August 5th, 2002

Again, warning, this is pretty long. This only covers the bands I saw on the first day of the festival, and only the ones that I remember something about worth saying, so I might have forgotten one or two. In the weeks before the fest I spent a lot of time tracking all the bands down on the Internet and finding out a little information about them, so I think I was able to see the bands that would have been most interesting to me, and avoid many of the ones that I would have hated. These are basically in chronological order, from about 2:30PM until 12:10AM.

o EXIT TO ETERNITY – Brooklyn, NY –
This is the first band I saw after walking in, and while nothing amazing, weren’t a bad way to start the fest. I had written “progressive thrash metal” in my planner; the “thrash” part was relatively uninteresting Slayer-type metal, but every once in a while they’d break it down into some pretty cool laid-back sections and groove out a bit. I guess that’s the “progressive” part.

o A TOUCH OF EVIL – Wisconsin –
The only thing I knew in advance about this band was that they were some sort of metal with female vocals. The singer appeared to have a bit of a punk thing going on with her image, and when they started playing, she let out a very embarassing growl of some sort, and I thought “oh no, do we already have the Angela Gossow wanna-bes popping up?” Thankfully, she quickly put an end to that and turned out to be a pretty good singer; clean but not girly, and reminding me a bit of Ray Alder from time to time. The music itself also had some similarities to mid-period Fates Warning, and maybe some Queensryche as well. But it also sounded quite modern and fresh, which makes it difficult to attach a label to (that’s a good thing). Maybe to help in attaching a label, they closed their 3(?) song set with a cover of Megadeth’s “Holy Wars” which was quite well done and nicely received. I guess they’re working on their first album right now and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on them in the future.

o TRAUMA CONCEPT – Framingham, MA –
I went up into the seats and worked on my schedule during this set, so I didn’t pay too much attention. Pretty boring death metal, but at least it was of the mid-tempo, groovy sort rather than the harsh and annoying sort.

o VEHEMENCE – Phoenix, AZ –
This is a new Metal Blade signing, and despite their website address, they really aren’t a brutal death metal band. They’re definitely death metal, and death metal of a heavier sort than “melodic death metal”, but the keyboards, melodies, memorable riffs, and good songwriting really hinder them from being “brutal”. I’m not aware of too many bands like this (I think the closest comparison would be Garden of Shadows), so it’s nice to see that the gap between “melodic death metal” and “brutal death metal” is finally being filled. They prove that it’s possible to be melodic without being sugary-sweet, and possible to be heavy without forgetting how to write a song. Their performance was quite good, and I’ll definitely be picking up their CD soon.

o SILENCER – Golden, CO –
At last year’s festival, I walked in just as these guys were finishing their last song, and those 30 seconds remained among the best stuff I had heard the entire weekend. So I definitely wasn’t going to miss them this time, and they didn’t disappoint me. They’re just good quality “metal”, using plenty of influences from the past, but not sounding retro or dated in any way. After their set I wrote in my notes that they sounded like a cross between early Iced Earth and Rust in Peace-era Megadeth, brought forward 10 years. So that’s pretty good. Oh yeah, and that singer/guitarist, what a hottie.

o GOD AWFUL – Minneapolis, MN
I don’t have much to say about this band (I won’t even make the obvious joke) since I only saw the last five minutes of their set while waiting for Summer Dying to start. In a normal situation, I wouldn’t have seen any of their set, but they seemed to be playing a song that would never end. Each time they’d hit what sounded like an ending riff, they’d launch into another one, and they must have done this at least half a dozen times. It was quite impressive, and the Summer Dying guys were getting rather pissed.

o SUMMER DYING – Lansing, MI –
I first saw these guys opening for Iced Earth in Detroit a few months back, and they were really impressive. Due to time and space constraints, this set probably wasn’t quite as good, but it was still a highlight of the day. They play a pretty advanced form of melodic death metal, sometimes quite aggressive, with a good level of complexity, technical skill (their bigass bass player is really exciting to watch), and songwriting skill. Most impressive, however, are their vocal arrangements. At least three guys in the band do vocals, and they all do multiple styles, from low growls, high screams, and a wide range of clean vocals. Two guys doing a clean-vocal harmony and having it backed up with a deep growl is something I’ve never seen any other band do. Just watching them, it’s obvious that these guys play a lot of shows, and they came off really intense at this one (I’m guessing frustration at the delay helped that).

