Concert Review: Born Dead Fest (Day 1) @ Empire Live, 09/02/2023

If you’ve been to Zumiez, Hot Topic, Warped Tour, or any other significant music or skateboarding event in the last ten years, you’ve probably seen or heard of an item of Born Dead clothing. Whether it’s being worn by a passerby or for sale at a vendor on-site, Born Dead’s presence is evident.

The success of Born Dead is closely tied to its impactful resonance within the skateboarding and music industries. Consequently, it’s not surprising that Born Dead has ventured into sponsoring their own cross-country tour and a two-day festival at Empire Live. Ironically, Albany’s Born Dead Fest, which took place over the Labor Day weekend, showcased that the metal and hardcore scene of upstate New York is far from dead.

Pain of Truth (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

This 33-band, 2-day festival aimed to unify bands and fans from every corner of the metal scene, both locally and nationally. It exposed fans to emerging local talents and also offered a chance to revel in national acts that hadn’t performed in years. The lineup ranged from extreme slamming death metal bands like Pyrexia and Invoke Thy Wrath, which promise to boggle your mind, to the raw emotive force of Actor Observer. Add to that the rhythmic genius of He Is Legend and the legendary sounds of northeast hardcore pioneers in Hatebreed, and you had every facet of the metal and hardcore genres represented that weekend.

Concertgoers certainly had a workout as they raced between the Empire Live and Empire Underground stages throughout Saturday and Sunday. The aim? Not to miss the last note of one band as the first note of another began. And after all that dashing around, a visit to the nearby Wizard Burger was the perfect reward.

Across the event, attendees immersed themselves in over 16 total hours of non-stop riffs, breakdowns, anthemic choruses, and even the occasional quirky touch, like a bubble gun assault (courtesy of local act Urine) or foam bricks (a fun addition by Brick by Brick).

Brick By Brick (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

Vendors and merch booths lined the sidewalk and alleyway between venues. This setup offered a golden opportunity for people to support the bands, brands, and companies that sustain this unique scene. Whether you were looking for a regular back-to-school shirt or one that might get you in trouble, there was something for everyone.

Personally, I tried my best to sprint between stages, ensuring I experienced every band on the roster without keeling over. I think I managed, sort of.

Day 1

Opening the fest on the smaller, more intimate of the two stages was the Capital Region’s own Urine. A band that combines the aggressive, pungent sounds of Slam with the shocking unpredictability of grindcore, Urine was an excellent choice to warm up the early concertgoers. In the midst of the pig squeals and the rampant chugs, onlookers were mercilessly coated in bubbles as the members of the band showered the crowd with a bubble gun. This whole scene created the perfect combination of weird and slam that the band strives to achieve.

Opening on the larger stage upstairs was Upstate New York heavy metalcore act Marrow. This show featured Jamie Rabideau on vocals, which is a change from the band’s original vocalist, who has performed the band’s previous sets up to this point. Jamie is no stranger to the members of Marrow, however. Guitarist James Keller has paired with Jamie in a previous local heavy act titled In Trenches. Just saying In Trenches brings back memories of Bogies. Anyway, Marrow put on a clean and powerful performance, playing songs off their sole EP, titled Trespasser. Marrow delivered an elixir of punishing breakdowns, dissonant panic chords, and powerful two-step riffing that gave onlookers an opportunity to get their steps in during every song.

Marrow (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

Philadelphia’s own Freeze MF followed on the Empire Underground stage and ensured us that local chiropractors would stay in business with all of the headbanging riffs that they sent through the speakers. Having released a couple of demos throughout the past couple of years, Freeze MF has taken the next step in releasing their debut full-length record titled “Cold Soul” earlier this year. Their sound reflects a grittier and faster-paced hardcore sound than your average act, and that led the crowd to follow suit in doing exactly the opposite of what the title of the band states. Freeze MF is an up-and-coming act that has a bright future that hopefully will include a return visit to the Albany area.

The first band performing from the roster of the Born Dead tour on the upstairs stage was Colorado Springs, Colorado natives Mouth For War. It was a pleasure to finally be able to catch this band in Albany, as the last time they were scheduled to perform in our area, the show was forced to be canceled due to Empire Underground not having completed its construction just yet. Mouth For War self-proclaims that they make music for “Warped Tour breakdown boys,” and (as awkward as it may be to admit), as one myself, I agree with the sentiment. Mouth For War played three new songs, some of which were being debuted on their current tour. As a drummer, it was impossible not to notice the sonic echo of the snare drum, which is a reflection of pinpoint tuning and an excellent live mix. The sheer raw power of the delivery of the frontman’s vocals meshed perfectly with the bassist’s backup vocals, creating a layered sound that added a petrifying element to an already scary performance. If you’re afraid of moshers giving away free elbows and fists to their neighbors, perhaps enjoying a Mouth For War performance from the back would be your best bet.

