Heart of Steel: Concert
"The Day the
Lights Went Out in Worcester"
New England Metal and Hardcore Festival
Worcester Palladium April 30th/May 1st
Photos contributed by Pam Garnett
So here we are again. Another year, another disappointing
edition of what has, for some reason or other, become a New
England tradition, the annual Metal and Hardcore Festival. Being
that I seem to be a glutton for punishment, I've attended almost
every year (barring the fourth year, as I decided to support
Jack Koshick's superior Metal Meltdown brand), and have borne
witness to it's gradual decline. The festival originally started
out as a great idea: cross-polinate some of the best of two
disparate genres, in an attempts to unify all scenes under one
banner of Extreme Music.
However, Scott Lee, Jon Peters, and Massconcerts just can't
seem to understand that Metal and Hardcore were disparate for a
reason! For when you mix up dumbed down metal and sub-par
hardcore into a blender, you get what this Festival has quickly
become: a hotbed for washed up metalcore. Don't get me wrong,
the inaugural year was fantastic. You had straight-up metal
bands like Exhumed, Cannibal Corpse, and Manowar together with
old school hardcore acts like In My Eyes. It was a great time.
Hell, the second year was a blast, as well!
Unfortunately, it was around the time of the third and fourth
installments of the festivals where scene points and greed began
to get in the way. The same old line up of Scott Lee-approved
bands began to appear again and again, and the festival appeared
to be more of a fashion show than anything else. Local bands who
weren't "cool enough" didn't get to play unless they were part
of "the in crowd", and the only bigger acts you were likely to
see were simply part of touring packages anyways. Never mind the
fact that the invasion of mediocre metal and noise-core began to
outnumber the real metal bands in attendance.
This year was by far the worst installment in the series, and
featured an atrocious lineup of the worst and dimmest of the
overhyped mallcore Hot Topic acts you could find. Despite all of
this, however, I was determined to have as best a time as I
could while torturing my ears in order to bring you this report.
So with that in mind, I made the hour drive with my companions
Pam and Bill to the Worcester Palladium bright and early on the
Friday morning. Of course, I had just arrived home from work at
7am, but for some reason unknown to me, Bill wanted to see as
many bands as possible, so we arrived at the venue shortly after
I immediately began to make the rounds, hooking up with
metalfriends and acquaintances I hadn't seen in a while, while
making my way upstairs to the distro area. What I saw up there
filled me with pure horror: it was almost all hardcore distros.
Sure, you had your required Century Media/Nuclear Blast, Metal
Blade, Relapse, and Earache booths, but I was shocked at the
absence of local distros like Lost Disciple and Dark Symphonies.
They had always been fixtures at these fests, and the few tables
I could always count on to have quality merchandise that wasn't
derivative of your latest Sex Metal trends. Oh well, I guess
they couldn't afford the buy-in this year.
after slumping back downstairs dejectedly, depressed at the
thought of not being able to waste copious amounts of cash on
metal CDs, I decided to mosey on down to the main stage and
check out who was playing. The first band I managed to catch was
sludge-core act Found Dead Hanging. To be honest, the
only reason they caught my interest was due to the fact that
they opened up their set with a Carcass cover of "No Love Lost",
which I enjoyed. As for their original material? Eh, not so
much. Other than the band's thick and juicy guitar sound, their
material came across as boring, derivative, and contrived. Yeah,
ok...off to a bad start.
After that, I figured now was as good a time as any to head
back upstairs and see who was playing the Second Stage. I knew
that Gothenburg-via America act Enforsaken was going on
some time soon, and it was to my luck that I ventured up there
just in time to catch their set. Unfortunately, I was somewhat
underwhelmed. I had caught them live at the Milwaukee Metalfest
last year when my band, The Accursed played, and thought they
definitely rocked the house. Being that I've followed the band
for quite sometime, and due to the fact that their newest full
length on Olympic/Century Media, "The Forever Endeavor", kicks a
righteous amount of ass, I was expecting that and much more from
their set. Again, however, I don't know if it was due to the
muddy Palladium sound system or what, but Enforsaken came across
as just another metalcore act, or at best a Shadows Fall clone.
