Heart of Steel: Concert Review

"The Odyssey..."
The Inaugural New Jersey
Metal/Hardcore Festival

November 15th and 16th. 
Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ, USA. 

Review by MetalGeorge
Pics by MetalGeorge and Maureen McQueeney

Friday, Day 1.

Within the months preceding this year's debut festivities, there was quite the buzz surrounding how this first foray into the usual Jack Koshick-sponsored fest territory would go for New England Metal/Hardcore Fest promoters Jon Peters and Scott Lee. Being a Koshick supporter myself, I wasn't too enthused by the lackluster lineup or lack of pay-to-play acts for this New Jersey venture. It seemed that the entire fest was built around tour packages that were hitting the States anyways, organizing them just as such so that they would all hit the same venue at once. This to me, doesn't take as much effort as do the usual Metalfest gigs that offer the attendee once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to witness bands they would otherwise never see. In previous years at the Milwaukee and New Jersey Koshick-Fests, you might be lucky enough to catch a band like Naglfar, Saxon, Lullacry, Anathema, or The Gathering. This time around, fans had only Germany's Dew-Scented to look forward to, as far as one-time-only bands went.

That said, this was certainly not a festival for the "kvlt" undergrounders. The bands one would see here are the exact same you would see at any other Peters/Lee concert. The same old--same old lineup of tired metalcore and overhyped metal acts you can see anywhere else for a lot less money. I'm sorry, charging fans 75 bucks for a two day pass is just highway robbery, folks. As much as I'd like to hope otherwise, I fear that love of money, not metal, might be the deciding factor here. The entire affair seems to cater to the "too cool for school" flavor of the weak rather than those who have consistently turned out year after year for their dose of metalfest fun. For sure, this catered to a "nu" type of metal fan.

So does this mean that the entire weekend was a total waste of time? Well, not quite. I decided to take all of this in stride, and just try to have the best time I could, which is the way I always approach these types of events. After all, despite all of the above being true, a lot of Metalfest is what one makes of it, and I was determined to have a good time. After all, we need the new generation of metalheads to keep the scene alive and going strong, and I must admit, it is cool seeing so many people show up for an event like this, especially new kids coming up into the scene.

Of course, getting up way too early on Friday morning, and preparing for the 6 hour drive to Jersey wasn't too much fun until I had a good 3 cups of coffee in me. After that, it was in the car and on the road, on time for a change, my head filled with wondrous visions of the Metal Mall and all of the usual shopping and hanging out I was about to do for the next 3 days. Myself, my girlfriend Kelly, and 3 of our friends met up with our second carload in CT, and made the drive without any major incidents (apart from being forced to listen to showtunes the entire way up, but that's a whole 'nother story...).

Upon our arrival, we all went our separate ways, myself and a few others opting to hit the fest early for maximum shopping time. I noticed there were already a number of people milling about, a decent mix of metalhead and "prettier" hardcore-type folk. Once I got inside, I noticed that the set-up was a little different this time around. The merch area, usually held in the giant main room, was moved upstairs, with only headliner merchandise and the Second Stage holding up court here. Also, the Theater area, usually the Third Stage, was closed off. Only on Saturday was a small, unadvertised makeshift Third Stage erected upstairs for the demo bands to play. Pretty shitty, if you ask me. I quickly made my way upstairs and hit up the Metal Mall to pick up some merchandise, and to hook up with my metalfriends, many of whom I only get to see at these types of events. Fun (and lots of shopping) was had by all.

The first band I actually got to check out was an act called Sinai Beach. They rocked out some moshariffic Hatebreed-esque hardcore with a slight old school feel to it. Most definitely sledgehammer heavy and pit-worthy.

Lickgoldensky also started up promising by delivering a Carcass intro of "Buried Dreams", before launching into a song of their own. Unfortunately, their own material wasn't nearly as successful: just your typical moshy metalcore. Naturally, I made my exit.

Novembers Doom is a band that has seemed to play every fest, yet I always seem to miss them. This time I managed to at least catch a couple songs. While I can't say I'm totally sold on them, they definitely stand out as fresh air amidst the samey-sounding nature of many others bands at the fest. The band is certainly talented, and prescribe to the Euro-Doom sound of forefathers such as Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. Unfortunately, I think the tempo could afford to be picked up just a tiny bit. The guitars just aren't doing anything interesting or emotional enough to keep one's interest amidst all the gothic atmosphere. Novembers Doom are good, just not quite there yet.

The Black Dahlia Murder was next, and I have to say it was the best set I've seen them play yet. In between bites of my 3 dollar pretzel and sips of my 3 dollar coke (another wallet-shrinking side effect of metalfest), I watch the Metal Blade newbies rock out song after song of Gothenburg-inspired metal, spliced with hardcore breaks. The new line up is an improvement over the makeshift one I saw them with on the Evergrey/Arch Enemy tour, and their stage presence definitely reflected this comfort. Sure, The Black Dahlia Murder isn't original in the slightest, but on this night they were pretty damn good.

