If I say “Ryley, Alberta,” you probably don’t think “Open-Air Heavy Metal Festival” so let’s cut to the chase: Almost 40 bands (most of whom you’ve never heard of) and paintball in the flatlands of central Alberta. Round two for Farmageddon, hosted by Excalibur Productions out of Edmonton/Devon area. Work commitments allowed me to attend the Thursday pre-party in Edmonton, then the main festival event on Saturday/Sunday.
The pre-party was a speed metal smackdown at Filthy McNasty’s on Whyte Ave featuring Riot City, Hazzerd, Powerslave and Vicious. No cover charge; the gig had a pretty healthy run of attendees throughout the night. Powerslave kicked off the proceedings with a tribute to Iron Maiden, with an eye on tunes from the self-titled album all the way through to Fear of the Dark. Decent background music for slugging back pints of Grasshopper, but the singer and drummer both had trouble keeping it together.
Filthy McNasty’s is a cool place that has been loyal to heavy metal bands for years and years now, and their free-cover shows are a regular deal, plus they make a mean plate of nachos. In addition to band merch, there were two tables of CDs, tapes and LPs set up, lending the show a nice metal market quality. Vicious (Halifax) struck the stage next. Great band, wild antics, wailing lead vocals from behind the drumkit. Rest of the band pulled their weight, throwing shapes to spare. Lots of riffs, lots of fun.
We nabbed a double-shot of Cow-town madness from Hazzerd and Riot City. The former played some straight-up thrash in the old bay area vein, very tight though not nearly as untamed and explosive as the previous group. Riot City on the other hand were that burst of energy needed to close off the night. It was their first show, and they worked the room with a drunken ham-fisted grace, absolutely perfect for the event. Musically I dig ‘em more than Skullfist or Axxion. With a few more gigs under their belt I think they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Played a great cover of “See You in Hell” by Grim Reaper. Pounding Metal.
I rolled into the festival grounds at about 7:00pm, after trying (unsuccessfully) to tow some bleeding drunken idiots from the ditch on Highway 14. Saw them at the festival a few hours later thanks to AMA. Promptly after emerging from my van I was assaulted by five different people asking if I was sober enough to make a beer run in Tofield. After some banter I eventually convinced some bloke to pay me 20 bucks for my trouble. When I finally made it to the stage area with a 18-pack of Pilsner under my arm, Idolatry were on the stage with ravishing grimness, complete with corpse-paint. Watching black metal with the sun shining in your eyes takes you out of the experience, but what can you do? Tyrants Demise from the ‘Peg went on next and their derpy brand of Deathcore wasn’t for me.
Farmageddon is a largely all-ages event, which should be a godsend for the young and impressionable metal fans in the Alberta area. The stage arena was separated by a chicken-wire fence, with one side as the licensed area (where you could drink the Alley Kat beer for sale, but not your own beer) and the non-licensed area (where you could drink your own beer but not the Alley Kat beer) which sounds stupid on paper
and looks even more ridiculous in practice when one side of the stage is crammed with people and the other side has two viewers carrying red solo cups. The fence was taken down on Sunday morning.
Local heroes Death Toll Rising blasted through a set of death metal which was about as tight as a bug’s ear (pretty damn tight, from what I’ve read) which is what we’ve come to expect from them. Death Toll Rising were one of the semi-finalists in Canada’s battle for Wacken, and guitarist Drew Copland was selected as a judge for the finals in Toronto.
The camping grounds for Farmageddon are pretty swell. The location is surrounded by rows of trees and farmers fields and the sun floats across the sky for a solid 18 hours per day. At the center of the grounds sits a fire pit which serves as a communal kitchen and also a place to escape the sun during the burning hours of the afternoon. On one side of the fire pit lies a sea of tents. On the other is the market area, featuring band/festival merch and a handful of other stalls such as my good comrade Ragnar the Trader from Saskatchetoon. Beyond the market, more camping and RV units. I’d estimate that the current site of Farmageddon could accommodate 500+ guests with proper organization.
