Words by Mitchie Shue
Photos by Craig Zirpolo
Forcefield Records celebrated their 10th anniversary Monday night at Strange Matter with a showcase digging deep into their extensive back catalog including a solo performance by Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand, the long-overdue return of sludge-maestros The Catalyst, blasting black metal trio Unsacred and over-the-top theatrics from Battlemaster.
In the last decade, Forcefield Records has pressed more than 50 releases documenting a great breadth of stylistic diversity from the Richmond heavy music scene. Their latest entry comes in the form of Prisoner’s fantastic new LP Beyond The Infinite.
Dorthia Cottrell took to the stage first, defying any worry one might have about an acoustic opener for a heavy bill. This was my first time seeing her perform solo, and I was absolutely blown away. Somber and ethereal, her voice seemed to wash over the crowd, leaving them hanging on her every word.
Despite the large and seemingly rowdy crowd, you could head a pin drop as she began to play, filling the room with rich and devastating melodies that I will not soon forget. There was something particularly genuine about this performance. Perhaps it was its stripped down nature of the guitar arrangements which left room for Cottrell’s incredible voice to flourish.
But the somber tone was quickly shattered as The Catalyst took the stage.
Broken up in name since 2013, the band has played only a handful of reunion shows. I had the pleasure of booking them at last year’s Swamp Fest, an annual fest I have helped organize for the last two years showcasing screamo and hardcore acts from around the country. At Swamp Fest, they played as their 4 piece original line up. Last night they played as a three-piece, the final line up that was/is the Catalyst.
I was very excited that they played a lot of songs of their final album, Voyager, which was put out by Forcefield in 2012. They opened their set with “King Of Swords” delivering a hard punch with an assault of crushing grooves and dual vocal insanity.
Their energy hung in the air, and I could feel the sonic blast in my chest almost harder than I could feel the tall metal dude in the front row running into me and stepping on my toes.
Next came the highlight of the show in my opinion, Unsacred. I had not seen them since 2014 when they played the now historic Salor Scout House in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. Both then and now, they are depressive black metal at its finest.
Crushing and atmospheric melodies collide with hollow and deathly screeching coming from the bassist/vocalist. It was a whirlwind of hair and despair, and I loved every second of it.
To round out the night, Battlemaster brought the party and the riffs. An obvious crowd favorite, they put the D&D in death metal as they cut through a set of new and old songs including tracks from their debut Forcefield LP Warthirsting and Winterbound released in 2007.
Though I hadn’t seen them before, I quickly understood the hype surrounding their performances. There was a lot of headbanging, a lot of beer and a lot of celebrating to do, and Battlemaster was more than up to the task.
After an awesome night in honor of Forcefield, it’s obvious to see that their passion has helped document and grow the heavy music scene in Richmond in ways that reach across genres and friend groups to something much larger. And now we’re just excited to see what they have in store for the next ten years.
Check out photos of each set below: