Don't let the band names scare you

Wearing an incredulous grin and a skull-festooned T-shirt, Michael Gordon recalls the time he accidentally broke a dude’s nose.

It happened at last year’s Las Vegas Death Fest, a multiday marathon of grisly, plasma-marinated metal that Gordon oversees with his partner Chris O’Gane.

Gordon was circling the mosh pit when another fan started to fall, inadvertently mangling his face on Gordon’s elbow.

“He got up, he was dripping blood, he said, ‘That was the coolest thing ever, bro,’ and gave me a big hug,” Gordon says at an upscale pizza joint in Tivoli Village on a recent Wednesday afternoon. “His nose was all sideways. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, dude.’ ”

This kind of fun, familial, full-contact vibe has come to define the fest — that, and brutal death metal whose song titles alone will give squeamish types a never-ending Maalox moment.

But despite the gnarly gut churn promised by bands like Vomit God, Entrails Eradicated, Animals Killing People and dozens more, the atmosphere at the event is a friendly, communal one, so much so, that fans travel from around the globe to be a part of it.

Now in its fifth installment, the fest has become an international draw, selling out in advance, with more than a third of the audience coming from abroad.

Besides a German contingent, close to two-dozen Australians are coming to the fest this year, while bands will be traveling from such far-flung locales as Thailand and Belarus.

Two years ago, an Italian couple got married on stage during the fest.

“I get overwhelmed sometimes to think of the money that people spend to fly here just to come to our show,” says O’Gane, who’s covered in more ink than the pages of an encyclopedia.

The fest, which starts at 3 p.m. today and runs through Saturday night at the Cheyenne Saloon, has grown rapidly since debuting in 2008 with an eight-band lineup.

This year, 47 acts will play in what is expected to be the last Death Fest at the Cheyenne, as the event has gotten so big that it will move to a larger venue in the future. It’s become so well known in the metal underground that bands like Texas’ Infernal Dominion and Ohio’s Regurgitation have reformed after decade-long hiatuses simply to play the fest.

It gives the event the celebratory feel of a reunion of long-lost relatives — hundreds of like-minded revelers bonded not by the blood in their veins, but by the blood their music comes soaked in.

“You see the band names and you think of all kind of crazy violence and all that stuff, but it’s not about that. It’s about having fun,” says the thick-shouldered, silver-haired Gordon, who lives up to his “Big Mike” nickname. “It’s a big family, man.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476.

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