The 10 Best Bands at Psycho California
Diana Lee Zadlo
This weekend, the Psycho California festival will engulf the Observatory in a thick wall of stoner-rock, doom-metal, psychedelics, and other sorts of caustic riffage. Over 50 bands will besiege the venue Friday May 15th through Sunday May 17th, all arriving with the goal of melting your face and leaving your eardrums a little worse for wear.
Psycho CA's organizers have done a fantastic job of curating this year's festival, an expansion on the "Psycho De Mayo" single-day events of previous years. The worst band on the bill is still at worst, "very good." But we recognize that at a festival that lasts for three days from 2pm-2am each day, you will need to take a smoke break, eat, or engage in other activities in the quest to maintain a killer buzz. The bands below are our picks to budget all of these breaks around so you don't have to miss a single minute of their sets.
10. Bedemon (w/Wino) Friday 6:30 p.m. (Monarch Stage)
Since their demos were unearthed in the 2000 collection First Daze Here, the attention given to '70s Sabbath-ian rockers Pentagram is well-deserved. Also unearthed in the years since and worthy of attention were demos that members of Pentagram recorded under the name Bedemon. The din contained on 2005's Child of Darkness collection is a heavier beast befitting the more sinister name, and is a prototype of the sludgier doom metal sound that is populating this weekend's festivities. Original members will be joined on vocals this weekend by Scott "Wino" Weinrich (Saint Vitus/The Obsessed).
9. Lord Dying Saturday 5:55 p.m.(Grizzly Stage)
This Portland trio combines heavy doom riffs with dirty thrash grime on their newest record Poisoned Altars. Their sound should appeal to fans of acts like High on Fire, but there is also a level of darkness that lends a scarier element to their madness. You can literally hear the sweat and dirt coagulating in their noise with every mighty bellow band leader Erik Olson roars out and every massive riff he throws down on guitar.
8. Cough Friday 9:40 p.m. (Grizzly Stage)
This Virginia act's sludge-doom is surrounded by a psychedelic aura on albums such as 2010's Ritual Abuse. While many bands in the subgenre lose themselves in repetition, Cough's lengthy opuses are emotionally draining trips through darkened hallways and spacious rooms surrounded by multiple walls of sound. Their music engulfs the listener in an almost never-ending sense of hopelessness and despair, two emotions that have rarely been so satisfying to experience.
7. Highlands Saturday 3:35 p.m. (Grizzly Stage)
This Long Beach quartet is one of the least heaviest acts performing this weekend, but their brand of psychedelic shoegaze is so rich with atmosphere that we look forward to taking a break from the sludge and doom to get lost in the relatively chill trip Highlands will provide. Their 2014 release Dark Matter Traveler evoked flashbacks to '90s shoegaze greats like Slowdive with a sound that was more Brit-rock than LBC. Though it may lack the causticness of the rest of the weekend's acts, their brand of psychedelics will still be plenty appropriate for the vibe of the weekend.
6. Acid Witch Saturday 2:30 p.m. (Monarch Stage)
The crusty filth mined by these Detroit purveyors of doom on albums such as 2008's Witchtanic Hallucinations would be an appropriate soundtrack to an acid trip gone horribly awry under the influence of too many horror movies. The guttural vocals of Slasher Dave hit low registers that make the blood of even the most hardened death metal enthusiast curdle. The level of sleaze they convey is a throwback to the garish VHS box covers that warped the minds of many teenage boys during the age of the video store.
5. Author & Punisher All 3 days (Interludes between sets)
The industrial/doom metal sound San Diego musician Tristan Shone generates on albums such as 2013's Women & Children is a worthy successor to early genre greats like Godflesh. But the instruments that he uses to inflict his metallic punishment are not your standard tools of musical implementation. Shone is a mechanical engineer who designs and plays custom-made robotic instruments that jump out of your worst steampunk-induced nightmares. Watching Shone work his apparatuses live is awe-inspiring, as he almost disappears inside his machines.
4. Bongzilla Sunday 7:50 (Monarch Stage)
From 1995-2005, this Wisconsin group championed their primary interests of sludge-metal, weed, weed, and more weed into an abrasive sonic brew that was equally dense in riffage as it was in marijuana smoke. Once you were able to cut through the haze, albums such as 1999's Stash showcased thickly laden sludge that rumbled through the listener's body, providing a powerfully heavy experience that left an afterglow well after the initial high wore off. The band is now getting back together for some festival appearances, with Psycho California being a beneficiary of their reunion efforts.3. Elder Sunday 6:25 (Grizzly Stage)
If Led Zeppelin did an album full of nothing but their proggier jam-outs like "Achilles Last Stand," the vibe would be similar to what you get from New England trio Elder on their newest record, Lore. Songs clock in at 10 to 15 minutes, but the group's massively powerful riffs and orchestrations are so mesmerizing that the songs fly by and the barrage of rock never feels excessive. Within Elder's cosmic-based aesthetic lurks a sound heavy enough to appeal to fans of acts like Mastodon.
2. Earthless Sunday 9:10 pm. (Grizzly Stage)
San Diego instrumental psych-rock trio Earthless is not concerned with showing you how many notes they can play. They simply want to rock out, rock out for a long time, and want everyone to have a good trip while they are rocking out. While albums such as 2013's From The Ages are epic studio journeys that take the listener through many hills and valleys while re-assuring you that the trip will end well, the band really shines when they can jam out in the live environment, as evidenced on 2008's Live At Roadburn.
1. Pallbearer Saturday 7:50 p.m. (Monarch Stage)
This Little Rock quintet is at the forefront of a new breed of metal bands, which are equally adept at emoting melancholia and beauty through their sound. On their 2014 album Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer infuses the slow-tempo doom-metal blueprint with dashes of psychedelia and beautiful guitar harmonies. Guitarists Brett Campbell and Devin Holt create a chilling atmosphere similar to early efforts from Euro-doom greats such as Paradise Lost. The overall subject matter is still suitably depressing, but catharsis is attained thanks to wonderfully crafted, harmonized vocals from Campbell and bassist Joseph D. Rowland.
Psycho California takes place Friday, May 15th through Sunday, May 17th at The Observatory in Santa Ana. For full info, click here.
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