It takes about four hops and six steps to clear the viscous mud between the parking lot and the entrance to the modest-sized shed known as the Dungeon. Tucked in the back of a pool bar, away from the piercing streetlights of Orange Blossom Trail, it’s in this dim, smoke-filled room with faint traces of beer and obscurity that Nick Brown prepares for an event that defies preparation.

This week, Brown’s SD Productions is hosting a 13-hour music festival that will pack in 13 Floridian metal bands – ranging from hardcore to thrash to extreme metal – a barbecue and a lot of camaraderie. Headlined by Valrico’s Denial Fiend, Darkfest is a nice step for the Dungeon, which is rapidly gaining a reputation as the bare-bones deus ex machina of a metal scene that some considered a goner.

“In our scene right now, there’s no support,” says Brown. “People go `to metal shows`, see their favorite band and they’re gone. As bands, we’re all here for the same reason: We’re having fun, but we want to move on to the next level.”

Word around the goat’s head is that audiences are starting to come around, thanks to vital showcases like Darkfest and a growing variety in the genres metal acts employ.

“`The diversity` is the main thing that pulled us in,” says Kam Lee, a founding father of death metal (he was a member of the seminal band Death’s original incarnation in the early ’80s) and now vocalist for Denial Fiend.

Brown hopes that casting a wider net will serve as the proverbial wake-up call for local metalheads who may have given up hope.

“I feel that all of these bands have something significant about them that would show a difference, so you’re not listening to the same dried-up thing for hours,” he chuckles.

Lee also sees the lineup’s diversity as a chance to explore the concept that rock’s subgenres can put aside their pretension and get along.

“I don’t understand why all of these bands can’t play together more often,” he says. “It’s all just metal, anyway. And ultimately, it’s all just rock.”

As for the bands, morale is enthusiastic. Many signed on to the festival with the intention of blending fan bases and the hope that metal will eventually pop up on iPods with increased regularity.

They fight to ensure the survival of their genre and pay tribute to its creators, who joined pain and technical music skills in a bloody marriage consummated in smoky sheds everywhere.


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