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Psycho California Festival @ The Observatory, Santa Ana, US

PENTAGRAM / Om / Earthless / Bongzilla / Tombs / The Well / Truckfighters / Wo-Fat / Bang! / Red Wizard / Sleep / KYLESA / Earth / Pallbearer / True Widow / Rozamov / Bloodmoon / Anciients / Acid Witch / EYEHATEGOD / Bell Witch / Old Man Gloom / Cave In / Destroyer Of Light / Conan / Crypt Trip / Samothrace / Radio Moscow / Atriarch / Author And Punisher
in Saturday, 16 May 2015 at The Observatory
by H.P. Buttcraft

The author and wish to give a tremendous thank you to Michael Goodwin (IG: @wizardvision) for providing some of his pictures for this article!

From May 15th to the 17th, the sunny city of Santa Ana in Orange County, California became the Mecca of Stoner Metal, Psychedelic Rock, Doom, and Sludge Metal. In its largest and most extravagant year to date, Thief Presents hosted the aptly named Psycho California Festival at The Observatory, located in a corporate park in Costa Mesa. Nearly two thousand music fans came out to see over fifty bands from all over North America and Europe who were permitted to unleash a three day-long sonic barrage of massive caliber on two stages. The show, the sound, the lights and certainly the fans were all equally wonders to see.

I was lucky enough to find my way out to California to this festival; one that I have been long-awaiting since its announcement in December of 2014. After seeing how many bands were brought together for this music festival, the temptation to make a trip out to Santa Ana was too difficult to resist. This was truly a once in a lifetime event. And I was rewarded for making the effort to attend again and again and again by the exceptional performances I had the esteemed privilege to witness.
The core characteristic of what made Psycho CA so unbelievable and unforgettable was its diverse and grandiose roster of bands. The festival had lots of little-known bands who were certainly making waves with their music but also lots of bands were have already made breakthroughs with finding their desired sound and audience. And then, of course, you had some of the biggest legends of heavy metal and psychedelic rock in attendance as well.

The acts were performing back-to-back with only several minutes separating their performances on two stages; the main stage, otherwise named The Monarch Stage, and the smaller stage, called the Grizzly Stage. Fans were allowed to freely attend either stage but had to choose their breaks carefully as not to miss out on one of the two bands that were playing every hour.  By the end of each night, the world outside of The Observatory seemed so small by comparison to the planet-sized sounds of the music that were caught within the walls and ceilings of the concert stages.

Although there was a theoretical possibility to see every single band that performed over the weekend, it was impossible to do so if you wanted to see any of the artists’ full performances. During my time in attendance, I had to make hard decisions about which bands I was going to see based on the time I had available and my level of exhaustion.  Because I couldn’t get a complete experience of every band that performed, I will go over the bands I had the fortune to witness while I was there.

Day 1 – Friday, May 15th

AUTHOR & PUNISHER – Throughout the whole weekend, Tristan Shone, otherwise known as AUTHOR & PUNISHER, performed short sets of his music while the crowd awaited for the next band to begin. AUTHOR & PUNISHER was truly a sight to behold as people watched as one man would use his own custom-made machines to produce dark, industrial Doom music that were always accompanied by stark and hypnotizing visuals on the projector screens behind him. Unlike every other artist at Psycho California, AUTHOR & PUNISHER performed the entire weekend and put a lot of hard work into every performance. AUTHOR & PUNISHER deserves just as much credit as any other performer at this festival and then some.

ATRIARCH – Portland’s ATRIARCH was the very first set during the festival on the smaller stage otherwise known as the Grizzly Stage. ATRIARCH had a gritty and uncompromisingly dark feel to the music with their mix of Swedish-style Death Metal and Sludge/Doom. There were also flavors of Black Metal in ATRIARCH’s set. They were an excellent act to set the mood for the rest of the festival.
RADIO MOSCOW – If you couldn’t already tell from the leather jackets with fringe they wore, Iowa’s RADIO MOSCOW was a much cleaner and brighter sound than the aforementioned ATRIARCH. The lead guitar-driven hard rock sounds of RADIO MOSCOW called back to Blues-inspired classic rock bands from the 1970’s like LED ZEPPLIN and early RUSH. They were a great contrast to the dark and atmospheric acts at the festival, exemplifying the appreciation for Psychedelic Rock and Blues Rock.
SAMOTHRACE – The volume of SAMOTHRACE was supernaturally loud. Taking the second stage, Seattle’s SAMOTHRACE crashed through the Grizzly Stage with a slow but strong force like a battering ram. Probably my favorite memory of their set is when the lead singer and guitar player Bryan Spinks made a comment between songs saying how this whole festival was the byproduct of a community of music fans rather than a scene. I couldn’t have agreed more with Bryan.

CRYPT TRIP – These young rockers from Dallas, Texas really showed their deep infatuation with Doom Metal with their Sabbath-inspired songs. The Grizzly Stage began to reek heavily of marijuana as CRYPT TRIP began playing and banging their heads. CRYPT TRIP hair was so long that it totally concealed their faces when they played, save for their singer. CRYPT TRIP was one of several memorable Texan acts that played during the weekend.
CONAN – This was the one act during Friday’s events that I could not wait to see. Liverpool’s CONAN, who I have reviewed for this site before, did not disappoint. My anticipation for their dense Doom Metal sound gave me the impression that my journey to California was already beginning to pay itself back to me. CONAN were one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable performances of the whole evening. And it wasn’t before long that the band ended and left me craving more. If you managed to see them at the festival, consider yourself extremely fortunate to see CONAN on U.S. soil.

DESTROYER OF LIGHT – These guys were a bunch of fun, both on stage and off. DESTROYER OF LIGHT are a group of Doom Metal super-fans, just like everyone else in attendance, that just so happen to be in a band themselves. Their sound was definitely more of a traditional style like SAINT VITUS or CANDLEMASS. Their performance was spontaneously moved outside because, awkwardly, a WOMBATS show had been booked in the Grizzly Stage that evening. Nevertheless, DESTROYER OF LIGHT destroyed anyone’s low expectations.
CAVE IN – These East Coast post-Hardcore legends really gave a passionate performance. Alongside their Metalcore associates DEATH BY STEREO, who were also playing at the festival, CAVE IN were one of the only acts on the lineup that gave Psycho California the swift Punk Rock kick in the ass that it deserved. A lot of the material that was performed was from CAVE IN’s more alternative sounding records but these guys had a ton of heart, which is why seeing them was a treat for everyone at The Observatory on Friday.
OLD MAN GLOOM – OLD MAN GLOOM definitely surprised me as being one of the more memorable bands of the festival. Having never given them a shot or ever been exposed to their music, I could finally see, with my own two eyes, that the hype surrounding OLD MAN GLOOM is entirely justified. The energy from this band was very high that could easily match their peers MASTODON. Keep a close eye on OLD MAN GLOOM because they are bound to be breaking heavy metal conventions in the future.
BELL WITCH – The Doom Metal two-piece band BELL WITCH brought a very moving but gloomy performance at the outside stage as the show started to wind down. Seattle’s BELL WITCH impressed and awed the crowd with their slow, guttural howls, creating a haunted ambience that turned a mild California summer evening into something similar to strolling through a graveyard hidden in a bayou. Each extensive performance hung like vines over the heads of every crowd member. It was amazing to see what BELL WITCH bassist Dylan Desmond is doing to create the tones of these songs that it was certainly worth checking them out at Psycho California.

EYEHATEGOD – As the night began to draw to a close and my feet began to sting and ache from standing on them all day long, I headed back towards the Main Stage to catch the infamous EYEHATEGOD perform. Although these guys may show their age, their performances were great. I came with low expectations and left Friday night pretty satisfied overall when it came to EYEHATEGOD. You could tell people were loving them too as I noticed a bra fly up at lead singer Mike Williams’ face. Their intense brand of Sludge Metal resonated excellently with me and everyone else. Sadly, I was too exhausted to stick around for RUSSIAN CIRCLES but I had two other days full of standing around and seeing live music to worry about.
 Day 2 – Saturday, May 16th

ACID WITCH – The filthy sounds of ACID WITCH kicked off Saturday afternoon, the second day of Psycho California. In the words of ACID WITCH’s bass player, their music is all about “getting stoned, taking acid, listening to metal and watching horror movies.” These guys were nominated by the Orange County Weekly paper as one of the ten bands you had to see at Psycho California and they couldn’t have been more right. The unfortunate timeslot didn’t stop ACID WITCH from kicking a huge amount of ass. For as crusty and ragged as they appeared to be, everything about the music and performance was tight and synchronized flawlessly, showing that you don’t have to wear a suit and tie to make professional sounding jams. Sometimes you can wear a bandana headband and a denim vest covered in nickel plated spikes and heavy metal band patches.
ANCIIENTS – One of the bands at Psycho California that was more endearing to extreme metal was the band ANCIIENTS. I wasn’t expecting a band this amazing to perform so early in the day. But, despite the glorious sunshine outside, the Main Stage was dark and filled with gloomy, metal atmosphere. Their blackened style of progressive metal was so much to behold so early in the day but really ANCIIENTS was unlike any other band that played on Saturday. Saying I enjoyed watching ANCIIENTS would be a huge understatement.
BLOODMOON – Another band that I had been seriously looking forward too on Saturday’s showcase was California-based Blackened Doom band BLOODMOON. I got into BLOODMOON several years ago after hearing their EP “Orenda” on an Internet radio station and was hooked instantaneously. Seeing the three-piece in person was remarkable because the band has grown into something much more sinister and repulsing since their LP “Voidbound” was released. Their set was savage and monstrous but before long, it was all over as soon as it had begun. I was blown away by BLOODMOON’s passionate barrage of metal during this day.