Around this time I was dealt an unsavory bit of news from my companions. Namely, our hotel reservations were in a state of limbo, and needed to be sorted out. While I stayed in attendance at the fest, this caused many whom I drove up with the miss a good chunk of Friday afternoon's schedule. I have to say this was a damn shame, because the next couple hours were for sure the highlights of the Fest for me, band-wise.

 

Why, you ask? Well, Hypocrisy was about to go on, for starters. Unfortunately, this leads me to another bit of griping. Mainly, the set times for the bands. The way this Fest was scheduled, many of the bands only had 20 minute sets. Only the headliners and co-headliners had anything more than this. Now this poses a problem when you take into account that a band with as much of a history and catalog that Hypocrisy has gets the same amount of time as the first band of the day. Does that make any sense whatsoever? I didn't think so. The way I figure it, the longer the schedule runs, the longer bands that follow should get to play, especially a band like Hypocrisy.

I digress, however, as Hypocrisy for sure made the best out of their abbreviated set. The Swedish old-schoolers killed the crowd; opening with "Fractured Millenium" from their self-titled release, before dipping a bit into their back catalog with moldy oldie "Pleasure of Molestation". A tune from the much-maligned "Catch 22" release was also aired, namely "Destroyed". Luckily, that album's material seems much better suited to the live environment, and fit in quite nicely amidst the band's classic material. Speaking of classic, there was no other way to close off their all too brief set then by ripping out the most classic Hypocrisy anthem of all, "Roswell 47", and sure enough, that was exactly what they did. A fitting end for what proved to be the first mandatory set of the evening.

 

 

Speaking of mandatory, the next act hitting up the main stage was by far the most anticipated for me. That act, of course, could be none other than the mighty Children of Bodom. Judging by the brisk sales of their longsleeves and hooded sweatshirts, I wasn't the only was that was breathless in anticipation for the Finnish Metal wunderkids; the crowd piling in against the barricade, waiting for their heroes to take the stage.

They didn't keep us waiting long, as the band ran on stage with grand energetic flourish and ripped into "Needled 24/7", the opening track of their newest and best release, the massive "Hatecrew Deathroll". Frontman Alexi "Wildchild" Laino was a whirling dervish of intensity, with the rest of 'da Crew each following his lead with equal intensity and aplomb. Keyboardist extraordinaire Janne Wirman was a maniac behind the ivories as the band ripped into the infectious "Hate Me" off of their previous longplayer "Follow the Reaper", before launching back into "Hatecrew" territory with a blistering rendition of "Chokehold".

From there on, the band simply had the audience in the palms of their hands as "Silent Night, Bodom Night" was delivered from their genre-defining "Hatebreeder" opus, followed by the crushingly heavy "Every Time I Die". Finally, the band was forced to take their leave of the still ravenous crowd, but left them in fine fashion with another classic from the "Hatebreeder" album, the crushing "Downfall". Though I could have heard them play all night, my Bodom thirst was momentarily satiated, if only due to the fact that I knew I was going to see them back home on tour in a couple weeks,. By far the best set of the weekend, Children of Bodom were absolutely breathtaking.

 

Prior to Nevermore (who were due to play an early set at 6:15) taking the stage, I managed to poke my head into the adjoining room to catch a bit of Symphony X while I was waiting for the band to set up. Not being much of an X fan in the slightest, I was looking forward to a hearty guffaw at their expense. To the contrary, however, I was surprised to hear the band sounding pretty tight...heavy even! Guitarist Michael Romeo managed to rock out with some intense lead work, leaving me with a much better impression of the band than I previously had. Maybe it was the sheer monotony of the hardcore buffonery, but I have to say that Symphony X weren't that bad at all, and put on a pretty good show. Sure, I could have picked a hundred or so Power/Progressive Metal bands I would have rather seen, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

 

Guitar god, Jeff Loomis.On the other side of the coin, I also have to say that I'm a bit under-whelmed by the whole Nevermore experience these days. I have seen the band on more than a number of occasions, and to be fair, they were on tonight for sure. It's just that the band's latest material sounds too overblown and seems to over-hyped for my taste. Material from the band's classic back catalog sounds great, including a massive rendition of "Dead Heart in a Dead World" standout "The River Dragon Has Come". Even the title track from the newest record sounds powerful in the live setting. 

 

Up next was Norwegian Black Metal megastars Dimmu Borgir. The band takes the stage, and sounds as powerful as they do on any other night. The band pulled off a tight and did an efficient job of pleasing their devoted fanbase. While I admit that I raised my fist when classics like "Spellbound(By the Devil)" and "Mourning Palace" were played, that was really just about it for me. Dimmu Borgir are good at what they do, but just not my thing any more.

 

I've always felt Morbid Angel to be a little overrated anyways, but the fact that people still care enough to stand there and watch a band go through the motions like this just seems like a waste of time to me. Given the fact that I think these guys have never really topped their "Altars of Madness" release, it was simply a chore to sit through song after boring, droning song of cliched vocal lines and annoying guitar acrobatics. I'd have to say the only thing I hate more than watching Morbid Angel, was having to sit through their countless clone bands all weekend trying to rip off a style not worth playing in the first place. Blah.

