Saturday, May 10, 2008

NEMHCF report - severely delayed

Being a brief overview, with a lot of side comments, from the 2008 edition of the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. This covers three days and more than 30 bands, so hang on for the ride. Nearly all the material in this is from notes taken at the time of the events, but there's a little that's woven in or touched up after the fact.


4:30 - lineup
I've been in lineups at the Palladium before, but this is fookin ridiculous; the front, two blocks down the side, and nearly another block around the corner, just wall-to-wall metalheads. Tonight sold out, and it really looks like every single goddamn head of the count is out on the tiles, as it were, right now. We had an enterprising guy take a case of Poland Spring down the line to his place -- at $2 a bottle, that's a nice profit on the relatively short walk to a long stand.
I may not see High on Fire due to this, but what the hell; at least it ain't raining.

5:15 - still in the lineup, but about a block from the door
Still in line -- it's like Itzehoe, but sober. And, fortunately, much, much shorter of a wait.
Noted by a bus: a red floormat placed by the door, that the band may not dash their foot upon a stone when alighting. Lol rockstars.

High on Fire [5/7]
I saw most of their set after all, despite the time spent at the merch and beer stands, and they were pretty decent, though nothing especially worldbreaking. A good and mostly true start to what'll hopefully be a good fest; "true" is probably a little much to ask at this point.

The security stole my fuckin' Kuli! Seriously, one of my Grade A pens got jacked on the way in, presumably as an anti-graffiti move. GARBAGE. So I went over to the ESP raffle table, pretended to fill out an entry, and stole one of theirs back, but it sucks; I've got to go procure another Grade A pen from somewhere to jam down my boot for the rest of the fest.

The heightened security was heightened just enough to be annoying; thanks to my Epic Leg Armor and the unwillingness of the security to check certain areas, I was able to bring in a pair of Powerbars for Saturday and both the stolen pen and my folding letter opener on both remaining days. I don't want to deal with metal-detector wands, but it'd be better to have a sane policy and more bathroom supervision than to make people stuff inocuous items down their grundle so that they won't get ripped off.

Job For A Cowboy [4/7]
Other people have been using "Job For A Girlboy" lately to get to a certain acronym that expresses their disapprobation for the band. In this case, though, "Job For A Goatwhore" would be more apt, and get to the acronym as a total side-effect; it should be damning enough of this band's lack of originality or interesting material that their set was such that a completely derivative band could have done what they were trying to do better, and in a more interesting fashion. It's pretty sad when you're derivative of derivative bands -- as well as Morbid Angel, into whom this band's teeth are still sunk -- but this started decent, then tailed off in an immediate and drastic fashion. After 3 or so songs, it got physically difficult to listen to, and this is coming from someone who actually likes Lugubrum, and can put up with J-pop in certain situations. No fucking idea why people like this band -- no, wait, that's right, a lot of people are fooking imbeciles.

looking at sampler CDs in the merch area:
What the hell is all this Kiuas on the Spinefarm sample CD? There's better bands on Spinefarm than fuckin' Kiuas, fer chrissake.

Children of Bodom [6/7]
Maybe a 5.5 (it wasn't, even when I opened that box with the Megadeth score), but I'm not doing split scores yet and would prefer not to. Alexi's solos were a little muted, but they were pretty cool despite the weight of new stuff in the set, and they closed with "Touch Like An Angel of Death" -- what the fuck more do you want? At least they realize that their old shit's where the power's at -- now why don't they try and evolve that instead of continually trying to be "In Flames with balls"? The world may never know.

In Flames [5/7]
There was once upon a time a little record called Colony. It marked an inflection point in In Flames' career, and proved that NWOSDM -- Edge of Sanity and Dissection made accessible, or a nice bowl of Dismember with some Iron Maiden drizzled on top -- would sell to a broad audience. In Flames did 12 songs tonight, including precisely one from this record or earlier (the namecheck on Jester Race). For this I blame not metalcore but the Euro festivals. In Flames has grown accustomed to playing at 2 in the morning, pumping tunes out over the exhausted, pitch-black infield at Wacken, at Reading, at Rock Am Ring and the like, and this was a 2AM set, a long pile of unflavored, all-things-by-implication-to-all-people radio metal with only the barest trappings of anything real, lazy metal for exhausted people...delivered south of 10PM in an indoor hall. Maybe Megadeth's audience is yawning past their bedtime, but most of us are awake, and not nearly as gassed as I normally am when one day's bleeding into another north of Hamburg, and the sky's so actively black as to block out lights. In Flames is a good band when you're in the tank and half dead on your feet from a day of better music; here, not so much.

