“Bang your f*cking head or break your f*cking neck,” Letlive frontman Jason Aalon Butler demanded of his crowd Saturday afternoon. “You get two choices.”
By that point in his performance, Butler had already torn his shirt apart and slammed his body into the stage, so he’d earned the right to issue such a challenge. Besides, if you’re at Extreme Thing and you’re not head-banging, you’re not doing it right.
This year’s edition of the annual one-day heavy music festival felt bigger than ever, not just in size but in scope. Extreme Thing focuses on hardcore, a style that has spread internationally as it has evolved and engulfed sub-genres. Pop-punk, death-metal, Christian rock and EDM influences could be heard at Desert Breeze Park, which all but overflowed by 2 p.m. with fans of the fest’s 30-plus bands, DJ lineup and action sports activities.
For an outsider, distinguishing between bands at Extreme Thing can feel difficult. Many utilize similar elements—chugging guitars, fast drums and musical breakdowns, all performed at high volumes. I tend to sort by scream, from the high-pitched shriek of Killswitch Engage, Of Mice & Men and Bring Me the Horizon (usually paired with sung vocals) to the deep growl of After the Burial and Emmure to the unintelligible roar of Thy Art Is Murder.
Ironically, the day’s standout act featured no screaming or vocals of any kind. The D.C.-based Animals as Leaders are an instrumental progressive-metal trio lead by mind-blowing guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi. In lieu of a bassist, Abasi and accompanying guitarist Javier Rayes play eight-string guitars, allowing them to switch between strumming, shredding, plucking and slapping, often in a matter of seconds. In a departure from the rest of the day, Animals as Leaders didn’t incite moshing or rioting—more like gaping and head-shaking at their technical proficiency and pseudo-classical sound. To me, they’re the most exciting band the genre has produced in years.
For headlining acts like Taking Back Sunday and The Used, radio play and record sales peaked years ago, but Saturday proved their fans are still with them. For some fans, that music paved the way for newer, heavier acts like Bring Me the Horizon to win more widespread acclaim. Still, hardcore’s essence will always be counter-cultural, making it tough to tell how far its appeal extends. Watching the scene at Extreme Thing, I feel certain it’s stronger than ever in Las Vegas.