Psycho Las Vegas fest returns Friday with deep, diverse lineup

Updated August 17, 2017 - 5:37 pm

It’s an intangible thing, hard to put in words, kind of like the scent of a rose — or, in this case, of a vat of napalm.

Heaviness in music. How do you characterize it, exactly?

There’s sheer sonic heaviness, the crush of steamroller riffs burying you in volume and torque.

But that’s not all it is.

Sometimes the heaviest songs can be the quietest, their weight coming from intense emotional resonance.

Heaviness certainly isn’t confined to genre — sure, it’s most associated with metal, but James Brown’s catalog is as heavy as Slayer’s, Johnny Cash’s as heavy as Napalm Death’s.

“You’ve got all these different angles and ways of looking at heavy music,” says a man who would know: Neurosis singer-guitarist Steve Von Till, whose band’s discography encompasses a broad range of heaviness.

The Bay Area quintet has done as much with a whisper as a roar over their 30-year career, their songbook artful and abrasive, dense and demanding at once, spanning hardcore, metal, folk, industrial and anything else that strikes their fancy at a given moment.

The band has carved its own niche of heaviness and, as such, is a fitting addition to Psycho Las Vegas 2017.

Now in its second year, the three-day fest encompasses a wide array of heavy sounds, from jazz to prog, garage rock to pitch-dark dance music. There’s popular metallers with a technical bent (Mastodon, Gojira), malevolent sounding electronica (Gost), blackened Norwegian folk (Myrkur), high-impact instrumentalists (Pelican), inspired collaborations (Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas) and scads more among the nearly 80 performers who will play on three stages at the Hard Rock Hotel.

“You look at a lineup like that, and it’s ridiculous,” Von Till says. “There’s not a lot of big festivals for heavy music in America like there are in Europe, and so to have folks in America figure out how to pull off these multiday dream lineups all across the board of heavy music is pretty inspiring.”

What’s the connective tissue among all these different strains of heaviness?

“Deep music heads try to find the good music wherever it is; that’s how I’ve always viewed myself,” he says. “I’m just looking for the inspired music wherever I can find it. I don’t have any rules. I think this festival covers a lot of that ground. It’s pretty amazing.”

Basically, there’s a little something for everyone at Psycho Vegas.

To underscore this point, we offer you some can’t-miss acts for different types of Psycho-goer:

The Extremist

Carcass: Feast your “Carbonized Eyesockets” on these pioneers of melodic death metal, grindcore and copping lyrics from medical textbooks. No, they’re probably not going to dust off “Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition” or “Microwaved Uterogestation,” but one can hope.

Abbath: Former frontman for Norwegian snow beasts Immortal, Abbath now leads his own band, coming correct with some frosty, Motorhead-informed black metal badass-ery. Time to dust off that spiked codpiece.

Gatecreeper: Updating the doomy lurch and asphalt-thick distortion levels of early-’90s death metal with modern grotesqueries, Gatecreeper are destined to go over big with fans of Entombed, headbanging and hard-to-read band logos.

Young and in the Way: These punk-leaning black metal nasties once forced a North Carolina venue to close for two weeks after dousing it with pigs blood during a live gig. Apparently, that’s a health code violation or something. Bring a mop.

Wolves in the Throne Room: Cosmic black metal evocative of the forests of their native Washington is what this boundary-pushing trio is all about. True to form, they prefer their shows to be lit by fire. Bring some kindling.

The Adventurist

Mulatu Astatke: “The Father of Ethio-Jazz” brings some Afro-Latin soul to Psycho Vegas. Definitely going to be the best opportunity to showcase your enviable air vibraphone skills.

Psychic TV: These boundless British experimentalists are fronted by one of the most inimitable personalities in all of music, third-gender iconoclast Genesis P-Orridge, who identifies as neither man nor woman. Psychic TV’s diffuse discography, which ranges from garage rock to avant-garde industrial, similarly resists categorization.

Magma: “Hortz fur dehn steken west! Hortz fur dehn steken west!” That’s what you’re going to chant when these far-out French prog rockers give voice to jazzy jams sung in their own self-invented language.

Swans: Ears will ring till September — of 2018 — when these drone-for-days noise rock greats, who emerged from New York City’s No Wave scene in the early ’80s, savage cochleas in these parts for the last time.

Zeal & Arbor: A bewildering combination of black metal and African-American spirituals — with electronic flourishes, natch — Zeal & Ardor’s repertoire sounds like something meant to be sung while slaving away in hell’s chain gang.

The Traditionalist

King Diamond: Heavy metal’s greatest Dane (sorry, Lars) will play his classic 1987 concept album, “Abigail,” in its entirety during his only U.S. appearance of 2017. It’s arguably the greatest record of all time about the spirit of a stillborn fetus possessing another fetus in order to be reborn and subsequently snack on the mummified remains of her previous incarnation. Arguably.

Manilla Road: Well, there’s no evil baby ghosts in it, but another seminal album to be played front-to-back this weekend is “Crystal Logic,” the third record from these cult Kansas metallers, originally released in ’83. Your “Dreams of Eschaton” are about to come true, Chief.

Cirith Ungol: Why, yes, every one of the album covers from these long-running Cali fantasy metallers features a dude wielding a sword on it. If Cirith Ungol didn’t soundtrack some heated Dungeons & Dragons action circa 1983, you were doing it wrong.

Ace Frehley: “Rock Soldiers,” prepare for duty — and by “duty,” we mean pounding beers and belting out “New York Groove” loud enough to be heard in said city.

Diamond Head: Having given voice in song to one of heavy metal’s most definitive rhetorical questions (“Am I Evil?”) this New Wave of British Heavy Metal institution is best known for exerting a profound influence on Metallica, who’ve covered the band four times over the years, repaying them in royalties.

The Rockist

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: “Don’t Get Lost” doubles as both the title of these prolific psych rockers’ latest record and a helpful directive when attempting to navigate the band’s well-deep discography. Tune in, turn on, drop what you’re doing when this bunch hits the stage.

Corrosion of Conformity: In the ’80s they were hardcore prime movers. In the ’90s they dropped two of the best hard rock records of the decade (“Deliverance” and “Wiseblood”). There’s artistic leaps, and then there’s creative long jumps. These dudes have proven themselves masters of the latter.

Murder City Devils: Speaking of decade-defining albums, these Seattleites’ third disc, 2000’s “In Name and Blood,” remains one of the best rock and roll records of the aughts, a drunken, howling, emotive masterpiece where hearts and knuckles bleed alike.

Slo Burn: Former Kyuss frontman John Garcia’s first band after the breakup of those legendary desert rock greats, Slo Burn is back in action after a 20-year hiatus. Pretty sure this will be a way better platform for them than playing the Ozzfest side stage for 20 minutes in 1997.

Windhand: “Grief’s Infernal Flower” blossoms anew when this coed doom quintet leads a loaded lineup of can’t-miss female-fronted acts (Jex Thoth, Ruby the Hatchet, Royal Thunder, Chelsea Wolfe, Blood Ceremony, etc.). These Virginians may be the best of the bunch, though, their haunting, emotionally charged catalog getting under your skin as if delivered intravenously.

Contact Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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