Megadeth [6.5/7]
Though this would ahve to be really, really stretched to represent a peak Megadeth lineup. they put on a near-peak performance, with Dave his usual ripping self, James and Shawn solid on rhythm, and Chris Broderick impressive, but not surprising to anyone who was familiar with his talents from Jag Panzer and Nevermore. The set was balanced well between old and new material, down the whole gamut from "The Mechanix" to "Gears of War". We got a lot of hits and also a few deeper cuts; it's difficult to se how, now, in the age of Dave Mustaine and His Amazing Sidemen, you'd see a better Megadeth set. Maybe in a larger venue -- Gigantour was originally booked for Thursday at the hockey arena next door -- but this was a damn fine performance and anyone who's somehow disappointed is simply delusional.



Veil of Maya [4/7]
What a fuckin' disappointment. If you're going to name your band after a Cynic song, you ought to be at least a little original. Instead, fucking lameass metalcore. I didn't stick too long -- I had to get down front for Keep of Kalessin -- but from their first few cuts, things were not going to improve.

The End [6/7]
Fuckin' A -- now this is how new-school metal is supposed to be. They had a lot of the progression of a 3 or an Unexpect, but with a more solid thrash core, and the result is an overwhelmingly and unambiguously positive reaction from those assembled. If you slept in and missed this band, you lose.

Keep of Kalessin [6/7]
And the good shit continues; I was right up front as before, and what their solidly Norse-tradition black metal lacked in immediate originality was patched over amply by excellent execution -- and the fact that neither Emperor nor Immortal was on this fest. It's good to hear real, honest black metal at a festival like this -- even better to hear it done this well.

The perils of being up front with a notebook and an overbuilt jacket: I got mistaken for a member of Nightmare by the founders of a Myspace page for kuttes, and for an actual journalist (Metal George of The Accursed) by an established photographer (Frank White, if it matters). No portfolio, no credentials, no worries. ;)

On a related note, people who actually belong to said "heavy metal vest" community need to seriously re-evaluate why they are in metal and why they choose to build a kutte. If it's to fit in because Municipal Waste told you to sew patches on your vest, you need to burn your rig and jump off a bridge. Jacketcrafting is an ancient and noble artform practiced to announce your preferences in metal to all and sundry: you do it because you want to build a jacket, not because all your friends have one, and you build it to look violently different from anything else out there, not exactly like one you saw in some pictures from '86.

Monstrosity [7/7]
It was fucking criminal how these guys got cut off -- the drummer was rightfully ripshit, throwing pieces of the kit and backline around the stage -- especially since they were in the middle of an absolute gem of a set: tight, dialed in, and with the superb soundboard support that the Palladium only gives to death metal bands once in a blue moon. This was Florida's best, setting a high standard for Hate Eternal, and on any sane fest, they'd've had a lot more than 20 minutes, and hence, no cause for frustration and wreckage.

Skeleton Witch [6/7]
If they were other things before, this set at 20 minutes showed them stripped to the bare essence as a melodic thrash metal bad. A thoroughly good set, but as with the preceding band, cursed by inadequate time.

During this band, Aaron got back at me decisively for the "sleeping on the job" picture. What remains to be seen is if this picture will be published or privately held -- it's looking like the second for now, or if it's published, nobody cares to point out the silliness.

Since I continued to stand down the front through the last two bands as well, my jacket continued to draw interest. Well, overbuilt is overbuilt.

Through The Eyes Of The Dead [5.5/7]
Their output was better than most of the other modernistic death metal bands on this bill, but oddly, not markedly different. To a certain degree, I'm just the wrong audience, but there are other slammy and core-y bands out there that are better.

Animosity [5/7]
I've been pretty selective about what I see, but this was the first band that could even partway qualify as hardcore. I'm much more of a metal fan, but this is the NEMHCF, and the HXC portion of the bill shouldn't just get pushed into some closet upstairs. They had a few technical difficulties at the start, but presently hit their stride and gave a kickass performance. This probably wasn't an ideal venue to see them in, but I and my busted knee don't care, and the kids on the floor throwing down didn't look like they cared either.