ROZAMOV – Boston’s ROZAMOV was another Dtoner Goom band that took up the Grizzly Stage after BLOODMOON. They took pride in combusting everyone’s eardrums with low frequencies that made your bowels churn. Their set also seemed very short as well but these young guys were exceptional to see. The metric tons of noise were almost too much to bear but that was part of the fun of seeing ROZAMOV.
TRUE WIDOW - Undoubtedly one of the coolest bands that were featured on the bill for Psycho California was Dallas, Texas’ TRUE WIDOW. Although they are billed with a lot of Stoner and Doom bands, TRUE WIDOW is heavy in all the right ways and is more like a dimmer shade of Rockabilly mixed with Shoegaze. TRUE WIDOW’s slow and somber melodies were hypnotic if not groovy to hear and presented a huge contrast to nearly everything I had seen so far that weekend. Words will fail me to express how cool TRUE WIDOW’s music was but having this not be my first time seeing them live, I was astounded by their performance that night as if it was like the first time. Seeing them alone made the trek to California all worth it.
PALLBEARER – I don’t know what else I can say about PALLBEARER that I haven’t already said the first five times I’ve seen them live.  This time, however, was in front of a very large crowd. But that didn’t matter because whether their shows have ten people or two thousand, PALLBEARER knock it out of the park every single time. It is never a bad idea to see PALLBEARER live and I remember loudly belting out the lyrics to their song “The Legend” with a fellow fan next to me. PALLBEARER’s entire set was incredible and I look forward to the seventh time I catch them on tour.

EARTH – One of the more mellow-sounding acts during Saturday’s showcase was Washington’s legendary Drone band EARTH. This performance displayed a very unconventional version of a rock concert. Instead of head banging and crowds going crazy and moving around, it was a concert of a completely silent crowd as the band on stage performed each song seemed to be floating on air as their drew out every note with great care, specifically the idiosyncratic drumming of Adrienne Davies. This minimalistic performance had such an amazing and spiritual impact on the entire crowd. It even impressed TRUE WIDOW guitar player Dan Philips who expressed his amazement to me after I ran into him after EARTH’s set was through. This performance was a great example of Psycho California being an exceptional place for the artist to play to adoring fans in a perfect and suitable environment.

KYLESA – As the anticipation for SLEEP grew to it’s zenith, KYLESA were in the position to make themselves memorable. And did they ever make a memorable performance. KYLESA’s catchy and melodic jams, accompanied by some heavy duty drumming and guitar tones, were able to sate the thousands of concert goers in attendance who had stayed past midnight at this point. KYLESA was one of the few main stage bands that had awe-inspiring visuals projecting on the large plasma screens on either side of the stage to accompany them. Admittedly, KYLESA was not a band I was excited about seeing at Psycho CA but now that I saw them, I am very glad that I did because they put on an incredible show.
SLEEP – Undoubtedly, the legendary SLEEP were the highlight of Saturday night. The crowd’s anticipation around seeing SLEEP was so thick, you could only cut it with a serrated knife. And even before they hit the stage, the audience members at the main stage began to spark up and a small hurricane of smoke began to lift up above everyone’s head and began to swirl with the sea breeze coming in from the openings of the ceiling. SLEEP’s interstellar performance hit The Observatory like a meteor, heavy and profoundly impactful. Their performance was very extensive too, closing in at two hours total of their entire performance.

Day 3 – Sunday, May 17th

RED WIZARD – Sunday, the final day of the festival, kicked off with RED WIZARD taking the second stage. Their music was certainly a call back to music that you would hear from KYUSS or SAINT VITUS but there was hardly any bad vibes coming from RED WIZARD. I found RED WIZARD to be infectious and, dare I say, charming to see live. Perhaps their lack of experience and name-recognition assisted my interpretation of them but I thought RED WIZARD really killed it and I had no problem getting rocked the fuck out by them.
BANG! – Along with PENTAGRAM and BEDEMON (who I didn’t get to see), BANG! was another 1970’s heavy metal band who came out for Psycho CA. Although I think not many people expected a whole lot from these old men, BANG! really triumphed. These guys in BANG! rocked just as hard as any of the other main stage acts that day. Their blues-driven style of hard rock combined with the tones one would affiliate with the earliest era of heavy metal caught on with me as it did with so many other people in attendance.