Most of the Farmageddon lineup consists of regional/local acts, meaning that socializing was the strongest commodity for the weekend. I ended up hanging out and chatting away Psychotic Gardening’s doom-encrusted set, but they sounded great from my aural vantage. Calgary’s own pagan horde Dark Forest invaded the stage next, bathed in blue and purple glow. David Parks rasped and snarled his way through tunes from both albums which was well-received by those in attendance. Steel clashed and rivers ran brown with cheap booze. The partying continued well into the night thanks to the dudes from Ironstorm, Mongol and Eye of Horus who brought their own beer-pong equipment. It was probably 3:00am before I passed out in the back of my van, drunk and bleary-eyed.
Fact: When you are camping, you will always wake up at 8:00am, no matter how late you went to sleep. I was dismayed to find that all but one of my beers (thanks, asshole) had been stolen from the cooler of our campsite. Pilfered Pilsner was a common theme of the festival that morning, which I attribute to the average redneck Albertan metalhead being a herculean dickweed. The food-vendors opened up an hour later and doles out egg+bacon sandwiches to the slavering crowds. Fact: You can never eat just one.
Bands kicks off bright and early at 10am. Cryptosis (from Stettler or some damn place) sounded like two bands playing at the same time thanks to the Nu-Slayer riffs and a mixture of Halfordian wails and death grunts from their indigo-haired vocalist. We then got a triple-dose of Calgary from bands like Afterearth (playing shreddy melodic death metal), Shrapnal (Old-school thrash metal played by new blood, easily the most entertaining band of the weekend) and Vile Insignia doing beastly death/black metal.
Edmontonian three-piece Display of Decay went up next for another death metal assault featuring hyperactive guitar solos and gut-churning bass tone. They’re touring western Canada this summer, so keep an eye out for three hot singles in your area.
The west coast got their kicks in with Witch of the Waste playing some grinding hardcore punk. Their style didn’t jive with the rest of the festival and their set went largely unwatched. Following them were Victoria’s Scimitar who were a hit with the sparse Sunday crowd, complete with belly-dancing, swords, banjos and piratical lyrics. I unfortunately had to bounce back to Edmonton at this point so I missed out on the rest of the bands, such as Ironstrom, Mortillary, Sanktuary and Havok.
I want to get serious for a second here because it seems that 2014 is the year for metal festivals in Western Canada. In the months of June/July/August we’ve got Calgary Metalfest, Armstrong Metalfest, Farmageddon, Loud as Hell, Beaverfest, Shred the Loops, Vernstock, Metalwizard Open Air and then maybe one or two more I’m forgetting. That’s eight summer metal festivals in BC, AB and SASK alone, and most of these are camping events.
I’ve got bad news: Less than half of these festivals will be able to sustain themselves for future years. Our climate of fans and bands cannot support them all.
Some of the fests have different goals than others, but in the Game of Festivals, success will come down to management, marketing and booking bands that draw a crowd. Farmageddon 2014 was a massive improvement from 2013 and features some of the best lights and sound I’ve ever heard at a festival. Despite this, Excalibur needs to take some serious steps to tighten up their game if they want to go any further with this event.
– 4 Days of music (three days at the campground)
– 39 bands (approx 28 from Alberta)
– $100 for a 3-day pass (add $30/night for RV camping)
– $5 for a festival beer (provided by Alley Kat, Edmonton)
– $4-7 for festival food (Burgers, fries, hot dogs, pulled pork sammiches, etc)
– 80km east of Edmonton (Just past Tofield)
– 9 beers stolen
– 4 ratchet straps ruined
Highlighted Bands Online
Tyrants Demise – http://www.facebook.com/tyrantsdemiseofficial
Idolatry – http://www.facebook.com/idolatryblackmetal
Ragnar the Trader – http://www.facebook.com/ragnarthetrader
Psychotic Gardening – http://www.psychoticgardening.com
Dark Forest – http://www.darkforest.ca
Cryptosis – http://www.facebook.com/CryptosisMetal
Afterearth – http://www.facebook.com/metalafterearth
Shrapnal – http://www.facebook.com/ShrapnalBand
Vile Insignia – http://www.facebook.com/VileInsignia
Scimitar – http://www.Scimitar.ca
Display of Decay – http://www.displayofdecay.net
KYOKTYS – http://www.facebook.com/KYOKTYS
Mongol – http://www.facebook.com/MongolCanada
Witch of the Waste – http://www.facebook.com/witchofthewaste
Photos by Dana Zuk Photography