No Rest For the Weary
CoC at the 15th annual Milwaukee MetalFest
by: Aaron McKay
I was going to call this review A Caravel in Chaos or something to that effect, but even chaos by definition is, if nothing else, interesting -- this year's MMF was not. If I had an arsenal full of weapons of mass boredom, the largest would be the Milwaukee MetalFest XV.

Okay, I am somewhat responsible for a spiritless review of this year's event. Putting off writing it for far too long wasn't the brightest notion I have ever had, but as I told my editor, I had major difficulty finding the inspiration to pound out the letters for this piece. Why? A lack of any real headlining band was most of it, I think. Some disappointments in the band schedule was another chunk, as was a stark absence of enthusiasm by the attendees, which made the whole two day affair musically as boring as Destruction's last release. I'll get to all that in due time...

I should have known that things were off to a bad start from the very first day. Kathy, my fiancee, and I were due to leave on a Wednesday afternoon to have as many full days in Milwaukee as possible. As it happens, the evening before I withdrew some money for the trip and forgot to retrieve my ATM card from the blasted machine. It, of course, was irretrievable the next day when I discovered it was missing at the gas station leaving my home town for the show.

After taking care of the prerequisite bullshit caused my ignorance, we left the following morning and arrived for the last Miller brewery tour of the day. WHEW! Things were looking up.

After dropping some hard earned money in the brewery's gift shop, we were off to the hotel. Getting all checked in and squared away, Kathy and I cleaned up and headed out to our favorite haunt, the Water Street Brewery in Delafield, WI. A good hot meal and some beer made things all that more enjoyable. Sleeping in anticipating a -very- long Friday of metal, we made our way to what they were calling the US Cellular arena this year, which, in all actuality, is the same place it was last year: the Milwaukee Auditorium.

Friday

Arriving about 2pm or so, Kathy and I said hello to one of the most kind and helpful people in the world: Debbie Sellnow of Mazur Public Relations. Heading into the show, one would find it nearly the same as any other year, but with noticeably less vendors. Even the labels were under-represented by a fair degree. Something was afoot.

Making a few rounds to look over the lay of the land, I noted the main stage last year was called KNAC.COM and this year went by the Snakenet Radio stage. The two smaller, less open, but highly effective Nightfall and Digital Metal (formerly Necropolis) stages were (obviously) positioned as they were a year ago. Again, these last two halls were where most of the bands I saw preformed. Relapse, naturally, had the most comfortable spot: upstairs with carpet and padded chairs -- sponsorship has its rewards.

About this time, my fiancee pointed out that we were without a schedule of bands. Good point there. After scouring the area, Relapse clued us in on the fact that they were being copied off as we spoke. Fair enough. We scurried off for Rise on the Digital Metal stage until they got printed.

Rise sure is an impressive outfit of which I know very little. As best as I could tell, Rise's style was satisfactorily heavy, incorporating a nice keyboard effect and noteworthy vocals fostering a kinda goth-y feel. I made it a point to contact them via the Internet and came to learn that they were represented (at least in August) by Brutal Sound Productions & Management. To date, I haven't received anything further about Rise, but I sincerely hope to. They were an excellent band to begin the MetalFest with. If only things would have stayed that positive.

Catching some of New Jersey's Chaos Theory on the Relapse stage, I came to the resolve that CT has only a minor stage presence consisting mostly of the lead vocalist acting as strange as possible, and not strange in a good way. Despite some solid riff, Chaos Theory is one of those groups that I could take 'em or leave 'em. In this case, I left 'em.

We soon found ourselves back downstairs for Summon. Nothing truly notable about this black metal outfit from Michigan other than I enjoy their fast-paced tempo and thick rhythms. The vocals, at times, seemed screechy, but that could have been any number of things ranging from the room to the equipment. If the shrillness was intentional at the show, the recorded vocals didn't strike me as that piercingly prominent.

Again wondering around the label vending area, I came upon one of the few, but very welcomed highlights of the event: Andreas Katsambas of The End Records. Andreas was there for only one day (Friday) before making his way to the benefit concert for the two Chucks (Billy and Schuldiner) in California. Andreas is an extremely intelligent colleague (see my interview with Mr. Katsambas in the last issue) and a fellow I am certainly honored to know. Kathy, Andreas and I had some beers and shot the shit all the while hearing Command Presence in the background on the Snakenet Radio stage.

Summer Dying was next on the main stage and I was glad I was in the room when they started, because they were not on my list of bands I had marked to see. I am sure glad I caught their show, nevertheless, and snagged one of the demos they were passing out (see my review in this issue).

-Now- we got cookin' with gas: Epoch of Unlight on the Nightfall stage was up next. Being on The End Records, I was sure to stand near Andreas for some of their set until he switched with Sergey to allow Sergey (also with The End) to bear witness to EoU's last few songs. With flawless precision, Epoch of Unlight seared through their set of mostly new material all the while breaking in a new guitarist to the band: Josh Braddock of Incineration The whole set was a fantastic experience and the new songs sounded impeccable.