At this point I gave Arsis -- and, as it turned out, Municipal Waste, though that's in another comment -- a pass in order to keep my seat. At intervals like this I took the brace off to keep the skin aerated and not rotting away, but every second of potential rest for the joint was precious.

Despised Icon [5/7]
Truth told, I did actually break out laughing in places. Not many, but in taking deathcore to its ne plus ultra, DI also drives up the elements of the style that are only silly: form-pattern breakdowns, vocals worthy of a trained hog, and faux-hip-hop posturing. Despite the lulzworthy parts, they still made some decent music, and if the singer hadn't killed the mood by mentioning the Bruins going down to the Habs, it might have graded out as yet better.

Scott was at stageside for these guys, in sharp visual contrast to the Scott Lee Clothing banners hanging up; it's a little early for central New England's foremost heavy-music-promotion impresario to branch out a la Russell Simmons, at least from my perch. Seriously, would you buy designer casual wear from this man? Enough people have issues buying the bills he puts together for these fests, let alone stuff with his name and face on it to stick next to their skin. The Myspace for it is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but people are apparently still buying it.

As Blood Runs Black [5/7]
I was tempted to dock them a point for turning "bring the fucking ruckus" into a chorus, but did not; when not being laughable in this regard, these Angelenos worked up a quality set of heavier metalcore that recalled old In Flames in its best places; as good as can reasonably be expected for a filler band playing before re-entry closes.

Heaven Shall Burn [6/7]
A hell of a US debut, but this fest always seems to get its share of good ones. Their Wacken set was better, but this perfect fusion of metal and hardcore will hopefully make believers out of the contingent here.
A real class touch was Marcus going along the barricade after the last song to slap hands with the faithful; it's a little thing, but such things go a long way in hardcore. Willkommen in da VSA, HSB!

Spotted in the pit: a big dude with the National Alliance logo on his shoulder, throwing down and singing along with the band. If he's still NS, I can't wait until he gets into their back catalog and the material about Primo Levi and Hans and Sophie Scholl -- to say nothing of that cover of "Destroy Fascism".

Vital Remains [5/7]
We're in Worcester, and Scott's bellowing from the stage while Crazy Dan is passing out mayhem to all and sundry below -- must be Zircon at Metal Thursday, right? Not this time, and despite the sound problems and the necessary dropoff in total execution due to Tony's change in sidemen (Scott debatably outperformed Glenn, but the other instrumentalists had some slop in the toes of the big shoes they were trying to fill), Vital still put up a thoroughly killer set. It wasn't a peak by any means, but still through-and-through quality death in the old style.

This entry was almost entitled "Vital Receipts", but while I trust Mark (Composted, TYAG) Richards to be generally accurate in his reporting of why his band gets de-listed from certain shows, I don't want to stir that pot until the local dudes who are actually in Vital have had the chance to comment on it, as it's quite possible it's an issue with the promoter rather than any of the bands involved.

This festival is missing a lot of things -- and outdoor venue, internal food vendors, and more, less vile toilet accomodations come to mind -- but the most striking is a SIMPLE FUCKING WHITEBOARD, which is easily provided so that attendees can be kept apprised of schedule changes. I missed Municipal Waste due to the second stage, as usual, getting fucked up, and didn't learn about it until I happened to run into Matt (MPD) Kenney while in line for the head. WHAT THE FUCK.

Also, re-entry closed early, so instead of going back to the hotel to drop my merch, I got stuck at the venue listening to nu-Kataklysm. Again, what the fuck.

Kataklysm [4/7]
These guys must be thanking their lucky stars that Cryptopsy have suddenly decided to become terrible, so that their own decline into mediocrity goes unnoticed. This was as boring and staid a set of mid-paced death metal as you'd like to see, and having it sold as "hyperblast" in any regard should be getting more people madder about being ripped off. Sure, Hypocrisy wasn't playing this festival, but the day that modern Kataklysm is remotely as interesting or as original as Hypocrisy is the day I stop ranting about them like this.

I've seen now 3 different people in 3 different Wacken shirts here. The word is spreading -- maybe I'll have to do a roll call come July or so and see if anyone among the RttP hordes is also going to be in attendance this time out.