I thought this was really a shame, because I know the band are
capable of so much more. I myself blame the sound, because it
seems that ever since metalcore has become the "in thing", the
Palladium has decided to drown their mixes in bass and drums,
thereby eliminating any sort of impact Enforsaken's brand of
guitar-driven melodic death had to offer. I guess real metal
never stands a chance in this atmosphere. A shame.
As I mentioned, Metalfests are a time to catch up with
friends which you hardly ever see, and this was certainly the
case with me, as I ran into a hometown buddy of mine by the name
Aaron. Aaron, I soon found out, had been roadieing with San
Diego grinders Cattle Decapitation, so we caught up on
old times while watching their set. Well, it turned out that the
actual "catching up" only lasted as long as it took for the band
to turn on, because the sound eminating from their set was by
far the LOUDEST thing I've ever heard at a gig! It was louder
than Motorhead and Manowar ferchrissakes! Of course, "loud"
doesn't necessarily mean "good", and although I must admit that
they were intense (the frontman looked like he was possessed as
he belted out this otherworldly gurgles and cackles), Cattle
Decapitation still aren't really my thing. The new material from
their forthcoming lp, "Humanure" (such a stupid title,
though..), is pretty good, however, and should please fans of
the band and of the style quite well.
Eventually, the sheer volume just proved too much for me, and
I was forced to retreat back downstairs. I was greeted by the
sight of a band who I hadn't seen in what seems like forever,
Trustkill "artists" Nora. I swear, I couldn't believe
that they were still around. I mean, do people actually enjoy
this trite, talentless garbage that peaked 5 years ago?
Evidently, people are easy to please, as the sheep gathered
around the shepherds and moshed their brains out. Needless to
say, this didn't take very long.
Speaking of sheep, it's amazing how everyone looks the same
at this festival. You can easily categorize and separate each
into their respective clique, whether it be "toughguys", "scenesters",
"emo kids", etc. Each had their own particular style of dress,
as well, including their pre-required "vintage" trucker hats,
"mod" Maiden shirts, or the ever-popular "Castro Hat", complete
with buttons of the latest trend-of-the-weak Sex Metal band
that's popular at the moment. In order to pass the time in
between good sets (which were few and far between, believe me),
we played "count the Castro Hats". I believe we lost track after
The bands themselves weren't much better, often falling into
the same pitfalls. However, I'm here to judge on music, not
fashion, and musically speaking, The Black Dahlia Murder
were on the ball, as always. Granted, I may despise their
fashion sense, and their style of Gothen-Core isn't extremely
difficult to play, but I have to give credit where credit is
due. I've never seen them play a truly horrible gig, and they
always deliver the warmed-over Swedish riffs with enough energy
and aplomb to almost make me believe that they have a shred of
originality to them. Almost.
Soilent Green followed BDM on the Main Stage, and were
just as good as the last time I saw them, some years ago at the
Met Cafe opening for Crisis. Hell, given their horrible luck
with touring, I'm surprised they even made it to the venue.
Condolences go out to the band on the loss of their ex-bassist,
as well. If they were grieving, it didn't show, as the band
focused all of their intensity and rage into a razor sharp set.
Ok, so the number of tolerable sets are starting to grow, so
let's keep it going, right? Formerly known as Indecision, the
NYC mosh crew known as Most Precious Blood tore shit up
on the Second Stage. Together with new vocalist Rob Fusco
(formerly of One King Down), and with guitarist Rachel
Indecision in tow, the band whipped the crowd into a frenzy with
their brand of balls heavy NYHC. The room was packed, and hot as
hell and I made my way inside. Once inside, however, I was
immediately swept up by the moshing, undulating crowd and placed
somewhere a good 10 feet from where I had been standing. It
brought back fond memories of watching Rob, then fronting Forty
Days Rain, nearly bring the wall of amps come tumbling down
during their set at the very first NEMF. Thumbs up...hell, I
might even buy their record, I was so impressed!
