I survived Cannibal Corpse

2015-04-09 17:00

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The names of the bands alone would make your grandma clutch her pearls: Septic Flesh, Bile of Man, Cannibal Corpse.

No wonder Witchfest, the first South African metal fest with an international line-up of this stature, was booted from three venues before it finally found a place at The Bassline in Newtown, Johannesburg. Apparently people didn’t get the memo that Witchfest has nothing to do with witches, and more to do with metal.

Although I wasn’t brave enough to camp out in the Bassline parking lot for the four-day duration of the fest, I went through on a rainy Saturday evening, set on fully immersing myself in the black-clad and bespiked crowd of South Africa’s most brutal metal festival.

My first introduction was a stereotypical one. An irritated-looking goth chick at the ticket desk didn’t have my media pass, and seemed very angry at me for asking for it. She sat staring at me while I stood in the drizzle waiting for someone to go look for one. I wonder what it is about metal concerts that requires a stroppy teen girl stereotype at the front desk.

Anyway, when I finally got into the venue and joined my brother and his girlfriend, an Austrian black metal outfit called Belphegor were mauling the mic and I could see fans slamming into each other in the moshpit in front of the stage.

Belphegor are black metal, which makes them more prone to corpse paint (where you paint your face a deathly white and black) and theatrical stage props.

Belphegor, also available for weddings and baby showers.
Picture: David Devo Oosthuizen

To an inexperienced ear like myself, their stuff sounded like a very angry bear caught in a metal dustbin, but I think that’s what they were going for.

I stood in the crowd clutching my little handbag and hoping I wouldn’t get trampled. But it was all very zen, to be honest. Apart from the thrashing moshpit, metalheads stood dotted about the place, nodding sagely along to the lyrics or grinning at the spectacle that was Belphegor. I don’t think I was bumped or jostled once. I even got a picture with the guitarist at the meet and greet afterwards. He’s actually a rather soft-spoken and nice guy.

No one told Henry his eyes were bleeding.
Picture: Pagan Anscombe

Metal forms a very small part of the South African music scene, but local bands like Agro, Sacrifist and Boargazm keep the backbone of this small but ferocious subset. I ran into one of the guys from Sowetan band Demegoroth Satanuam on our way to get drinks, and he was grinning from ear to ear, saying this was the best weekend of his life. I asked him what his parents thought of his band and he said although they’d never been to a gig they have watched his band practices and liked it. Well whaddya know.

It’s a pity that a genre that seems to bring nothing but joy to people has such a hard time existing.

Apart from being booted from three venues due to boycotts by the Christian community and a lack of support from local and national councils, the Witchfest organisers had to plan the festival with almost no corporate sponsors or support. I am told the festival’s founders lost about R1 million each after all the venue and sponsor cancellations. They are currently running an Indiegogo campaign to make up for the lost money and to ensure Witchfest can go ahead next year.

But back to the festival. The event I had been waiting for had finally dawned. It was time for Cannibal Corpse, the festival’s lead act, to take the stage. Now in case you didn’t know, Cannibal Corpse is like the Beyoncé of death metal. They’re pretty much living legends in the scene. Their lead singer George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher also has the largest neck I’ve ever seen on a human being.

George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher from Cannibal Corpse, the type of guy you just want to take home to mum.
Picture: David Devo Oosthuizen

Cannibal Corpse was all brutal vocals, thrashing guitars, and pulverising double base. Corpsegrinder delivered one of the most relentless vocal performances I’ve ever seen on a stage, hardly stopping in between songs and screaming without faltering. When he started his signature headbang, the mosh pretty much exploded.

No one headbangs like Corpsegrinder, you have to see it to believe it.

I left Witchfest marvelling at the incredible energy of the bands I had seen and the rather cathartic release of witnessing such an onslaught of sound.

So I bet you’re wondering, did I see anything weird, evil, satanic even? Well, I did see a couple of guys walking through Bassline without shoes on, and those floors are filthy.

As far as I can tell, Metalheads are a gentle folk, probably because they get out all their aggression thrashing along to the very brutal music they listen to. You know, South Africans might just benefit from listening to a little metal. It would definitely help us get our anger out, it might even curb road rage.

It’s okay not to like metal, it’s also okay not to want to support it, but to deny metal bands a venue because they have provocative names or dress differently from what you’re used to, now that’s just silly.

* Check out Witchfest’s Indiegogo campaign by searching for The Show Must Go On on indiegogo.com

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