Canopy Club, Urbana, Illinois
July 31/August 1, 2009
by Dr. Abner Mality

Once upon a time, there was an event on my yearly calendar that I looked forward to with rapt anticipation. That was the annual Milwaukee Metalfest held at various venues in Beertown. Longtime readers of Wormwood will recall the detailed reports we used to do each year on this epic gathering of the tribes. They will also recall the slow, obvious decline of the festival from one of the best in the States to a sad parody of itself, culminating in the horrendous debacles of 2004 and 2005. We can chalk up the demise of the once venerable event to a greedy and clueless promoter.

Nevertheless, it was a huge gap in my social calendar. I genuinely looked forward to the camaraderie of fellow freaks and degenerates such as myself and in the last few years, I've keenly missed a similar gathering.

This year, I have found the substitute at last! Erupting from the placid cornfields of Central Illinois comes a new
meeting of the faithful...the Central Illinois Metalfest. Now the Fest has been going strong the last couple of years, but alas, the stars were not in proper alignment for me to attend. This year, though, everything lined up just right. So the long drought was finally was the gathering of extreme metal scum that I had been looking for.

And who better to join the Good Doctor in this nefarious expedition than Mistress Hydra, my garrulous blond cohort who has accompanied me to see bands like Celtic Frost, Cannibal Corpse and Motorhead, amongst others? Was the good Mistress ready to drive full blast into the depravity of something like Central Illinois Metalfest? Well...kinda! I was only able to get one day (Friday) out of her, but give the Swedish lass credit for's not every gal that has enough nerve to check out bands with names like Sikfuk, Human Filleted and Goreaphobia!

It was a relaxing drive from Rockford down to Urbana. Call me nuts, but driving through miles of rolling green cornfields and small farm towns puts me in just the right frame of mind for a weekend such as this. God couldn't have made a better day for the trip...mild temperatures, clear skies, a light breeze. It was a pure relief to get out of the construction-choked miasma of Rockford into the countryside...we rolled past little towns with names like Paw Paw (home to scores of gigantic wind turbines), Lostant and Minonk before hitting Urbana right about noon.

The Canopy Club is right smack in the middle of the University of Illinois. Only drawback to this is the proliferation of parking meters, which originally had me ready to chew pavement. Fortunately Hydra came up with a quick solution and I was spared the idiocy of running out of the show every hour to feed the meters.

The CIM is nowhere near the scale of Milwaukee Metalfest at its most manic. Just one stage and one floor, so none of the constant running up and down stairs that marked my Milwaukee experiences. The venue was also air conditioned and had a fully stocked bar. A nice place to see a show.

First band we caught was Ezra, who were the second to play. This gruesome threesome favored a mixture of sludge and blast and met wtih approval from both Hydra and me. From there, we experienced the dulcet tones of Human Filleted and Incinerate...both hardcore death metal to the bone and beyond. It was already pretty obvious that the festival was moving along smoothly, with each band pretty much playing in its predetermined slot. This was rarely the case in Milwaukee, particularly in the latter years. Hydra and me enjoyed the brutality of Human Filleted but we came to the conclusion that death metal is for guys with either long hair or a bald head. Three almost identical jocks with baseball caps and black T-shirts doesn't make for an exciting visual presentation.

I headed over to the Goatwhore merch booth to try and hook up with one of the furry prostitutes, who would be playing much later in the evening. We got a rather tired looking Ben Falgoust to agree to meet us in the lobby around five o'clock for an interview. More on that later.

Success Will Write Apocalypse Across The Sky was the first "big" band to play. These highly touted grinders have made a splash with their merciless combination of Napalm Death grind and Tampa-style brutality. They hit the stage like a tsunami and took no prisoners. Most notable for me was their female bassist, who I find no mention of on their Myspace or website. Not only was this gal EXTREMELY attractive but plenty young to boot...we would see her later with Goatwhore in their "revolving bassist" slot. She added a little flavor to a very hard-hitting but rather by the numbers set from SWWAATS.

We returned to the lobby to meet Ben and waited for him to make an appearance. And waited. And waited. Meanwhile, we could hear thrashers Rumplestiltskin Grinder moshing with abandon. Well, the next time we saw Ben was on the stage with Goatwhore. Sorry, Wormfans, no Goatwhore least not one conducted face to face. I've got no hard feelings, because shit happens at a big festival likes this, but I felt bad for Hydra, who was longing to meet these longtime heroes of hers.