The heat certainly DOES get to you after a while, especially
due to the fact that this event had sold out the Palladium for
the past 3 years. Your literally packed in like sardines at
times, so eventually you gotta make a break for it. So, after
Pam and I enjoyed a lunch break outside, it was back inside to
seee what awaited us on the Main Stage.
Turns out it was Massachusetts' own All That Remains
that awaited us, and to tell you the truth, they weren't bad at
all. The new material off of their latest lp on Prosthetic,
"This Darkened Heart" comes across really well live, especially
the clean singing of frontman Phil LaBonte. The former
ShadowsFall frontman can actually SING, and had a confident,
charismatic stage presence. Not that much could be heard over
the deafening sound of girl's shrieking; it was as if the man
was goddamn Justin Timberlake or something...In the end, All
That Remains is still somewhat generic Gothen-core, but at least
the guitarists can actually pull off guitar solos. Oh yeah, and
they're better than ShadowsFall.
local favorite hit the stage next. This time around, it was
The Red Chord, freshly signed to Metal Blade Records. Weird,
the label seems to have a fetish for signing Massachusetts based
bands, yet where was Beyond the Embrace this year? The best New
England metal band is the only one not playing. It
figures...Anyway, The Red Chord have the unique distinction of
being one band who plays a style of music I can't stand, yet
performs it so well that even I can't deny their power. While
I've seen the band play a bit better than they did on this
night, it must be said that The Red Chord have worked their
asses off to get where they are, and it shows in their
professionally pulverizing take on the death/noise/grind genre.
It was at this point where general re-entry ceased, and they
opened up their upstairs stage, which shut down early on both
days, for us smoking patrons. Bonus! I took this as penance for
inundating me with bad bands all weekend, and took some time out
to light up a few butts upstairs while waiting for the next
atrocity to take the stage downstairs.
That atrocity, turns out, was yet another Metal Blade
metalcore act. This time, it was As I Lay Dying. They do
nothing to stand out in a sea of pedestrian chugga-chug acts,
and didn't absolutely nothing for me except piss me off. Ditto
for the equally horrible and similarly monikered Every Time I
So it was now nearing the end of the first night, and it was
time for the "headliners" to start. Being that I'd had about a
total of 3 hours sleep that day, I decided to take a load off,
and have a seat in the balcony to watch God Forbid. The
Century Media megastars seem to always be on the road, gigging
with just about everyone. This certainly shows in their
cohesiveness as a group, but after seeing them I'm still left
wondering, "what's the big deal?" I mean, their newest record,
"Gone Forever", is honest-to-god, a good metalcore record. It
had tons of harmonious guitar work and shredding solos...so this
should go down a storm live, right? Well...partially. The band
DOES go down amazingly well with the assembled throng of fans,
but for all the wrong reasons. The band simply milks the "E
Chord" waaay too much, relying on "breakdowns". "Antihero" is
such a great song. C'mon guys, can't you write more tunes like
that, and forget about the whole "appealing to the lowest common
denominator" thing? God Forbid's set was a conundrum. Solid, yet
at the same time overhyped.
it was time for the set for which I held the most curiosity for:
Machine Head. So much has been written about how killer
their newest lp, "Through the Ashes of Empires" is, and how much
it brings back memories of their barnstorming debut, the
legendary "Burn My Eyes". Well, if this set was anything to
judge by, I'd venture to say that Machine Head are back. With a
vengeance. The band was fearsomely heavy, and mercilessly tight.
Opening with "Imperium", off of the new record, all of my fears
were dashed by a hail of gunfire from guitarists Robb Flynn and
Phil Demmel (both Vio-Lence axemen together again!). The tune
showcases the band in their original, furious form; headcrushing
riffs and pounding drums courtesy of ex Sacred Reich skinsman
Dave McClain being the name of the game. "Imperium" even
featured an awesome, Swedish styled thrash attack to close it
was as if "Supercharger" and "The Burning Red" never happened,
as the band tore through such classics as "Blood For Blood" and
"Ten Ton Hammer" to a rabid audience response, complete with a
circle pit assault the likes of which I have never seen! Robb
Flynn is a great frontman, full of charisma, as he bade the
crowd to clap and sing along, even asking for cigarette lighters
for a mellower, Pink Floyd inspired tune off of the new record.
