The Twelfth Hour Has Struck
CoC Attends The Milwaukee Metalfest XII
at the Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI, July 24th and 25th 1998

by: Adrian Bromley
Paul's Proclamation

Two days of metal mayhem have now passed. But man, was it fun while it lasted. Here's my angle on what those two days, and numerous bands, brought. This year's Metalfest boasted three stages which more or less worked out, except for the fact that the Rave stage was increasingly late on both days, making running around to check who was presently on a bonafide necessity.

Friday:

Friday began at 4 p.m., and, after checking out, and purchasing at, the excellent CD mart downstairs, the first band I caught was Deaf American signees Burn the Priest. This was a searing assault which I can vaguely describe as a mixture of grinding death metal and sludgecore. It was cool sound to behold but not a captivatingly varied set of material. Next I saw Ember hit the Rave stage at around 5:40. Their set was well executed and their music damn cool black metal with quite a bit of Celtic Frost and very little Immortal. I got their demo as a result, so there's proof I was impressed, and, judging by the crowd at the end of the set, I wasn't the only one. I caught the last half of The Chasm's set and their impressive live prescence coupled with their skillfully constructed death/doom songs impressed me. I would suggest checking their second album out, it's on Oz productions. Completing this double bill of classy Mexican bands was Cenotaph, whose Gothenburg tinged _Epic Rites_ album I own and love. Starting with that album's crushing opener "Crying Frost", Cenotaph totally decimated their audience with classy musicianship and excellent songs. Their set drew from both _Epic Rites_ and their _Riding Across Black Oceans_ debut. Cenotaph proved to be one of the Metalfest's highlights for me. Back to the Rave bar for Today Is the Day and an incredible live performance. Although my experience of their recorded material is scant, to say the least, TItD's live set is not at all dependent on the listener having heard them before. While the drummer and keyboardist perform perfectly well live, it is TItD's vocalist/guitarist who is the visual focal point for the live show. Moving as erratically and captivatingly as a rabid animal and frequently swallowing the microphone to create interesting vocal touches, he was mesmerizing. Couple his performance with the band's killer sound and you have one of the best performances of this year's Metalfest.

Impaled Nazarene made their North American debut on the Rave stage and I was there to see it. Though in all honesty Impaled Nazarene are not a band I am too familiar with, I still feel their sound and live presence could have been more imposing. After hearing "1999: Karmageddon Warrior's", I left the late running Rave stage for my first trip to the Ballroom and my first live experience ever of Suffocation. Despite being short, at only five songs (25 minutes), Suffocation's set was 110 percent of crushing and brilliant brutal death metal. Playing three of the four new songs from _Despise the Sun_, the awesome "Funeral Inception" acting as their opener, "Liege of Inveracity" and "Pierced From Within", Suffocation chose well for the time allotted to them. The sound was good and did both old and new material justice. The major down note was that Frank Mullin confirmed rumours that the band were in turmoil, saying "this might be the last time you see Suffocation live." Though he seemed to regret saying it as much as the audience regretted hearing it, we can only hope that things work out. To lose Suffocation now, when they have just blasted back with some of their best material, would be bad enough, but now that I have witnessed them live I can add that we would also lose one of brutal death's best live performers. Crushing, in both senses.

As I make it back to the Rave stage to await Angel Corpse's arrival, I am met with cows' heads on spikes. That is definitely not Angel Corpse's stage set up. I find out, to my dismay, that Angel Corpse will not be playing due to a van breakdown. So I wait for Mayhem. After some time, and a short intro, the new Mayhem (as opposed to the true Mayhem) take the stage. Though receiving a big, universal thumbs up from other attending CoC staff, I was not too excited by Mayhem's set. Maybe this is because I was disappointed at Angel Corpse's non-appearance, but one way or the other, despite the decent sound and Hellhammer's truly phenomenal drum performance, Mayhem's near 40 minute set did not leave a deep impression on me. Cannibal Corpse were also canceled (Angel Corpse's drummer was on their bus). Immolation (who had to mix their new album -- I hope it is a good one) met the same fate.