Only catching one of the songs from Blood Stained Dusk on the Relapse stage, it took no time at all to surmise they were sounding as black as ever; I wished I would have been able to see more. I decided then and there I needed food. Kathy and I scampered down to snack area, grabbed something to supplement our beef jerky contraband and headed for the main hall for Wykked Wytch -- what a mistake that was...

If I would have had any concept of the sheer horror (not in a good way) that I was in for, I would not have brought food to eat. I nearly lost my appetite. I've come to understand WW hail from Florida (a state with which I am infinitely familiar, especially where metal is concerned), plus having been around for more than ten years, why was this the first I had heard of Wykked Wytch? What's more, why was Jason Blachowicz -ever- associated with this atrocity of a band? Believe me, I will do everything I can to never hear this outfit again, but I still had to keep my dinner down, so, needless to say, we left.

About this point, things got off schedule a little bit and I was saddened by missing Fog, but I was otherwise occupied with Macabre in the Digital Metal room -- and boy, I was NOT ALONE. Well more than a quarter of the people attending Friday were in that space and Corporate Death, Dennis the Menace, and Nefarious put on one helluva great show. Covering some tracks like "Vampire of Dusseldorf" and "Dog Guts", the entire vicinity in font of the stage and the larger room in general was bouncing and thrashing in flawless time. A fantastic performance from one of the MMF's sanctioned and essential standbys.

Kathy and I bounced around until Catastrophic hit the Nightfall stage. I was biding my time in anticipation of seeing Trevor Peres of Obituary and his new band. Being a fan of their release _The Cleansing_, I stood patiently waiting and found myself rewarded appropriately. They worked through a fantastic set and sounded only somewhat distant in the small room, but it was, nonetheless, good to see Trevor again in fine musical form. As an aside, Trevor showed up last year to the MMF after the Slayer concert earlier that night in Milwaukee; it was exactly the same room, only we were watching Dying Fetus tear it up and not Catastrophic. Strange how things happen...

I wanted to catch Psypheria especially because of Lyle Livingston's participation in Dragonlord in the worst kinda way, but instead wound up cooling my heals with Killjoy from Necrophagia waiting for him to go on with the guys from Ravenous. It was an investment of time that I felt pretty good about, as I truly appreciate their _Assembled in Blasphemy_ material; seeing this band always puts me in better spirits despite the uninspired and drab happenings at the concert thus far.

To finish off Friday, Kathy and I stayed put and awaited the arrival of Gorgoroth; a main reason for me going to this year's MMF. On the Snakenet Radio stage, Anathema was beginning, but we both saw them once previous here at the MetalFest. Truth be known, I was mostly tired, but also frustrated by a lackluster crowd all day long, but at this last performance, as well. However, Gorgoroth, a virtual black metal supergroup breeding-ground, did not disappoint any of us, I don't think. Covering substantive material and sounding brutally nefarious throughout, I was pleased, in my own mind, with a set done to near perfection. I would have liked to have seen them earlier in the evening with more material from _Destroyer_ and _Pentagram_, so that I might have soaked in their presence and finer work with less filtration through fatigued ears.

Saturday

Another day -- fresh hope. My optimism didn't last for long. Looking over the schedule for the day, Kathy and I didn't like it was necessary to get to the show much before 2pm. Missing the first batch of morning and early afternoon acts wasn't worth jeopardizing the longevity of our stamina for the evening bands. The one thing I failed to notice until too late was Avernus at 12:10 -- what a fucked up time slot they were given.

Very shortly after arriving at Milwaukee Auditorium, we happened across a good friend: Steve Murray of Fleshgrind. Also playing with Avernus, he dropped the boom by confronting me with the harsh reality that they had already played (of course). SHIT! Oh, well -- what about Fleshgrind, then? Here is where things got royally screwed up. Steve told me something that he heard about the MMF "invoking the two year rule". Unfamiliar with this, I pressed him for some insight. Mr. Murray told me that it was his understanding that if you played consecutively two years previous, you were "asked" not to preform again. Is this what happened to Fleshgrind and Mortician, another notable MMF staples not playing this year? If that is the case, what about Macabre -- were they here back to back years? I'm not saying that this "two year rule" and being "asked" not to preform was actually what came to pass to ultimately botch up the host of killer bands that usually play the MMF, but if it -does- happen to be the case, I have never heard of something so shit-all stupid, blind, ignorant, and foolish in all my life!

Noctuary played the Digital Metal stage to a warm and receptive crowd, but my interest really was in seeing Averse Sefira. Having done an e-mail interview with both Wrath and Sanguine, this Lost Disciple outfit was high on my agenda to see; they did not disappoint. After taking care of some trouble with the bass sound, Wrath spewed forth a host of the most blackened wickedness seen at the show. The room showed positive signs of familiarization with Averse Sefira's material and, consequently, enjoyed themselves as much as the band seemed to. In full corpse paint, AS no doubt drew more than a couple of fans into their fold that day.

