Another Pilgrimage to the Metal Midwest
Milwaukee MetalFest XIV
July 28/29 2000 @ The Milwaukee Auditorium

by: Adam Wasylyk
An eleven-hour drive finally landed us canucks into the American Midwest -- the hardest rain I've ever seen greeted us while travelling past Chicago (to the tune of Vintersorg in our CD player) and "Poltergeist" movies awaited us on TV at our hotel room. They must have been omens for what was to come, as Milwaukee Metal Fest 2000 was one of the best on record. Some great bands were to play, and the usual attraction, European bands, were here and ready to play. My anticipation was as strong as the prior five years I've attended, and for good reason. For some of the bands scheduled to play, it was to be their first time in North America. Hopes were high, and they would eventually be met.

As far as organization goes, MetalFest 2000 was one of the smoothest on record. Of course this year had disappointments as far as cancellations go (Behemoth and Opera IX most notable), but then again, it wouldn't be Milwaukee if things went absolutely perfect. Stages did fall behind but none of the European bands (hence, the important bands) suffered serious cuts to their sets. Some great music was to be heard during the 27 or so hours scheduled for metal music. Here's most of what I was physically able to see.

Day 1

We arrived at the venue at around 1 p.m., heading straight to the vendor area to meet old friends and buy some merch while the getting was good. A Burzum longsleeve would be had for a great price; already a smile was on my face. Yep, it's time for Milwaukee again...

Running into Aaron McKay, the only additional Chronicles of Chaos writer present, we made our way winding through the crowded hallways, up and down staircases and circling through four different stages to find anything that would keep us interested. At times it wasn't difficult at all, at other times it was nearly impossible.

The first band we were willing to see was Sarcophagus. Having strongly impressed me at last year's March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey [CoC #39], I was a bit disappointed by their mediocre set of death/black metal. I had heard that vocalist/guitarist Akhenaten moved to Germany but had returned to play this set, so maybe the band were a bit rusty? The sound wasn't exactly great, but I would soon discover (as I have in previous years) the first song in a set is a band's soundcheck, but the latter songs never sounded that much better. Too bad.

Blood Storm, as usual, failed to impress, so it was time to move to another stage. Bongzilla were well into their hemp fueled set of stoner metal when we arrived, so we took a seat in the plush red seats in the Relapse stage room. The band's harsh vocals and droning riffs didn't do much for me; I would say I was more complacent than "high", so to speak.

Up next were Today Is the Day, a band I knew would not fail to impress. Steve Austin is one of the most enigmatic frontmen I've had the pleasure to see. It's not that he commands an audience, rather he bewilders them; he's thoroughly entertaining to both watch and hear. Scrambling for tapes to play as song intros, along with a mike half way down his throat as he screamed, he, with band, put on a performance that won't be forgotten. They played a good variety of material; TItD fans were surely satisfied, and so was I.

Hate Eternal should have been good. This of course being Erik Rutan's death metal project outside Morbid Angel, I give credit for the technicality and at times catchiness, but the P.A. gave their music the consistency of pea soup. A hard act to walk out on, but my ears had to be spared.

The female led band Promisques did a good job in entertaining the 200 or so people on hand to check them out. Much more aggressive than I imagined, the death metal outfit were surprisingly entertaining. And it never hurts to end a set with a Cannibal Corpse cover ("Stripped, Raped and Strangled").

Maudlin of the Well was perhaps the most laughable band on hand. It's not that I don't respect them for certain aspects -- particularly their incorporation of female vocals, brass and other instruments into their metal sound. But the outcome was quite bad. It was as if two bands were playing on top of each other, the differing musical styles in the band never mixing. One style sunk and the other floated, never cross-pollinating. Another disappointment, and at this point I was starting to question the choices I was making as far as which acts to catch. Fortunately that bad luck would end soon.