Chatted briefly with the grand old man of death metal, Mr. Paul Speckman of Master, resplendent in a beard to rival any in ZZ Top. Paul manned his own merch booth...he's the very soul of perserverance and DIY grittiness. He was most approachable and friendly, but man, you do not want to get on his bad side, as he gave the sound crew a fierce tongue-lashing during Master's headlining set later.

The first truly awesome set of the day came courtesy of Relapse Records' Abysmal Dawn. Their record "Programmed To Consume" was a monolithic killer of classy American death metal. On stage, they absolutely did justice to the record and delivered an incredibly tight and intense set full of not only brutal heaviness but terrific melody and clever song structures. If you are looking for the band to carry the torch of Death's "Human", here they are. They were on a higher level than just about everything else I saw this weekend. Do NOT miss any chance to see them if they come your way!

Abysmal Dawn was a highlight but one of the fest's big surprises was up next. I was familiar with the name of Daath but had passed them over before...possibly due to the stigma of being on Roadrunner, a label with a horrible record in recent years for spotting young extreme metal talent. I will make no such mistake again. Now these guys weren't the "sickest" or "most extreme" band to play this weekend and so if you were looking for pig burping vocals and a "riff salad" approach to songcraft, they were not the band to check out. However, if you like powerful, well played extreme metal that mixed genres and tempos with flair, this band should be on the top of your list. For the brief amount of time they were on stage, Daath impressed the hell out of me and also won over Hydra in a big way. An eclectic bunch, they combined a strong oldschool thrash metal feeling with slices of doom and straight up metal as well as the occasional dollop of blasting total death metal. A very appealing melange, topped off with terrific lead soloing and a professional stage presence. I couldn't tell you the names of the songs Daath played, but I can tell you that they all stuck in my head. For my money, they were the revelation of the CIM!

For those who felt Daath and Abysmal Dawn were a bit too "commercial" (HAH!), relief was up next in the form of Malignancy. This is more of what one would expect at the "sickest fest in the Midwest". Ultra-brutal, ultra-technical gore metal with incomprehensible vocals and most songs sounding interchangeable. They went down a storm with the crowd. What I liked about these guys was the drier than a bone sense of humor of lead vomiter Dan Nelson. This dude should be doing stand-up. "Here's a track from our new album, if we ever find a label willing to release it, " wise-cracked Dan. Nelson's funny business and interaction with the crowd kept me entertained despite the lack of identifiable songs in Malignancy's set.

I had no desire to see black metal/deathcore hybrid Abigail Williams next. They didn't belong on the fest in my opinion and I don't think too many of the faithful would have disagreed that they stuck out like a sore thumb with their ultra-modern, keyboard heavy style. They may have knocked the house down for all I know...I was outside hanging with my buddies Cardiac Tom and Adam from Chicago's grisliest band, Cardiac Arrest. These guys are always a hoot and quite a bit of the weekend was spent discussing the finer points of horror films and other bits of pop culture with them. Incidentally, I made the discovery that about half of Urbana's population seems to be Chinese. I saw more Chinese people this weekend than if I would have went to Beijing. If the white man's star is declining in the middle of the Illinois cornfields, then there is no hope for European civilization...

Got back in time to see an underground legend in Goreaphobia. I missed these dudes back in the day so my interest in checking them out was high. All I can say is that I was so impressed by their "100% extreme occult metal" that I went right over to the Ibex Moon booth and bought their new record "Mortal Repulsion". These guys plays oldschool death/black metal just the way I like it, with a lot of different tempos and strong riffs. The spiky leather bondage outfit of lead singer/bassist Chris Gamble (also of Bloodstorm fame) made me think that the Exalted Piledriver had been a last minute addition...I liked the outfit myself, it made a nice contrast with the virtually identical "black T shirt with indecipherable logo and combat shorts" look of most of the rest of the bands playing CIM. A cross between Celtic Frost, old Morbid Angel and Incantation, Goreaphobia was a winner with both me and Hydra.

We were both starting to run out of gas, but Goatwhore, arguably the most successful band on the whole festival, was up next and were not to be missed. I wish that Ben Falgoust could have said the same of us...ah well, can't win 'em all. As for the band themselves, they are a seasoned and road-tested unit that delivered a blistering set that leaned heavily on the new album "Carving Out the Eyes of God". For some reason, their regular bass player wasn't with them this evening, so his place was taken by a rotating array of "guest bassists", the first of whom was the fetching Sally from SWWAATS. Kinda strange seeing a lady play with a band named "Goatwhore" but such paradoxes abound in a situation like this. She was replaced by Jeremy from Daath and finally the bassist from Abigail Williams. The rotating bassist thing brought some freshness to the proceedings and new tracks like "Apocalyptic Havoc" (which Ben dedicated to pioneers like Venom, Celtic Frost and Motorhead) and "Shadow of a Rising Knife" tore everybody a new one.

