With difficulty and without my kutte due to shoulder fatigue (how do I wear that thing for four whole days straight at Wacken every year? must be something different with Germany), I picked up my brother Mark and headed up to the first year of this festival. The watchword for this year was "every festival has to start somewhere", and though there was definitely a lot of stuff that could have been improved at this year's edition, this was a good start, and hopefully this fest will continue on next year and build on this year's foundation.
The setup was first-class all the way; picture two slightly shorter Party Stages taped together, with enough green space -- and police and security -- in front of them to bring in 5 to 10,000 people. Only about 300 or so showed up, but it's a start, and they'll be able to expand the audience significantly without moving the venue. The setup of the "beer garden" was, to someone who's familiar principally with the German implementation of the idea, little short of disgraceful, but basically mandated by the peculiar American laws and attitudes on alcohol, and basically what could be expected. The toilet supply was adequate, but it was a little bit of a tweak at first to remember that you had to use the portajohns here rather than the fence; this really drove home what a nightmare of filth and squalor a typical European festival is: if you want to go back to the Middle Ages, with all the not washing and risks of cholera and dysentery attendant, go to Europe for a summer and travel around from festival to festival.
Now, the bands:
This was not an auspicious beginning. The first band on a festival is often crummy -- or else why would they be playing first -- but this band was particularly ill-aspected, playing boring, staid, retread WAAF-core radio rock that was pretty much the antithesis of what I'm interested in. Technically, this band didn't suck in the regard of actually playing their instruments, but they totally failed at writing compelling music, or anything that was the least bit original. Other people seemed to like them, but if this festival takes this direction instead of the direction of basically every other band there, I may not be back.
I ended up in the beer garden during their set, eating a mis-prepared Italian sausage, and thinking, "It's all wrong, all ersatz. I'm at a festival and I have a beer and a sausage sub, but it's not a Krakauer and the beer is a Bud Light, barely deserving of the name, and the band is horrible. Where did I go wrong?" Fortunately, the music got better, even if the beer continued sucking.
Source of Contempt [5/7]
This band got off to a bit of a slow start due to problems with the sound, but once they got going, they definitely impressed; not world-breakers, but there's always room for more off-speed Testament in the world. They definitely have room to improve, but this was a nice set and a welcome interruption in the parade of less than stellar bands at the start of this fest. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything recorded yet, but I did get a patch; what remains is to take it off its more crust backing and find somewhere to work it into.
I saw this band warming up, a dude with a short mohawk, everyone in black shirts and camo pants, and a proper logo, and I thought to myself, "damn, wouldn't it be cool if they came out and ripped off Impaled Nazarene?" Then they started playing and only ripped off nu-metal bands, and it was back to the beer pen in disappointment. They had some credible moments, and the playing was moderately brutal, but at the last fundamentally uninteresting.
Mark said that I should have known they were going to suck, as he did, when the singer came out wearing skeleton gloves. I didn't notice, but it's certainly a maxim to be observed; as Aaron said later, you can't get away with wearing skeleton gloves unless you're in the Misfits, and if you're in the Misfits these days, you suck anyways.
A Pillar of Flames [3.5/7]
It took a bit of moving around at the beginning to figure out what the hell this band was actually doing, because the sound was beyond awful for much of the set, and did perhaps irreparable harm to the band's cause. Once you could finally hear them, they were doing decent but unimpressive NWOSDM, but somewhat lacking in the ability to turn riffs into songs. This was a really young band, and compositional ability will improve as they mature, but this was a sub-average performance further marred by a complete ass-up on the part of the sound board.
Bleed For Sorrow [4/7]
At this point, even doctrinaire, largely average metalcore would be a step up from the immediately preceding bands. This was exactly what we got from this ensemble from Rhode Island, who ran through a decent set of material that everyone who has ever been to a local show in New England has likely seen several times before, but did it skillfully and fortunately limited themselves to five musicians for most of the set. (As soon as their two guest vocalists showed, I did start laughing; seven-piece hardcore bands, man.) This was about the high point of the attendance at the fest, which receded as the afternoon wore into evening.
Bad Karma [5/7]
Meliah Rage cancelled, and these guys filled in, which was only a small step down. Bad Karma set up a nice set of thrash in a similar style (the band includes former members of Meliah Rage), with great execution, despite the fact that the guitarist had the use of only one of his hands. Seeing this performance was truly awe-inspiring, in both its uplifting testament to the human spirit as well as its provision of pure classic metal. As with a lot of the first wave of Massachusetts thrash, it was a little second-tier relative to what was going on in the Bay Area, but even second-tier thrash, when done well, is a guaranteed good time. The only problem was that they ended a little too soon for my tastes; another couple songs from these guys would have been great, but the fest needed to keep on schedule.
Run To The Hills [4/7]
This was about what could be expected from an Iron Maiden tribute band; songs that everyone knows from the first four albums with inconsistent performance and dudes trying too hard to look like the people they're portraying. It was a decent experience, but nothing next to the real thing -- though this is the only way that we're going to see a Maiden set in Haverhill. In points it verged on self-parody, but this is a problem of dedicated cover bands in general, and the actual music and presentation was good enough.