Mayhem were to make their second appearance at the Milwaukee MetalFest, this time on tour promoting the critically acclaimed _Grand Declaration of War_. Playing a healthy variety of both old material (arriving on stage to the beat of "Silvester Anfang", and playing "The Freezing Moon", "Chainsaw Gutsfuck", "Deathcrush", "Pure Fucking Armageddon") and new (dammit, forgot which one, thanks to the beer I was drinking), the only downside to their set was the size of the stage. It was too big for Maniac and co. to command, something smaller (like the Rave stage they played a couple of years ago) would have been perfect. No blood was shed at this show, so fans had to be satisfied by a great sounding, well chosen set of material.

What was great to find out was that the Nightfall stage had fallen behind (due do the cancellation of Malevolent Creation, I believe) so this meant I was able to catch both Mayhem and Katatonia, as it would have been near impossible to choose between the two. Katatonia, despite the rare off-key singing of Jonas Renkse, was simply amazing. They favoured material off _Discouraged Ones_ ("Saw You Drown", "Stalemate", "Cold Ways", "Deadhouse") rather than the more recent _Tonight's Decision_, which may be due to the fact that it still hasn't seen a domestic release in North America. Honestly, this suited me just fine, as I had always believed _DO_ to be drastically superior to _TD_. Playing "Endtime" off _Brave Murder Day_ (which Jonas sung using the old vocals!) was a great ending to the set. I was later to discover that the band actually played on practised gear and not their own, meaning they weren't entirely thrilled with how their live sound compared to that on record. But I must say that their set was nearly worth the entire trip itself -- not only for it being their first show outside Europe, but the calibre of material was near perfect.

Katatonia having been the last band I needed to see on day #1, it was time to sit down and give my feet a rest. Watching four songs of King Diamond had me entertained, dancing girls and all. I just don't get the appeal of this band. Most people I know say this band has steadily headed downhill the past two or three albums, but they still seem to get a good sized crowd totally hypnotized. They played "The Graveyard", I remember, as it was repeated in the chorus numerous times. Time for yet another beer...

Opeth (playing their first show in North America) would be the last band I was to check out on Friday night's festivities. Solid and strong, they played to a packed Nightfall stage with fans singing along and swaying to their melodic black/death songs. Playing with great sound, I wish I had been more familiar with their back catalogue so I could get more into it, but I decided to leave early and get some sleep for the much-longer day #2. Mayhem, Today Is the Day and Katatonia would be my personal faves for this day; three great bands who made all of the shit I had to sit through worth it.

Day 2

We arrived purposely late to miss as many pay-per-play bands as possible. Some CD browsing and purchasing would commence until a suitable band was worthy of my picky ears. This would come in the form of Relapse's Origin.

With a frontman both sounding and looking a lot like Suffocation's (R.I.P.) Frank Mullen, the music, however, is much more in death/grind vein. Playing material off their self-titled debut disc for Relapse, their set was technical at times and just outright brutal in others, keeping things tight and entertaining for the 20-odd minutes they played.

Not even allowing a breath of rest, Benumb soon afterwards stormed onto the stage, spasming to their great hardcore/grind, patented from the sunny state of California. While at home I received a call from vocalist Pete in which he said that both he and the band were thoroughly disappointed with their set -- I however must take issue with this, my friend. Having played new stuff off _Withering Strands of Hope_ and of course playing material from the acclaimed _Soul of the Martyr_, I must say they were one of my highlights on this day. Very entertaining, to say the least; it's my third time in seeing the band, I just wish it was more often than once a year.

Sweden's Entombed rocked the main stage; the material was well chosen, but the effort put forth by band members could have been better. L-G's vocals didn't fully cut it, it was almost as if he was only putting in 70-80%, and what was missing was tangible. Having seen them on their two stops in Ontario during their _To Ride..._ North American tour, they just didn't live up to those performances. However, classics like "Out of Hand", "Evilyn", "Left Hand Path" and "To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth!" were played, for the most part very well, so all is forgiven. They didn't play "Stranger Aeons" though, so hopefully I'll live long enough to see them perform that track live.