By now, ol' Hydra had finally reached her limit. She was a real trooper at her first real underground metalfest, but the long day and endless procession of blasting bands had taken its toll. She headed to the upper level, found a chair and pretty much collapsed. Due to the friendly greeting he gave me earlier in the day, I felt it was my duty to stick around to check out Paul Speckman and at least some of Master's set. Unfortunately, the monitors picked this time to rebel and slowed down things even more. The veteran's veteran, Speckman doesn't put up with much bullshit. "I hate to be a bitch, but I can't play without any goddamn monitors, "he groused and who can blame him? The situation was never totally resolved, but Master soldiered on and I caught the first four songs of their set, which leaned heavily on their latest "Slaves to Society" release. Master are as straightforward and no frills as you can get...those into super-busy or technical death metal probably weren't too impressed but those old dogs like me who like a good solid kick in the head were and Paul has a really sick vocal sound.

Thus ended the first day of Central Illinois Metalfest 2009...

Day 2 saw Hydra depart for another whirlwind party as part of her madcap vacation tour. I brushed a tear from my eye as she departed, even though she managed to tell me "I've got news for saw logs". Maybe I won't miss her that much after all...

Had a good breakfast at the Cracker Barrel across the street...more Chinese people lurking everywhere. I usually dislike chain restaurants, but I always make an exception for Cracker Barrel...they really do seem homey and cheerful to me. With plenty of time to kill, I drove around beautiful downtown Urbana and stumbled on something unexpected...a combination farmer's market/art show that was completely free and drawing a huge crowd. Lotsa cool stuff on display...if I hadn't have just ate, I surely would have bought some of the many homegrown delicacies offered, some by Amish folks from nearby communities. I wondered what those simple folk would have made of the bone-breaking blasphemy I was to experience later in the day.

Then it was back to the madness of the Canopy Club and three brutal bands to kick things off the right way. Dysentery was a dose of grinding fury as cuddly and pleasant as its namesake, Disfigured was an impressive young band of Tex-Mexicans who favored a traditional form of Cannibal Corpse/Dying Fetus/Diabolic style of pure death metal and the utterly grotesque Necrotic Disgorgement managed to be the most repulsive band so far. Very much in the vein of the previous night's Malignancy, they offered more pig squealing, mush-mouthed fun with lyrics inspired by scatology and sexual perversion. I didn't find their music to be memorable in the least, but this is the kind of band most of the fans here expected to see.

That couldn't be said for the next band, a young thrash band from Washington, D.C. by the name of Fierce Allegiance. Substituting for grindcore heroes Strong Intention, these guys pulled the short straw of the day as far as sets went. Coming in between Necrotic Disgorgement and Sikfuk, their melodic and modern thrash metal seemed an awkward fit. At the worst, the band came across like Trivium, but at their best, they put on a powerful display of aggressive music with some sweet Maiden-inspired twin guitar melodies. Not exactly what fans were expecting, but a few brave souls such as myself were inspired to get up to the front and show support. I for one found them to be refreshing on a day dominated by the grossest excesses of death metal. One of which was up next...

The phenomena of one man death metal bands reared its ugly head with some "fine ass tard grind" courtesy of Minnesota's Sikfuk. On this occasion, Sikfuk was Nik Blanton accompanied by a guitar and a laptop. This stuff is so ridiculous, it's brilliant. The "songs" themselves are indecipherable and impossible to differentiate but it's Blanton's vocals that provide the entertainment. Every song's lyrics can basically be described as sounding like this: "WEEEE-WEEE-ReeeREEEE...WUKKAWUKA...REE-REE...SNORTTTT..WUKKA WEE REE". After a while, your brain disconnects from hearing it as seems more like ultra-guttural "scat singing" like a death metal Cab Calloway or Ella James. "Scat" singing takes a double meaning here, because most of Sikfuk's songs seem to revolve around shit to some degree. This stuff is impossible to take seriously as any kind of music but it does have some degree of entertainment value and Blanton himself seems to be in on the joke.