WO-FAT – Hailing from Dallas, Texas, WO-FAT took the second stage after an extended wait when the second stage was momentarily closed off to the attendants. These hard-rocking Cowboys really killed it. Taking Texas’ PANTERA as their muse, they pumped out a very groovy and infectious brand of stoner metal that helped me understand why so many people were ravenous to catch this band perform live. Hearing WO-FAT was like seeing someone present a caged monster out for everyone to see and as it started roaring, people just banged their heads and smoked fat joints.
TRUCKFIGHTERS – Canada’s TRUCKFIGHTERS were every bit of the high-octane rockers as people at the show said they were. I had never even heard of TRUCKFIGHTERS but was met with a large and impossible to ignore stage presence. TRUCKFIGHTERS barreled through the biggest technical difficulty I had seen that entire festival as the guitar player’s sound kept going out. He didn’t stop to check to see what was wrong. He just kept kicking and jumping around without a care. It was pretty awesome to see.

THE WELL – The last time I saw Austin, Texas’ THE WELL was at somebody’s house in front of a crowd of about ten people, if even that. I talked with the married couple that encompasses two thirds of the band, Lisa Alley and Ian Graham, about their jobs outside of the band. At Psycho California, I got to see that their new jobs are that of bona-fide, professional rockstars. THE WELL’s performance at the festival was probably my favorite during the entire festival. THE WELL were nothing short of magic up on stage.  Lisa’s dark yet sexy stage swagger and how her and Ian’s vocals formed a perfect congruence, creating a Doom Metal Gemini effect.  This band is truly astonishing to see and hear and was one of the bright shining jewels of Psycho California.

TOMBS – The band TOMBS was quite possibly the darkest and heaviest of all of the bands booked for the festival. After hearing a lot of acclaim that they’ve received for their 2014 full-length album “Savage Gold”, I decided to check TOMBS out. I caught TOMBS a few minutes or so into their set and was blown away by how heavy they were by comparison to every other band I had seen that weekend. BLOODMOON was relatively heavy as well but TOMBS brought lots of Death Metal and Black Metal back into the fray in a way that could be considered courageous or madness, depending on whom you asked. Brooklyn, New York’s TOMBS were extremely inspiring to see live and their keyboardist, BATTILLUS’ own Fade Kainer, provided a much darker spectacle for the crowd to enjoy. Although they weren’t “stoner” enough, the audience received TOMBS quite well as they did such an amazing job onstage.
BONGZILLA – As much as I would like to recall most of BONGZILLA’s set, I am admitting failure. As soon as BONGZILLA took the stage and filled the amphitheater with guitar feedback, they started passing a joint on stage and you could see the entire theater light up with lighter flames and weed smoke. They stated that they wouldn’t begin playing until they could smell the aroma of burning pot from the crowd. They kindly gave their doobie to some fans in the front row and performed a very kaleidoscopic array of fat, bass tones and screeching vocals, provided by front man Muleboy.
EARTHLESS – California’s EARTHLESS was one of the bands I anticipated the most for the entire festival. I have been a huge fan and promoter for their timeless LP “Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky” for several years and my dream of seeing EARTHLESS play live finally came true on the final day of the festival. There was no way in hell I was going to miss out on the band’s cosmically spatial jams with Isaiah Mitchell’s soulful and impecable guitar solos. As expected, the single songs would space out to 20 or even 30 minute-long lengths that persisted to grow in tempo and progression, creating a positive energy that coursed through the crowd of the Monarch Stage. EARTHLESS live was incredible and I would never expect anything less from such a great psychadelic stoner rock band.
OMAl Cisneros, bassist of SLEEP, came back with his psychedelic doom band OM on Sunday. What an incredible band this is and what was even more incredible was how simplistic OM’s music was. But after being able to see their sound check before the festival began, I discovered that performing this meditative brand of Doom required an insane amount of attention to detail of their sound. Cisneros was very particular and anal about every microphone’s level and the balance of his bass with the drummer and the sounds made by percussionist/guitar player/synth lord Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. You could hear everything come together splendidly Sunday evening while OM hypnotized a crowd of over fifteen hundred people clamoring for their deep, sacred and simple music. OM was unforgettable, to say the least.

PENTAGRAM – It was a perfect conclusion to the festival as the legends known as PENTAGRAM took the stage. Lead singer, rock legend and documentary film star Bobby Liebling came out on stage to so much screaming and love. Bobby was in the right place to reprise every single song off PENTAGRAM’S first self-titled album from 1985. It was truly like watching history repeat itself up on that stage. PENTAGRAM were incredible and although Bobby has spent much of his life dealing with serious issues, everyone at Psycho California in spite of it all adored him. We were all there, congregated, for the music and that’s what we got. PENTAGRAM even played an encore despite me being relieved that it was all over and I wouldn’t have to stand on my feet for another 10 hours straight again. I was sore, I was sweaty, I was tired but I was also so happy and thrilled I got to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event. And I would love to do it all over again next year!

Ticket Price: 130 USD


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Edited 21 March 2023

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