Psycho Las Vegas doubles down as one of America's best heavy music festivals

Psycho Las Vegas doubles down as one of America's best heavy music festivals

- By Ramon Gonzales

With history making performances and a brilliantly diverse roster, organizers of Psycho set the bar as THE domestic destination for counter culture revelry.

The atmosphere of the first from-the-ground-up casino and resort in Las Vegas offered a healthy element of sophistication that would make sense for such significant destination. The former footprint of Vegas' storied Stardust, Resorts World is a sprawling, stylish, meld of modernity and presentation - the kind of location that offers a balance of the swagger of Old School Vegas with an embrace of the future of the entertainment mecca of the West.

Photo by Matt Martinez // @red_hareimages

While it was to be expected that there might be somewhat of a culture clash in hosting an international contingent of extreme music enthusiasts, the denim battle vests that flooded the casino floor, occupying every corner of the resort, injected an element of cool the casino was presumably banking on. The contrast of loud music, extreme art and rock heavy revelry taking over such chic digs bolstered the ambiance and amplified the excitement of the weekend.

From the gigantic LED globe adorned with Mercyful Fate and Suicidal Tendencies imagery, to the plethora of black, death, grind, and thrash t-shirts the continuously passed through the same lobby that housed a 1970's fully restored Liberace show piano, Resorts World and the Conrad functioned simultaneously as Vegas' newest hot spot and a proper 4-day bacchanal of heavy music and culture.

Nuclear Assault at Ayu Dayclub // Photo by Matt Martinez // @red_hareimages

Setting up shop at Redtail and Dawg House, the festival had two small club style stages within the footprint. The takeover included a ballroom stage, the main stage housed in the events center, as well as full invasion of the hotel's poolside party spot at Ayu Dayclub. Psycho even commandeered the hotel's street food-focused thoroughfare, transforming an elevated food court into a heavy music hub where both festival goers and un assuming hotel guests could mix and mingle in an environment set to an especially heavy soundtrack.

Aside from the ambitious undertaking in establishing new roots with Resorts World having moved over from Mandalay Bay, the scope of Psycho's carefully curated line-up is one that clearly underscores how in tune organizers are with the culture. Understanding the difference between big artists and the right artists, the festival featured historic performances from emerging voices, legendary veterans and managed to play a few wild cards that proved effective every time - that Bone Thugs set - whew!

Photo by Michael Olivas // @bearded_gonzo666

In short, Psycho Las Vegas has already established itself as a pillar of the culture. With it's most recent edition, there is room to argue that the festival is making a play at becoming one of the most unique music destination events regardless of genre. The scope, the focus, the execution and the keen ability to be so in tune with the patrons makes Psycho Las Vegas a sure bet.

Here are some of the highlights from our High Roller Weekend with the heavy set.

Bone Thugs Hit Hard

Bone Thugs N Harmony // Photo by Maurice Nunez

If there was any misconception that the hip-hop element of Psycho was an afterthought or some contrived attempt to add some shock value to the bill - you done fucked up. That became especially evident when Ohio legends, Bone Thugs N Harmony took over the Events Center stage. The celebratory set included classics from their steeped catalog like “Resurrection (Paper, Paper)”, “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and “For The Luv of $”. The low end rumble, the verbal quickfire and the weed smoke in the air underscored the kind of party that was the common thread at Psycho. Among one of the many highlights of the weekend was the dazzling spectacle of watching thousands fans in various metal tees going bar for bar with Bone Thugs as “Notorious Thugs” took the fest to a whole new level.

Drain Break Down the Barricade

DRAIN // Photo by Joshua Alvarez @joshua.jam3s

Organizers gave the Santa Cruz standouts a full hour in the Ballroom stage, but the band needed only 2/3rds of that time to deliver one of the most convincing performances of the Psycho ’22. Opting to leave the house lights on and mix it up along the railing and in the pit, Drain vocalist Sammy C. thanked the fans and even the skeptics that were experiencing the band’s set for the first time live. Punctuating their stage time, Sammy coached the room on how DRAIN operate and encouraged the people standing at the back of the room to unfold their arms and get involved - sharing the stage with the entire room and rallying everyone to cross the barricade and go berserk. The pandemonium that Caensued as the band roared through their finale in “California Cursed” dismantled the divide between the band and the fans, the divide of hardcore and metal. Drain took on the too-cool-for-school contingent and clobbered ‘em in a way that reiterated how important they are one of heavy music’s emerging voices.

Spiritworld Dominate with Death Western

Spiritworld // Photo by Tim Bugbee @tinnitus_photo

The hometown show for the Stu Folsom and the practitioners of Sergio Leone-style shred in Spiritworld delivered the kind of late afternoon/early evening rager at RedTail that rallied the energy of a crowd in need of a boost during the weekend marathon of metal. Tearing through the gritty, Western heft of Pagan Rhythms, the crew of sharply-dressed men set it off in one of the more intimate venues on the festival footprint. Fresh off of triumphant sets overseas at destinations like Bloodstock and Knotfest’s Pulse of The Maggots showcase in Birmingham, the band was firing on all cylinders with the kind showing that was all killer, zero filler and even included new tunes like “Moonlit Torture” - their collaboration with Dwid Hellion of Integrity.

