Denver is set to be the center of the metal universe again, with Decibel magazine bringing its Metal & Beer Festival back to the city for the second year in a row.
The Philadelphia-based metal monthly built the beer-soaked music event into a behemoth, with hometown shows and more recent editions in Los Angeles. But Denver always intrigued Decibel Editor-in-Chief Albert Mudrian, according to local musician Ben Hutcherson, who plays in Khemmis and Glacial Tomb. “It’s this wonderful intersection of craft beer and a very lively underground scene,” he says. “That was part of the motivation in doing Decibel’s fest in Denver in the first place.”
Khemmis will headline the first night of this year’s Metal & Beer Fest, on Friday, December 1, at Summit Music Hall. The longstanding local doom group, which has played the Philly and LA iterations, also teamed up with Decibel in 2021 to release the single “Sigil” through the magazine’s seven-inch Decibel Flexi Series, which sends subscribers free Flexi discs with each issue.
But Hutcherson still can’t wrap his head around such a heavy-hitting lineup coming to Denver. “It feels wild, because Denver is my home. Denver is the city I live in, and I never think about it as anything other than just home,” he says. “So when ...we’re going to do this big metal fest in Denver, it feels weird, like, you’re doing this in my home.”
While Denver may not have the widespread recognition of such larger markets as New York City or LA, it has long been a breeding ground for extreme underground music. The 2023 Metal & Beer Fest lineup is evidence of that, too. Joining Khemmis in representing the Mile High City scene on opening night are old-school death-metal outfit Cephalic Carnage and death-doom trio the Munsens. National acts also on Friday’s bill include the Red Chord, Ken mode, Morbikon and Phobocosm.
Mike and Shaun Goodwin, the brothers behind the Munsens, are veterans of the festival circuit, having been part of Psycho Las Vegas. But playing a venue like Summit is certainly something they’re pumped about. It helps that the Munsens have been working on some new stuff to share, too. “I’m looking forward to playing in Summit — big stage, great sound,” says Mike, who moved to California in 2020. “If you haven’t seen us in a while, it’ll be a good opportunity to see what we’ve been writing and get a really good taste of what’s to come on this upcoming album.”
You read that right. Having released the single “Sacred Ivory” in January, the Goodwins, along with drummer Graham Wesselhoff, are working on a yet-to-be-named album that will be unleashed sometime in 2024, a followup to the band's 2019 debut full-length, Unhanded. And during the fest, the Munsens will play a handful of unreleased tunes written over the past four years. “Ninety-nine percent of the people in the audience have not heard these new songs,” Shaun says, noting that the Munsens previously debuted some of the tunes during gigs at the hi-dive and the Crypt.
The Goodwins are also co-owners of the hot sauce company Sauce Leopard, which is a local sponsor, along with metal breweries TRVE and Black Sky. “We've got some fun sauce activations going on the night of the show,” Shaun shares. “Eat some hot sauce, and then we’re the first band that plays, so definitely grab some pizza at the show. There will be some fun custom slices that use our stuff.
“This is the Metal & Beer Fest, so there’s going to be a lot of big dudes eating and drinking and throwing themselves around," he adds.
Sauce Leopard collaborated with local thrash band Axeslasher on a sriracha hot sauce called Ass Gasher, which adventurous eaters can try at Summit. There will also be a Hot Ones-style challenge at the festival, with winners receiving prizes from the magazine and the Munsens.
The brothers are looking forward to the local flavor on stage, too. On Saturday, December 2, Denver noise-doom purveyors Primitive Man and up-and-coming cosmic death-metal group Astral Tomb will be at Summit, along with Mother of Graves, the Keening, Krypts, Midnight and Agalloch.
“I just love Denver and love the Denver bands,” says Mike. “Always have, always will. All the hometown bands I’m psyched to see again. I’ve always been a massive Midnight fan, too.”
As for Shaun, he's stoked to see Cephalic Carnage live for the first time. “I hear their show is pretty wild,” he says. “The lineup is fantastic. I mean, Agalloch — it’s going to be wild to see them. It could be the first and last time.”
