Keeping metal alive in Montana

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

Three metal acts from around the state played to over 100 fans, new and old, on Friday, Oct. 24. Bozeman’s Beneath the Kraken, Missoula’s Walking Corpse Syndrome and Engage the Unseen from Billings entertained the diverse crowd at the Main Street Arts and Entertainment Complex for over four hours, keeping the fans at high energy throughout the show.

Despite being relatively unknown bands — none have a record deal, and Engage the Unseen had never played outside their hometown before — the three groups filled the arena with loyal fans. One attendee came all the way from Miles City, and another diehard fan claimed to have not missed an Engage the Unseen show in the last year and a half. Walking Corpse Syndrome arrived at the concert to find their biggest “superfan,” had a prepared dinner — lasagna and garlic bread — waiting for them. She was also letting them sleep on her floor for the night and volunteered to work their merchandise booth.

The members of Walking Corpse Syndrome pointed out the paradox of metal in Montana: it both attracts fans as dedicated as these and yet does not have a widespread following. Matthew Bile, one of the guitarists, pointed to the “superfans” and declared emphatically that “Montana loves metal.” Ryan Kromdar, the other guitarist, addressed how fans could help smaller musical acts like theirs: “We hear all the time, ‘I wish [my town] had a better [music] scene . . . it does, if you’d go to it. Get off your couch. Go to your local shows.” The bassist Steven Frerichs also encouraged the public to support local artists: “I’ve never spent an evening in a mosh pit and thought ‘that sucked.’”

Ethan Peterson, an MSU student majoring in computer science, brought two friends to the concert, describing it as “the best thing that’s happening Friday night . . . better than Phillip Phillips.” (The American Idol winner was performing the same night at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.) His companion Zach Schmidt said “I could have been out partying, but this was [more] interesting . . . something new to do.”

All three groups worked to dispel the common stereotype of metal groups and their fans as angry and violent. There was more interaction between the performers and the audience than in most concerts as each band mingled with the fans during each other’s sets, shaking hands and happily signing autographs. The members of Beneath the Kraken laughed and joked with the audience from the stage as they setup their equipment, and Nathan Raschkow, the singer for Engage the Unseen, stopped between songs to tell a fan, “I love you too, baby.” Bile believes that metal performers and their fans are “giant teddy bears, when you come down to it,” adding that “lots of [promoters] say ‘I wasn’t sure about having a metal band, but I had less fights than [when booking] the country bands.’”

Despite this, one fight broke out during the event when a drunk fan got too aggressive on the mosh floor. Matthew Fleming, an MSU student at the concert, defended himself and the aggressor was quickly removed from the venue. Fleming dismissed the incident as uncharacteristic of metal shows: “Most fans respect each other, respect the music but then you get guys like him.”

Walking Corpse Syndrome agreed with Fleming in spirit. All the members stressed that one of their favorite aspects of the metal genre was the sense of camaraderie they believe it fosters among fans. “Everyone knows metal is about . . . brotherhood,” vocalist Leif Winterrowd said as he gave fans in the front row fist bumps from the stage. A recent Facebook post from the group stated “This is our community. This is what we do. We bring together all the misfits who never fit in and make a beautiful mosaic of metal.”

To find out more about the bands or listen to their music, contact Walking Corpse Syndrome at walkingcorpsesyndrome.com, Engage the Unseen at engagetheunseen.com and Beneath the Kraken at reverbnation.com/beneaththekraken.