Hate Eternal [5.5/7]
This band is seriously cursed or something -- 3 times I see them in this building, 3 times they get a seriously raw deal from the soundboard. As before, Erik & co. fought back through it, but it remained thin and low, a serious disservice to the band, and to those in the audience counting them as the last decent band of the day. I'm still looking forward to Shadows Fall, and to a lesser degree Dimmu and -- heresy, heresy! -- The Acacia Strain, but those whose tastes are less catholic than mine may well be heading for the doors to catch Toxic Holocaust's in-town basement gig, and this wasn't as good a valediction for them as it could have been if the tech side had their goddamn oars all in.

I don't know where exactly the "line" for Kommerz is that bands best dare not cross, but Iron Maiden Chuck Taylors are definitely across it. It is only small consolation to know that not only do Bruce, Steve, and the rest have this kid's money now, they are probably laughing at him as well.

The Acacia Strain [5/7]
Vincent's gotten fat with success -- or maybe he's just got a bad case of "studio ass", as they're in recording right now. In any case, the band has similarly become "more so"; content-free mosh-spree breakdowns-by-the-numbers that only gets interesting when the singer's talking off the cuff to fill time. This time, he ripped on trends and image...but if he looks up his band's '06 set here on RttP, he'll see his Myspace haircut and tight jeans on the eve of their debut. OH SNAP LOLZ.

Thanks to Behemoth, we now have children in clumsy corpsepaint waiting for metalcore bands to finish so that their Satanic idols can go on. Somehow, I get the feeling that this isn't what Dead cut himself up on stage for, or why Samoth and others did their two years in stir for arson. Dimmu has 8x10 rockstar glossies out now courtesy of ESP -- this from a scene where bands use warnames to defer credit and for a while didn't even put their own pics in the liner notes of their records. FUCK TRENDS -- BLACK METAL ISOLATION!!

On music and wrestling:
- Skinless issuing their demo compilation on a label that is also an indie wrestling promotion: very metal.
- Victory Records cross-promoting with Wrestlemania, as on shopping bags here: not punk rock at all.
It's not the "wrestling" per se -- sriously, put ropes around a mosh pit and you've got a bout, one bunch of dudes pretending to fight each other is much the same as the next -- or the fakery (it's all just entertainment); it's the fucking Kommerz that sticks in my craw. True, there's no money in metal, so every dollar helps, but it's a lot less lame when it coems from somewhere with some fookin integrity.

Behemoth [6/7]
Despite my skepticism going in, this was actually a really good set -- sticking to their hits and pretty deathy as well as black metal -- not perfect, but a fun time, and that, like the last band, is sufficient excuse for them to have fans. It aint enough to put me in that total, but it's enough to make the time spent bearable.

Overkill cancelled, so bands lately have been playing a little longer, which is good all around -- bands don't get shafted into an opener-length set as a headliner, and I don't have to sit through Overkill. Maybe I just got a bad set from them at Wacken in '05, but it was good on the few good songs that they did there -- which is a bad indicator that they may actually be that overrated after all.


Blame dysentery -- the gut condition, not the band -- for me missing the last two bands Saturday. Jaeger and street food do bad things to your stomach in combination, but don't expect me to stop doing either at this fest.

Waking The Cadaver [4/7]
As silly as might have been expected, but their BREE BREE BREE SLAM BREE BREE was a decent enough backdrop to my final merch spree (modulo an Ensiferum shirt later at night).

After The Burial [4/7]
An entirely competent metalcore band, but I was really expecting to see Unexpect here. I'd've been pissed if I ended up missing them, but fortunately the schedule dislocation on Sunday was fairly straightforward.

Unexpect [7/7]
Fucking wow. You won't, I expect, see a better 20-minute set than the one this bunch put up, and even better, those people who were there seemed to realize this as well. Good stuff; hopefully their spastic evolved black metal will continue to attract people with an appreciation for it.

Emmure [4/7]
Bree bree bree snore snore snore. I came back in time to make doors and be sure to be in position for Paganfest; seeing the tail end to this block of same-ish 'core that I mostly sat out on is merely a side effect.

A Life Once Lost [4/7]
I think I saw this band here once before, and they didn't make an impression on me that time either. I thought metalcore was dying out, and the coming thing was WTC and other bands ripping off the first wave of slam-death, but I guess not.

Three bands worth the candle of being up front for, then I can go sit down in back. There isn't seatage for love or money in here, and my back is getting friggin telescoped.