If I had an Iron Maiden cover band, though, I'd run it differently, and play only songs that people don't like or in most cases don't even know: "Alexander The Great", "Flash of the Blade", "Quest For Fire", "Childhood's End", "2 A.M.", "Gangland", "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", all that stuff you can't drag out of the band with ropes and chains. We would wear replica West Ham jerseys, not try to look like the original band members, and generally confuse the hell out of people, leading to a total inability to get shows. This is a noble goal, but unfortuantely, the Iron Maiden songs that people don't like are just as hard to play as the ones that they do (and often harder), and I'm still lazy and employed full-time.
This glam metal act got its original lineup back together for this fest after 15 years apart, and did a decent set, but given their style I had a difficult time particularly caring. In addition to the original material that came off, true to form, as the reserve team of the Sunset Strip heavy hitters, they did a cover of "Kashmir" that Led Zeppelin might or might not acknowledge -- as those who were there had a bit of a difficult time identifying it.
Candy Striper Death Orgy [5.5/7]
From second-run Motley Crue to second-run Nuclear Assault; every festival has to start somewhere, and if this wasn't the best set I've seen from CSDO, it was certainly the most varied. Their style doesn't have a whole lot of variety in it, but they showed of their full range here, and the brutal thrash that is their bread and butter was done well, and well-received by the crowd, even if people didn't get moving around too much to it. There was so little moshing that I felt compelled to do something about it....but unfortunately and totally predictably sprained a knee less than 15 seconds after going into the pit. This sucked for me, but it hopefully got a few other people in that some old guy in an Amon Amarth longsleeve is calling them out while requiring assistance to even stand, and CSDO now joins the honored company of Ensiferum in the exclusive caption of "bands during whose sets I have suffered major joint damage". It was a good set whether you got yourself hurt or not, and if you missed "Bat-thrash", your life is slightly the poorer.
As for the knee, it's swollen up, providing its own fluid cast to stabilize the damaged ligaments, and in a couple days it'll be fine again. The fact that I never get it looked at medically may be a contributing factor in why it gets reinjured, but it always comes back fine for normal use, and as long as I stretch out (which I didn't this time) and don't do anything stupid (also skipped this time around), it's usually fine as it.
Fallen Shall Rise [5/7]
This band was decent, and their newer material, when they played it right, was much superior to the old, but I had real difficulty caring about this set. There was something in their ironed-out At The Gates-biting that made them less memorable; the music was good, but not real distinctive. If they can continue to develop in the more thrash style that they presented on their new material, they have the potential to be really cool, but as yet it's imperfectly achieved. It's bands like this that give rise to the meme 'Gothenchusetts', but the fact that there's an audience for that sound independent of who's playing it that limits the bands involved and slows their development into being interesting for themselves.
In here there was a break for the set change and a wedding ceremony across the street, and in addition to taking a scurrilious picture to post on RTTP (not reproduced here, as it's not interesting if you don't know how the Rev normally spends his time at shows), I chatted a bit with Aaron about various stuff including the logistics of the event, Eric (CSDO)'s choice of attire, and whether boobs influence a drummer's style. (Verdict: yes. See Gene Hoglan and Mike "MSD" Butkiewicz.)
Joey Belladonna [6/7]
This is where professionalism comes out. It's difficult to think that when Joey was in his heyday with Anthrax, he ever thought he'd be doing a show like this, still playing those same songs to a mostly empty stadium in Haverhill with less than 200 people down front. Still, this was where it came out, and despite the circumstances (fit metier for a state-fair-esque billing of "Joey Belladonna's Tribute to Anthrax"), he did a solid set of both original material that nobody knew and classic Anthrax that people actually did know, principally the same as when I saw him with Doro a few months back, but slightly expanded -- probably adding in the stuff that got cut back at Mark's to give time to the 'paying' locals. It was a good time, and, again, the only way we're going to hear classic Anthrax at a fest in Haverhill -- no matter how much the original band slides, Scott and Charlie still have too much stubborn pride to go less than first class. (Though if they were being reasonable about this thing, they'd probably be available next year for this gig, provided it continues.)
So, all in all, a decent fest, despite injury and some of the initial bands, and Every Festival Has To Start Somewhere. The headliner could have been chosen a little better -- Joey wasn't going to draw anyone in this area who wouldn't've come for Meliah Rage and CSDO -- but the oddest thing is that this gig was booked into one of the relative metal hotbeds of Massachusetts, but included zero bands from the Merrimac valley. There was no Mortis Deveia, who would have brought in a horde of fans from Lawrence and the surrounding burgs, and no Indignation, who bring buses full of fans to their away shows in other markets, and would have drawn even more to just walk/drive/bike down to the river and spend the afternoon seeing their doods on a real stage. I can't fathom this, and can only think that the organizers booked the only stadium they could get a deal on, without doing any research as to what goes on in Haverhill and who can draw there. The undercard, also, didn't even include the cream of the rest of the scene from eastern New England; there are much better bands than played here, only some of whom were on tour or tentatively booked into Forest of Witchery on this date, so I can only put it up to a lack of research (Aaron mentioned that these are (as a subset of the fest) mostly the same bands that all play together on every show) or a disinclination to pay guarantees, especially since a lot of the bands were young in age or less experienced as ensembles. Every festival has to start somewhere, but a festival has to start with the people -- from the immediate area -- who are most likely to go to it, and that requires a little more understanding of who can draw in that locality.