August 8th, 2002

o RWAKE – Jacksonville, AR –
Started off today noon with a band that I’d labelled in my pre-planning as “doom/death/stoner metal”. Usually that’s not a style I’m a big fan of, but stoner metal can be a pretty good choice at a festival like this, as long as it’s not stupid. You’re generally guaranteed to have a good amount of melody, groove, and not much pointless extremity, all good things when being exposed to music that you’ve never heard before. And Rwake surpassed the hopes I had for them, and actually left me quite impressed. Screaming death vocals over their fairly simple but effective riffs, combined with non-standard song structures broken up by good atmospheric sections. Halfway through the set I noticed they had what appeared to be a crippled child laying on stage, but it turned out to be a small woman crouched over a little box. She seemed to be doing something related to the sound, and checking out their website, it says she’s in charge of “samples/vocals/Moog”, so maybe it was a Minimoog? Couldn’t really hear it anyway, but regardless, this band was an auspicious start for the day.

o MONUMENT – Oklahoma City, OK –
A pretty unremarkable band playing a pretty unremarkable style of power/thrash metal. Seemed a bit like early Nevermore mixed with some 80’s Noise thrash band (the latter mostly because of the really bad shouted/screamed/sometimes sung vocals). The most exciting part of their set was when I caught one of the CDs that they threw out into the audience. Ok, so I only got it because they threw out more CDs than there were audience members (around 12 or 13), but there’s no need to mention that! Interestingly, the booklet of the CD (“The Millenial Death of God”) is a Travis Smith job; so it looks great, but seems pretty misleading because they just didn’t sound like a “Travis Smith quality” band. Or maybe I missed something…

o HECATOMB – Darlington, WI
A pretty young-looking band playing a fairly melodic and aggressive form of thrash metal. After seeing them I wrote in my notes “Iced Earth with death vocals and blast beats”. Of course not as good or well-developed as a band like Iced Earth, but I could hear some good potential. One thing that impressed me was how well the guitar solos were integrated into the songs; to me that represents a lot of songwriting maturity that many bands with a lot more experience still haven’t learned.

o DEMON CLEENER – Wisconsin
Took a seat in the stadium and these guys happened to be playing. Stoner rock, and while they posessed the good qualities of stoner rock I mentioned above, they didn’t do much else to get my ass out of the seat.

o SERBERUS – Denver, CO –
Excellent speedy melodic death/black metal. They play in a very intense and aggressive way, and their melodies are well intertwined with the riffs, so they’re always present but never dominating too much. The lead singer/guitarist had a very militant appearance/presence that really reminded my of Ihsahn from Emperor, so that’s another plus right there. Surprisingly they don’t really remind me of any particular European band, so somehow they must have carved out a unique sound for themselves, so there’s another plus. Unfortunately I was only able to see a little more than half of their set, because I also wanted to see Beyond the Embrace, which was the only real “conflict” I had at the whole fest. Would definitely have been interested in seeing more.

Luckily the stage Beyond the Embrace was playing on (the smaller stage) was running a few minutes late, so I didn’t miss too much of their set. This is another recent Metal Blade signing, and as far as I can tell they’re a pure In Flames clone band, mixing 50% Whoracle with 25% The Jester Race and 25% Colony. The vocalist sounds just like Anders Friden, both in his growls and his clean singing (and has the Opeth “O” tattooed on his elbow, which looks really cool, but is kinda dorky if you actually know what it is). And in case that wasn’t enough to get the idea across, one of the guitarists looks just like Bjorn Gelotte. Normally I might be bothered by such a blatant ripoff, and I don’t think I’ll run out to buy their CD, but since In Flames wasn’t playing at this festival, it was really great to see these guys instead. Their songs seemed to be just as effective as In Flames’s songs, at least in terms of getting you to bang your head and get into the show. They’re pretty good performers as well, and they sounded much clearer and tighter with their three guitars than many bands with one.

Like Rotting Christ, this is a band whose name is a disservice to their music. Unfortunately, the sound for their set was an equal disservice to their music. The songs on their website showed them to be a pretty interesting heavy death metal band with some black touches and keyboards, so I was looking forward to seeing them. I believe they started with a nice keyboard intro (played by one of the guitarists) which sounded good, but then they got unbearably loud and it was nearly impossible to make out anything. There was a woman watching them who looked looked quite upset (a girlfriend, I assume), and she went back to the soundman a couple times, but to no avail. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see these guys again some day in a better environment.

o DIAMOND REXX – Chicago, IL –
I went to talk to some friends standing near the front when these guys were playing, so I started watching them by accident, and then stayed just for the humor value. This seems to be a band that didn’t notice the hard rock club scene dying out 15 years ago, so they just kept on going. I got the feeling that they seem to consider themselves quite legendary. They must have also imported a set of fans to Milwaukee who think the same (including a group of 30something women doing wacky dances the whole set), but only because they’ve never heard another band in their lives. The band is all about the presentation, with the strange outfits, makeup, and the singer who as a dead ringer for Alice Cooper, and stood on a little box that he banged with a baseball bat for some strange reason. Musically, they played really unremarkable bar rock. Even their cover of “Ace of Spades” didn’t do much to redeem them.

