Sunday, May 10, 2009

NEMHF 2009 - day 1 [Worcester Palladium and Chasers, Worcester, 4/17/2009]

The wait of the better part of a month is over; below follows the first part of this year's NEMHF report. The second will follow when I finish transcribing it.

Good Bands Day

Friday at the NEMHF distinguished itself this year by packing in nearly every band playing the festival that I was interested in seeing. Yes, this meant that I effectively paid 34 bucks to see God Forbid, Municipal Waste, and Book of Black Earth on Sunday, but the organizers do a good job in salting good bands from both metal and, presumably, hardcore into both days so that people with wide interests have to bitch, bite the bullet, and see both days.

I went over shortly after doors opened, because I wanted to be sure that I caught Psycroptic; there was still a huge lineup going all the way down the block to Chasers (site of the third stage, new this year and a pretty good idea), but it was processed quickly, and in no time I was up past where Frank, Terrance, and Derek from Suffocation were standing around hanging out (you really forget how short most of these guys are, especially Frank and Terrance, when they're up on stage playing monstrous skull-destroying death metal), past the people passing out free Monster energy shots (no thanks, I can drink Jaeger and listen to Exodus), and through the rigamarole into the venue.

After a quick swing through the merch area, not buying anything yet, I went down front, onto the rail, and just in bloody time, because, as usual, the schedule had gotten fucked up and the first goddamned band on the schedule had missed their slot. Instead of low-expectationscore, I got....

Psycroptic [6/7]
This set was too short, and too early in the day. Nevertheless, the band crushed, and I got to see them from nearly contact range. They certainly didn't feel like it was barely past noon, and a fair amount of the energy from the stage made it out into the audience as well. The tour that they're currently on has them well-matched as support for Suffocation, with their marginally more technical and correspondingly less slammy take on brutal death, but the organizers did the band -- and New England death fans -- a disservice by putting them on so far in advance of their package's headliners. Everyone actually in the building dug the hell out of them, and the sound was good for them, unlike the last Aussie band to practically open the fest, but the floor wasn't full here, and they deserved better than that.

xThe Warx [4/7]
I did my serious merch run after this, and this band, a hardcore act from I think Jersey, were playing while I spent way too much money at the Deepsend and Oak Knoll tables and snubbed the major labels like some kvlter-than-thou twit in a ridiculous jacket covered in I-go-to-German-metal-fests-and-you-don't patches. OH WAIT.
The music was decent, pretty well-executed but not world-shaking, and even if I have a hard time sometimes understanding why people make this kind of brutal HC their primary listening interest, it wasn't actively bad.

After cairning the morning's CDs back at my hotel, I came back in time for...

Withered [6/7]
Though this set lacked the bizarre mystical overtones and undertones of the first time I saw them (downstairs in this building), it was probably the best set I've seen from them since. This was raw, kvlt, black-doom at about its best; the last record wasn't super inspiring, but maybe I've got to go back and take another run or so through it. Hella good, though one of the few spots of this kind of music at a metalfest that can really be 90% described as "Shadows Fall with some really big error bars". If you missed this, BoBE on Sunday, and Shroud of Bereavement, you saw pretty much zero of the fest's even peripherally doomish music.

I got interrupted during this band by a call from work that I only even caught by accident. People from my work occasionally bitch about getting called on vacation, but this is because they make themselves somewhat available; when I'm on vacation, I'm pretty much dead unreachable and in some cases may not be in a fit condition to give a coherent answer. This was lucky: I felt the phone ring, I could walk outside, and I wasn't drunk at the time. At Wacken or Party.San this summer, or if I'm in the middle of paddling across the Oresund, this may not be the case.

Burning Human [5/7]
This band provided some pretty good deathcore, all things considered, though I can't say that I was that pumped up about the singer's constant exhortations to "go make some enemies". That's like, the opposite of what pits are or should be about: the facility to absolutely burn out all your aggression in a context where that's accepted, so that if you punch your friend in the face, he'll still get the next round at the bar, or if you clip a total stranger, they won't follow you out to the parking lot and pull out a bicycle chain. Battle without casualties or consequences, as long as you're sozial about it.

Trap Them [6/7]
I'd been meaning to see this band for a while, and even in this experience, wedged way at the back, the payoff was worth the wait. Complete badass grind like a brick to the face, exactly the kind of music you want to see upstairs at this fest, but apparently the packed crowd wasn't being brutal enough, as the singer kept cussing the front out for not moving enough. Maybe it's just the audience; I'll stay on the lookout for these guys at the Midway or the Democracy Center....and be sure to pick up a second knee brace before going down.

