Stella Natura Festival 2013 -- Soda Springs, CA -- September 20th, 2013
This isnít going to be the average gig review. I didnít go to an average gig. This wasnít a club show, an arena show, a house show or anything like this. It was a concert experience unlike any other. Stella Natura festival is an annual festival that takes place in the Tahoe National Forest in the Sierra Nevada, separating it from the likes of any other metal festivals happening in the US. Unfortunately I could only participate in one of the three days this festival runs, but the day I attended had most all of the acts I wanted to see on the line-up. The festival has a variety of doom metal, black metal, and neo-folk bands. The Friday date was strictly metal acts. The line-up for the day I went was:
Knelt Rote á
Ash Borer á
Sutekh Hexen *
Now Iíll transition into the review of the whole experience. Not just the show. This is gonna serve as something I can go back to remember small details of the trip to. So itís not just gonna be me writing about the bands I saw. Letís begin with arriving to the festival site.
After a 3-hour drive to Soda Springs, CA, me and my friend Ben arrived to the camp grounds where the festival was being hosted around 1 oí clock, which gave us a few hours to explore the area before the music started. We were met with some contracts that we had to sign that was basically ďwe arenít responsible if you die and you canít sue us if youíre hurt.Ē After signing those we stood in line to get our wristbands, or so I thought. Since me and Ben were only going for one day, they just checked our name off the list and wrote an F on our hand in sharpie so they knew we were only there for Friday. After that we went into the camp ground to try and find parking, which proved to be kind of a hassle since a good amount of people got there before we did. After finding some parking, the next challenge was finding a place to set up our tent. After walking around the area for about 15 minutes, we found where one of the three stages was and a place with some tables and benches but no vacant area to set up shop. We finally found a small plot of land that was kind of behind some bushes and was kind of compact, but was pretty close to the car so we figured why not. We set up the tent, which proved to be easier than expected. After some lunch, we decided to do some exploring.
After heading down a path and taking some rad photos of the surrounding forest and cool stone trail markers we saw a little hill and decided to climb up to get a cool view of the place. Getting up was easy and we reached a plateau and there was a ton of stone trail markers. We noticed a few huge stones that were probably the size of sheds. On top of one of them was something white that from afar almost looked like a marble slab, but upon further investigation, it was a couch. A couch, on a rock, in the middle of the Sierras. Naturally, me and Ben decided to climb up the rock to get to the couch, which was made possible by shimmying up a tree to one rock then jumping from that rock to the one with the couch. We spent some time on the couch, taking photos and such. It was kind of surreal to be out in nature in the forest and still seeing strong remnants of man. While we were on the couch, we met some other individuals who had come to the festival and were hiking around. We meet a couple who came all the way from Minnesota and a dude from Oregon who didnít really know who was playing, but just came for the experience.
When it was a quarter to 3:00 we made our way down back to the car for a snack then on to the two main stages being used for music. The show was supposed to start with Weightlessness on Stage 2, which was by a cliff and had an amazing view, but I overheard some of the dudes working at the festival saying that they had already blown a speaker on that stage, so they were gonna start with Stage 1, which was set up near the cabins and there were tons of beautiful pine trees right behind the stage. The delay at Stage 2 evidently caused the whole show to be about an hour behind schedule, but it worked out in my favor. After hearing that, we headed to Stage 1 to catch the first band of the day, Amarok.
Amarok are a sludge/doom metal group out of Chico, CA. I hadnít checked out their material too much before the concert but Iím gonna make sure to do that now because they were heavy as all hell. They played really slow sludge metal a la Noothgrush. All the members playing stringed instruments provided vocals, with the bass player doing high, black metal like shrieking and the two guitarists doing lower, death growls that fit the riffs really well. They only played two songs but each song was easily about 15 minutes long each. Their tone was absolutely fat and wouldíve destroyed all eardrums if we werenít outside. The music wasnít the most revolutionary out there, but Amarok hit some absolutely tasty jams that were stuck in my head for quite a bit that day. Amarokís set was a great way to start off the festival. I remember hearing them discuss what songs they were playing before the set started and they announced the second song, so Iím assuming this setlist is correct.