Though rather disheartened by these cancellations, I headed back to the Ballroom for Death's performance. Due to the total slamming of Death's performance at Dynamo by Terrorizer ("If we had wanted to see Fates Warning, we would have gone yesterday"), I went with trepidation and arrived just as the first song finished. Despite a set which included some of _Symbolic_'s best moments and "Lack of Comprehension", my favourite Death song, I was not wholly pleased by Death's performance. Though they seemed to be playing okay, Chuck's vocals were inaudible and lacked any power. Whether this was the mix or his voice will remain to be seen in future live shows. The overall sound mix, with that death metal curse of a totally over-cranked snare drum, made the performance very unsatisfying. I would expect Death to be able to get a mix good enough to do themselves justice, since Suffocation managed it, and so I am undecided whether it was Death or "the PA" that let me down tonight. All that I know is that it was definitely one of them. Irritated as I was, I left shortly before Death finished up and caught the end of Usurper's set. Their armoured appearance and viciously raw sound immediately told me that I should have stayed for their set and waited to see Death on their next tour. I heard they played "Necrocult (The Metal War)" and kicked myself for missing it. I decided, despite my dislike of their new album _Something Wicked This Way Comes_, to check out Iced Earth, who hit the Rave bar shortly before midnight. Despite looking very metal and having a chunky sound, I wasn't captivated enough to risk missing a second of Mercyful Fate, and so I proceeded to hit the Ballroom for the last time that evening.

After waiting in anticipation for a short time, Mercyful Fate's intro began. This ran for a minute or two before the band burst onto the stage and began "The Oath". Their sound was nicely mixed and brought out the melodic subtleties of both Hank Sherman's guitar passages and King Diamond's impressive vocals. It also gave a great big crunch to the drums and low power chords. It thus captured the whole of the "Mercyful Fate Sound". Classics from 1984's _Don't Break the Oath_ such as "Desecration of Souls" and "Come to the Sabbath" were aired, although only a few songs from _Melissa_ got a look in (though this did include the record's epic title track). Strangely enough, Mercyful Fate chose to compose around half their set of songs from more recent albums such as _In the Shadows_ and the recently released _Dead Again_. Though I thought the band would opt to air more of the material which is considered truly classic, the audience, including myself, did not hold Fate's decision against them and Fate were as good as forced back on for not one, but two, encores. King Diamond seemed surprised and also very happy at the response they received and thanked and praised his audience to a similar degree that their cheers and reaction praised him and Mercyful Fate. Though the Ballroom was emptier for Fate than it had been even for Suffocation, what the crowd lacked in numbers they easily made up for in persistence and devotion to their idols. A classic band and a great show to end Friday night with.

Saturday:

Before relating Saturday's musical treats I want to devote two lines to mentioning the fact that some good but unknown bands (e.g., Jaww) got useless 20 minute sets at times such as 11:50 a.m.. Since virtually no one arrives the second day to a non-camping festival this early, I suggest the organizers avoid giving any bands sets at these sorts of times in the future, especially if they are only appearing on a pay-to-play basis.

We arrived at just before 3:00 pm. Luckily for us, Solus started late (at 3:00 pm), so we saw all of their set. Having already witnessed their searing live assault in Toronto, I was anticipating a good performance. I was not disappointed. Once again, Solus delivered the goods, and I think left many of the audience as total converts to their cause. If the quality of Solus' songs on their new album is as consistent as it is on their three song EP, then I suggest watching out for it. Played live, these songs sound as good as they do on disc, and live you are also treated to lead singer Will's manic and energetic stage antics, which today included a dive from stage into a virtually unmoving crowd, a quick solo mosh and a speedy return to the stage to finish the song. Excellent musicianship and more than just comparable showmanship. Next on the Rave stage, we were treated to Darkmoon. Though amply performed and written death/black was what I heard, I was not interested enough to persist 'till the end of their set.

After a look downstairs, I came back to catch the end of Death of Millions' 20 minutes. Though I laughed at the singer's habit clad appearance, it was at least a vaguely original piece of stage apparel. What impressed more than their unoriginal death metal was their last song. Introduced by the singer as "everyone should know this one", I assumed he was addressing his home crowd and that we were to be treated to a local live favorite. Instead, as I was informed later (not being a fan), the band played a Twisted Sister cover which, I must admit, though not maintaining the vocal style of the original, was surprisingly good. Catching a few of the last minutes of Travail, I found them quite good, certainly better than I expected for a name unknown to me. Their blend of death and hardcore sounded cool, though not astounding. I wouldn't mind checking them out on record sometime.

