Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

"The Day the Lights Went Out in Worcester"
New England Metal and Hardcore Festival 2004
Worcester Palladium April 30th/May 1st

Review by MetalGeorge
Photos contributed by Pam Garnett


DAY ONE...

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 starting time.

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.

Found Dead HangingAnyways, 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 a hundred.

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.

Soilent Green Soilent Green

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.

All That Remains

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.

All The Remains

The Red ChordAnother 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. Kudos.

 

The Red Chord

 

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 Die.

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.

Machine HeadThen 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 out!

Machine HeadIt 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.

Arch Enemy Arch Enemy

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 next day.

 

 

DAY TWO...

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.

Kataklysm Kataklysm

 

Walls of JerichoBy 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 absolutely apeshit.

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.

DiecastBoston's 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 elements.

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 gets cut?

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.

CoBAlexi "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.

Iced Earth Iced Earth


Iced EarthSo, 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 "festival".

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.

- MetalGeorge