Here I went downstairs to be sure to catch Toxic Holocaust, though I really shouldn't've, because in the process I ended up missing Decrepit Birth for After the Burial, which is the kind of thing you do if and only if your purpose in doing so is to be down front for the siqq mosh khed. Seriously, would it kill Scott to set up a whiteboard or two, or failing that, set up a Twitter feed to dump updates into? Either way, dudes would be better appraised of what's going on, and in the second case, we would also have a clear indicator of who needs to get punched in the face.

After The Burial [4/7]
Man, I thought the era of biting Swedecore was over. Apparently not, at least not at this festival. These guys had some nice execution, but pretty much zero originality. Moving a little closer, I was able to count pegs -- these guys were slinging 8-string guitars, but not really using them effectively. Maybe that's where the nu-metal impressions (viz Keith Bergman's "evil jump ropes") in my notes came in.

Toxic Holocaust [6/7]
This is NEMHF, so the organizers can't really bring in Sodom, Sarcofago, or Motorhead; hence these dudes. This was a pretty damn ripping set, likely better than the last time I saw them, despite being downstairs rather than up, and being criminally pinched for time. Fortunately, Toxic Holocaust is a D-thrash band, so when faced with short set times, they just play shit faster to fit songs in, and get debatably better results.

Later on at night, Joel grabbed me and gave props for my Wacken strips -- he's one of the few who has ever noticed them first, or that there's a serious stack going on there. I have no witnesses or recordings, though, so I'm not going to go on some kuttentraeger ego trip bragging about how the main dude of Toxic Holocaust thinks my jacket is awesome. OHWAIT.

Here, I switched buildings in order to catch Shroud of Bereavement over on the third stage, which was in a bar on the other side of the back parking lot. This was a good idea in theory, but the setup inside was kind of fucked. Fortunately, despite the weird staging and the radical differences between their sound and everything else booked into this stage, there were more people in the audience (lead by Juan Untombed/ex-Summoning Hate) than on stage by the time Shroud started.

Shroud of Bereavement [5/7]
There's really only so much that you can do with two songs in 20 minutes, which was going to be a pitfall for this band in this context in any case. The performance was decent, despite some spotty sound from the PA and the complexities of having like eight people, including several new members, on stage with monitors set up for basically a hardcore band; they should have gotten longer -- and will at the Metal Thursday three-year anniversary -- but did well with what they had despite the weird fit. They should have flyered this set during and/or after Withered; eh, c'est la vie.

After this, and of course giving the band appreesh because seriously, were the flatcaps going to cheer for a doom band?, I went back over to the main building and commenced waiting through bands I didn't like in order to see bands I did.

Whitechapel [4/7]
This band, like perhaps too many on this bill, was solid in their execution but actively tiresome to listen to. In the balance, this was pretty average deathcore, but not quite the Whitebeltchapel implications that get tossed around a little too easily.

The Haunted [6/7]
In a sense, they were just going through the motions, probably exacerbated by the restricted set time. This was probably the least good of the times that I've seen the band, but it was still, as evinced, a cool performance; the rest of the band may be in drill-for-half-an-hour-and-go-drink mode, but I'm not sure Peter Dolving even comes with this setting. He was on his game as usual, anti-rockstar rockstar in full cry, and also rolled out a couple bizarre anecdotes of what it's like to be in a band with fans, and how the fans really do keep the bands going. Maybe kinda had to be there.

Autumn Burns Red [4.5/7]
Well, I guess if you can't get In Flames or Killswitch, these guys are next on the central casting list, like how Dolph Lundgren picks up the roles that Arnold tosses back to his agent with only the ejaculation "Schrott!" Moderately formulaic metalcore with melodic leads; if this band did not exist, this festival would spontaneously generate them.

OK, that's not super fair. However, the preponderance of metalcore-nach-deathcore-nach-metalcore on this bill had me seriously questioning, at several points, why I keep coming. I don't mind, and often dig, the actual hardcore bands when they bother to book them, and as a metalhead would prefer a hella lot more real metal, but this puree of genres is something, at least for me, to endure rather than get up for.

The Acacia Strain [5/7]
Gloriously content-free as always, and though they seemed pinched for time, Vincent still got off a few good bon mots. There is nothing to this band but breakdowns, but even at that, they've got some damned good breakdowns.

Napalm Death [6.5/7]
There's an upside to short songs in a setting like this, obviously, as you can pack more of them into the requisite shitty setlength. The smashed though a strong set of both old and new material (not much from the experimental middle period before Nasum held their feet to the fire again), and "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" sounded just about the best I've heard it. Good all around.

Suffocation [6.5/7]
Despite the shorter time, this was a filled-out as well as balls-out set, which saw Frank in a seriously wacky mood ranting between songs, and a fair slice of new material. It sounded, surprise surprise, a lot like a lot of other Suffocation, but just as finished and crushing as the rest of the performance. The new record's not going to be some kind of breakout, but if you dig Suffocation or just love death metal, it'll definitely be worth a spin.

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