Last June, after six months or so of booking death-core and death-metal shows around Summerville, Ladson, and Charleston, 19-year-old William Manigault found himself in a bit of a bind.
"I'd booked a show with a few different bands at The Hive [in Ladson], and I had a couple of local bands that wanted to come on board," Manigault says. "And then a couple of bands from Atlanta and Charlotte wanted to hop on, as well."
So rather than disappoint anyone, Manigault, who was a resourceful enough teenager to create his own booking-and-promotion company called 843Core Productions, booked all 11 bands he'd been dealing with and created the Lowcountry Death Fest, an all-day hardcore-metal blowout that ended up drawing his biggest crowd yet.
In fact, the festival, which featured bands from around the state, Georgia, and North Carolina, felt like the outgrowth of an increasingly healthy metal scene throughout the region. "I just thought, 'I've been booking shows for about six months, I've seen the scene growing — I'm just going to throw all of these bands onto the same show and call it Death Fest to celebrate our local death-core scene, since no one else was really pushing death-metal shows at the time,'" Manigault says.
From that point forward, Manigault says there seemed to be a new wave of activity within the metal scene. "A lot of the bands I'm working with right now have only formed in the last two years," he says. "I guess it's because through these shows, local musicians have been able to connect with each other, which formed the drive to create new bands and pushed them to express themselves more."
When it came time for the second Death Fest, Manigault decided to mix the best-received bands from last year with some new groups that he's either booked before or heard good things about (HoMiCyDe, Pridemeat, Above Livius).
"I learned which bands tend to draw the most people," he says. "And it's the bands who aren't just there to play music. They're there to connect with people and hang out and get to know everyone. I started keeping my eye out at shows that I booked after the festival, for the bands that had the best connection with the fans. I brought back Call Me Ishmael and A Legacy Unwritten, because they not only impressed me but left a good impression with everyone else."
Manigault also learned to never underestimate a good venue. "The Hive has been the saving grace of our scene," he says. "They were nice enough to let me do a show last year, which was the first time I'd worked with them. Metal shows don't always get the best, most positive reaction or reputation, whether it's the band or the crowd. So the fact that they trusted me to put on a safe, friendly show is wonderful. The staff has done everything they can to help me with these shows."
Here's a breakdown of the bands performing at Death Fest II:
Much like last year's lineup, there will be several brand-new bands playing, though Hammerhead is no collection of rookies. "It'll be Hammerhead's first-ever show, but they've got members who used to be in other bands," Manigault says. "The singer and guitarist are from the band Enter, which broke up a few months ago." With that pedigree, Hammerhead most likely specializes in angular, stagger-step rhythms and sledgehammer riffs punctuated by singer Zachary Hall's guttural, wounded howl.
Another new band with experienced members, God Devourer specializes in sheer speed and dazzling guitar skills more so than mid-tempo pounding. This will be the band's second-ever show.
It's hard to believe that this Summerville quintet's recent single "Flesh Fetish" is a demo. The band easily sets a mood of dread from the first note, the vocals are lung-shreddingly brutal, and the guitarists are just as comfortable with sudden bursts of progressive virtuosity as they are with sludge-caked riffing.
The Commoner & I
Manigault is the bass player in this downtempo metal quartet, which specializes in a down-tuned style of metal with maximum low-end.
This Charlotte quintet is rawer than many of their peers. The guitars seem to peel a lot more skin off the listener's earlobes, and singer Tyler Wright's groan is so low it's damn near subterranean.
"This is one of the bands I knew I wanted right away when I was planning this show," Manigault says. "And I wanted them to be pretty high on the bill." One of the more outside-the-box choices in the lineup, Above Livius can do the crushing hardcore grind as well as anyone, but they're also capable of skillful quiet passages that show off their melodic songwriting chops.
If you're curious what this band sounds like, well, so is Manigault. "Pridemeat is a band I've never had on a bill," he says. "They're from Savannah, but I'm pretty good friends with the band members, and I know a lot of people in Savannah who talk about how great they are." A quick listen to their 2015 album Wet Hot American Slaughter reveals a band that can knot up and stretch out a song's inner-workings to an elastic degree and a singer as skilled on the high-end of his range as the low.
A Legacy Unwritten
One of the returning bands on this year's bill, Atlanta deathcore band A Legacy Unwritten just released a new single called "Forgotten" that boasts a stunning sense of start-stop dynamics and an atmosphere that ranks somewhere between drowning and buried alive on the dread scale. It's a truly punishing, unrelenting slice of deathcore.
Call Me Ishmael
Another one of the bands coming back from last year's lineup, Call Me Ishmael plays their music like a roller coaster. The rhythms careen all over the place, the guitars buzz around your ears relentlessly, and the whole thing seems like chaos, until the band executes a perfectly precise (and spine-shattering) turn and lands exactly where they wanted to. Their style is a pile-driving mix of control and order.
"They're from Branchville, about 45 minutes north of Charleston," Manigault says of top billers HoMiCyDe. "They've been around for a long time and have a strong following in Charleston. They haven't played here in around two years, so when I started organizing the festival this year, I looked them up immediately. I wanted them to headline it, because I know a lot of people who want them to play. The band is probably the most melodic on the bill, thanks mostly to guitarist Michael Weidick's dazzling sonic architecture, which creates layers of melodies over the band's razor-sharp rhythm section.