Usually, when someone sneezes and you mutter a polite "God bless you," you get an automatic, usually meaningless "Thank you" in return. But say as much at the Sacrifice of the Nazarene Child Festival, and you'll be met with a menacing scowl — if not worse.
That's because the Sacrifice of the Nazarene Child — the ninth installment of which unfolded this past weekend in San Antonio, Texas, at the Rock Bottom Tattoo Bar (motto: "When life hits you hard, hit Rock Bottom") — is a bestial, booze-filled gathering of some of the blackest, most Satanic metal bands on the planet.
The SOTNC Festival has become an annual destination for dozens of dedicated disciples of this sinister, underground genre, who — donning their M60 bullet belts, black Doc Marten boots, billy-goat beards, pentagram necklaces, and Corpse Molestation and Anal Vomit T-shirts — have traveled from as far away as France for an entire day of blasphemous, face-melting noise.
It's the impressive bill — boasting obscure acts like Gospel of the Horns, Nosvrolok, Devastator, Prosanctus Inferi and Nuclear Desecration — that summoned most of these tatted hellions to the home of the Alamo. This year's biggest draw is Profanatica, which was formed during the late-1980s in New York by frontman Paul Ledney and guitarist John Gelso. Saturday's gig was the influential band's first since 2001, and will, in all likelihood, be its last for some time. Why? Well, as one devoted fan reasoned, "It wouldn't be special, otherwise."
"Special" is an interesting, yet apropos, description of Profanatica's live shows, which have become the thing of legend within the black metal underground. Leading up to this weekend's festival, fans recounted tales of Profanatica concerts of old. "I heard one time, [Ledney] drank his own piss out of a wine glass and spit it onto a Bible," said one festival attendee during the SOTNC pre-party, hosted the night before at the local Alamo Lodge. His friend was quick to correct him: "No, man — he just used the Bible to smash worms onstage."
During Friday night's shindig — where conversations ranged from how much the black-metal scene has changed ("Back in '91, there were maybe 20 chicks into black metal, and only five of them were bangable") to the merits of Hatebreed ("It's police-cadet rock, man"), and the drink of choice was the 40 ounce (preferably chugged, and then smashed against the nearest wall) — Ledney revealed that Profanatica had something "special" planned for Saturday night. This led to much speculation amongst those gathered for the bash. In one of the hotel's dingy rooms, where the rug bore countless cigarette burns and the imprint of an iron someone forgot about, one fan surmised that it would involve blood. And he was right.
Long before Profanatica took the tiny stage at the Rock Bottom — a venue so dirty, it made CBGB's look like Radio City Music Hall — the bandmembers hit the streets, on the hunt for authentic animal blood. That's not something you can just go to a store and purchase, not even in Texas. So, the boys headed for the grocery store, where they picked up some fresh chicken livers. Back at their hotel room, they spent an hour in a bathtub, wringing blood out of the meat into a plastic pitcher. According to Ledney, the blood was make or break; without it, his band wouldn't have performed.
Inside the club, it was sweltering. There was no air-conditioning, and a little more than 200 people — none of whom was wearing earplugs — were all huddled together, in denim jackets covered with patches from bands like Nazarene Whore, Satanic Funeral and Corpse F---ing Art. It was so hot, ice-cold drinks turned lukewarm within minutes, and by the end of the evening, everyone's arms were coated in sweat and other people's hair. All that was missing from this unholy event was the smell of sulfur and the screams of tortured sinners.
"The only reason why I am doing this is because there's nothing quite like it," explained festival founder Alex Macias, the drummer/vocalist for Thornspawn, San Antonio's preeminent black-metal outfit. "These festivals are not in big venues with big-name bands. It's more of a personal thing. And I think the scene is probably at its greatest. It's always existed, but it is by far at its strongest, because I think there's a lot of unity in this scene. These festivals, they never max 500, and I don't book them in big venues. The people you see here, you see every year. It's an event that's almost like a family reunion."
After unforgiving sets by Rituals of a Blasphemer, Father Befouled and Nuclear Desecration, Macias' two-man band — wearing corpse paint — took the stage, delivering a snarling, machine-gun-paced performance that had every person in the joint throwing the horns. Prosanctus Inferi were one of the day's other favorites — the Columbus, Ohio, two-piece's technically proficient set was grim, with guttural vocals that sounded like demonic belches. Aussie act Cemetery Urn crushed the collective eardrums of the entire audience, as their drummer pummeled the skins like they'd just touched his sister inappropriately. Black thrashers Devastator, made up entirely of skinheads, had the muscular masses banging their heads and set the mood for headliners Profanatica.
Decked in corpse paint and nun habits, Profanatica took the stage, doused in the chicken blood they'd laboriously extracted just hours before. It was a blasphemous display that would have made any Bible-hugging Christian sick to his core. The band is the embodiment of a genre that embraces anti-Christianity, misanthropy, nihilism and individualism. Though wrought with technical issues, Profanatica's return to the stage was chilling. The band was tight, and the bass lines were thick, while Ledney's shrieking, gut-spewing vocals inspired chants of "Hail Satan" from the crowd.
This was the moment everybody had come to see, and Profanatica didn't disappoint. One fan marveled at the experience, knowing it was "special," knowing that it would perhaps never happen again. "I've been listening to this band since I was 12, and I never got to see them live," he said. "I love these gathering, because I can't ever find anyone who likes this sh--. This sh-- is my life."
(Readers who enjoyed this article will almost definitely enjoy Chris Harris' report on the 2006 New England Metal & Hardcore Festival).