A roomful of metalheads welcomed hell at the Gothic Theatre on Saturday in the form of Denver Black Sky IV. The all-day metal fest, during which bands dueled, has become one of the best annual live-music shows in a city with a serious heavy-metal pedigree, courtesy of Black Sky Brewery owners Harry Smith and Lila Mackey.
Stages were at each end of the open floor pit, which allowed for a quick turnover between sets. The audience barely had time to recover from one baritone barrage before being thrown back into the pitch by a fresh band looking to induce more mayhem.
The climax of the night was no doubt the battle set between Skinless and Exhumed. Professor Pizza of Denver band Axeslasher set the stage by explaining the head-to-head setup, which pitted two of death metal’s goriest against each other in what was a battle for the best. It was East Coast vs. West Coast, the metal equivalent of Biggie vs. Tupac. Fortunately, neither band was gunned down in cold blood, but Skinless lead man Sherwood Webber suffered the unfortunate fate of being disemboweled on stage. The man behind the brutality, a deranged doctor from Team Exhumed, dragged a screaming Webber across the pit by his "intestines" and into Exhumed’s playing area as he writhed and raved.
California's Exhumed set the tone early and didn’t slow down for anybody behind Matt Harvey’s chainsaw guitar riffs, playing songs from the band's canon, including "Open the Abscess" and "Casket Crusher." Amid the long hair and leather, Exhumed threw in a severed leg and some blood for good measure, while a head found itself being treated like a soccer ball by the manic moshers.
New York City’s Skinless answered the challenge, though, with its hardcore-influenced brand of death metal, barking out band classics like "Crispy Kids" and "Extermination of My Filthy Species." Frontmen Harvey and Webber partook in some friendly trash talk, and by the end of the set, both were performing with each others' bands.
The crowd reacted in typical metal fashion: by running in circles and bumping bodies as if they were temporarily possessed. Moshing is a young man’s game, and by the looks of the Black Sky pits, the Denver scene won't fizzle anytime soon.
The battle-of-the-bands format of the Skinless and Exhumed sets made for such an intense viewer experience that the magnitude of the showcase didn’t sink into my brain until hours after the concert stopped. It was a celebration of two of death metal’s heaviest hitters.
Not to be overshadowed, Demolition Hammer closed the night. The New York City band, which was an underground metal powerhouse with three releases in the early 1990s, has been reborn and has proved that metal music is a good antidote to age. The guitars were as razor-sharp as ever, and the act’s brand of thrash-turned-death-metal found the ears of many younger fans, which are now thoroughly infected with rigor mortis.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the spastic set of Weekend Nachos, which announced that the Denver show was the band’s last outside of its home state of Illinois.