Coffee, Canadians and Common Ground
CoC attends the 2003 Milwaukee MetalFest
by: Aaron McKay
In my humble opinion there is nothing common about Canadians or coffee -- both are extraordinary for any number of reasons. One might even argue that large amounts of one needs to be consumed by the other to make the twelve hour trip to Milwaukee from Toronto like some of my brethren. For me, I've always felt the cornerstone of any decent diet -is- a large amount of the "everlasting insomnia in a cup". (Is that safe to give to energizer bunnies?) Water filtered through ground coffee beans sounds simple, but I ask you, is it not a tried and true aid in jump-starting one's day to order make your way to Milwaukee, be it from Iowa or Canada? Maybe that's just my view after taking in way too much of the "nap suppressant" I drink daily. But I digress...

Milwaukee -- the city is known for its fests: Italian, German and, of course, Metal. Brandishing proudly my full thermos of Colombian Supreme, Adam, my brother, and I trekked six hours to see my fifth consecutive Milwaukee MetalFest. While this makes me somewhat of a veteran MMF goer, this was Adam's first. What made this year a treat for everyone was the arrival again of the Canadian horde the Friday morning before the long metal fueled weekend. Be this your first, fifth or fifteenth metalfest, American or Canadian -- Milwaukee's annual metalfest provides a damn fine common ground for all fans of metal.

Unlike past articles I've read on occasion, you'll note here my refusal to slight the MMF in this piece. The reason for that is simple: where I live in the midwest, there are far too few concerts that frequent the state. For whatever reason, shows avoid Iowa like the Bubonic Plague. The Milwaukee MetalFest brings a vast assortment of metal as close to my home as one can reasonably expect. No useless slack-jawed fodder from me this year; besides the line-up wasn't nearly as bad as I've seen.

Again held at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Milwaukee, the MMF kicked off Friday July 25th. Having a new-comer to the show in my company this year, my brother and I began with a slow pace and arrived at 6:00 that evening after having done the much talked about Miller brewery tour earlier that day. Of the two nights, Friday was the more relaxed as far as bands I wanted to see. Noting Enslaved again on this year's schedule for Friday, there wasn't much of a chance that I was going to just make an appearance on Saturday and miss seeing these wicked Viking metalers.

Biding time to see bands like Enslaved can be difficult, but catching up with old friends not seen since the 2002 MMF and doing some shopping at the increasingly sparse vendors' tables makes it easy to loose track of when and where you are supposed to catch the next band on stage.

For at least the second year in a row that I can remember, Jack Koshick, the force behind the fest, decided to go with listing bands and their scheduled times posted strategically around the venue instead of individual paper handouts for the concert goers' quick reference. This is just two ways of going about the same thing, obviously, but for this reviewer, the paper-in-hand method is preferable. Inevitably, people crowded the doorways to scribble down the "when and where" of their favorite bands all the while others trying to squeeze past to move from one room to the next. It's a tight schedule at the MMF -- sometimes a few minutes here and there mean a world of difference.

Macabre had a set to die for (pun intended)! It was cut shorter than lead singer/guitarist Corporate Death may have liked, but they did manage one song sung entirely in German (new, I believe) and lots and lots of old favorites including "Zodiac", "Dog Guts", "Vampire of Dusseldorf" and "Albert Was Worse Than Any Fish in The Sea". A tried and true faithful regular at the MMF, Macabre had a crowd present that was nearly second to none. This is a band that's -always- well worth the price of admission; those hanging out at McDahmers or ones coming (thru) Chicago to the Milwaukee MetalFest can't even deny that. If you can't wash the Macabre smell off of ya -- scub a dub dub...

Norway's Enslaved again braved the perils of travel that day to grace us with their presence. Their set was to be admired, and (if you are looking for some superior influence) even imitated! Enslaved as always enjoyed a penchant for harmonic resolution in their song-structure, but their presence on stage in the main hall made their (definitive) recordings sound like CDs played on a phonograph.

Body Count, Ice-T's foray into metal music, headlined Friday night's events. For more than an hour previous, the rapper turned actor diligently signed autographs with the rest of BC, as they like to be called. I was impressed with Ice-T's attention to his fans, even pausing an extra moment here and there to take a picture if asked by the autograph seeker as he or she passed through the monstrously long line. Body Count, in true metalfest style, went on very late. About 1:00am Saturday morning -- all of us were hungry and tired. The band sounded great, as if the best was saved for last. Lots of antics, complete with hockey masks, swearing enough to make a sailor blush, and thick ass riffs -- Body Count style. Adam and I stayed a few songs longer than the Canadians -- enough to hear Ice-T proclaim, "When they asked me to do the Milwaukee MetalFest, I looked at a map and said to myself, 'Milwaukee. That looks like a good place to meet a KKK Bitch!'" After that, it was back to the hotel. Saturday's agenda promised to be more than twice as full.

