A healthy metal scene, more than almost any other genre, needs a healthy live-music scene. And in that regard, metal is thriving in Pittsburgh. It has venues ingrained into the culture, festivals that cater to subgenres throughout the year, and most importantly, the bands, fans, and promoters to keep it active.
“There's almost too much going on in our city,” says Evan Thorsen of the melodic death metal band Greywalker, noting that the amount of live shows in Pittsburgh can be overwhelming. “It’s a good problem to have."
Despite its proximity to substantially larger markets, Pittsburgh is no longer overlooked by larger touring acts. Locally, the live metal scene has benefited from the number of venues available not only to accommodate larger, better-established acts, but also to promoters of underground metal, such as Blackseed and Steel & Bone working with venues including Howlers, Brillobox, Cattivo, Smiling Moose, and Black Forge.
A new generation of bands like the hardcore Enemy Mind or Signs of the Swarm, or the death metal of Derketa or Post Mortal Possessions, Slaves BC’s black metal-influenced grind, or the experimental riffs of Microwaves and Pyrithe, are shaping the city's sound.
“Community-wise, it's growing,” says Jason Head, who owns and operates small-run record label Our Ancient Future. “I think we're seeing a ton of amazing talent in the people playing metal these days, and it's starting to make [sub]genres that normally didn't get good attention finally seeing the light on them. Particularly, death metal is sort of having a moment right now,” adds Head.
The idea of community and the devotion of the fans also combine powerfully in the city's festivals: the Brewtal Beer Fest, the bi-annual Migration Fest, Skull Fest, Descendants of Crom, and the latest addition, Metal Immortal Festival (starting Fri., June 28).
Horehound vocalist Shy Kennedy also organizes Descendants of Crom, a two-day event held at Cattivo every September. She feels that Pittsburgh’s metal culture is doing well because it's a great place for local and touring bands. “There is an audience here, and it's a great location for bands to come through and a perfect way to connect our local talent to the national community.”
For Metal Immortal Festival organizer Deb Levine, who also fronts power-metal band Lady Beast, organizing a festival was an easy decision. “It’s always a risk, but the reward will be bringing amazing bands to this city, and for those bands to play for the huge crowds they deserve.”
As to why Levine feels this city is embracing metal: “Pittsburgh is the city of steel, what’s more heavy metal than that?”