At around 5:30, I wandered into the Rave stage room expecting to catch a few minutes of the Death Kids (who were supposed to have Grimoire Girl #9 "dancing" for them), and instead caught the beginning of their set. The Rave was actually surprisingly full, considering the quality of this band's actual music. I personally put the large numbers, and in fact the band's billing (above Solus?) down to: good promotion, the appearance of a half naked woman and the novelty of the drummer and guitarist/vocalist's ages. After a song or two of waiting to see the "dancer", I was bored with the simple heavily Deicide-influenced dirge and was off to the downstairs again. When I returned, she was in full swing. Though amusing, her appearance exemplifies what is wrong with the Death Kids: they are cheap attention grabbers who intend to stay in the spotlight as long as they can hog it. They should -all- grow up. I was going to check out Mortician, but the Rave bar was full to the rafters, so I decided against it. Instead, I bided my time outside until The Dillinger Escape Plan took the stage. Despite some technical problems which held them up, TDEP were not disappointing. TDEP fit the profile of a few too many of Relapse's signings at present in being mindnumbingly extreme and very much influenced by grindcore and bits of hardcore. Despite fitting a profile which is beginning to lose its impact due to oversaturation, TDEP were impressive and enjoyable, though I was not hungry for any more after their 30 minute set. Benumb's music seemed better crafted but too similar to TDEP to give them the impact they needed. Although I would have liked to see all their set, I had to leave for Crowbar and it must be said I could have been more unhappy to go.

Crowbar are a band I have not seen live in over two years. Their cancellation of last year's planned UK tour due to illness was a disappointment to me and so I was consequently expecting a lot out of their Metalfest performance. I was evidently expecting more than the sound system or set length could deliver. Although the band seemed to be playing pretty well, the sound system was not giving us the best impression of this. Add to this the fact that Crowbar didn't play "All I Had I Gave" or "Existence Is Punishment" and that they were playing in the oversized Ballroom and you have a disappointing set. The high point came right at the end. Crowbar played "The Dawn of Megiddo" to compensate for Celtic Frost's non-appearance (early rumours said they would reform for the Metalfest). Using Soilent Green's vocalist, Crowbar pulled this off with more than just credibility. It was great to hear that Frost song live; it is a pity it overshadowed the rest of the band's set of original material. Considering the crush for Mortician, and the fact that I saw them in Toronto, I opted out of seeing Brutal Truth but hit the Rave bar for Pyrexia's set. Pyrexia were pretty good. Although they will never surpass their big brothers Suffocation, Pyrexia's New York death is damn brutal and in parts pretty damn good. The band were so tight while playing songs such as "Hatred, Anger, Disgust", "Confrontation" and "System of the Animal" that I don't think even the most picky could complain about their playing. Vocalist Keith DeVito was especially brutal and vicious in his delivery. If Pyrexia have one problem, it is that their material is not the most compelling of the NY brutal death crowd, but all the same their set was good and served as a nice warm-up for Cryptopsy who were due to appear on the Rave stage soon after.

I caught the end of (who I found out was) Fall on the Rave stage and realized this meant I would have to wait for Cryptopsy. Instead of watching Gorgasm, I decided that I would have another scout around. Just as Cryptopsy were taking the stage (the Rave stage now being 45 minutes late), other CoC-ers returned from seeing Meshuggah on the Ballroom stage. They said it was good; I regretted missing it. Still, Cryptopsy were here. Beginning with "Phobophile", the band showcased an average sound but incredible musicianship. It was evident that whatever the sound system was giving us, Cryptopsy were playing it all. While the set comprised classics such as "Defenstration", "Crown of Horns" and "Slit Your Guts" along with new track "White Worms", the sound didn't do the intensely technical material favours, and so, while Cryptopsy were good, they were not as phenomenal as I had hoped and as they apparently have been. I await a full tour. The end of Six Feet Under in the Ballroom had a better sound than most bands that day had achieved, but I wouldn't really call their set anything to write home about. Not being familiar with new material or favorable to their old didn't help.

If yesterday's most anticipated band was "Norweigan black metal legends" Mayhem, then today's was "Norweigen black metal legends" Emperor. However, whereas many felt that yesterday Mayhem lived up to that reputation, I think few would deny that Emperor were a disappointment however you look at it. Firstly, they had no keyboards. Why? Because the rig couldn't handle it. This was a problem which succeeded in bringing any set Emperor could have done down because of the centrality of keyboards in their sound. The sound was overall, as was the Ballroom's tendency, also disappointingly tinny. Combine this with the fact that Emperor did not play outstandingly enough to allow us to overlook these problems and you have a set which would be disappointing from most good bands. From a band this legendary, making their debut in North America, it was more than just disappointing: it was disheartening. Gorguts, as we found out when the lineup sheets were issued yesterday, were canceled for reasons unknown to me. I hope the reasons were good.

