Festival season is here and California has no shortage of options for niche entertainment seekers; from Arroyo Seco Weekend and Smokin’ Grooves to Burger Boogaloo and Summertime in LB, whatever musical religion you subscribe to has it’s fair share of representation. Delving into the true deep-cut side of things, there’s one fest that stands out as the real assembly for die-hards: Los Angeles Strikefest. Created and lovingly curated by the heavy hitting Church of the 8th Day and Nightforce Productions (a new face in the LA metal scene) version 1.0 of Strike Fest didn’t pull any punches and delivered three nights of bucket-list worthy acts.
The first evening was the shortest of the three but remained far from being a pre-show. Fans were treated to sets from Los Angeles’ own media darlings Dread and Blade Killer, Matt Harvey (of Exhumed) performing in both Pounder and the reunion of Dekapitator, and a very hyped and rare performance by Detroit’s Demon Bitch. Closing out the night was Nasty Savage, the band serving one of the most direct examples of bleeding for the art. Warned by security to watch for “flying glass and metal and shit” shortly before the set began, my idea of what to expect from their reputation didn’t come close to preparing me for being splattered with Nasty Ronnie’s blood as he repeatedly threw CRT TVs into the air just to let them crash down on his own head. The presence of chains, bloody glass shards, and a walker with the potential to be used as a weapon gave enough reason for the crowd to chant “ECW” and shift the atmosphere of a show to that of a hardcore wrestling match.
The idea of spectacle in performance was no less present for night two. Heavy metal maniacs, self identified and carrying an unmatched sense of pride were out in full force for an evening devoted to the intensity of the circle pit. Nightmare, Outline, Portland’s Cemetery Lust, Skeletal Remains, and Merciless Death drove the energy of the crowd through the first half of the day and laid the groundwork for one of the top single day lineups in metal this year. Night Demon and Nocturnus AD, each worthy of being headliners themselves, pushed the crowd even further into metal madness. The temperature inside the Regent spiked the moment Razor began the blistering performance that immediately earned the title of the top act of the weekend. As their set ended the crowd seemed stunned; much of the chatter overheard repeated the same thing: “how can anyone follow up after THAT?” Thankfully Exciter‘s presence was not far behind as the legendary trio rounded out the Canadian one-two punch with another flawless performance.
Closing out the fest with a third day comprised of the most eclectic mix of bands was a bold choice; much of the crowd was in recovery from the chaos of the night before, allowing the technicality and intricate songwriting of acts like Wayfarer and Krallice to shine (the former being the most surprising act of the fest. It’d be a treat to see them headline a much more intimate show in LA in the near future.) An early set by SoCal’s own Crematory Stench served as another strong reminder that LA takes it’s projects seriously and practices as such. “Local” isn’t a bad prefix for acts here; it sets the bar high and makes the playing field a true challenge that inspires growth and creativity. That being said, it also raises our standards for traveling acts – something Mexico’s Strike Master was easily able to overcome with their perfectly charged thrash riffs. The final performance of the weekend was the one I was most excited to see: Morbid Saint. I stumbled across Spectrum of Death at a much younger age and it immediately became something I loved. The fact that it was the sole full-length released at the time made the band feel like somewhat of a mystery until the reformation and subsequent (proper) release of the follow up Destruction System. Years later and with guitarist Jay Visser being the only remaining original member, it’s fair to say I had some doubts about the performance I was about to see. Thankfully my hesitations were put to rest not long after they took the stage; the material I appreciated so much held its own and gave me faith in the upcoming release with the new lineup.
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During their set on Saturday, Exciter’s drummer and vocalist Dan Beehler took several moments between songs to talk about how much the crowd reminded him of what it was like to play in the 80s: intense, enthusiastic, and, well, exciting. As much as the band loved this response from the crowd, the generally younger audience had an audible reaction of mutual appreciation as it gave each person there (myself included) a glimpse of a movement many of us grew up dreaming of experiencing. That type of energy is what Strikefest is about, and with the impending end of Frost and Fire Fest this fall I can only hope Church of the 8th Day and Nightforce Productions continue to carry the torch and give the Southern California metal scene something to look forward to and build upon in the years to come. In the meantime I’ll be eagerly awaiting with an icepack on my neck.
Words and Photos by: Dillon Vaughn