At The Gates Host A Historic Pool Party

At The Gates // Photo by Michael Olivas @bearded_gonzo666

As bodies splashed around in the night-lit pool under the desert sky and neon hue of Vegas, some of the fans that crammed into Ayu Dayclub to see Swedish legends At The Gates came to a very profound realization. It's like safe to assume that damn near everyone bearing witness to the Swedish legends holding court would have never thought they would be at a Vegas pool party set to a soundtrack one of heavy music’s most influential albums and yet - for those lucky enough to get in, At The Gates ripped through the 1995 essential, Slaughter of The Soul in full in a performance that was as surreal as it was superb. Not many albums still hold up after nearly three decades - however, not many bands are At The Gates.

Carpenter Brut Delivers Crushing Synth

In a set with almost zero stage banter, the practitioner of French darkwave managed to soar as one of the highlights of not only Friday night, but of Psycho 2022 as a whole. Contending with a late night/early morning time slot after a long day and the reality of being a synth-driven machine among a plethora of guitars and drums, Carpenter Brut unleashed selections from his recent Leather Terror LP with the same effectiveness as any thrash beat, breakdown or guitar solo on the weekend. Combining the aggression of modern heavy music with his affinity for John Carpenter-esque synth, fans at Psycho watched as the Resorts World ballroom transformed into an 80's slasher flick, complete with the kind audio eeriness that made the went from performance to all out party.

Carcass Gets Down To Brass Tacks

Jeff Walker of Carcass // Photo by Michael Goodwin @boilingdenim

The breadth of extreme metal pillars Carcass was on full display despite being sandwiched as the lonley death metal act among a legendary line-up of black metal performance. Nestled in-between the likes of black metal mystics Wolves In the Throne Room, and institutions like Mayhem and a rare performance from Emperor, Carcass' Jeff Walker quipped, "Sorry to break up your black metal party..." as band ripped into classics from their catalog including "Tools of the Trade", "Incarnated Solvent Abuse", "Heartwork" and "Unfit for Human Consumption". Asserting their ability to read the room among the hardcore fans, Walker joked about having to play new music from their latest record, Torn Arteries, before "resuming programming as usual" in getting back to the hits the room was aiming to go hard to. Combining a sense of humor with a hulking display of heft, Carcass proved classic.

Nothing, Were Everything

NOTHING // Photo by Matt Martinez @red_hareimages

At the risk of sounding like a complete asshole, there is a level of sophistication that Nothing crowbar into the spectrum of heavy music that resonates as effortless. Without superlative, the band's 2020 LP The Great Dismal was not only one of the best releases of the year, but arguably a watershed moment, shifting the discourse of modern heavy music from spectacle to songwriting. The spacey soar of songs like "Say Less", the slow burn of a track like "B & E" and the unassuming muscle of a track like "July the Fourth" further assert that Domenic Palermo is among the most versatile, forward-thinking contributors in the space of modern heavy music. No lame chit-chat in-between songs. No forced attempts to rally the crowd. Nothing, were captivating in a way that prompted a hush among the most raucous of crowds - no easy feat

The Arrival of Fugitive

Seth Gilmore of Fugitive // Photo by Tim Bugbee @tinnitus_photo

The latest project from Power Trip guitarist Blake Ibanez was so hyped, the band had two festival appearances confirmed before they ever released a note of music. Debuting all of a week prior to Psycho at Wrecking Ball Metal Madness in their hometown area of Dallas, the band also delivered their introductory EP, Maniac with no fanfare. Asserting a powerful swing of Texas heft, the combination of drummer Lincoln Mullins of Creeping Death, Victor Gutierrez of Impalers on rhythm guitar, bassist Andy Messer, along with the tandem of vocalist Seth Gilmore and the lead of Ibanez made a lasting impression in a just one relatively short set. Its rare when a entire set of new songs land with the same potency as a set of hits, but Fugitive managed to unload a succession of haymakers that would suggest the unit were far from new. Adding to the speculation that there is most certainly something in the water, Fugitive further asserted, don't mess with Texas.

Warthog Wrecked Shop

Warthog // Photo by Joshua Alvarez @joshua.jam3s

The crossover mastery of New York's Warthog provided one of the most violent, visceral experiences of the entire Psycho weekender. Vocalist Chris Hansell was goddamned menace on the microphone, and in the close confines of the RedTail stage, the selections from their recent assault Four Walls cut like a rusty, serrated knife. The pace of the pummeling set was such that spectators had to take a breather in between songs, only to fire up into a frenzy all over again as Hansell foamed at the mouth. In short, Warthog was tough as fuck.

The Almighty Mercyful Fate

Mercyful Fate Return // Photo by Michael Olivas @bearded_gonzo666

Fans have waited nearly a full generation to see the resurfacing of Mercyful Fate. A punctuation filled with power and pageantry, the 2022 festivities at Psycho Las Vegas culminated with the blare of "The Oath" as the tandem of Hank Shermann and King Diamond towered in their triumphant return. Few things in life have the sustained influence of the band's iconic catalog and to watch it play out live among thousands of impassioned fans spanning age, gender, and every other divide imaginable, was the kind of spectacle that proves difficult to put into words. Mercyful Fate don't pen songs, they create consuming narratives that have become integral to the lore of heavy music. That was evident as every lyric, every flex of falsetto, every dynamic shift in song was echoed by a denim-clad chorus that waited a lifetime to see such grandeur. There are concerts and there are moments in time. Mercyful Fate's set at Psycho was undoubtedly the latter and nearly 12-minute epic closer of "Satan's Fall" reiterated that history was happening in real time.

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