Of course, we were all waiting for that final, supersonic
sendoff. The one song we had been waiting to hear. It had been
too long since the real Machine Head had been in our presence,
and it was time for us to get our fix. Well, we sure got it in
the form of the certified classic headstomp anthem, and final
song of the night, "Davidian". The entire crowd bellowed along
to the chorus of "let freedom ring with a shotgun blast", to
which the band responded in kind, making each riff, note, and
beat count as if they were their last. By far the best and most
fullfilling set of the entire weekend, I'm pretty sure Machine
Head surprised just about everyone with exactly how BACK they
really are. Consider me a believer.
After that, Arch Enemy could have come out with pigs flying
out of their asses and Angela topless; there was simply no way
they were going to out-do Machine Head's set. They tried their
best, however, and came out to ravenous applause. Kicking off
with a tune from their latest "Anthems of Rebellion", it seemed
to me that Arch Enemy simply isn't what it used to be and the
band just seemed to be going through the motions. Older classics
like "Burning Angel", "Ravenous", "Bury Me an Angel", and the
surprising inclusions of "Bridge of Destiny" and "Demonic
Science" made for some enjoyment for me.
So with that, it was back home to catch another 3 hours of
zzz's before it was time to return for Day 2. Wait? You wanna
know how Killswitch Engage was? Well, truth be told, I
didn't stick around. I had my fill of bad bands for one day, and
needed to decompress to prepare myself for another assault the
We got a bit of a later start on this second day, opting for
a few extra hours sleep and a stop by local CD haven Newbury
Comics for some shoppin'. Turns out it didn't even really
matter, as, shortly after we arrived, the power ended up going
out within the entire venue. It was right after local heroes'
Cannae's set that the Palladium forced everyone back outside
onto the street until order could be restored. Most of us
figured it wouldn't be all too long, so we ventured over to a
local mall for a bite, then to a coffee shop for an iced respite
from the heat.
Upon our return, we were surprised to find our own little
"Heavy Metal Block Party" still going on in the parking lot.
Most of the fans were occupying their time playing frisbee,
listening to tunes, bullshitting, or catching up on some Z's. I
guarantee you if this were any other genre of music, there would
have been riots in the streets.
Anyways, I digress. A couple of hours had passed, and it was
getting close to Evergrey's settime. Thus, we had become
anxious and nervous, hoping that we wouldn't be forced to miss
one of the few good bands that were playing this year. After a
few more moments of shuffling our feet and looking at our
watches, word began to spread that they were finally letting
people back in the venue.
I must interject here to say: at least Jack Koshick never let
the power go out at HIS fests.
So finally we made our way in, and rushed down to the
mainstage to see if Evergrey was playing. No dice. It was
Evergreen Terrace, still a few slots away from Evergrey on
the setlist. Whew, we were safe...for now. More milling around
the stages and distro areas followed this, impatiently waiting
for our Swedish heroes to take the stage. In the meantime, I
caught Misery Index on the main stage. The band, fresh
off of their newest lp on Nuclear Blast, "Retaliate", were as
tight as I've ever seen them. Not being a huge fan previously, I
must admit that the full length is quite good, and the new
material, with it's slight tinge of melodicism, went over quite
well with the audience. A bit overdone and overhyped, though.
In comparison, Bury Your Dead were pure core,
combining the worst, most basic elements of chug and mosh (that
is until I was unfortunate enough to catch Throwdown later on in
the day) into a huge blender of goddawful.
Painful was the perfect adjective to describe to Second Stage
as well, for it was a total joke. There was not ONE good band
that played their all day, perhaps with the slight exception of
Pig Destroyer. I'm not a fan, but at least I can somewhat
understand why people like them. I caught a moment or two of
their set, and they kept my interest well enough, but I'm still
not a fan.
