red spandex leotards. Well, I thought, This is going to be interesting! Drummer Alison Thunderland (not in a leotard) took her place behind the kit and began playing the intro to their first song. The red spandex twins walked out and began playing as well, and singer Devon Kerr soon came running out in a green leotard. Their set contained mostly new songs from their new album Back in Time, as well as a few from their first album Wild Racer. Though I was not a fan of theirs until very recently, I was thoroughly impressed with their performance. Devon’s insanely high vocals and Alison’s amazing drumming skills were the most intriguing to me. My favorite non-musical element of their set was seeing Jason wearing his leotard like a weird pair of really high-waisted tight shorts (because he is way too tall to fit his upper body into the straps).
Next up was Visigoth. This was my third time seeing them, and they keep getting better each time I see them. After a very quick transition of bands, they took their places on the dim stage. Singer Jake Rogers came out last with a smile on his face as they jumped right into the song “Mammoth Rider” from their album The Revenant King. This was one of the most powerful moments of the day in my opinion- there were not many other instances where I could actually feel the power and familial air of the crowd. Everyone around me was headbanging, thrusting their fist, and singing along to every song…and this is exactly why they are called a power metal band. To my surprise, the crowd remained just as excited as the band played a cover song: “The Beast” by a Swedish band called Randy. I had never heard it before, but it was really cool to see how people lit up as they heard an obscure cover song for once rather than a worn out Iron Maiden or Kiss song. With their 5th and final song, “The Revenant King”, the audience displayed one last time their true dedication to this very hardworking and amazing band. Normally, I’m not a fan of songs longer than 4 or 5 minutes, but I have definitely made some exceptions for this band; their set was over before I knew it.
Following Visigoth was High Spirits, a new band that had piqued my interest a few times, but never really captured me. I was curious to see if their live performance would be what I needed to finally get into this band like so many other people have. I have to admit that when I saw mainly short-haired, older guys in matching white pants and black shirts, I thought it was kind of cheesy; I had a bad feeling that this show would not be the one to get me into them, and that I would only be focused on their looks. I was wrong. This band had a very friendly vibe to them and they seemed truly happy to be playing –this is always a good sign and helps me like bands a lot quicker. I had heard a few songs from their first album Another Night, and they just weren’t as powerful to me upon listening to it a few times. Now seeing them perform some of them live, I was beginning to like them a little more; seeing so many people around me singing along to their songs and being so happy was yet another reinforcement. By the end of their set, my perception of them had changed quite a bit, and I will definitely be giving their albums another listen.
Now it was time to witness Night Demon play an especially exciting set in their hometown. They always play a captivating show, and this night it was no different. The stage went dark and their intro track began. With Dusty (drummer) already in place, Armand (guitar) and Jarvis (bass/vocals) walked out to a cheering crowd and started into “Screams in the Night”. Continuing to play more songs from their album, Curse of the Damned, the trio was full of energy, and it always puzzles me how these guys aren’t way more popular. Their live power and true graciousness towards the crowd always makes me so incredibly happy; at the same time it makes me pity those who aren’t able to experience this because they believe that “metal is dead” (but that’s starting a whole new topic that I won’t rant about right now). Anyways….About halfway through their set, Jarvis kindly asked the crowd if everyone could put away their phones/cameras/recording equipment etc. for just this one song. He said that they were going to play a new song that will be on their new album, and he didn’t want it to be recorded. I thought that was very interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band make this request before. What was even more interesting was that I saw everyone around me respectfully obeying his request (then again, I was on the front barrier and there could’ve been some stray asshole in the back wanting to rebel). They played their new song to a very receptive crowd, and I believe it definitely foreshadowed a promising new album. They ended their set with the usual songs from their self-titled EP, “The Chalice” and “Night Demon”, complete with their mascot Rocky making an appearance onstage and flicking water at people.They left the stage to an ecstatic crowd and quickly toweled off to continue working as roadies for all of the other bands up next.
And now to the one of the most…interesting parts of the festival: the long awaited reunion of White Wizzard’s High Speed GTO lineup….kinda. Original drummer Tyler Meahl was on tour with Huntress, so he was replaced by Jesse Appelhans (the studio drummer on Over the Top). I would like to make a disclaimer that I have additional strong opinions about this performance, however I am going to accurately make my point here and leave all the opinionated ranting up to Don.
