Martyrdoom Draws the World's Fiercest Metalheads to Brooklyn
Photo by Jimmy Hubbard
Martyrdoom — a sprawling, multi-venue heavy-metal bacchanal that will darken Brooklyn doorsteps for a third year running — will span an unholy five consecutive nights this time around, and that's not even counting multiple pre-shows and after-parties at the Acheron and Lucky 13. Imagine a satanic SXSW descending upon the borough November 6–10, bringing with it plenty of spikes, blood, and blast beats. Headliners including Necrophobic, Revenge, Mgla, Mortuary Drape, and Bombers will join more obscure talent such as Bell Witch, Malthusian, the Howling Wind, and Phobocosm, plus local slayers Black Anvil and Vorde. It's become a yearly ritual for diehard fans of black metal, death metal, and extreme metal in general to trek out to Brooklyn for Martyrdoom — it's like a smaller, more niche Maryland Deathfest, or a much, much meaner Roadburn.
The man behind it, Vinny Bochicchio, doesn't do it all alone, enjoying support from other members of Signature Riff, the promotions company he spearheads, as well as from festival sponsors Metal Kingdom and — Martyrdoom's main venue — Saint Vitus Bar. Traditionally, the community pitches in, too, as each year sees various musicians, fans, and allies come through in a pinch with a spare drum or van ride. But when darkness falls and the stage lights come on, the vision behind it is all Vinny's.
He's highly selective about the bands he books; at this point, he's got the right to be. The Signature Riff logo — and Bochicchio himself — are familiar sights at extreme metal shows throughout the Tri-State area, whether presenting an event, socializing at a gig, or flyering for the next. When it comes to determining the Martyrdoom lineup each year, there's no magic formula or industry dealings at play. As Bochicchio tells us, "Each fest takes on a life of its own based mostly on who's available during a specific time frame." Like any festival booker, he's all too familiar with last-minute cancellations and visa snafus, but has reliably made up for any disappointments with the kinds of lineup that most metalheads would only expect to see in more metal-friendly Europe.
In recent years, Bochicchio has also tried his hand at booking tours, and has forged alliances with promoters across the country in order to facilitate shows for the bands he brings over. One of Martyrdoom's most impressive feats is its repeat ability to fly in obscure cult acts from across the country and all over the world on a fraction of a larger, more mainstream festival's budget. One of the most hotly anticipated headliners, black-metal luminaries Mgla, hail from Krakow, Poland; on Sunday and Monday, Brooklyn will be treated to a rare North American performance from Italian occult-horror fiends Mortuary Drape, who will be flying in, candelabra and all, from Alessandria, as well as from their countrymen Demonomancy. In fact, the vast majority of the bands playing this year come from at least a few hundred miles away, like Colorado occult icons Nightbringer or Massachusetts underground heavyweights Sangus, not to mention a strong Canadian presence courtesy of Revenge, Phobocosm, and Paroxsihzem.
It's a massive effort — the logistics of which Bochicchio cites as the worst part of the planning process — but one that's had a huge impact on the festival's quality and reputation. Bochicchio prides himself on bringing bands over for exclusive performances, and this year's event is no exception. He even managed to secure entry for Blood Tsunami and Studfaust, two Norwegian bands who share a notorious drummer, Bård "Faust" Eithun. Eithun was released from prison in 2003 following a murder conviction, and he's never played live on American soil. Martyrdoom, in fact, is flying in almost a dozen bands, from Poland, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Italy, and Norway, some of whom — like Ireland's buzzy death metal upstarts Malthusian, for example — will be making their North American debuts along with Eithun. One of the festival's more atmospheric bands, Sabbath Assembly, will also welcome a special guest: Kayo Dot's Ron Varod will join them onstage at Saint Vitus as a second guitarist.
Revenge, a Canadian black/death metal band with a rabid fan base and reputation for punishing live onslaughts, have promised to play new material from their forthcoming album — and if that weren't enough, they're also playing twice. That's one of the reasons Martyrdoom lasts so long: Most of the bigger or more exotic bands are asked to play more than once, either at the main venue or at after-shows. For concertgoers, this can create a series of agonizing decisions, especially as the festival stretches into the workweek: While you'll have multiple opportunities to catch Revenge (and Mgla, and Mortuary Drape), not so with Bombers — a rollicking, whiskey-soaked Motörhead tribute fronted by ex-Immortal frontman Abbath — who are coming all the way from Norway to play a solitary Tuesday-night set. As Friday headliners Necrophobic warned on Facebook, "It's rare that we come to these areas of the world, so you better not miss any of these shows. We are ready to burn the stage and celebrate the goat together with you!"
In any case, one could never accuse Martyrdoom of skimping — rather, it offers an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, and Bochicchio's accustomed to seeing some of the same faces up front at every show. The festival has grown exponentially since its first incarnation in 2012, a one-day affair that took over Public Assembly and introduced the neighborhood to Greece's Dead Congregation, as well as Grave Miasma and Cruciamentum, from the U.K., and America's own Father Befouled. In fact, without the latter, it might not have happened at all. The festival came into being by chance: As Bochicchio tells us, "Martyrdoom evolved from a Father Befouled/Encoffination one-off show. It just so happened that several bands we were speaking with at the same time all expressed interest in playing with Father Befouled. I've never seen that many bands respect a specific band as much, before or since, which says a lot about them! Once we had this grouping of bands together, we needed a catchy name, and 'Martyrdoom' is the title of a classic tune from Dead Congregation."
Given the international bent of the lineup, it's hardly surprising that a high percentage of Martyrdoom attendees — estimated at around 60 percent — come from out of town. "What makes NYC the perfect city to host [Martyrdoom] is that the city itself creates excitement, which means it's a lot easier recruiting both bands and fans for the event. Aside from the bands and music, the city itself is able to draw," Bochicchio explains. For years, "Brooklyn metal" meant hipsters; it meant Liturgy, and skinny jeans, and overpriced beer, and insincerity. There will always be those who scoff at the borough and turn their noses up at the vibrant, vicious underground metal and punk scenes bubbling away down in Bushwick or (God forbid) Williamsburg. But now, thanks to Martyrdoom, New York City is known as a place where the faithful may congregate and worship the darkest, most evil strains of bastardized heavy metal imaginable — and yeah, grab a decent slice of 'za while they do it.
For Bochicchio, all the hassle and stress is more than worth it. As he says, "The best part is surrounding ourselves with several hundred like-minded individuals who thirst for the 1 percent of bands chosen each year." Knowing him, he's already started planning Martyrdoom 2017. After all, there's no rest for the wicked.
Martyrdoom will rock you November 6–11. For ticket information, lineup, schedule, and more, click here.
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