I hate to continue this negative theme, but I have to say most of what I said in the above paragraph also applies to the next abomination I witnessed, Devin Townsend's Strapping Young Lad. Everything, except the fact that Morbid Angel at least USED to be worth a shit. Sure, his voice is a powerful one, and he's managed to write a decent song or two in his life ("Storm", "Christine", "SYL", "Detox", "Oh My Fucking God"), but to me he's pretty much just "the guy who produced those decent Soilwork and Lamb of God records".

As a whole, his entire presence and demeanor just annoy the shit out of me, posturing with this overblown sense of played-up aggression and bad jokes. SYL as a band just comes across as a giant wall of putrid noise, riding the "E Chord" to an absurdly ludicrous degree. Hell, they ride the "E" more than even Manowar!! The only difference is, Manowar does it right, while this band just comes across as a poor man's Fear Factory with a few bells and whistles thrown haphazardly into the mix. The Jersey crowd eats it up, of course, responding in kind with a positive ovation for His Baldness. I just don't get it, don't want to, and never will. 

 

At least I knew that at 10 pm, the mediocrity would finally end, as it was finally time for my hometown heroes, Beyond the Embrace to take the stage! Scoring this primo spot, the six piece melodic metal heroes took full advantage of it and grabbed the rabid crowd early on with an extremely intense re-working of an old tune entitled "...Of Every Strain". Though most in attendance probably assumed it was a new song, I don't think they minded, as the crowd quickly erupted in a headbanging frenzy.

Beyond the Embrace proceeded to capitalize, and delivered a short, but pummeling set of mostly new tunes. Reactions were excited and favorable, as the triple guitar threat of Jeff Saude, Oscar Gouveia, and Alex Botehlo bled and sweat melodic yet menacing riffs from their fretboards. Vocalist Shawn Gallagher seemed more possessed than I'd ever seen him, as he prowled the stage, impressing just as much with his vast, emotional clean vocals as he did with his lion-esque roar. The man simply cannot be stopped.

Sure, I may seem a bit biased, but I speak the truth. Beyond the Embrace are one of the best bands going today, and deserve every bit of success that comes their way. If the new tunes they rocked out on this night are any indication of where their next album (tentatively titled "The Insect Song") is going, it's only a matter of time before the stratosphere becomes too limiting for them. Trust me and get on the bandwagon now, before you become the last on your block to discover this jewel in the rough that is Beyond the Embrace.

Around this time, fatigue had began it's slow creep inside my bones, and I was getting a bit tired. I decided to find a spot up in the bleechers, and took in the sights of metalfest. I noticed, surprisingly enough, that there really wasn't as much moshing/violence as I'd seen in previous years. People were actually getting along with each other, which I thought was a really cool thing, and a breath of fresh air for once!

This revelation, of course, all went down the tubes, as Superjoint Ritual took the stage, and Phil Anselmo proceeded to demand the crowd to beat the living shit out of each other. Of course, due no doubt to the sheer amount of poking, prodding, and instigating that was going on, the crowd responded in shockingly violent fashion. I mean, this was pure and unadulterated violence personified.

Of course, all this violence does no good if the music itself doesn't provide an adequate enough soundtrack, right? Well, luckily Superjoint didn't disappoint on this night. My exposure to them had actually been very limited prior to this night, and I really wasn't sure what to expect. Well, what I received was a testosterone fueled shock to the senses; a veritable kick in the testes.

To eleborate. imagine listening to something that made you want to climb the Empire State Building and start swatting down planes from the sky. These are the King Kong sized balls that Superjoint Ritual have. They play Heavy Metal with no class, and I liked it. Actually, you can add no frills, no prisoners, and no mercy to that list as well. Phil, as drunk and high as ever, was still an unbelievably intense frontman/showman, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. I can't even believe I'm about to say this, but Superjoint Ritual made me a believer.

After that, the day was pretty much over for me. As it turned out, many in the crowd agreed with my sentiments, as many decided to opt for the doors rather than staying to see Elvis...er, I mean Danzig. However, being that I was curious, I decided to stay and catch the set. Besides, a lot of my friends were actually excited to see him, so I decided to forgo sleep a little while longer and stick it out. His new material does not touch the "classics" which to me are just aren't the same without Eerie Von and John Christ rockin' the strings. 

Finally, that time of the night had arrived, however. The point in the set where the song that everyone was there to hear finally made itself known. That familiar chord progression rang out, and everyone in the dangerously emptied room began to sing along to "Mother". Yeah, me included. It has to be said that while Danzig can still belt them out when the song absolutely requires it, if a opportunity presents itself where he CAN cheat, he will. This was shown a little bit during the ending chorus of "Mother" and the encore of "Am I Demon", but not enough to weaken too much of the songs' charm. Besides, if I was a singer like Danzig, I'd probably be pooped at set's end too. Boy, am I glad that I'm just a bass player!!

With that, it was time to retire back to the hotel for a little rabblerousing, and some much needed rest for the day ahead of me. My crew and I made the convenient 5 minute or so walk to our hotel and prepared ourselves for Day 2. There was much more metal to be had!!

 

Read on...........DAY TWO