After Amarok got off the stage, Ben and I decided to get some water from the car and hydrate. After that we did a bit of sight seeing around camping area we were at to pass the time. We heard another band playing in the background so we decided to see what that was about. We got to Stage 2 and caught the end of Weightlessnessí set. They were a black metal band of sorts, incorporating elements of atmospheric black metal and symphonic black metal with keyboards, but they had some issues with arrangement. They had some cool ideas but they didnít let them breathe. Like theyíd go from black metal blast beats to a clean guitar picking riff then back to blast beats before any sort of atmosphere was built with either riff. I was kind of bored for a bit but it wasnít too long Ďtil their set was over.
After that we headed back to Stage 1 to see that Aldebaran was sound checking. We assumed they were on next so we stuck around that stage for a bit then the band got off the stage. I asked the guitarist if they were on next and he explained that since there was the delay at Stage 2, they were having two bands play there, then theyíd get back on the right rotation order. So we used the extra time to look around the vendor area near stage 2. I was planning on buying a Stella Natura event t-shirt but they were like $30. No thanks. Most of the booths around were the bandsí merch booths, some label distros and some more hippie like stuff like people selling necklaces and things of that sort. After we heard the second band on Stage 2 was closing up their set, we headed over to Stage 1 to get some prime viewing positions for Aldebaran.
Aldebaran are one of the main reasons I got a ticket for this event. I saw them for the first time back on Easter this year and I was absolutely blown away. I had no idea what to expect since I had gone to the show mainly for Dispirit, and was floored by some of the most moving and absolutely crushing funeral doom Iíve ever heard. So when I heard that they were playing at a doom metal festival featuring tons of other great bands in the middle of the Sierras, I knew I had to be there. They started their set off with a new song that was absolutely brilliant. The piece started off with a sinister guitar line that used delay to its absolute advantage, giving off a kind of dreamy vibe, but was just as creepy and eerie as any other Aldebaran material I had heard. After the new tune the rest of the set was material from their 2012 LP, Embracing the Lightless Depths. It was amazing to hear the material again, this time knowing it really well. This portion of the set had me in a trance like no other. I moved with every passage of the song, knowing exactly where it was going next. Something else worth mentioning is the whole time during Aldebaran set, the main dude from Loss was right up front right next to my friend Ben. That was kind of a surreal moment too. Overall, Aldebaranís set the standard for the night, with their absolutely amazing live sound and their hypnotizing music. The ambiance wasnít quite like the last time I saw them, but it was incredible in its own right.
Occultation of Ocular Tauri
Forever In The Dream Of Death
After the set I briefly talked to one of the guitarists and he told me that they would be in the studio to record new material in early 2014. After that we headed over to the Stage 2 to catch Dispirit. We managed to get to the front of the stage with no struggle, which would be a reoccurring event through out the night.
Dispirit got on stage with the usual smoke machine clouds engulfing the surrounding area with its unholy smog that accompanies Dispirit at all their live shows. This was my 4th time seeing them and was far different than the rest, mainly because they were playing while the sun was still out. Also, it was in the forest. But mainly the sun was still out. But that didnít last long, because during their set, the sun was on its way down and by the time Dispirit were over, it was dusk. This descent into darkness really added an amazing ambiance to Dispiritís set of blackened doom. They played three songs; the first one has yet to be crudely recorded, and then one song from each demo. They chose songs that leaned more towards the black metal side of the spectrum. The new song I had already heard before since they played it when I saw them on Easter, and it sounded absolutely great yet again. The black metal passages are absolutely raw and brutal. The older material sounded awesome as well, and it was great to be able to hear the bass in the live setting. Since all their material is only on tape, you canít really discern the bass but in the live setting itís very apparent and their bassist knows how to write some awesome bass lines. Another thing worth noting was during their set, there was one asshole who was trying to mosh to the parts with blast beats, but he quickly cut the shit when nobody else was playing along. I was hoping nothing like that would happen, but am glad it was only once. Overall, Dispirit put on another great set of blackened doom metal and watching them as the sun was setting was unlike anything I hard experienced before.