For me probably the most disappointing band of the fest award
had to go to Kataklysm. Out of all the real metal bands
the organizers could get to play, I fail to understand why they
would go with Kataklysm. Don't get me wrong, at least they were
a METAL band. Their trademark "Northern Hyperblast" is just
annoying to me, coming across more as cheesy cheating than
anything else. The man's just not a good drummer, no matter what
anyone says. Lay on a few more triggers next time, guys.
now, thoroughly disheartened, I decided to make good use of my
"All Access" pass, and head up to the balcony for a better view.
More importantly, however, I was looking for a seat, as they
were in short supply. Well, it turns out that I picked just the
right time to head up there, as it was time for the triumphant
return of hardcore thrashers Walls of Jericho. The band
is back with a vengeance, and the crowd responded in kind, going
Combining old school speed with new school mosh aesthetics,
the Walls certainly came tumbling down on the frontrow of
metalheads waiting for Iced Earth, as the pit quickly became a
whirling cyclone of arms, legs, and screaming faces. Speaking of
screaming, frontwoman Candace Kucsulain, still healing from a
broken nose, attacked the Palladium crowd with a voice of pure
power and fury.
It's always cool to see women in the underground scene that
aren't coatracks, and actually getting involved in our scene,
and Kucsulain provided the crowd with this scream for change,
delivering song after song with intense delivery, filled with
charisma and furious energy. "Energy" is exactly the right the
word I would use to describe Walls of Jericho's set. Between the
band giving it, and the crowd responding to it with a kickboxing
frenzy, it was pure energy personified.
On the opposing spectrum, Between the Buried and Me
appealed to the more musically minded. While coming across as
visually, um..."suspect" (pink shirt, anyone?), the band can
definitely play their asses off. I call them "The Darkane Escape
Plan", as the band mixes up noise/jazz freakouts with thrashy
melodic weirdness. It somehow works, though it takes a LOT of
getting used to. Hell, it took me a good 3 or 4 spins of the CD
to really begin to appreciate it, and even now I'm still not
sure whether I actually LIKE it or not. Either way, you have to
respect their ability, if not their fashion sense.
Diecast showed up simply to pick up their award for being
the 666th band to cover "Raining Blood". I will describe their
set with three questions: why is this band still around, why are
they signed to Century Media, and why do people like them? Not
as bad as Throwdown, however. Their mosh-music was so simply,
offending BAD, I could have sworn they were mentally retarded.
Only someone missing a chromosome could have come up with riffs
this one eyed and braindead. Actually, scratch that. I wouldn't
want to offend the mentally challenged by comparing them to
Throwdown. I have too much respect for them to do that.
A slight step up came in the form of Orange County's
Bleeding Through. While I stick by my old adage of "There's
No Keyboards in Hardcore", Bleeding Through aren't really a
hardcore band. At least they better not think they are, because
if they do, they must be on some serious drugs. Nope, Bleeding
Through are more of the Meshuggah-metal variety, only this time
spliced with a bit of At the Gates-styled riffing and keyboard
tinkling. I dug the faster, old school sections, but
unfortunately these never lasted long enough to grab onto. The
band prefers to dumb down back into "Open E" mode, totally
killing the mood half the time. I'd give Bleeding Through an "A"
for effort, however. I think we could see something original and
cool from these guys if they would just leave the jock metal
stuff to other bands, and concentrate on their more experimental
Ok, you've probably noticed by now that I've jotted down a
handful of paragraphs without mentioning Evergrey's set.
You wanna know why? They didn't FUCKING play, that's why! Nope,
the band were stuck helping out Children of Bodom with their
broken down bus, so their set was "cut". The ONLY set that was
"cut". Does this sound unfair to you? It does to me. Local bands
who play here all the time get to play, but a band from SWEDEN
Needless to say, we were furious. The band was also visibly
upset. When we told them that they were the reason why we were
there, they responded, "well, your the reason why WE'RE here".
When pressured as to why they were being cut, they added, "we
don't know. Blame the venue". Oh yeah, I'll blame the venue.
Evergrey isn't a hardcore band, they not in the "cool crowd".
Evergrey doesn't suck off the promoters for scene points, and
isn't the "flavor of the weak". Oh yeah, but the venue can still
make money off of selling their merchandise, right? Natch.