So, to begin, James LaRue, James Paul Luna, and Jesse Appelhans made their way onstage right after High Spirits to begin setting up their gear. Much later, with maybe 7 minutes before they are scheduled to play, Jon Leon emerges dressed in typical rock star clothing- Pete Way-style pants, vest, scarves, hat, gloves, and other accessories- to do his sound check. Once he finished perfecting his bass knobs, he walked over to Jesse and they briefly went over a few cues in songs. Right away, this was a red flag to me because, yes, they are playing a reunion show and probably haven’t played these songs in a while, but, Jesse gave a sort of look of dismissal towards Jon.
It was finally time to begin, and their “roadie” guy came over to Jon’s mic and said something along the lines of “Please welcome back White Wizzard!” (I’m pretty sure) They began with the song “Red Desert Skies”, and I am sad to say that I didn’t feel that certain spark of magic that I was anticipating. I was happy to be seeing White Wizzard, I just wished that some things wouldn’t have thrown the experience off balance. They sounded under rehearsed and kind of thin- like it was just 4 musicians doing their own thing, not a band playing together. As they progressed through the setlist, I became increasingly irritated by the mixing of the sound. I’m not sure if the mixing was the choice of the soundboard guy behind the curtain, or if it was someone…..else, but all I was hearing was bass. I will admit that- being a bass player- I enjoy hearing bass in the mix that doesn’t sink in or get covered up by everyone else. However, when the bass is so loud that you can just barely hear LaRue playing solos or Luna’s vocals, there might be an issue. I understand that it would’ve automatically been louder for me because I was right in front of Jon, and I also watched some footage of the show taken from the back where guitar was a little more prevalent- but it was still overall too loud. I also heard from other people in the crowd, including an audio engineer, agree that the mixing was not the best it could’ve been.
One of the last few songs they played was a cover song “Hollywood Tease” by Girl, which was and interesting surprise. Finally, their last song was “High Speed GTO”, which the crowd cheered for graciously and sang along loudly to. Overall, I think they ended stronger than they began, and I had seen a historical performance. I would also like to add that seeing James LaRue play live was one of my favorite parts of the festival, and he is easily one of the best and most creative guitarists out there right now. Jesse Appelhans also did a very solid job filling in for this show, and it’s cool that he was able to relearn a lot of these old songs for this special occasion. And finally, Luna did a phenomenal job singing throughout the set; it’s so amazing that he can still sing these songs with such enthusiasm and precision to make the show completely worth it. It’s impossible to praise him enough for all the hard work he’s done recently with relearning this and constantly being on tour.
Next was Mindless Sinner- the first of the only 2 older bands that were playing this day. Even though I hadn’t previously heard much from this band, I had heard a lot of other people raving about them. Jake Rogers (Visigoth singer) was standing behind us before they began, and he was telling us all about how they are an absolutely amazing band. He also told us about how they played a magical set when he recently saw them in Europe. So, with this valuable input, I was able to be more open-minded going into their performance.They came onstage with a noble and seasoned air about them, and began with the song “We Go Together”. I was quite impressed with all the diehard fans around me singing their hearts out with huge smiles on their faces as the singer pointed the mic at the crowd. I feel like they opened with the right song to capture my attention, and they basically sounded like a unique spinoff of Saxon to me. I was definitely more interested than I had initially anticipated. The singer’s voice was in great condition considering how old he seemed, and he was not struggling at all with any of the higher notes (no Don Dokken syndrome/disappointment with these guys). The set progressed with more chanting from the crowd, and I was able to hear Jake’s vibrato singing voice behind us joining in (it was pretty funny because I was accustomed to only drunken off-key singing by fans). They played a slightly longer set than all the previous bands- transitioning themselves and the rest of the acts after them into headliner status- but soon reached their final song. They closed with “Master of Evil” and I was kind of sad to see them go, but I also knew in the back of my mind that my last favorite band of the night was up next.
