Coc Marches on the Metal Meltdown
Metal Meltdown III, day 1
Asbury Park, NJ, April 6, 2001

by: Brian Meloon
This year's edition of the NJ MetalFest (a.k.a. Metal Meltdown III) provided pretty much what you'd expect from such a gathering: lots of people dressed in black, CD hawkers, people handing out flyers, flyers all over the floor, overpriced food and drinks, drunks, last-minute schedule changes, and delays in getting the bands on stage.

Asbury Park's Convention Hall is a nearly ideal venue for such an event: not only is there plenty of space to put three stages without too much interference from the other stages, but there is plenty of space for booths without being on top of the stage. The entrance hallway / ticket booth leads directly to a large open warehouse-style area. Immediately as you enter are the booths, and in the back is the Relapse stage. Off to the right is the Digital Metal stage, in a gymnasium, complete with bleachers. Off to the left and down a small hallway is the SnakeNet stage, in what was formerly a playhouse or movie theater. I found the SnakeNet's dilapidated-but-formerly-glamorous stage provides a wonderful "decay of society" backdrop for a death metal concert. That said, the existence of immovable seats in the SnakeNet stage was rather odd. A theater full of death metal fans in their seats watching a death metal concert and politely clapping after each song is almost surreal. Of course, it also makes moshing rather difficult, but there are still those who will try (like that drunk idiot who tried to mosh by himself during Amorphis' set).

Although the show started at 4:00, we didn't arrive until 8:00. We caught the last few minutes of a set by a band whose name I didn't catch (Natron, perhaps?), and spent some time wandering around the CD and T-shirt vendors.

After a full day of work, I wasn't up for a lot of aimless wandering, so we ended up in the SnakeNet stage for the next few hours. Opeth was scheduled for 10:20, followed by Amorphis at 11:20, and I wanted to catch both of these bands. I was hoping to also catch Monstrosity, but they were scheduled for the same time as Opeth, so I had pretty much ruled that out.

The first band we ended up seeing was Austin, Texas' Vesperian Sorrow. I have their debut album _Beyond the Cursed Eclipse_ [CoC #41], and found it pretty decent melodic black metal. They played tracks from that album and their forthcoming Displeased release. The band put on a solid and energetic performance. They had several problems with the sound, as the cheesy keyboards were too way heavy for the first three songs. When the sound finally evened out, it became more impressive, but they only had a song or two left. Still, this was a good showing for them: their performance was tight, and they got a good reception. Their singer's stage presence was excellent, and during the songs, he threw almost a dozen T-shirts to enthusiastic fans.

Next up was Sweden's Vintersorg, a band whose music I wasn't overly familiar with. Their Viking metal sound didn't do a lot to impress me, but their performance was solid. They were short on between-song dialog, and lacking a dedicated singer hurt their rapport with the crowd, but their set was moderately well received.

After their set was a long delay, followed by the first actual soundcheck of the evening. At around 10:45, Pain finally arrived on stage. They played a short but energetic set of industrial-tinged death metal, finishing with an amusing cover of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby". Their set was quite well received, as many people had filtered in to check them out or reserve good seats for Opeth.

Finally, at around 11:45, Opeth took the stage. Their performance was nothing short of excellent. The only flaws I could find were the first few notes of each clean singing section, which were slightly off, but the songs were otherwise flawlessly performed. Their manner was very relaxed and informal. Not only did they do their own soundcheck, but after Mikael Akerfeldt's tuning got screwed up (after the first song), he methodically re-tuned his guitar and politely apologized for having difficulties. They played six songs: one each from _Orchid_, _Morningrise_, _My Arms, Your Hearse_, and _Still Life_, and two from _Blackwater Park_ [see CoC #14, #32, #44, and also this issue]. Their set lasted over an hour, finishing around 1:00. One thing that struck me about Opeth during their set was how much their music is influenced by '70s progrock. Of course, one can get this idea just by looking at their photos in the _Blackwater Park_ sleeve, but hearing them live really drove this point home to me. Another thing that struck me was just how much bass player Martin Mendez (whose birthday it was) looks like Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls on stage. Their set was certainly the highlight of my evening, as I'm sure it was for most in attendance.

Opeth's website billed their appearance as "Opeth supporting Amorphis", but these roles should have been reversed, as there were roughly half as many people for Amorphis as there were for Opeth. Surprisingly, I only saw one person get up and leave during their set. I know I was tempted to, as Amorphis put on a terrible performance. The only reason I stayed was that I was hoping they'd play an old song or two. I suppose asking for "Exile of the Sons of Iusliu" is a bit much, but they could've played something off of _Tales From the Thousand Lakes_ or even _Elegy_ [CoC #10]. Heck, even Metallica still play old songs.

Now, I haven't been a fan of their material since _Tales From the Thousand Lakes_ (Opeth is as much '70s influence as I can stomach), but this performance was particularly bad. The music was adequately performed, though the guitarists seemed half-asleep at times. However, their singer single-handedly ruined their performance. He has a much whinier and more nasally voice than he does on their studio efforts. In addition, I think the poor fellow is having delusions that he's Jim Morrison. In sharp contrast to the informal and personable set of Opeth, Amorphis' performance was haughty and impersonal. To make matters worse, not only was his voice incredibly bad, his stage presence was pathetic. When he wasn't singing, he just stood there like a tree. And at the end of their set, he dropped the mic (with an audible clunk), and walked off stage.

And on that note, the first day of the MetalFest ended. There was still a whole day's worth of metal on Saturday, but as there was only one band I was interested in seeing (Gorguts), I didn't attend. Overall, the show seemed pretty well orchestrated. Aside from the scheduling changes -- it turns out I probably could've seen Monstrosity's set after all --, I had few complaints. I'm hoping next year's show is much the same as this year's, as I'll definitely be making the trip again.

(article submitted 13/5/2001)

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