The second band performing on the Born Dead tour was Columbia, South Carolina’s quintet, Your Spirit Dies. With an eye-catching title like this, one can only expect the performance to follow suit. Your Spirit Dies provides a little taste of everything, often within the same song. Their songs exceed the normal 2-minute length, which gives an opportunity for songs to grow and develop for the listener. The band’s most recent release, “Our Saints Drown in Ash,” features songs such as “Blistered Sentinence” and “Sacrosanct,” which do exactly that with unsettling leads on guitar paired with perfectly timed breakdowns that’ll convince a tectonic plate or two to get involved in the movement.

These Streets (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

These Streets took the stage during the mid-afternoon and immediately reminded the crowd that it was far too early in the day to try and show any signs of fatigue or tiredness during their set. This heavy hardcore band hailing from California has graced Albany before with its cocaine bear hardcore while touring with Desolated in the last two years. These riffs will increase your bench press by 40 pounds in 20 minutes. You’ll want to chew through a phonebook. Your bicep will grow its own mini-bicep. These Streets took the formula of “break it down and bring it back slower,” ran with it, and never stopped. A claim to fame for These Streets is that they may be the only hardcore band known to man that has a feature from the one and only “Lil B.”

Kaonashi, hailing from Philadelphia, has been a longtime favorite of the local Albany hardcore scene. Vocalist Peter Rono’s unique high-pitched vocal delivery, unorthodox intricate drum work, and powerful crushing chugs on the guitar ignited the crowd from the moment the first note reached the speakers. If you weren’t picking a fight with the oxygen next to you, you were figuring out which time signature to headbang in, and I bid you good luck in either of those choices. Kaonashi blends elements of emo, mathcore, and post-hardcore that truly create one of the most unforgettable, distinguishable, and unique sounds a band can put out.

GhostxShip (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

One of the more notable sets I was anticipating throughout the day was the return of GhostXShip to Albany. This being only their second show since 2015 (following a show in their hometown of Syracuse earlier in the year), I was curious to see if they could still control a room like they used to, and I am pleased to report that they can. GhostXShip played fast, aggressive, and heavy but also created a sense of brotherhood throughout the set. They paid homage to the West Coast bands at the fest and then proceeded to cover Throwdown’s “Raise Your Fist,” which was a crowd favorite. “These are the moments that we live for,” The anthemic final line to “The Here and Now” that the crowd piled onto the vocalist to yell was the accent mark on a top-tier set for a band that hasn’t played in the area in nearly a decade. 

Albany natives Downswing took the stage upstairs in the early evening and proved to be a fan favorite amongst the other performers. Following a touching entrance to “Hurt” by Johnny Cash (yes, we all know Nine Inch Nails did it first. You aren’t special), Downswing took the stage with authority, slinging out both older songs such as “Hell” and newer ones such as a recently released bouncy single titled “Bound To Misery.” Vocalist Harrison Seanor put his versatility on display, showcasing a range of low and high screams intertwined with clear and melodically sound clean choruses. Downswing gave the crowd plenty of material to move around to, from punchy breakdowns to catchy two-steps and a circle pit sprinkled in here and there. 

Local legends Brick by Brick took the stage and immediately revved up the crowd, who showed they’re all quite familiar with the powerful, upbeat whiskey and bourbon-fueled riffage that has kept this band going for as many years as it has. Onlookers were rewarded with a barrage of power, shreds, and a healthy serving of foam bricks that allowed concertgoers to slam into each other without losing a tooth or catching a felony. Brick by Brick guitarist Mike Valente has been a staple in Albany hardcore for decades, being responsible for the bookings and happenings of thousands of local shows over the years through Upstate Black n Blue Productions. A rowdy reception for Brick by Brick is just the minimal dosage of what Mike and his bandmates deserve. After all, they’ve contributed to the upstate metal and hardcore scene for as long as they have. Brick by Brick writes riffs for anyone who has a beard, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and a particular taste for whiskey

No Bragging Rights (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

In talking with some concertgoers, the return of No Bragging Rights, who’s the headliner on the Born Dead tour, was a set that they were looking forward to more than anything. The Posi-core act, hailing from Riverside, California, hit the stage with fast-paced and upbeat instrumentation coupled with anthemic clean choruses. It was very clear through dialogue between songs that No Bragging Rights exists as a band to challenge the difficulties of overcoming negative mental health, poverty, and violence not only through their music but by providing supplies, support, and materials to areas in the surrounding areas of the venues they perform in. No Bragging Rights brings a beautiful medley of aggression through their fast-paced, hard-hitting riffs coupled with their passionate choruses that will push your vocal chords to the brink of exhaustion. 