The only info I have on them is my notes where I wrote “pretty good death-groove metal” after seeing them. Do you know how impossible it is to find a band called “Submission” on the Internet? C’mon guys, you gotta come up with a more unique name than that! Because they MUST have been pretty good if I thought so after having no advance information about them at all.

o EZURATE – Lemont, IL –
A pretty bad “tr00 black metal” band (full corpse-paint and all) that I only mention because they played long, had the PA cut off on them, and got all mad about it.

o VENEFICUM – Orland Park, IL –
If the corpse-painted guys getting all bitch wasn’t funny enough by itself, Veneficum was waiting to play right next to them, and while Ezurate was throwing a fit, the Veneficum singer stepped up to his microphone and in a deep growl said “Somebody’s pissed!” I got a good laugh out of that, but unfortunately the guy ruined it 20 minutes later when HE got all pissed after the PA got cut off on his band too. Anyway, as for the music, it was more black metal, but this time it was Dimmu Borgir-styled black metal, with symphonic keyboards and plenty of death/thrash/heavy metal influence. A decent enough style if done well, but these guys didn’t really seem to have the riffs or the songs to grab me.

Another good band I have no info on because of their generic name! Stylistically they actually seemed quite similar to Silencer. Maybe not quite as good, but the same basic idea, and that right there made them a lot better than the average band.

o PREMONITION – Tamarac, FL –
In my pre-fest planning, I had rated these guys (and several others like them) pretty high. They play “true metal”, and while I normally steer clear of the style, I figured that bands like this would be a nice break from skull-pummelling death metal. Well, I’d done a pretty good job of avoiding skull-pummelling death metal, but even if I hadn’t, I think I still would have taken further skull-pummeling over derivative, unimaginative, backward-looking junk like this. I just don’t see the point, and it boggles my mind to think that someone put together a whole festival of bands like this recently. Basically if Jag Panzer was bad, they might sound something like Premonition.

o POW7
No information, but I write about them because they played some form of alternative rock/metal that would probably fit in pretty well on modern radio, if they had better songs. Dunno who tricked them into playing at the Metalfest, but there wasn’t a single person standing in front of their stage when they were playing. Even more insulting, there was a sizeable crowd gathering at the stage right next to them, watching Onward set up.

I was sitting way up in the back for the set of this power metal band featuring “guitar hero” Toby Knapp, so I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention, but they sounded a little better than I expected. Mr. Knapp does definitely seem to be a good guitar player, and most importantly, that showed up in the fast and complex riffs rather than in flashy and pointless solos (which were actually integrated quite well with the songs). Thankfully these guys did a little bit to redeem my faith that it’s possible to play melodic heavy metal without sounding like you’re living in 1986.

o INCANTATION – Johnstown Park, PA –
I was eating dinner at this time, so I was “lucky” enough to catch the set of this pointlessly brutal death metal band. The most interesting part of their set was when the vocalist walked off stage near the end, and for five minutes the guys fiddled with guitar feedback and various atmospheric noises while the drummer did lots of rolls across his toms, basically creating some sort of haunting or ominous soundscape. Now I thought it was actually kinda cool, but if you have a 20 minute set, do you think all your brain-dead fans out there want to watch you spend a quarter of it doing that?

o MIDGARD – Denver, CO –
A pretty good melodic death metal band. Nothing they played struck me as being quite as good as the mp3 on their website, so maybe they didn’t play that one. They’re on the more aggressive side of the melodic death metal spectrum, and the Carcass cover that they played (something from Heartwork) fit in pretty well with their sound. My only question is, did they KNOW that Michael Amott was sitting in the back signing autographs with Arch Enemy when they played that song?

Easily one of the most unique bands of the festival, and thus, one of the highlights. Just the performers were enough to make you know something strange was coming: one vocalist (female), two guitar players, drummer, and that’s it (no bass player). Bass, synths, and other various electronics were provided by a backup tape. The music is very hard to describe, since there’s nothing like it. It also doesn’t help that the band has absolutely no regard for traditional song structures, or even traditional ways of playing their instruments. The guitarists would generally play quite heavy, complex and bizarre riffs while the drummer would be doing his best to equal them. Synths were sometimes symphonic, sometimes electronic. Then that leaves the vocalist. Not that there was a whole lot of competition, but Melissa Ferlaak easily won the “hottest female vocalist at Metalfest” competition. Ooo baby. She actually was wearing finger cymbals, and would clink them together while doing her best seductive belly dancer impression. As for her voice, that was also quite impressive, with most of her vocals done in a high-pitched, operatic style, perhaps similar to Dawn from Rain Fell Within. Despite their strange and difficult-to-digest music, they got a very good response, so it’s nice to see that there is a pretty good interest in music that pushes the boundaries like this (and I don’t think ALL the interest was just for the good-looking girl in the band).