After Dispirit, we headed back to the car to get some flashlights and to get some quick dinner. After that we decided to just wait by Stage 2 and wait for Worm Ouroboros. During this time we chilled on a rock and just observed the night sky. It was really refreshing to see the night sky in all its glory out in the wilderness as opposed to seeing maybe a handful of stars in the night back in the city. During this time the moon was starting to creep up from behind the mountains and it continued its ascent as Worm Ouroboros began their set.
Worm Ouroboros took the stage in the dark of night with their usual Christmas light on the mic stands and plenty of candles surrounding the stage. They performed the same set that I saw them play opening for Agalloch last week, but they sounded better this time around. The sound was a lot clearer than at the Oakland Metro I could hear everything the whole time. They got a really good crowd reaction and it seemed like a few people might have come for this band which I found interesting. The band commented on the moonís rise to position, saying it was hard to play when something so beautiful was distracting them. I was pleased with their set, even if it was the same thing I saw last time.
When We Are Gold
Ribbon of Shadow (new song)
After Wormís set me and my friend rushed to Stage 1 to catch one of the main reasons we had come: Loss. By the time we got to the stage, there was already a row of people on the stage, so I wasnít able to get a front row view like I had hoped but second row was just as good. We got to the stage as the vocalist was sound checking his vocals and good god did they sound absolutely hellish. That guy makes some of the most unhuman sounds Iíve ever heard and itís absolutely brilliant. Soon after, the band started and it was obvious a lot of people were really excited for Lossí set, myself included. Their music is a great mix of funeral and traditional doom metal that sounds like absolute sorrow yet at the end still picks you up, but its just for another beating. They started their set and the vocalist/guitarist gave a the crowd a solidarity fist then turned that fist into a huge thumbs down before they unleashed absolute doom on. The band sounded absolutely stellar and the lights coming from the stage added another layer of atmosphere to the show because the lights were reflecting off the trees in the background. The trees would change color with the lights and would appear in all sorts of bright reds, blues, purples and whites and it was like something from another world. Like literally, some sci-fi stuff was going on with the trees. It was really interesting in the context of the pure doom that Loss was providing. When the band played the song Cut Up, Depressed, and Alone, I absolutely lost my shit since itís my favorite track from Despond. About half way through the song after the clean guitar section, my pal Ben and I had a total bro moment and we threw an arm over the otherís shoulder and headbanged together for a good 2 minutes or so. It probably looked kind of corny but it fit the moment really well and I had a blast. After that they played two more songs and sounded absolutely amazing doing it. Overall, this was probably my favorite set of night and one of the best I saw this year. Iím absolutely elated to be able to scratch these guys off the list of must see bands.
Conceptual Funeralism Unto The Final Act (Of Being)
Cut Up, Depressed, and Alone
Silent And Completely Overcome
Open Veins To A Curtain Closed
After Loss finished their set, we went back to the car to eat some dinner and reassess what had just happened. After gathering ourselves from the last performance, we headed back to Stage 1 and hung out by the huge bonfire, as StarGazer was sound checking. About 10 minutes later, the band started their set.
StarGazer are a avant-garde black metal band from Australia whoíve been around since the early mid-90ís. I hadnít checked out too much of their material before the show, and I honestly couldnít get into their set too much. Theyíre obviously amazing musicians and I understand seeing them is a huge deal since this is their first ever US tour, but I donít think they really fit in with the rest of the doom metal and black metal that the festival was providing. Their music felt a bit emotionless compared to the rest of the bands we saw that night. I understand theyíre doing awesome stuff unlike anybody else in the black metal game, but I couldnít really get into it. We decided to cut out early to go get a spot for Ash Borer at Stage 2. I did get a partial setlist because the guitarist would announce every song before playing it.
Öof the Sun
Ride The Everglade of Reogniroro
Refractive Convex Continuum
Pypes Of Psychomatics
Before we got to Stage 2 I had to use the restroom to go take a dump, as I hadnít done that all day. Since all was available was port-o-pottys, I got in one and immediately started cleaning it with toilet paper and putting a cover over the thrown. I sat on the thrown and started checking my phone when a dude opened to door. I had forgotten to lock it. I was tired. It was no big deal; the dude closed the door immediately when he realized it was occupied, I apologized and locked the door. Not one of my brightest moments in life. After that, we headed over to Stage 2 to catch the last band we were planning on watching for the night, Ash Borer.