Chicago's underrated Dead For Days followed this weird display with their brutal but far more conventional attack. Monitor problems plagued their set as well but they soldiered on and made the most of it. Bloodsoaked was another "one man band" but quite a different one than Sikfuk or the later Putrid Pile. It's the brainchild of one Peter Hasselbrack, a man utterly devoted to classic oldschool death metal in the old Incantation/Obituary/Morbid Angel style. If Pete gets himself a real band, watch out! Bloodsoaked delivered some great oozing, doomy riffs that stuck in the head firmly....the slow stalking crawl of "Existence Denied" in particular was outstanding and Pete's vocals, while grim and extremely brutal, were not ridiculous in the Necrotic Disgorgement or Malignancy vein. I met Pete later and got a copy of the latest Bloodsoaked disc "Sadistic Deeds...Grotesque Memories" from him. A nice guy who is death metal to the core and who needs to get a serious band together.

The rumbling of my empty stomach was starting to get scarier than some of the vocal belches I'd already heard so I left the venue for a bit in search of chow ( a good place to mention that the Canopy Club's lenient reentry policies were definitely appreciated). I didn't have far to look. A fancy upscale bistro, The Bread Company, was right next door, complete with yuppies dining on expensive dishes and sipping fine wine. I figured, what the hell, why not enjoy a true dining experience? I enjoy good food as much as loud metal so I sat outside dressed in my bloody, stained lab coat and wearing my County Medical Examiners T-shirt, causing some unease amongst the humanoids there. A cute as a button waitress asked if I would be dining and also if I had come from a GWAR concert. "No, just a few too many accidents in the lab," I quipped. I ordered the portobello and mixed green salad with goat cheese and roasted red pepper sauce as well as a bowl of baked onion soup. They were both great and made a nice contrast to the greasy pizza and chips I'd been living on. Good food and disgusting death metal...a great combination!

However, while I was noshing outside, something amazing was happening back in the Club and I was missing it. The Italian band Blasphemer, by far the most farflung of the fest's participants, were tearing the place apart. I got back inside to catch the last couple of songs of their set and these Italian dudes were getting a reaction that dwarfed any seen so far, with a raging pit exploding on the floor. Their last song brought a huge chant of "One more song! One more song!" It was a phenomenal reception...from what I saw, these guys played very tight ultra-brutal death metal wit h the required guttural vocals. Dunno what triggered the frenzied response, but it's fair to say Blasphemer was the sleeper hit of the festival.

Just to prove that chicks could grind, Fuck the Facts from Eastern Canada was up next with their pixie-like lead screamer Mel Mongeon, who has an uncanny resemblance to my old pal Denyse. Though barely weighing in at 100 pounds, Mel was all over the place while FTF delivered an intense set that was flavored with some slower and more dissonant moments. This was grindcore/extreme metal with an intellectual bent to it.

Any pretense to intellect went out the fuckin' door in a hurry when the degenerate slimeballs of Waco Jesus played next. Hands down, these guys had the most entertaining show of the entire weekend. Never ones to take things
seriously for even a moment, the veteran scumgrinders did a perfect parody of cock rock/Van Halen/hair metal cliches while unleashing some of the most furious and intense grindcore in the scene. I mean, really, why have the labels dropped the ball with these guys? Admittedly, the cover to their debut record was the most revolting and appalling ever, but that was years ago and the guys have mellowed to a kinder, gentler kind of scum. Fer Christsakes, they even covered up the model's tits on the cover of their latest "Sex, Drugs and Deathmetal"!

Singer Diamond Shane is awesome. Imagine a cross between David Lee Roth, Axl Rose and Dice Clay that grunts and growls like Cannibal's Corpsegrinder or Napalm's Barney. Shane brings the sleaze in hilarious fashion...when he asked what chick in the audience would have sex with him, he said "Sure enough, it's a fat chick who answers first!". Later, he made this diatribe: "I hear that Ben from Goatwhore was just voted the sexiest guy in extreme metal. Well, I...don't...THINK...SO!" All in a King Diamond falsetto while thrusting his hips...

Throw in confetti bombs, Accept-like synchronized headbanging, phenomenal drummer Sleazy Jonny B. going nuts with drumsticks that had to be four feet long and a mysterious "Cousin Itt" coming out to sing along and you had a gig that would put a smile on even Bill O'Reilly's face. But behind the fun lies a killing machine that blasts and blasts and blasts in a fashion to make vintage Nasum envious. Do NOT miss these crazy motherfuckers when they come to your town!