Saturday saw our arrival back at the venue at 4:30. I came to find out then that one of my all-time favorite bands, the newly revamped Epoch of Unlight, was given (or forced to take) a shitty timeslot much earlier that day. In talking with the band later, I came to learn that while the crowd wasn't nearly as populated as it could have been later in the day, EoU had a pretty good response, all things considered. Also, as an aside, Tino LoSicco, the group's fantastically talented drummer, just hours before leaving for Milwaukee successfully defended and completed his doctoral dissertation -- so it is -Dr.- LoSicco now. Congratulations, Tino!

Fleshgrind was set to play in roughly 45 minutes. The schedule had Illinois' favorite sons pigeonholed in a corner on the smaller, less visible of the two stages in the smaller area just outside of the twin stages in the vastly superior main hall. The fans there to see these guys could have cared less, though. The room was packed full with people and despite being plagued by some technical difficulties and Steve Murray's having to borrow a guitar from Skinless, Fleshgrind powered through their set with all the elegance of a dump truck in a nitro plant.

All of us stayed put there in the room for NY's Skinless that was set to follow. The room was still packed wall-to-wall to see these guys who are currently one quarter of the Dying Fetus / Skinless / Divine Empire / Index Case tour that made the MMF this year a scheduled stop. Not to be at all confined, the energetic Skinless guys (especially vocalist Sherwood Webber) wildly scampered across the majority of both stages even as Dying Fetus was setting up their equipment. The crowd was obviously into this synchronized mass-assault of all these bands, including Skinless, dominating the smaller stages for more than an hour.

Dying Fetus has the ability, I believe, to make even the most atrocious acoustic accommodations sound like their own recording studio. These guys have a brand new album out -- hence the tour they now find themselves a part of, but proper consideration was given during their allotted time for fans of the "weathered variety", like myself. Not a disappointed or overly bored face in the audience could be found during any of Dying Fetus's (all-too-short) set. I can't wait to find out what awaits the attendees on one of their normal tour stops -- I intend to do so on August 9th.

Having caught a little of the mace presumably used on the crowd toward the front during DF and knowing I'd see Divine Empire in a couple weeks, our group decided it might be time for some liquid refreshment -- in Milwaukee, that means "Miller Time".

Awhile later, I strolled by myself back to the smaller stage area to catch some of Benumb. Pete has one of the most fitting voices for Benumb's style that I've ever heard. In addition to being one helluva nice guy, the show's energy was off the fuckin' charts thanks to Pete!

Billy Milano was dancin' around the metalfest for the better part of two days. Believe me when I tell you, there is a candid shot out there of Adrian "The Energizer" Bromley and Billy where they look like identical twin brothers separated at birth. MOD experienced some time slot bouncing typical of the two-day festival, but their performance in the main hall, complete with oodles of pro-American, or at least anti-Afghanistani, rants made us all proud. The mighty Danny Lilker, an MMF icon, joined MOD on stage with much praise from Mr. Milano at the end of their set for a wildly enjoyable rendition of "United Forces". MOD proved Saturday night that they are the Rebel(s) You Love to Hate!

Having the opportunity to relive my largely misspent youth through the eyes I remember as a teenager -- seeing Nuclear Assault on stage was a huge draw for me this year. Danny's bass playing was in rare form and John Connelly's voice and guitar abilities tickled the fancy of perfection like I've never heard before. The song selections, mostly from _Survive_ and _Handle With Care_, namely the title track to the first and "Trail of Tears", were done phenomenally, though I might have concentrated on forcing out more _Survive_ songs with a few from _Game Over_ for good measure. That said, here's wishing in a big way I could have heard "You Figure it Out".

Having gone far too long without the aid of my caffeinated friend, the last band I witnessed at this year's Milwaukee MetalFest was Vital Remains, but at least it was in the company of friends. Suffocation was scheduled to play next, but our motley group grew modestly weary. Glenn Benton of Deicide fame vocalized the desecration of Vital Remains' (new(er)) sound and ruled the stage like the promise of Revelation. Glenn called this Vital Remains set a "giant rehearsal" for the band. While that may have been the case, VR never sounded better and Tony Lazaro's playing was spectacular as I can unequivocally testify to. They certainly unleashed hell for the final notes of the 2003 Milwaukee MetalFest.

As I sit here typing these words and reflecting with a cup o' java, I am convinced more than ever that the Milwaukee MetalFests have been as much about camaraderie as about the music itself. Good times, great folk, metal mayhem and all thanks to our hosts!

(article submitted 10/8/2003)

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