I took a seat and this hardcore band happened to be playing. They weren’t any good.

o DAYLIGHT DIES – Raleigh, NC –
This was a very nice surprise. A melodic doom-death band soon to release an album on Relapse. They’re very comparable to November’s Doom, maybe amped up just a notch higher in intensity. Lots of good midtempo guitar melodies, nice grooves, and a professional presentation. This is exactly the kind of stuff that I love to see at the Metalfest.

Back to the stadium with some more no-good hardcore.

Stayed in my seat for these guys, but by the end they almost had me drawn down to them. I initially heard only the hardcore elements (maybe I was still hearing the echoes of Broke) so I wasn’t paying much attention, but as they went on the thrash metal elements seemed to become more prominent. Others must have noticed the same thing, as their audience grew steadily throughout their set.

This band played some competent, if not terribly exciting “metal”. And that’s as much as I can pigeonhole the style without going into more detail. It seems like if you’re a 35 year-old guy starting a metal band (that’s what these guys appeared to be) then you only have a couple of choices, because for some reason guys at this age just don’t seem to pick up new influences the way younger people do. For one, you can go “retro” and play the kind of music you grew up listening to and blather about how “true” you are; there were several bands at the fest doing this, and they pretty much all sucked. The other choice, and the one this band chose, is to play a more modern form of metal, mixing what they remember from their youth with what they hear on the hard rock radio these days. So I definitely prefer the second path over the first, but I just got the feeling that these guys didn’t know there were any other options out there. That said, their songs were well written, and I liked the singer; I just wasn’t shouting for an encore.

o JAVA – Chicago, IL –
I learned from their website that these guys call their style “android metal”, and when I saw the guy from Idiom was one of the guitarists, I knew it was time for some more bizarro metal! I haven’t totally gotten the lineups straight, but I believe the xylophone player/vocalist from Idiom plays drums in this band. Or maybe he’s the bass player/vocalist, I dunno. Anyway, no xylophones here, but that didn’t make them much less crazy than Idiom. Lots of high-speed, complex riffing, and very good drumming, but the real standout was the bass playing. It was mostly played very fast, often strummed like a guitar, and though it probably wasn’t the tightest playing in the world, it had such an energy and unique sound that it just made me go “whoa.” Vocals are were a strange high-pitched warble, mixed with some growls from the other guys, and like Idiom, they seem to mix in a little wacky humor as well. Unfortunately the Voivod guy was working on his guitar for most of the set (I think he broke a string), but that didn’t seem to affect too much. Once again, I got a free CD (3-song taster of their upcoming album) because they threw more into the audience than the audience could consume. I think a lot of people were pretty confused by what these guys were doing, but I loved it.

o YAKUZA – Chicago, IL –
This is a new Century Media signing, and the label describes them as a creative mix of metal, hardcore, and jazz, so I was pretty excited to see what they had to offer. While they definitely seemed creative, I was a little disappointed to hear that the jazz component was largely limited to saxaphone playing, rather than being incorporated into the overall style or structure. Still, they seemed like a pretty cool mix of metal and hardcore, quite heavy and intense. The guitarist looked like John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, wore his guitar at John Myung-height, and seemed to be playing it with his mouth a couple times (apparently for a purpose, not just to be goofy). The singer doubled as the saxaphone player (he had two different ones), and he would play bits pretty frequently, usually of the dissonant, attacking sort, rather than the melodic, bluesy sort. He apparently wasn’t satisfied with his dedicated sax microphone, so after a couple attempts with that, he stopped using it and instead would just drop his vocal mic down the bell of his saxaphone, and fish it out when he needed to sing again. Worked pretty well. I’m guessing that their jazzy stuff might be more prominent on record than in the set they played at the Metalfest, so I’ll probably check out their CD eventually.

A band playing death metal with keyboards. They had a nice groove and a bit of a hardcore edge, and while it seemed like a good concept with a bit more ambition than most bands, the execution just didn’t seem to quite be there. Maybe in a couple years they’ll be a band to look out for.

o THROCULT – Denver, CO –
Yet another really good band from Colorado, this one another death/black metal band fairly similar to Serberus. In fact, I believe a guitarist left Serberus just before the Metalfest and joined Throcult. I don’t imagine it was over musical differences. These guys might be a touch less melodic than Serberus, but they’re still plenty interesting. Maybe they should just move this fest to Colorado next year.

