Kalispell’s Anthony Barnes celebrated his 30th birthday by driving to Denver to see the deathcore band Whitechapel.
He said the 2017 metal concert was worth a 2,000-mile round trip in December, even after a harrowing return journey through an intense winter storm that produced what Barnes called “the worst driving weather ever.”
Thanks to Barnes and other metal fanatics, Flathead Valley enthusiasts don’t have to trek to distant cities to experience the immersive energy of a live show. Barnes, a 2006 graduate of Columbia Falls High School, is one of many homegrown musicians creating a thriving local scene that supports area bands and treats fans to national touring acts as well.
“It’s a growing population,” Barnes said of the metal scene. “It’s doing something outside of the norm that makes you feel free. There’s a sense of empowerment with it.”
As one of the lead singers for his band, Undying Avarice, Barnes patterns his extreme vocals after Whitechapel frontman Phil Bozeman.
“When I tell people I do extreme metal, they ask what it is and I say ‘it’s screaming,’” he said. “People laugh about and I laugh, too. From a normal perspective, it does sound goofy.”
Barnes, whose day job is a computer technician, also plays regularly in local venues and founded the Flathead Valley Metal Fest. He is booking acts for his fourth showcase of local and regional metal music Aug. 2-3 at the Eagles in Kalispell. Barnes said about 350 people attended last year’s festival.
Jamie Yeats of local metal band Wizzerd also heads up an ambitious music event with the Rocky Mountain Riff Fest, scheduled this year for April 19-20 in two downtown Kalispell locations.
Yeats, a Glacier High School graduate, said Wizzerd got its start in the classic manner — a group of friends practicing in his parents’ basement. The group made its public debut at local open-microphone nights when the band members were still in high school, and Wizzerd has since gone on four tours with stops ranging from Texas to Washington state, and played in a popular Denver festival, the Electric Funeral Fest.
Yeats, 22, said Wizzerd’s style mirrors the slower pace of legendary metal bands like Black Sabbath.
“Musically speaking, there’s a lot you can do within the genre,” Yeats said. “Everything from a song that just assaults your eardrums for 10 minutes straight to a song that goes from soft acoustic to soaring epic-ness that puts you in a ‘Lord of the Rings’ world.”
Wizzerd has cultivated a different look than most metal bands, Yeats said. The band likes to dress up on stage, with bell-bottom pants, button-up shirts, vests and ties.
Yeats sees plenty of musicians wearing leather and covered with tattoos — “people you’d think you have to shelter your children from” — but he said that image is deceiving.
“The people who are involved in the scene and the people on tour are the most thoughtful, sweetest, caring and helpful people,” he said.
Another Flathead Valley metal band, Uncommon Evolution, is also an ambassador for Northwest Montana metal. The four-piece band has toured extensively, even landing slots in the 2015 and 2018 South by Southwest festivals in Austin, Texas. The band has also released three albums on Italian label Argonauta Records.
Uncommon Evolution is among the openers for legendary metal band Clutch at The Wilma in Missoula on Saturday, March 2.
“I’ve been going to the Wilma since I was 15,” Uncommon Evolution guitarist River Riotto said. “It’s a huge honor for me.”
Riotto, a graduate of Whitefish High School, said the local metal scene is strong enough to help a band develop the poise and confidence to step out on a larger stage.
“Our scene around here is so incredibly close-knit and supportive, where on the road, you’re kind of far-flung and isolated,” he said. “We’ve seen other bands come here and get a wholesome, high-energy response.”
Though Uncommon Evolution has seen success in the wider world, Riotto said bands like his outside of the musical mainstream usually have to create their own opportunities.
“Metal is nationally a pretty underground DIY sort of affair,” he said. “Having these kinds of scenes locally puts us in the synapse of the neural network of national acts. That’s why bigger bands are coming through here.”
Metal music might have a narrow audience, but for Riotto, it’s about being part of something bigger than yourself.
“It’s the high energy that got me into heavy metal. When I saw my first really great heavy metal show, I got swept up in the crowd and it was really visceral, intense and fun. That community instantly hooked me and I knew I wanted to get into that genre.”
Barnes said he tries to emphasize the camaraderie alongside the primal elements of metal.
“I bring a good positive outlook,” he said. “Metal is known as being aggressive or angry, but not always. You can push people around in the pit, and then come out feeling relieved.”
He said a metal show provides a release for the stresses of everyday life.
“Our shows are judgment-free and as long as there’s no drama, you’re welcome to be there. Metal is an aggressive style of music that anyone can enjoy.”
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org