o CHTHONIC – Taiwan –
This melodic black metal band from Taiwan was another highlight of the festival for me. First of all, I learned that fine-featured Asians with thick black hair look about 100 times cooler in corpse-paint than your average white European does. Or maybe this band just knows how to do it right, and how to make it a part of their extensive theatrical image. Oh yeah, and this was another band with women, two of them, in fact! One playing bass with fingers so small I couldn’t believe she was able to push down the strings, and the other jerking back and forth on keyboards with the intensity of an emotional classical pianist. Then there was the singer, who I believe was wearing contacts that blotted out his irises. On a couple songs he broke out his strange one-stringed violin-type instrument (some traditional Taiwanese thing I’d imagine, but I don’t know the name). Unfortunately he was having some trouble getting it up to the microphone, so I think I only heard it once. All in all, it was very cool to see a band really dedicated to the art of performance, and they were quite successful in creating at atmosphere. Oh yeah, their music is pretty cool too.

o IMPALER – Eagan, MN –
Then I headed back out to the main stages for a bit of a break. Unfortunately, Impaler was playing, and their website basically tells you everything you need to know. Goofy costumes, fake blood, all sorts of nonsense, and really bad music. They seemed to think they were some sort of “cult” band. Who likes this stuff?

o IDIOM – Chicago, IL –
These guys gave Aesma Daeva a run for their money as far as the award for most bizarre band of the night goes. And again, they were also one of the best. The most notable thing about the band right off the bat, and the thing that was drawing people towards the stage as they were setting up, was the giant xylophone and marimba sitting there. They would be played by the vocalist at an extremely high tempo, and he would even switch back and forth between them without skipping a beat. The guitarist was wearing a Voivod shirt, and that’s another indication of their direction. Style seemed to be a very complex, technical, and fast form of metal, with a bit of strange humor thrown in as well. The percussion instruments were miked up surprisingly well, and they added some very good melody to the mix. At one point the vocalist said something like “We’re a very mathematical-based band, and this song as all about quarters…it’s broken into four: one part fractions, one part differential equations, one part Corpsevomit, and one part whatever the fuck you want!” I’m guessing the last half of that isn’t very true, but the first part certainly could be. I had no idea there was a band pushing boundaries like this right in my own backyard, so it would be really cool if they came out with an album soon. NK, time to go look ’em up?

o NOVEMBER’S DOOM – Chicago, IL –
A solid set of melodic and not-too-doomy doom-death metal from these guys. They never quite blow me away, but they’re always quite worth seeing. It’s the perfect mix of melody and heaviness for a show like this.

Only caught about 10 minutes of these guys, but I think that was about the perfect length. EXTREMELY fast and brutal death metal/grindcore, played very tight with a lot of technical skill. I think if I heard any more of this it might have gotten a bit boring, but it’s quite impressive in a small dose. It’s rare to see a band that plays this fast where you can actually hear all of the notes.

o HATE ETERNAL – Tampa, FL –
Sat up in the back and watched these guys, who drew one of the larger crowds of the night. Quite brutal and quite intense, but with a level of musicianship that puts them a level or two above the average death metal garbage. Unfortunately, I think you have to either know the songs, or be up there in front going crazy to really get much out of their live set. Erik Rutan is quite impressive to watch, and these guys make a hell of a lot of noise for a three-piece. Also interesting was the fact that they were the only band I saw with stage decorations (backdrops/banners), and they even had some fans that they could stand in front of so their hair would blow. Somehow they must have gotten “Brutal Death Metal Fans” because they actually looked kinda cool like that and not like 80’s glam-rockers.

Then I thought I might have been able to catch a few Arch Enemy songs, but the show was running late by then (Hate Eternal seemed to play for a LONG time), and then Arch Enemy was having trouble with their drum triggers, so I didn’t even see them take the stage before I had to head out to catch the last bus back to my motel. I also missed Tad Morose because they played too late, and would have missed Angel Dust had they played, but apparently they didn’t, despite the fact that half the band was there. While it would have been nice to see those bands, I had already seen a whole bunch of good bands, so I didn’t feel at all short-changed. All in all a very good first day, we’ll see how Day Two holds up……

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