Ravenous had many curious on hand to check out their set. Featuring Killjoy (Necrophagia, Eibon), Danny Lilker (ex-Brutal Truth / S.O.D. / Nuclear Assault) and Chris Reifert (ex-Autopsy/Abscess), they performed a great set of "necro death metal", the only lowpoint being a new Abscess track which, well, sucked. Pulverizingly heavy and tight (with an obvious Autopsy influence), coupled with a -great- vocal performance by Killjoy, this set was unforgettable. Can't wait to hear their first full-length, _Assembled in Blasphemy_, scheduled for release soon by Hammerheart.

Having seen Destruction in Toronto three days prior, it wasn't a priority to check them out, but since my schedule opened up for it I decided to get another glance of the German metal legends. Playing on a much bigger stage (with a light show) than in T.O., they played a cool set and got a -much better- reception than their last show in Milwaukee (performed by "Neo-Destruction", as Schmier colourfully refers to them as). Playing a host of classic tracks, the crowd I'm sure were happy they didn't have to throw empty cups at the band a second time.

The band that turned out to be the surprise of the MetalFest was England's Anathema. I didn't expect such a powerful set from a band whose new material (the past three albums) I could care less about. Vocalist Vincent Cavanagh and co. performed a varied set, and their fans couldn't get enough. Performing for the first time in North America, it was clearly evident that Cavanagh was pleasantly surprised and taken by both the reaction and enthusiasm from their fans on this side of the pond. Performing my favourite Anathema song "Sleepless" (without the harsh vocals) scores them points as well. Cavanagh's announcement to the crowd that they had another ten minutes left resulted in what could be called "an uproar", so they treated us to a cool Pink Floyd cover and a rousing rendition of The Misfits' "Halloween". I'll have to re-investigate this band, as I was thoroughly impressed with their new stuff live, and I rarely give a band a second chance.

Children of Bodom also made their first North American appearance, but since I've never cared for them I didn't stick around for too long. Plenty of happy riffs and keyboard leads left me unsatisfied, ready to check out the nearby vendors for a last look at CDs. Oh cool, there's the first Solefald album...

Also having seen Dying Fetus on the Wednesday prior with Destruction, again I decided on a second glance in almost as many days. I must say that Dying Fetus, both on disc and live, are one of the best brutal death metal bands ever. EVER. I hold them in as high regard as I do with Suffocation or Incantation. My personal highlight would have to be "Nocturnal Crucifixion", but there were many to choose from. And the new stuff they played from _Destroy the Opposition_ sounds really tight, and very true to what they've played before. Can't wait to hear their new album, which should be out on Relapse in October.

There couldn't have been a better way to end off this year's instalment of MMF than with a set by Norway's Enslaved. It's rare when I'll actually get riled up and find myself within the world of a live band, but this was one of those occasions. Vocalist Grutle Kjellson stole the show with an awe-inspiring vocal performance, gliding from majestic clean vocals to harsh black metal vocals oh so effortlessly, and the drumming of Dirge Rep was spot on as well. I wish I could remember the entire track listing of their set (again, beer is to blame, along with some herb from Cephalic Carnage), but standouts in my mind would have to be the opener "Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor", "Eld", "Sacrifice to the Elves (Alfablot)" and a great new song off their new album _Mardraum (Beyond the Within)_. Mesmerizing from start to finish; after all was said and done I was still in a state of shock. Enslaved's near hour-long set will no doubt enter the annals of Milwaukee's longest running metal festival, and rightfully so.

Thus another chapter in America's longest running metal festival ends. After a mediocre 1999, I was wondering beforehand if this year may be my last. But MMF 2000 has restored my faith in this festival. As long as they keep bringing over high quality European bands, they can count on my attendance. There's also a plan in the works to have the majority of CoC writers in attendance for 2001, something I'm already looking forward to. Thanks to Aaron for gracing the MetalFest with his presence and for making my experience all the more enjoyable. Cheers!

(article submitted 12/8/2000)


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