Headliners this year include Danzig doing his 1992 effort How The Gods Kill in its entirety, Norwegian symphonic black metallers Dimmu Borgir, and reliably great Oakland power trio High On Fire. Over sixty bands – the overwhelming majority of which have merits worth discussing – will be performing across three stages over the four days. But the 10 bands below are the ones set aside and prioritize catching every single minute of, and take a break from stage-hopping and throwing down at the Hard Rock’s craps table.
10. With The Dead (Saturday 3:25 p.m – The Joint Stage)
As a member of U.K. doom-metal pioneers Cathedral, Lee Dorrian’s snarling vocal presence on early works such as 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium helped set the table for many of the younger bands performing this weekend. That band dove further into psychedelia until its dissolution in 2013. Dorrian returned to the world of trudging doom two years later with his new band With The Dead, and the sound of his vocals layered over the rumble of the band’s 2017 Love from With The Dead is pure doom-metal comfort food.
9. All Pigs Must Die (Saturday 5:25 p.m – Vinyl Stage)
This set will likely see the most vicious mosh pit of the entire weekend. A joining of forces between members of Massachusetts hardcore greats such as Converge and The Hope Conspiracy, All Pigs Must Die’s strain of metallic hardcore is the rawest form imaginable. Their latest record, 2017’s Hostage Animal, is an unadulterated blast of nihilistic fury. Vocalist Kevin Baker’s barks are vicious, drummer Ben Koller – also of Converge – matches the high marks he has set for himself with his main band, and their band mates blast out a thunderous din to enhance the aura of violence.
8. Mutoid Man (Sunday 4:20 p.m. – Vinyl Stage)
Mutoid Man is the latest project from Stephen Brodsky, front man of post-hardcore greats Cave In. While there are moments of math-rock angularity within Mutoid Man’s blueprint as well, Brodsky’s latest side project – also featuring Converge drummer Ben Koller – finds him indulging in power chords and sweeping riffs. The majority of tracks on the band’s latest – 2017’s War Moans – are two-to-three-minute catchy rock rippers. Brodsky’s bellows ring as loud as his guitars, with bassist Nick Cageao underpinning expertly crafted melodic rock bursts. Mutoid Man is heavy enough to make heads bang, with just enough boogie to make the hips swing as well.
7. Necrot (Sunday 9:30 p.m. – Vinyl Stage)
The last few years has seen a flood of new bands that are throwbacks to the more visceral early ‘90s death metal sound. Oakland trio Necrot is made up of musicians that have plied their trade within the Bay Area metal scene for the last decade, but their 2017 debut full-length Blood Offerings hit like a furious blast of cold air out of nowhere. Vocalist/guitarist Luca Indrio leads the charge with guttural rasps that evoke the greats of death metal’s early years. Guitarist Sonny Reinhardt and drummer Chad Gailey hold down the fort with a reliably brutal bludgeoning.
6. Lucifer (Friday 2:00 p.m. – The Joint Stage)
German vocalist Johanna Sadonis showed promise as a rising metal vocalist to look out for on the 2014 self-titled debut from her previous band, The Oath. After that group disbanded, Sadonis returned with her new project, Lucifer. That group’s newest record – Lucifer II – sees Sadonis belting out hearty croons over dirty psychedelic occult-rock that is layered in the aesthetic of a ‘70s British biker flick. The standard influences of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple reign supreme, but the addition of Nicke Andersson (Entombed/The Hellacopters) on guitar gives extra warmth and depth to Sadonis’ songcraft.
5. Bell Witch (Thursday 7:00 p.m. – Paradise Pool Stage)
Bell Witch’s 2017 release Mirror Reaper was a bit of a patience-tasting release. The latest from the bass-and-drums Seattle sludge duo was an 83-minute, single-song slog through depressive doom-metal ugliness. On album, it is genuinely tough to sit through in a single sitting. In the live setting though, performances of the material from that record are riveting. Drummer Jesse Shreibman is especially hypnotic to watch. It is awe-inspiring how much pure power he reigns down with every drum smash, though the downward movement is delivered in real-time slow motion.
4. Boris (Friday 7:40 p.m. – The Joint Stage)
It would be dishonest for us to tell you exactly what to expect from a Boris live set in 2018. While the Japanese experimental group’s latest record – 2017’s Dear – was mostly a return to the group’s early feedback-drenched, sludge-metal roots, the group’s musical trajectory has seen forays into hardcore punk, classic rock, and J-Pop. Set lists earlier this year featured a heavier focus on Dear, but whatever path Boris heads down in Las Vegas, guitarist Wata’s leads will sound gorgeous, and the set will be one of the most mesmerizing of the entire weekend.
3. Primitive Man (Saturday 10:20 p.m. – Vinyl Stage)
Las Vegas is considered one of the party capitals of the world. But underneath the glitz and glamour of the current image Las Vegas has, a seedy and depressed underbelly lurks beneath. Denver trio Primitive Man is the perfect soundtrack for the darker side of what Las Vegas has to offer. The band’s 2017 record Caustic was the most appropriately-titled record of the year. The record was a 78-minute exercise in harrowing screams, discordant noise, and nihilistic sludge riffs. The aura of Primitive Man – both on record and on stage – is that of suffocating pessimism.
2. Pallbearer (Sunday night 12:00 a.m. – Paradise Pool Stage)
No band balances emotional melancholy, metallic power and musical beauty like Arkansas quartet Pallbearer. Melodic doom-metal riffs make up the basic blueprint for what the band does, but their latest record – 2017’s Heartless – saw the power tempered with moments of prog-metal psychedelia. Guitarists Devin Holt and Brett Campbell soar with clean melodies and harmonics, with Campbell himself hitting vocal registers that resemble a more subdued Geddy Lee. The band is one of the last bands to take the stage this year, and their hypnotic doom will be the perfect comedown for the weekend.
1. The Hellacopters (Sunday night 8:00 p.m. – The Joint Stage)
The last two decades has seen a flood of garage-rock revivalist acts. The Hellacopters were one of the first of that modern wave, and arguably remain the best to this day. Band leader Nicke Andersson had previously made his name in the ’90s Swedish metal scene as the drummer for Entombed. He moved to the front of the stage with The Hellacopters, leading the charge on guitars and vocals for over a decade. Albums such as 1999’s Grande Rock and 2002’s By The Grace of God were full of smartly-written, insanely-catchy garage rockers, all while the band itself avoided the self-aggrandizing “we’re here to play good old-fashioned rock and roll” grandstanding that doomed many similar bands to the bargain bin. This weekend’s set will be the group’s first stateside appearance since their 2016 reunion, and for ninety minutes, rock and roll will be alive and well. – Jason Roche