It’s a big deal that Decibel landed Agalloch, as the influential American black-metal group from Portland only recently reunited; the Denver date is the band’s second North American show in seven years, and the only one of 2023. The band is also collaborating on some special brews: Indiana-based WarPigs Brewing’s Burned Fortress rauchbier Märzen and a mead from Delaware’s Brimming Horn Meadery.
Also on the beer front, TRVE is planning to debut its Decibrew Vol. 3 on Friday (the style is a secret until then), while Georgia’s Little Cottage Brewery will premiere its Double Fatality double-dry-hopped double IPA in partnership with Decibel’s Kill Screen, as well as Emptiness of Eyes shwarzbier, a nod to Mother of Eyes. A KEN mode-inspired Painless IPA will be on tap, as well.
It's a big deal that Decibel landed Agalloch, as the influential American black-metal group from Portland only recently reunited; the Denver date is the band’s second North American show in seven years, and the only one of 2023. The band is also collaborating on some special brews: Indiana-based WarPigs Brewing's Burned Fortress rauchbier Märzen and a mead from Delaware's Brimming Horn Meadery.
Also on the beer front, TRVE is planning to debut its Decibrew Vol. 3 on Friday (the style is a secret until then), while Georgia's Little Cottage Brewery will premiere its Double Fatality double dry-hopped double IPA in partnership with Decibel's Kill Screen, along with Emptiness of Eyes shwarzbier, a nod to Mother of Eyes. A KEN mode-inspired Painless IPA will be on tap, as well.
For those eager to get the party going, the festivities actually kick off on Thursday, November 30, with the official Decibel Metal & Beer Pre-Fest at the Marquis Theater. Newfound death-metal supergroup Umbra Vitae is headlining, while Graveripper and Pyschosomatic are also set to perform. Featuring members of Converge, the Red Chord and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Umbra Vitae is unlike anything its five members have worked on before, according to the band's lead singer, Jacob Bannon.
“This one sounds much more alive,” he says of Umbra Vitae’s upcoming album, Light of Death, which releases in early 2024. “That’s what the intention was. It’s the best performance I ever had. The new record embraces the wildness of the genre itself, and I think we did it.”
That means Umbra Vitae surpassed a very high bar, considering that Bannon’s deeply personal lyricism and unmistakable voice is found on one of the most prestigious metalcore albums of all time: Converge’s 2001 masterpiece, Jane Doe.
Bannon is sure to give Decibel props for always supporting him and his bandmates over the years, and promises Umbra Vitae is here to stay. “Decibel has always been super cool to all of our creative projects,” Bannon adds. “We’re not going anywhere.”
The Metal & Beer Fest isn’t just for the fans, but also affords bands the opportunity to rub shoulders with genre giants, which is crucial in fostering healthy local scenes like the one Denver currently boasts. The metal scene here is known for being tight-knit, with many members playing in multiple groups and each band finding influence in one another. Astral Tomb guitarist and vocalist Michael Schrock points to a 2019 show opening for local stalwart Blood Incantation as a catalyst for the band's transformation in sound and name (it was formerly known as Ring Nebula). “We met all the heavy hitters there when we were so young,” he recalls.
For someone like Khemmis's Hutcherson, who’s been active in Denver and metal for more than a decade now, that sense of community and inspiration are what gatherings like the Metal & Beer Fest are all about. It’s refreshing to see how bands throughout the city continue to find “exciting and weird ways to express themselves,” he says, especially when they're given an opportunity like the one Decibel is offering.
“People in this city are less impressed with how fast you can play your blast-beats than they are with feeling something coming from your band on stage,” Hutcherson concludes. “I think that that’s something that sets the Denver scene apart.”
Decibel Metal & Beer Pre-Fest, 7 p.m. Thursday, November 30, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street. Tickets are $27.50-$39.75. Decibel Metal & Beer Fest, 5 p.m. Friday, December 1, and 5 p.m. Saturday, December 2, Summit, 1902 Blake Street. Tickets are $39.50-$170.