If nailing the headliners is the most important part of introducing a new music festival, the organizers of the inaugural Holiday Hell Fest deserve to take an early victory lap. While none of the four acts atop the nine-band bill scheduled for December 13 at Downtown venues Fremont Country Club and Backstage Bar & Billiards will be playing arenas anytime soon, they've all been highly influential on the underground metal scene in their own way. Here's why you shouldn't miss the opportunity to catch Cattle Decapitation, Unearth, Atheist and Darkest Hour all in one night.
No band has done more to push death metal forward this decade than these environmentally conscious, animal-rights focused San Diego-based grinders. This will be one of their first shows behind Thanksgiving weekend release—and eighth studio LP—Death Atlas, which stands out as the band's crowning achievement. The album has a cinematic feel throughout, borne out of recurring apocalyptic-dispatch interludes to go with a crisp production, and a surprising number of hooks for a death-metal record. The only thing that contorts as much as lead guitarist Josh Elmore's supple riffs is the voice of Travis Ryan, who unleashes a warped sense of melody throughout. Check out new songs "Vulturous" and "Bring Back the Plague" to get a taste and prepare for the set.
The Boston veterans have been selling merchandise branding themselves the "Metalcore G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All Time), and it's hard to disagree. Long before the subgenre became overpopulated and mostly washed from a creative standpoint, Unearth perfected the style on 2004 sophomore album The Oncoming Storm. The band has been a frequent Las Vegas visitor ever since but hasn't made a local stop since putting out seventh album Extinction(s) late last year. Hearing standout new tracks like "One With the Sun" and "Cultivation of Infection," mixed with tried and true Storm classics like "Endless" and "This Lying World," should give the Holiday Hell Fest appearance a unique feel.
Many bands from the initial, late-'80s/early-'90s wave of death metal in southwest Florida have toured consistently for decades. Not Atheist. It's a rare treat to catch a live set from vocalist/guitarist Kelly Shaefer's group, which was inactive from 1994-2006 and hadn't toured since 2012 until this year's run. Sonically, Athiest skews more toward the technicality of Death than the sheer brutality of Cannibal Corpse.
Like Unearth, Darkest Hour rose to fame in the midst of the early-2000s metalcore scene. Unlike Unearth, the Washington, D.C.-based band has spread its sound to new areas over the years. Darkest Hour was at its thrashiest on 2003's Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, its most poignant on 2005's Undoing Ruin, its most melodic on 2014's self-titled record and its most epic on 2017's Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora. Darkest Hour headlined Beauty Bar twice on the Godless tour with different setlists, and might have more surprises in store this time around behind such a wide-ranging discography.
HOLIDAY HELL FEST December 13, 6:30 p.m., $26-$28. Backstage Bar & Billiards and Fremont Country Club, 702-382-2227.