The Ballroom's next attraction was German thrashers Sodom. Strangely enough, this legendary thrash band are making their debut in North America tonight. Despite the fact that Sodom have been around about twice the time Emperor have, their set was not disappointing. Though the Sodom sound could have been a bit crisper, it still captured their simple, all-out thrash attack very adequately and gave them the tools they needed to seriously impress. Sodom were not disappointing, despite slight imperfections, because their attraction -is- their expertise in producing and cranking out excellent raw-power thrash tunes. A raw sound doesn't hurt them like it hurts an atmospheric and technical band such as Emperor. When Sodom cranked out classics like "Blasphemer", "Ausgebombt" and "Outbreak of Evil", their live prescence, musicianship and songwriting abilities came together to form one huge unstoppable monster. The pity is that their set, even with encore, still clocked in at under an hour. But there was still Destruction left...

Destruction sucked. There is no denying this fact; they sucked. There was apparently one original member present and, whoever he was, he sure wasn't the vocalist. The guy sounded nothing like Schmier and his style sucked. They played later Destruction material mostly -- that sucked. They played a wholly new song -- that sucked. They played nothing from _Infernal Overkill_ -- that sucked. They played about two songs from their truly old material; they played them badly and even though the audience cheered for an encore, obviously hoping for something old, they refused to come back on -- that sucked. I really can't see how Metalfest could have come to a worse conclusion. Why couldn't Sodom have played twice as long and Destruction have canceled?

Adam's Assessment

The Good:

Most bands scheduled to play -actually- played. The quality of bands has improved year after year, and 1998 was no exception. This year (thankfully) held more grindcore or grindcore-related bands like Benumb, Brutal Truth, Soilent Green and Flesh Parade, so hopefully this trend will continue in years to come. Norwegian black metal made its presence felt, via Mayhem (climaxing with "Freezing Moon") and Emperor (culminating with "I am the Black Wizards"). Sweden's Meshuggah ending their set with "Transfixion". Powerful North American death metal bands like Cryptopsy and Dying Fetus totally crushed; I look forward to seeing them again soon. Last, but certainly not least; hanging in the hotel room while drinkin', smokin' and talking metal!

The Bad:

Emperor played without a keyboardist -and- for only 25 minutes -- what a fucking rip-off! Mayhem had the cow heads on stage, but why no self-mutilation by the vocalist? Dawn canceled for some reason. Angel Corpse were unable to play because of a broken tour bus, but luckily played Toronto without problems a couple of days later. Impaled Nazarene (guys, don't drink yourself stupid -before- your play). Vocalist Frank Mullen announced that Suffocation are breaking up, a true loss for death metal.

The Plain Ugly:

The bad sound -- when will this be fixed or compensated for? Mercyful Fate (what the fuck was that!!??!!). A third stage was added this year, meaning I was able to miss even more bands than in prior years. Three dollar pizza that tasted like shit. Border guards still suck. Individuals that will remain nameless who bump your shoulder during a particular band's set and ask, "What do you think??".

Adrian's Addendum

Plus Points (+'s):

Meshuggah, Today Is the Day, Cryptopsy, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Iced Earth playing in a small club, Denny's, interviewing Death, good pot, Ember, buying lotsa CDs, purchasing mega bottle of Gin, nice comfortable ride in min-van.

Negative Points (-'s):

Punched in chest (thanks Insaniak!), Nick Cave worshipping (thanks Chris!), strip club "Features" stories (thanks again Chris!), border staff, Gorguts not showing up to play, long drive home, didn't eat at Bob Evans' restaurant, Gino wasn't there.

Alain's Brief MMF Briefing

Thumbs up (in order):Today Is the Day (mind altering; Col. Austin, I salute you!). Suffocation (hugest pit of the show! Their last?). Soilent Green (love these guys, flawless set). Death (sound blew, but Chuck's still got it). Meshuggah (intense, fairly tight; band seemed elated). Mayhem (no bloodshed, though good presence). Sodom (kicked my ass, they still rock). Shango (NY mobster metal is cool). Emperor (musicianship high; Black Wizard alone...).

Thumbs down (in order): Destruction (headliners? without Schmier? ridiculous!). Emperor (no keys, unconvincing presence, no keys... no keys!). Immolation (for not showing, major disappointment). Gorguts (for not showing). Angel Corpse (ditto). Dominion (for not being the euro-Dominion, as anticipated). Paradox (for not being the euro-Paradox, as hoped). Impaled Nazarene (for not living up to expectations). Six Feet Under (for being a yawn while waiting for Emperor).

(article submitted 1/9/1998)


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