Testing Tampa’s Metal

The doors of 1441 E. Fletcher Ave. were practically rocked off their hinges Saturday as seven of Florida’s finest metal bands geared up to play the ninth annual Bay Area Hard Rock Fest.

It was a night of debauchery and great music with bands like Chaos, RMisery, Decepcion and Malkavian. About 200 people came in and out of the Brass Mug that night to enjoy the festivities and, of course, the free beer and pizza provided by the Fest’s founder, Josh Jones.

It was about 7:30 p.m. when BAHRF 9 officially started and Decepcion (pronounced like ‘deception’) was first up. Frontman Matt “Mutt” Morris wanted to make sure I made that pronunciation known to all. Decepcion is an old-school metal band with distinctive southern-rock and blues influences. Morris joked on stage that the band “a little southern-fried aroundthe edges.”

Decepcion had very strong vocals and the music was highly developed, giving them a great overall sound. Morris’s gravelly vocals over lightning-fast guitar riffs made for a spectacular show of vintage metal. Angst-ridden songs like “Blister” and “I Am” gave way to more progressive and soulful songs like “A New Light,” which is on the band’s upcoming album, Shed.

RMisery took the stage next. The band had a more death metal sound that took over the venue with blasting beats and, of course, massive amounts of circle head-banging. Interesting sound effects gave the band’s songs more dimension, leaving a distinct impression on the audience. The band’s lead singer, Kirk Alan, was on bass guitar while two electric guitarists shredded. This freed them up to harmonize and create those really great breakdowns the genre is famous for.

A bit later came Aries, a foursome with a bit of a flair for theatrics. Covered in white stage makeup and fake gore, Aries played a great set in which an inebriated fan actually grabbed the mic stand and started singing into it. They took it in stride and kept playing right along, having the time of their lives. During one song the guitarist started walking through the bar, greeting people while still playing.

After the Aries set, I decided to take in the atmosphere a little bit. The Brass Mug saw a plethora of interesting people that night, including a giant, bearded armor-maker named Gravedigger. A part of the Tampa metal scene for more than 20 years, he was in the back behind a table of band shirts and albums for sale from almost every subgenre of metal ever invented. He was quite an intimidating sight even when he wasn’t drinking beer from a hollowed-out animal horn.

Digger, as he liked to be called, couldn’t have been more different in personality and appearance. He was a very nice guy and pretty well connected, from what he told me. The 36-year-old apprentice armor maker has done work for bands like Dimmu Borgir, Behemoth and Goatwhore. Digger normally sells his wares at Renaissance festivals around the state and he’ll be at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa from late February to early April.

Iron Cross, from Orlando, was after Aries, offering a very surprising sound to the audience. The Brass Mug was quite full when Iron Cross came on – probably because the free pizza had been delivered about 15 minutes before.

Iron Cross is a three-man outfit and the band turned out to be the most unexpected performance of the night. Clad in leather vests, the middle-aged band members rocked out with a sound like Black Sabbath and Pantera put together.

Iron Cross had a great vocalist/guitar player that sang in the style of all the great 80’s metal vocalists. The band was truly a throwback to the roots of the genre and a sample of a style that may soon become a lost art.

Chaos – the band that made this entire night possible – followed them, and even though the band was down a guitarist it still brought on a great performance, which culminated in the bassist spouting fire. Josh Jones, the founder of BAHRF, provided both vocals and drums for this trio of metal mayhem.

To conclude the night, Malkavian came out with a blazing series of spine-tingling songs with intensely dark melodies. This band of six played with great intensity and tight rhythms to produce the essence of the death metal genre. Guitar harmonies, screaming vocals and ethereal keyboard effects made Malkavian the most entertaining act of the entire night.

BAHRF 9 proved itself to be a great night of bands and fun. In its heyday, Jones said BAHRF was held outside in his own backyard. He said it usually was an all-day event starting around 2 p.m., instead of the 7-hour festival it was this year.

Jones hopes next year’s event will be outside again, with a few more bands playing. For any metal-head, BAHRF is a not-to-be-missed tradition and will be around, hopefully, for many years to come.