In booking the second annual Bull City Metal Fest, Casbah talent buyer Steve Gardner had a clear goal: variety.
"Really, it's kind of metal and heavy music and a bunch of stuff rolled up together," he says. "What I wanted to do was have a variety of music—as big a variety as I could."
On the contrary, heavy metal and its fans aren't exactly known for their embrace of inclusion. The genre's seemingly infinite micro-genres back that point; it's a form in which a band, such as Brooklyn's Liturgy, is lambasted by the scene for taking an unorthodox approach to its chosen subgenre (black metal) whether or not the music itself is any good (in fact, it's excellent).
Peter Hasselbrack, who performs old-school death metal with his one-man-band Bloodsoaked, declined the offer to play Bull City Metal Fest because he wasn't interested in being the sole representative of his chosen metal sect. The rich mix doesn't suit his ideal.
"It just doesn't fit for the style that I'm in," he says. "I've played those kind of shows before, and most people that say they're into metal aren't really into the real heavy death metal-type stuff, so once you get up there and start playing everyone starts looking at you like you've got 16 heads."
It's not necessarily a bad or good thing, he says, but in his experience, fans don't tend to cross between genres. "If you have three death metal bands play, pretty much if you close your eyes and turn your back, all the bands pretty much sound the same," he explains. "Then the fourth band goes on and they're a deathcore band. The death metal fans will turn and walk away. Splitting hairs? For sure."
Gardner says Durham doesn't quite live up to that description, though. "In Durham, what I think we have is a pretty young scene, where people are still just kind of enjoying the music and experimenting. People aren't so niche-based, as a whole," he says. "I wanted to kind of reflect our area and where we are right now, which is really eclectic."
The bands that did sign on for the festival are aware that they might be upsetting the purists' blinders-on view of what metal is or can be—and they're OK with it. "I want to let everybody in," says M/\KE frontman Scott Endres. "I would eventually like to keep pushing this band into a position where there's not really a completely or widely agreed-upon shelf that we sit on."
The night before they play in Durham, M/\KE will play WKNC's Double Barrel Benefit at The Pour House in Raleigh; they're the only metal band included on the two-night, eight-act bill. Despite the purist factions, says Endres, much of the current climate for heavy music is plenty hospitable to new mutations.
"In the past couple years," he explains, "it seems like suddenly, metal has just blossomed into this really interesting thing where more people are pushing boundaries and genre-defying."
He cites two of this year's more notable Metal Fest performers: Rhode Island duo The Body and Greensboro outfit Braveyoung. Separately and respectively, they play oppressively heavy doom and majestic, gloomy post-rock, but together, as on last year's Nothing Passes, they find a dramatic middle ground where The Body's scorched-earth scuzz and Braveyoung's cinematic sweep form something new and exciting for both.
Ken Rumble plays drums for Durham's Knives. For Rumble, metal offered something he wasn't finding in the grungy punk he'd played in prior bands. "What we saw in it was metal's celebratory aspects," he says. "While there's a lot of doom and gloom and those sorts of things in metal, there's also a real boldness and kind of a celebratory thing in being so big and being so loud."
That's the idea this year's Bull City Metal Fest hopes to embrace. Gardner hopes that approach will find continued success, despite the naysayers.
"I hit the goal that I wanted to hit," he says, "which was an eclectic festival."