Despite their global separation, Norway and southern Chile share two, distinct similarities: fjords and black metal. The Norwegian black metal music scene is highly respected. Norway is also credited with developing the sound in the 1980s. While it is less historical, the Chilean black metal scene is admired throughout the Americas. The epicenter of Chilean rock, Puerto Montt, is sometimes referred to as “Muerto Montt” because of the black metal (and because the town is not exactly Chile's most vibrant). Alongside Puerto Montt, many other towns in the southern Rivers Region (XIV) and the Lakes Region (X) foster the Chilean black metal scene.
The crowd (photo courtesy of Urkiux)
So when my buddy Cameron and I saw the posters for the 'Black & Death Metal Festival'
while wandering around Valdivia just a few days before the show, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. We decided to attend the "Southern Open Air Metal Festival" on the weekend of February 8-10, entry to which cost 10 luka for all 3 days including a campsite.
We went to the bus terminal in Puerto Montt to catch a bus to the campsite. Not knowing which bus to board, our plan was to look for “people who looked like they were going to a metal festival.” That generally means looking for a man with long black hair, a black T-shirt, unfortunate facial hair, headphones and a don't-talk-to-me expression. Admittedly, on any day in Chile there are a significant number of “people who look like they are going to a metal festival.”
We were too exhilarated to care.
We did, eventually, hop on the correct bus. The picturesque ride traced the coast, with road hovering between beach and forests. Despite assurances that we were on the right bus, we still didn't know where to get off. Luckily there were now a number of obvious metal dudes who we followed to the campsite.
Upon arrival, we met an aggressively chill, grey mane sporting, metal veteran. He told us to look around and pick out a campsite. We weren’t asked to pay. A lady came around later to sell us tickets, but unlike the DMZ that surrounds, say, Bonnaroo, entrance and exit controls did not exist.
Black Metal (photo courtesy of Urkiux)
Weaknesses in our hastily made plan became clear: no tent, no sleeping bags, no blankets or towels. Only light jackets, and a few spare t-shirts, socks and jeans. We seemed to be the only gringos in attendance. We quickly devised a motto: drink until we pass out. This seemed viable. It was 23 degrees, the sun was shining and the festival’s Facebook page suggested that beer would be sold for 500 pesos a can.
We decided to post up on a patch of grass in front of the stage. Within minutes, our friendly neighbors invited us over for a beer and we met Gabriel, a metal fan from Temuco who identified himself as Mapuche.
After finding out that we were from the States, Gabriel eagerly shared his opinions on the intersection of Chilean politics and black metal music. Well-versed in early thrash metal and the Norwegian music scene, he explained how the anger of both movements manifested in deeply-rooted, nativist resentment of oppression. Much of the heartless oppression, he explained, came from Christian origins. He was proud, as a Mapuche, of the near 500 year old fight against Christians and other European conquerors.
We switched to a lighter subject.
"Is the festival going to be good?" I asked.
“It’s gonna be BRUTAL.”
The music was supposed to start at 3, but Gabriel told us it wouldn't start until 5. We decided to get shaded and drop some nap bombs. After pleasantly drifting in and out of wakefulness, a large, young Chilean man, with an even larger black t-shirt and a bizarre Australian accent, poked me.
Drums (photo courtesy of Urkiux)
After trying to sell us a CD, he invited us to come chill with his friends. We met a group of metal fans, three of whom comprised the only Santiago-based band to play at the festival, Swarm of Hatred. They immediately beered us and asked us what we were doing there.
We explained about the poster, and they were impressed. They were extremely interested in the world outside of Chile and Santiago. This trip marked the first time to the south of Chile for the drummer, Christian. This took us by surprise. The vast majority of the Chileans we had encountered were upper class and visited the south regularly. For them, a weekend stuck in Santiago was a weekend wasted.
Aged between 19 and 21, the dudes from Swarm of Hatred were primarily (exclusively) interested in black metal music. We never learned their educational or socio-economic backgrounds, or anything about their personal lives, but their devotion to the black metal music scene, t-shirts and all, gave them clear societal roles.
At 8:30, just as the sun started to set, the first act began. They looked young, maybe 17 years old, and all of their songs consisted of the frontman/lead guitarist doing his best to create the guttural roar that characterizes death metal. As his voice had not fully finished dropping, he sounded less like a frontman, and more like one of those folks who smoked so much that they have to talk through a hole in their throat. Of course, the real weakness of the set was that this act was doubling as the sound check. Hence, the vocals faded in and out. At one point the electric instruments stopped being electric.
Metalled out (photo courtesy of Urkiux)
At about 10 pm, the concert began in earnest. It was awesome. The bands were good, the energy was high. There were at least 100 people in black t-shirts listening and banging their heads when it was appropriate. By now, the chilly sea breeze and the darkness dropped the temperature to the mid-60s. We put on our jeans and jackets.
Three more acts played, and the buena onda kept rolling, the atmosphere more than compensating for the middling band quality. The cheap beer didn’t hurt either. At about 1 AM, our endurance began to flag. We headed back to our backpacks., a mere 30 meters from the stage. Within half an hour, a particularly melodic death metal act lulled us to sleep.
I awoke just after 3 am to the realization that I was freezing. Though it never got below 50, the mass of Earth below me slowly leached heat from my body, and the condensation from the nearby Pacific Ocean lent a disagreeable degree of dampness to my all-cotton outfit. Cameron was experiencing similar climatic conditions. We put on jorts over our jeans, four t-shirts apiece, and wrapped another shirt around our heads. I put on a second pair of gym socks, and used another pair as gloves. We did a non-zero amount of spooning.
I drifted in and out of sleep, my dreams merging with reality in a disturbing fashion. The final band was fantastic and added pyrotechnics to their act. I was awake when they signed off and the stage lights went out. It was 5:30 am.
I woke with the sun at 7 am. There were a few small groups of dudes, sitting around drinking beers. The ground was littered with beer cans. Despite having one more full day of rock to go, the post-apocalyptic vibe signaled that it was time to leave. Cameron quickly assented. Despite being colder than I have ever been in my life, I took off the outer layer of jorts, in a concession to appearing sane.
Later, we learned that it had rained on and off for most of Saturday, further vindicating our decision to leave. Still, had we known of the camaraderie, friendliness—and yes, brutality—of the Southern Open Air Metal Fest, we would’ve bought tents and toughed it out. That music can offer a vision of underlying societal trends and emotions is a cliché, but in the case of the southern Chilean black metal scene, it’s a cliché worth experiencing.