After the Jesus laid waste to Canopy Club, I decided to hang out in the courtyard while porn-grinders Lividity played. It's not that I disliked these guys, it was just that I was getting a little burned out and Waco was such a hard act to follow. While I was sitting contentedly in the courtyard surrounded by forty or fifty of my closest friends whom I had never met before this weekend, it occurred to me that there was no other place I would rather be than Central Illinois Metalfest. I heard a great quote from the grizzled head of security who was in charge of the event: "You guys are the worst metalheads I've ever seen! You've got no hostility!" That says it all.

Next came the last...and the wildest...of the one man death metal bands, Putrid Pile. I must admit, I judged PP wrong. I was expecting something along the lines of Sikfuk. Instead, Shaun LaCanne delivered one of the most intense sets of the weekend. The thing that really makes Putrid Pile stand out is the sheer power and slamming intensity of LaCanne's riffing...this guy is a riff machine. Bespectacled and rather mild looking, he cranked out some awesomely crunchy death riffs with real catchiness. Vocally, he was just about as over the top as Sikfuk's Brenton, with even more pig-like SQUEEEEALLS and guttural grumbles. The drum machine was its usual mechanical self, but it was Putrid Pile's brutal and energetic riffing, along with a few smoking solos, that kept interest high. Shaun got a very strong response from the crowd and it's obvious there's a definite audience for this kind of mayhem.

I'd already been treated to some pretty offensive bands this weekend. Well, the spiritual godfather of them all was up next: Anal Cunt. Nobody yet has found a way to top the brilliant simplicity of that simple name: Anal Cunt. It is the clarion call to crude debauchery and rotgut obnoxiousness. Not exactly a fan, I was still curious to see them. A.C. frontman and arguably the most despised man in extreme metal Seth Putnam brought his troops to unsuspecting Urbana and pretty much trashed everything in sight. I knew that Seth had suffered a very debilitating stroke a couple of years back and it was pretty obvious he was still feeling the effects. Visibly not well, he kind of stumbled around the stage in a stupor, but when he grabbed the mike, the testicle-rupturing screams of old were in full force. They say the screams are the last thing to go...

Did Putnam live up to his legend? Well, he asked the crowd, "How many of you faggots voted for Obama? Well, here's a song about the REAL choice in politics, called "I Voted For Hitler!" Surprisingly, this was one of the real "songs" that Anal Cunt played, with actual slam and groove. In one of the most telling moments, Seth said, "Here's a song for all of you, called "All of Our Fans Are Gay"! Yup, it was an A.C. gig, alright. Due to Seth's slurring, I couldn't catch most of the other song titles, but I'm hoping they slipped either "Connor Clapton Committed Suicide Because His Dad's Music Sucked" or the immortal "Otis Sistrunk" in there. With Anal Cunt, what you see...and what you get.

Age was catching up to me, creeping into my bones. I was about shot after many hours of extreme metal brutality and opted to spend the rest of the fest in the high seats above the main floor. I was close to the end of my endurance....

Next was Vital Remains, the Satanic epic death metal legends from Rhode Island. They were minus their notorious frontman Glen Benton, also of Deicide, tonight and that omission hurt them pretty badly. His place was taken by Scott Wiley, who, aside from his awesome studded wristbands, left little impression on me. Maybe it was just burnout, but Vital Remains didn't seem to be much more than a typical death metal band to me. This is excluding their current drummer Kaish Doane, who was a ferocious whirlwind not far off former skinbeater Tim Yeung in terms of speed and power. The band's music was always longwinded on record and it became rather tedious live. Maybe it was an offnight, but many of the opening bands seemed to have more fire.

My own fire had gone out after Vital Remains. Only the mighty Immolation was left but I decided to throw in the towel and head back to the hotel before somebody had to carry me out with a block and tackle. Immolation I have seen before and they always delivered a powerful set of furious but tasteful death metal...vocalist Ross Dolan in particular is one of the greatest death growlers ever. Earlier in the evening, I had hobnobbed a bit with Immolation guitarist Bob Vigna as well as John and Jill McEntee of Incantation/Ibex Moon Records....another highlight in a weekend full of them.

I had gotten just about everything I wanted and more from the Central Illinois Metalfest. This gig really recharged my batteries and brought the Dr. Mality of old back to life. Sure, I missed the Goatwhore interview, but there will be another day! A gathering like this, shunned by mainstream society, is an explosion of camaraderie that bonds us misfits together in a brotherhood of steel. I salute all my brothers...and sisters...of the CIM and plan to return next year.

Until that happy day....stay sick, one and all!