Fans as much a part of Fire Fest as the bands

The gal with the sore neck summed up the evening as she rubbed the base of her scrambled skull.

"I think I separated my brain from its stem," she said, after having spent the previous 30 minutes hunched over at the knees, whipping her head about in violent circles, creating a whirring windmill of damp red hair.

There was a massage table in the back of the room. It was very necessary.

As the first day of Fire Fest got under way Thursday at the Fort Cheyenne Events Center (the event continues on Monday), the bands were sweaty before they even took the stage and the crowd was a fleshy battering ram that confronted the concussive sounds that engulfed them like bricks crashing through a plate glass window.

Security was tight — reporters weren’t even allowed to bring a pen into the show lest it be used as weapon — but the physicality of the show didn’t manifest itself in violence so much as a growling geyser of pent-up energy.

This is the underlying appeal of death metal, which most groups pledged allegiance to on this day: It’s an immersive, full-contact genre that one doesn’t take in so much as relent to.

It’s generally favored by dudes in Jeffrey Dahmer and Dying Fetus T-shirts, but despite its gory, plasma-coated veneer, the genre is quite sophisticated, musically speaking, generally predicated upon a kind of dizzying technicality that renders it the musical equivalent of advanced math equations.

Think of it as a mix of algebra and human entrails.

To this point, as a handful of bands demonstrated at Fire Fest, heady, high-minded free-form jazz has become nearly as prominent an influence on the scene as heavy metal forebears like Black Sabbath, with the emphasis on complex polyrhythms, tricky time signatures and a heightened instrumental virtuosity.

Perhaps the band that most embodied this notion of self-aware musical studiousness were headliners Necrophagist, an impossibly progressive German death metal quartet whose tunes are so frenetically precise, it’s almost as if they’re played by machines. Their bassist was prone to Jaco Pastorious-like runs up and down the fretboard, while guitarist Muhammed Suicmez crafted some of the most elaborate, head-scratching leads you’ll hear in any genre.

He played so fast and dexterously that your wrists would get sore just watching the guy.

And there was plenty of this kind of showmanship on display during Fire Fest’s 10-hour marathon of highly musical misanthropy.

Denver grind oddballs Cephalic Carnage peppered its songs with jazzy, atmospheric interludes before firing back with a windfall of mangled riffs that fanned out in every direction like buckshot.

Polish death metal brutes Decapitated intermingled academic guitarwork with a dense, near-overwhelming percussive thrush, swinging their manes about so forcefully that you could nearly feel the wind spiriting from the stage; San Diego metallers Cattle Decapitation blasted forth with a drummer whose limbs were in such perpetual motion, it looked as if he was running in place behind his kit.

Oh, and their singer was fond of spitting in the air, catching the gobs of saliva in his hand, and then smearing the goo on his shirt, just in case the band’s music became too highbrow.

And that’s the key to this genre: The bands are quick to deflate any instrumental pomposity with a boyish love of gore, subversive slasher-flick fantasias and just about every other gross-out tactic imaginable.

Clad in skull-festooned black T-shirts, the bands don’t look that much different than the crowds before them, and few real barriers exist between the two, a notion that was frequently underscored at Fire Fest.

Near the end of a particularly forceful set from Las Vegas deathcore nasties Misericordiam, the band’s red-faced singer hurled himself into the crowd and was soon swarmed by dozens of kids climbing onto his back, all of them very much aware that they were as much a part of this wild-eyed exercise as the dudes clutching the instruments.

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