Ash Borer are a black metal band out of Arcata, California. Their strain of black metal is more alike that of traditional black metal from Europe, but still has hints of atmosphere that a lot of US bands incorporate. Also their song-lengths are longer, much like a lot of US black metal bands. They got on stage and started with the first track from the 2012 LP, Cold of Ages. The creepy synths lingered in the air as more and more people amassed to the stage under the moonlight. When the band kicked in, their sound was absolutely monstrous, with some of the gnarliest distortion Iíve heard in a long time. It sounded like war taking place a nuclear winter. About half way through their set, a bunch of clouds started rolling in and it just added an amazing ambiance to the show. With the moonlight hitting the clouds and causing the sky to look grey, it almost looked as if I was watching Ash Borer play at 5 in the morning as opposed to 1 in the morning. It appeared as if the sun was soon to be on the rise. It was a really awesome way to end this amazing day. Ash Borer played 4 tunes; three from their album Cold Of Ages and one I didnít recognize. Their dismal black metal was the perfect way to end an amazing evening.
After Ash Borerís set, my friend and I headed back to a campsite, got into our crudely set up tent and tried to go to sleep. I say try because the third stage I mentioned earlier that didnít hold any of the music from earlier in the day was reserved for the final two acts of the night to perform on. Both of those acts were noise/drone acts. They were fairly close to our campsite and loud as fuck. I eventually fell asleep, but apparently my friend had a harder time due to a bunch of people around us talking throughout much of the night. On top of that, I shouldíve assumed the clouds that came in during Ash Borerís set were hinting towards something, because they definitely were. Around I think 5 in the morning I felt a drop of water on my face and realized something wasnít right. I looked and realized it was pouring rain and some of it was getting into the tent. It wasnít much so I just ignored and fell back asleep for maybe an hour or so then woke up again. After lying around for a while I realized Ben was also awake so we decided to just head out early since we werenít gonna get any more sleep before the time I had set on my alarm. We crudely packed up our shit, threw it in the car, and started to make our way out of the woods.
Even though we were only at the campgrounds for about 18 hours, this experience it one that will stay with me forever. I donít care if it sounds cheesy, but this was kind of a game changer for me as far as concerts go. Nothing Iíve gone to or will go to will ever be quite like this. I was very fortunate to be able to go to this and watch some of my favorite bands at the moment perform in the beautiful Tahoe National Forest in the Sierras. The site was absolutely beautiful in and of itself and to be able to experience some of my favorite music from recent years, some even for the first time, in such a breathe-taking place was an absolutely wonderful experience. I can honestly say this was the best concert Iíve gone to. I can say Iíve witnessed better sets, but no other concert experience holds a candle to this. I hope I can go back next year and hopefully go for the whole weekend. I strongly encourage other to start saving for next year, because this is something you want to experience at some point in your life. Thanks for reading.
This sounds unreal!!!
Awesome review. Very unique festival. Would love to check it out one year!
[QUOTE=bigguytoo9;542048]This sounds unreal!!![/QUOTE]
No kidding. BC should have something like this for sure.
I'm extremely jealous. Sounds like a great event. I'm done with 20,000+ person camping festivals. Small, independent events are always more enjoyable.
Thanks guys! Unreal is definitely a good word for this event.
[QUOTE=smearCampaign;542061]I'm extremely jealous. Sounds like a great event. I'm done with 20,000+ person camping festivals. Small, independent events are always more enjoyable.[/QUOTE]
Oh yeah dude, I couldn't imagine having to camp amongst more than like a few hundred. Even with the few hundred of people at this festival it was kind of cramped.
Saturday was cancelled due to a snowstorm...
[QUOTE=Coma323;542066]Saturday was cancelled due to a snowstorm...[/QUOTE]
Yeah, I was kind of glad I didn't have to deal with that. I think they had a few acoustic sets on Saturday, then they had tons of bands play on Sunday.
great review! Planned to go to this for my birthday, but sadly it didn't work out for me. Hopefully next year!
Fantastic review and photos buddy, seems like you had an amazing time. The shot of the couch on the rock is utterly gold. I'd love to spend a day or two at a festival like this one day. Maybe after college.
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