By now, I had my fill of the fest. I was sickened at what
this scene had become, and was totally ready to leave, if it
weren't for the fact that the last two bands of the night were
actually metal bands. Great metal bands, at that. So, I figured
I would drown my sorrows in Lake Bodom, and relax up in the
balcony with some Finnish magic from Children of Bodom.
"Wildchild" Laiho and Co. hit the stage like a force 5
hurricane, kicking things off righteously with "Hate Me". This
is what it's all about. This is why I stick around through hours
of bad bands, to get to sets like this. In what was surely the
first truly "fullfilling" set of the day, we were hit with such
stage presence and charisma, it was amazing to behold.
Even more amazing was the crowd response, huge chants of "BODOM"
filled the packed arena, and the Palladium floor was a sea of
devil horns and bangin' heads. The "greatest hits" set
continued, as "Every Time I Die" and "Downfall" were paired with
newer chart-toppers from their amazing "Hatecrew Deathroll" lp,
including said title track, "Needled 24/7", and "Six Pounder".
Surprisingly enough, the usually crappy Palladium sound was
actually on the ball during their set, which really added to the
already impressive antics going down on stage. Laiho plays the
part of Heavy Metal guitarist virtuoso with ease, blazing up and
down the fretboard like a madman possessed. The man also spits
more than anyone I've ever seen. I'm surprised he doesn't pass
out from dehydration.
Not to take anything away from the rest of the band, who, in
my opinion, go unnoticed behind a lot of Wildchild's flashy,
guitar-tossing theatrics and Janne Wirman's tinkling of the
ivories. Guitarist Roope Latvala is just as accomplished a
guitarist as Laiho, while the rhythm section holds it down
phenomenally. All in all, Children of Bodom laid down the best
performance I've ever seen from them, as well as the best
performance of the weekend, hands down.
Iced Earth was up next, the final act of the weekend.
Coincidentally, it was the set that displayed the most
polarizing effect amongst the crowd. Many fans could be seen
exiting the venue, primarily of the hardcore persuasion. From
what I saw of Iced Earth's set (we were physically exhausted,
and unwilling to sit through an hour and a half set), I have to
give it up for them. Being the President of the Ripper Owens fan
club, I felt that the man delivered a raging performance with
both his own material, and the classic back catalog. I was
interested to see how songs like "Burning Times", "Vengeance is
Mine", and "Violate" would come across. The answer is that
Ripper does the same thing with Iced Earth that he did with
Priest: he takes the songs and makes them his own. Traces of the
original Matt Barlow inflections could be detected, smoothly
mixed in the Owen's own trademark scream. The man is by far Iced
Earth's prime asset.
there you have it...in not so small of a nutshell. This sixth
edition of the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival was a
total bust for me, and I find it extremely difficult to see how
anyone could disagree. I also find it extremely difficult to see
myself going again next year after this fiasco, unless there are
some SERIOUS line-up changes. Never mind the fact that I got in
for FREE; I can only imagine how ripped off a metal fan would be
who actually PAID 60 bucks for this shitty excuse for a
My advice to them? Boycott The New England Metal and Hardcore
Festival. It has grown too big for it's own britches, and needs
to be taken down a peg. We don't need it. It needs us, and if we
demand an evenly matched, quality line-up and lower ticket
prices, maybe we can bring it back to a festival that supports
the scene, not leeches off it, trying to make a buck off of what
we've worked so hard to build up.
Where were all these people when metal was supposedly "dead"?
When we were going to see metal shows upstairs at the Palladium,
and they would barely be filled? I'll tell you where they were:
they were off making a buck off of the trend before this one.
Don't let anyone else tell you what's cool. Decide for yourself.
Finally, if you feel this review has been too harsh and
criticising, cry me a river. It's just my opinion, which is
probably a drop in the bucket in the long run. However, if
telling things the way I see it causes argument or discussion,
then I've succeeded. I've always felt it's better to be in an
honest in this scene, because the only way we're ever going to
get anywhere is by saying what we truly feel. So with that said,
I sign off, and await the hate mail.