Hailing from Long Island, NY, one of the most prominent up-and-coming hardcore acts, Pain of Truth, took the stage and wasted no time pushing knuckle-cracking power through the speakers. Once the first note of “The Test” reached the crowd’s ears, an instant fire ignited amongst the crowd, whether it was screaming the lyrics back to the vocalist, or making sure their neighbor didn’t get too comfy standing in one place. Pain of Truth played a couple of singles off of their upcoming full-length debut, “Not Through Blood,” which is set to release on September 8th, 2023. Vocalists from Vein and Never Ending Game provided guest spots during the set, showcasing the support that Pain of Truth has gained amongst the hardcore community during their rise over the last couple of years. The conclusion of the set, which began with the first half of “LINYHC,” followed by “Pain of Truth,” then followed by the conclusion of “LINYHC,” proved that even though Albany can be a peaceful city, the right riff, slowed down just right, can turn any given space into an active war-zone. 

Philadelphia’s Jesus Piece took the stage and picked up where Pain of Truth left off. Their raw, gritty, and muddy hardcore creates an aggressive yet groovy sound that keeps listeners attentive from beginning to end. One of the only things that would be more terrifying at a show than a bunch of large men swinging every limb they have in the middle of a pit would be all of the above happening in pitch black. On several occasions, the lights were turned off so moshers could flail as they wished without the guidance of any light.  Aside from the visceral and poignant crowd interaction, Jesus Piece also provided instrumental highlights, topped with an impressive drum solo (their drummer has performed with Charlie XCX before, fun fact) followed by a longtime fan favorite, “Oppressor.” (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

Massachusetts natives provided a powerful and intense performance despite battling through some technical difficulties during their set. The multiple members screaming vocals in unison multiplied the intensity of the experience of the music and strengthened the “in your face” factor that makes this band special. created a perfect concoction of dissonant riffing and groundbreaking chugging riffs. Adding a hint of industrial electronic influence and unpredictable drum patterns, has created a unique sound that has allowed them to climb the ranks of popularity in the hardcore community.

Bleeding Through took the stage following and immediately captured the crowd by starting with their most well-known song, “A Love Lost in a Hail of Gunfire.” This is the first song off of the record that they’ve been celebrating this year, titled “This is Love, This is Murderous,” which turns 20 years old. Bleeding Through is a six-piece outfit that features a keyboardist as an additional member on top of the traditional five-piece metalcore lineup. This addition allows Bleeding Through to add a symphonic element to their fast-paced metalcore that sets them apart from other bands and solidifies the influence that they’ve had on future acts over the years. Though the band has been in the game for 20 years, they didn’t show their age whatsoever as they frequently visited the barrier to get as close to the intense crowd as possible while performing. Due to the late start, unfortunately, Bleeding Through had to cut a couple of songs off to keep up with the schedule. Let’s hope they can come back soon and finish that setlist they started. 

Hatebreed (Photo by Hilary Crannage)

Finally, the headliner, the legendary Hatebreed, hails from Connecticut. While this set was dedicated to celebrating 20 years of their record “The Rise of Brutality,” Hatebreed has been laying down alpha-level riffage since the 1990s and has been a staple of northeast hardcore since their inception. Though it was late and the crowd was tired, they gathered up all the energy they could to make sure that they kept up with the band’s vigor during the 21-song assault. The floor was slippery with condensation at this point, but that didn’t stop moshers from taking a chance and getting out any remaining aggression and energy they may have had hidden in the reserve tank. Hits such as “Beholder of Justice,” “This is Now,” “Everyone Bleeds Now,” and “I Will Be Heard” showcased exactly why Hatebreed has been able to consistently succeed, influence, and carry on its legacy for three decades.

Day 2 coverage can be found at Concert Review: Born Dead Fest (Day 2) @ Empire Live, 09/02/2023

  1. […] Check out Day 1 coverage here: Concert Review: Born Dead Fest (Day 1) @ Empire Live, 09/02/2023 […]

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