Eluveitie [7/7]
Neither quite In Extremo or quite Finntroll, this Swiss combo nonetheless put up quite the dominant performance, packing in the crowd into what was originally a half-empty front, then bloody well destroying the place with a frenetic and more folkic version of the black-fusion that drives the Paganfest package. If this is the standard, the two other support acts are on notice; Ensiferum at least can kick it out at this level easily.

Tyr [6/7]
If you're following a crazy-party band and want to sell the crowd on your doomy, progressive, vikingarock, it may not be the brightest idea to open with an extended a capella section sung entirely in Danish. The true viking fans in the crowd dug it, as this was a very well-turned-out set on all counts, but I'm not sure how many converts they made. Maybe victims of the bill, but they gave a damn good effort and hopefully managed to draw on this away leg -- they'll win at home when folks download or buy their CDs.

Since there's been approximately zero immigration to the Faeroes in the last 800 years, it's easy even for people who didn't know that Tyr is a 3-piece on record to see that the guitarist of Eluveitie is giving them a hand on this tour, rather than vice versa. It's the world's easiest game of spot-the-not-a-viking.

Turisas [6/7]
In principal, we've heard this before -- at least some of us -- as Otyg with a little extra Ensiferum over the top. However, it was well-delivered, and the crowd was fucking psyched -- if they had more material on the level of "Rasputin", they'd have a strong case for headlining this roving melee. Even as is, though, a hell of a fun time.

You've got to wonder about the history of Turisas' accordionist; the band is about my age and a little younger, so there she was, growing up in Finland on the turn of the Cold War, going to accordion lessons, likely playing "Lady of Spain" over and over until she wanted to throw the damned thing down the stairs, and the teacher after it, never dreaming that she would one day be a professional in a rock band, the world's coolest live keyboard replacement, and get to stand on stage on multiple continents wearing furs and lederhosen, face painted like an Apache, as the crowd roared and screamed for more. If it doesn't make any sense on paper, imagine what it's like to live it. And you thought your life was odd....

Ensiferum [7/7]
Score does not include adjustments for injury; unlike last time, I came out of an Ensiferum pit-wall with all my joints intact. It would probably still be on this level even if I'd brewed something up; like all the Paganfest crew, the set was too goddamned short, but every last second was quality. The whole floor went into pit mode, German-style, a couple times, and dudes were getting crowdchucked like Bury Your Dead was laying it down. An ace performance, and full worth being the last band I was down front for.

If you can see this tour when they aren't on a festival bill, definitely do it. Four great bands is too much to be done service by barely 2 1/2 hours, including stage changes.

So Mike Hsiu of 'AAF got a lifetime achievement award from Full Blown Chaos (and maybe the organizers, who knows), and Divine Heresy cancelled (due to a ridiculous incident in Poughkepsie that many of the attendees here would have given given an arm and a leg to see and laugh at live)....can't say I'm sorry about the second....

Meshuggah [7/7]
I think I remember their '03 set here as being a little longer, but if this time was shorter and less well-produced -- the bass up too high for a couple songs -- the musical performance was nonetheless stellar. The hall started to empty out after they took their leave, and while the early birds'll miss Ministry, they got a pretty fuckin' cool headlining set out of Meshuggah.

Seriously, it's not even 11 and the crowd is in full flight. WTF? I know people have to work in the morning, but they stay to the end of normal shows at this place when the next day's a workday.

The sole disappointment of the day is that I end it broke, down to my last ten-spot. If I had another C-note coming in, as planned, I'd have an Eluveitie shirt on my belt, and CDs from them and Turisas in my jacket pouches. Such is life, though; never money nor time enough for everything we desire.

Ministry [6/7]
I didn't end up sticking for the whole set, but what I saw was choice. Ministry is a band that appropriates both metal and industrial on their own terms rather than the genre's, and a standing that comes not only from close on 30 years of service, but also from the top-class music that's allowed them to be a working band for longer than many members of this audience have been alive. While this wasn't a peak set, and the experience was near equal parts visual and music -- and in that caption, less of their older stuff -- it was still a good time, and I'm glad to have seen them live before Al folds the tents for good.

Final returns:
Friday - 5 bands
26.5 points
average 5.3
Saturday - 15 bands
81 points
average 5.4
Sunday - 11 bands
62 points
average 5.64

It's amazing how high average scores can get at this fest when you skip nearly all the bands that you don't like, and the soundboard doesn't fuck over the bands you do.

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