Time to bust ass upstairs to the Relapse stage for Pig Destroyer. The stage was running a bit late and we caught two songs by Phobia. I began looking almost frantically around the room for Carl Schultz from Relapse and noticed him walking in moments before PD went on. We had arranged earlier yesterday to watch the performance together and I think that I can safely say, Carl and I both were overwhelmed with the unbridled power Pig Destroyer displayed. Fans were yelling out names of songs and J.R., Brain (had some trouble with his right cymbal) and Scott even blessed us with a reworked version of "Birthday Suicide".

Mastodon came up next in the comfortable Relapse stage area. Taking into consideration two of the members' roots in Today Is the Day, it is easily understood why both my fiancee and I appreciated their hard-hitting and certainly bass-heavy approach as much as we did.

Einherjer's Viking metal set was something I needed to see. Their stage presence and smooth change-ups played the audience like one of their battle-scarred instruments. In a sea of mediocrity, I am happy I witnessed Einherjer's havoc play out upon the Digital Metal stage.

Over to see what was going on with Soilwork. I can say this, they drew a big crowd for reasons unknown to me. That not withstanding, the main hall was nearly filled to capacity with people.

That in mind, is it any wonder we moved back toward the Nightfall stage? There we set ourselves up for a massive disappointment. That being the fact that Acheron wasn't going to show. Fucking great! Next to Gorgoroth, Acheron was a major reason for me attending.

Having seen Immolation at last year's MMF, and who was now playing instead of Acheron, Kathy and I both reached the mutual decision to relocate to the Snakenet Radio stage until it came time for Novembers Doom. We made our way through the vendors' area up to nearly the front of the stage. Great overall vocals, but to my surprise, the female contributions on songs they played on stage seemed to detract somewhat more in a live setting that I would have previously gathered from such a wonderfully ambient band. They ended with a great live interpretation of "Dawn Breaks", a personal favorite!

The last band there I really cared to see again was Dying Fetus. They went on almost exactly on time at 11:25 on the Nightfall stage. Here is another band that confused me as to their presence at the show if the "two year rule" -was- in effect. I was glad to have -some- stability, no matter how slight or in what form, at the 'Fest. This was my first time seeing the reformed band without Jason Netherton on bass/vocals. John Gallagher was in fine musical form, but failed to connect with the crowd -- including me, and I treasure DF like gold bouillon from Fort Knox. Joined on stage by Robert Vigna of Immolation (guitar), Dying Fetus seemed disconnected from their audience with a lot less groove-oriented tunes on their set list to get the crowd whipped up into a frenzy. I guess every band has an off show now and again, plus they may have been going through a difficult period with new members and all. Only getting to see John and the boys generally once a year here at the MMF (for less than an hour, mind you), if absolutely necessary, I wish they could have had their "bad day" another time...

Wanting to see Limbonic Art, but not feeling the need to experience any more surprises, disappointments, or blemishes during an already less than average MetalFest, Kathy and I exited the show. Yawn... zzzzzzzzzzz <snort> Oh! Sorry -- must have dozed off. Even remembering the MMF and regurgitating it back for your reading "enjoyment" must induce drowsiness, apparently.

Before I stretch out for a nap, allow me to say this: God willing, I WILL ATTEND NEXT YEAR for the Milwaukee MetalFest XVI, on July 26 and 27; even the best of the best happen upon a slump every now and again. I've told myself that it can only get better. Rectifying some of the issues is probably an absolute imperative, like keeping the asshole "scabs" out of the venue (once again this year). Definition of "scabs": loser, unwashed teenie-boppers who derive pleasure from mooching beer and stinkin' up the joint by choice and generally dumb-shit assholes. Also, removing the "two year rule", if that does indeed turn out to be what was actually going on this year, plus securing a stronger, more inspiring line-up of headlining bands would all be huge pluses for the Milwaukee MetalFest in years to come.

Something that I noticed this year, while I am in the hypercritical mood, is that some lesser known bands, by design or otherwise, enjoy some pretty choice times on the schedule, while other more well-known outfits have bizarre slots. For instance, Tarcid (just to name one -- no offense to the band intended) at 10:20pm on Saturday night and Avernus getting stuck with the 12:10 in the afternoon or earlier, if I remember hearing correctly from Steve Murray -- inexcusable. While I realize it must be a major headache to put all these bands on a program that flows, somehow it still seems ineffectual and certainly inappropriate.

Good night, everyone. I know that most of you are asleep right now anyway if you are still reading this... If you made it through -- congratulations! For me, coming up with this review, painful for me to say as it is, was like shaving with a rusty straight-edge -- it gets the job done, but the tetanus shot is -far- less than amusing. Lastly, I want to say to the people I was able to hang out with again, the bands I wanted to catch live in concert, and the town of Milwaukee were points I choose to recall fondly; I AM GRATEFUL. Here is to the promise of a better MMF 2002!

55

All contents copyright 2001 by individual creators of included work. All opinions expressed herein are those of the individuals expressing them, and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else.

(article submitted 19/10/2001)


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All opinions expressed in Chronicles of Chaos are opinions held at the time of writing by the individuals expressing them.
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