Finally, it was time to see one the main bands I was most excited about: Midnight. Hoodless and clothed, all the guys came onstage to do their sound check. I don’t know if it’s just me, but seeing this sort of diminished their element of anonymity they try to convey on album covers for me. Then, they all went offstage for about a minute and a half, got into their stage clothes with the speed of some kind of wizardry, and ran out playing their first song “Black Rock n’ Roll”. The crowd went absolutely ape shit and it was painful in a good way. Even though they had just begun their first song, everyone was already sweaty and one or two people had already been crowd surfed. The band transitioned ‘smoothly’ into their next song, “Rip This Hell” and the crowd kept increasing in intensity from this point on– more crowd surfers and more pushing reaching the fans up front. The fast-paced set continued for another couple dozen songs until they eventually neared the end of their set. They kicked into their last song “Unholy and Rotten” and the crowd was still holding up and thrashing. Right before the end of the song, they stopped and Athenar (bass/vocals) set his bass on the drum riser. He picked up a strapless guitar nearby and challenged guitarist Vanik to a satirical solo battle. Athenar obviously lost, and he smashed the guitar on the monitor and threw the pieces into crowd. He picked his bass back up, the drums counted them back in, and they plunged back into the ending of the last song. They didn’t really finish it though, as the guitar was set on screech mode and Athenar screamed into the mic before making his way to the edge of the stage. He put one foot down on the barrier in front of the guy next to me and then almost put his other foot down on me. He soon realized there was an innocent girl looking up at him hoping she wouldn’t get stomped, so he moved his foot and ended up falling backwards. Whoops…He climbed back onto the barrier and sort of leaned himself onto the crowd until they picked him up. Still with his bass strapped on, he surfed his legs and cord over my head and continued moving into the crowd. Then I saw the guitarist also crowd surfing but without his instrument. They were both eventually passed back up to the front, got back onstage, and waved and left.
Although they somewhat strayed from the other styles of bands at the festival, they still had a very strong following of fans here. I’m so glad they were a part of this wonderful weekend.
Cirith Ungol was the last band of the night. They were the other older band, and most of the people in attendance were most excited to see them. Honestly, I hadn’t really heard any of their material either- I was mainly there to support my favorite newer underground bands that were in attendance. They had reunited the first time in 25 years and recruited Jarvis from Night Demon to play bass for this long-awaited hometown show. I was very aware that I was witnessing something special and historical. However, because I wasn’t there primarily for them, I decided to tear myself away from the barrier to get some fresh air, (preferably not composed of smoke and evaporating sweat), chug a bottle of room temperature water, and try to get some of the beer-soaked tangles out of my hair.
We decided to go sit up in the top balcony of the theater so we would be able to see and hear as well as sit for the first time in 8 hours. They soon took the stage to immense cheering and began their first song “Join the Legion” after long intro soundtracks. To be completely honest, their first songs didn’t really hook me, and I’m sure this was more because I was distracted by how good it felt to sit down in those comfy, red velvet seats. There also weren’t many fans up there going crazy, so I didn’t really think to pay attention as much as I had been all night. We soon decided to go back downstairs and stand on the second tier of the floor to be more included in the audience. We made it down there just in time to hear everyone chanting along to the song “Frost and Fire”, and my attention was finally getting a little more focused. Though I couldn’t see very well, it was interesting to see how nicely all the band members interacted with each other and how cohesive they were. It brought a smile to my face to Jarvis included in this, and amazed me yet again that he was playing another set (an even longer one) after playing with Night Demon and running around as a roadie for everyone all day. What a guy!
For the rest of their hour long set, we watched from a few different vantage points, and I hate to admit that I continually lost interest. I believe a combination of not knowing the songs, not being down in the middle of all the diehard fans, and realizing that their songs were long (in my opinion)contributed to this. I was simply more interested in watching drunk people stagger around looking for their friends (a favorite pastime of mine). They reached the end of their set with the last song “Cirith Ungol”, and I was a little sad to realize that this day that I had been looking forward to for months was about to be over. I was, on the other hand, a little happy that I would soon be able to get a good amount of sleep to prepare for the next day…or so I thought.
Overall, this was the best festival I have been to so far, and it was a weekend to remember for the rest of my life. Seeing between 600 and 700 metalheads all wandering around a small California beach town was something like a dream, and my favorite quote of the weekend to best describe it was said by our friend Noah: “I wish every day could just be metal festivals like this”.A major thanks (once again) to Jarvis Leatherby and the Night Demon guys for working so incredibly hard to put together and maintain an event that I know has had a major impact on hundreds of fans’ lives. I can’t wait to see who they book for the lineup next year!