This might have been my favorite set at the whole festival, and of course, it had nothing to do with metal. The band is comprised of a vocalist/violinist (who also played some electric guitar), a cello player, an electric bass player (who also did some backup vocals), and a drummer. Oh yeah, and they’re all women. The music is very atmospheric and pretty dark, but also incredibly engaging. They seem to have mastered the art of building songs that rise and fall, songs that take you on a journey of increasing tension and then fade away. What it really reminded me of was In the Woods…’s “Strange in Stereo”, if the metal parts were removed. There were a lot of the same sounds, atmospheres, and the guitarist even used an e-bow, which is an ITW characteristic. I was really impressed with the cello player, as she got such a wide variety of sounds out of her instrument through picking, strumming, bowing, and whapping. They never got “heavy” in a conventional sense (though the drummer did do a couple quick double-bass rolls at the peak of one of the songs which was cool), the music had a certain weight and edge to it that made it fit in quite well at the Metalfest. They drew quite a large crowd, and while I’m sure much of it was there just because there were four women on stage (there were the requisite calls of “show us your tits!”), most people seemed quite impressed and gave a really good response. In a final nice touch, they somehow got the lighting guy to turn on only the amber lights for most of their set. I would love to hear more bands like this, but I suppose the Metalfest is probably not the best place to find them.

o DEBRIS INC. – Chicago, IL –
Some sort of doom, not good enough to make me pay attention.

o HIGH ON FIRE – San Francisco, CA –
Some sort of heavy stoner metal, a bit harsher than I was looking for at this point of the fest.

o DECEASED – Arlington, VA –
Uh, I guess I was sitting there when they played, I don’t really remember.

o FILTH PORN – Lexington, KY –
Yep, I was getting pretty worn out by this time.

An alternative/nu-metal who had all the poses down perfectly. The most interesting thing was after their set when the bass player came down and was met by his middle-aged suburban parents and brother like he’d just received his diploma. For some reason they stood right in front of the stage for half an hour chit-chatting while a large crowd waiting for Susperia formed around them. Strange people.

o HAVOCHATE – New York –
By now I was sitting in the front row of the stadium seats right by the stage, waiting for Susperia to come on, and Havochate was playing on the other stage. I saw ’em opening for Immortal/Manowar a few months ago and I was pretty impressed with them, but this time they didn’t do as much for me. They have a good solid thrash/heavy metal base that sounds fairly unique, but their singer really bugs me (mostly his look), and I think it helped them a lot to be using Manowar’s really nice sound system when I saw them before.

o SUSPERIA – Norway –
Finally, after the longest real drought of the festival (actually, the ONLY drought of more than 30 minutes or so), Susperia came on to renew my faith. Tall guys clad in tight shirts and leather or vinyl pants with well-managed hair made me say “yep, they’re from Norway”. A very professional performance, playing a really good mix of death, black, thrash, and heavy metal, with a range of vocal styles. They proved that it must not be that hard to write songs with good headbanging riffs that don’t sound “retro”, since their songs were full of such riffs. I’m just not sure why so many other bands have trouble with that. I had always assumed that this was a 2nd or 3rd tier band playing a style I’ve already heard enough of, but now I think I really need to check them out.

o DEW SCENTED – Germany –
Thrash fucking metal! This was the second band in a row to prove that those Europeans really have a handle on creating some good riffs. Very intense and heavy death/thrash hybrid, and while not exactly heavy on the melody, the riffs themselves have the ability to draw you in. There was a pretty good-sized pit going during this set, and I saw a girl who was standing with her eyes closed in the middle of the pit get run into full-force by a 200-pound guy, and she was literally thrown back at least 10 feet through the air. And of course after the little birdies circling her head flew away, she was right back at it. And Dew Scented was nice enough to crank the intensity up one notch futher by closing their set with a cover of Slayer’s “War Ensemble”.

It was about time to catch my bus home, but I managed to catch a couple songs from Jag Panzer. It was just the same stuff I’ve seen ’em play a bunch of times before, but their sound seemed really good and it was nice to close out the night with something familiar.

Once again, I missed out on a few bands I would have really liked to have seen (Into Eternity, Dragonlord, and Gutter Poet), but I think I was pretty blown by that time anyway, so I didn’t feel too bad skipping them. It’s hard to say which day was better; Friday definitely had a higher density of good bands, but I saw a lot of cool stuff both days. I definitely got my money’s worth.

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