CENTRAL ILLINOIS METALFEST 2011
The Canopy Club, Urbana, IL
by Dr. Abner Mality
Each year at the end of July, they come. A shambling horde of long-haired, tattooed invaders, coming from the four corners of the globe, intruding on the rural Midwestern peace and quiet of Urbana. With their black shirts bearing unreadable logos and vulgar imagery, they send feelings of unease amongst the simple farmers and countless Chinese girls on bicycles who inhabit the university town (yes, that's right...it seems like every other person downtown is a Chinese girl on a bike). Who are these brazen invaders and what do they want?
Well, guess what, homey? They are regular, hard-working human beings with pets and families who enjoy a good time just like the rest of us. Only they like their music loud and sick and fast and they refuse to give in to the relentless peer pressure that demands they conform to what society considers "normal". They come to this college town nestled in the endless corn fields of Central Illinois to thrash themselves silly at "The Sickest Fest In The Midwest", CIM! And I oughtta know, because I'm one of them and this will be the third year I've made the trip!
Mr. Matt Bishop puts this show together and he does a great job. This year, the fest expanded to 3 whole days of death, grind and thrash metal instead of the usual two...a tribute to its success. It's become a tradition for many of us to meet at this event and share our love of underground music. This year, I got to see many familiar faces as well as some new ones. To me, a good metalfest is always as much a social event as a concert. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend Friday and Saturday this year and had to skip out on the Sunday event.
Those who think global warming is nonsense are full of shit. I thought last year's edition of the fest was hot and sweaty...it was a walk in the park compared to the hammer of hellish heat and humidity that swamped CIM 2011. Temperatures in the 90's every day, but due to the humidity, it felt more like 100. I swear I saw corn popping right in the fields on the way down! The Canopy Club was air conditioned, thank God, and free water was plentiful, but you could still feel the heat pressing in at all times and the night brought little to no relief.
I made it into the club in time to catch most of the set from Indiana's Heavy Lies The Crown. Heavy indeed! These guys are epic roaring death metal in the vein of Vital Remains, taking no prisoners yet still having form and structure in their music. It was already clear to me that there was a bigger crowd for the early bands than last year...and that held true for both days. In fact, there was plenty of enthusiasm for just about every band...something that was not apparent last year.
Incinerate plays the fest every year and were back again in 2011. They play a kind of faceless goregrind that is very typical of the genre and lacking individuality. It's as heavy as fuck but just too generic. Chicago's Cardiac Arrest give a better idea of how to play extreme brutal death metal while retaining catchiness and memorable songwriting. These dudes get bigger and badder every year. Their new drummer Nick kind of looks like Harry Potter but he fits the shoes of the departed Grindhead Jim very well indeed. The dudes drove the crowd crazy with their gruesomely memorable anthems such as "Insanity's Grip", "Embrace The End" and more. There was some technical problems at the beginning of new track "Vortex of Violence", but that was only a minor impediment and I for one am really amped up to hear the next Cardiac release.
In 2009, the Italian band Blasphemer made a multi-megaton impact at CIM with their insanely intense and technical death metal. They got one of the best responses I saw any band get. This year they were back with more of the same (but missing a member, I think). The crowd goes nuts for the crazy Dagoes, who were a constant and friendly presence the whole weekend. I'm not usually into the super-guttural and ultra-brutal stuff, but sometimes you just gotta get swept away by the tidal wave of twisted noise and Blasphemer is a band that does just that. In another year or so, it might be Face of Ruin's turn. I saw these guys at the NYDM Spring Bash back in April and they were OK, but this time they really turned things up a notch. They seemed more composed and structured while still retaining savagery. There is a definite future ahead for these guys if they keep to their current trajectory.
If there's any such thing as a CIM "house band", it's the one man wrecking crew known as Putrid Pile. Every year Shaun LaCanne comes waltzing into the Canopy Club with his baseball hat, glasses and nondescript look and every year he rips everybody a new asshole with his venomous drum machine-assisted riff attack. This guy is truly the master of death metal riffing and his ability to throw in shredding solos of an almost Randy Rhoads/Eddie VH caliber is uncanny. Add in a barrage of pig squeals, cricket squeaks, death burps and roars and you have the phenomenon known as Putrid Pile.
This year at CIM, we got some extra entertainment in addition to the band assault. A giant screen TV constantly played (and replayed) the ultra-lowbudget slasher movie "Afterparty Massacre". This Troma-approved celluloid atrocity featured a plethora of death metal bands such as Incantation, Asphyx, Master and more in addition to plenty of lurid sex featuring some pretty average looking broads, a ton of extremely gory killings done by a leather-clad chick in high heels, and the acting brilliance of Incantation drummer Kyle Severn. This was most definitely the perfect film accompaniment to the action on the stage!
The psychedelic black metal warriors Nachtmystium were up next. Frontman Blake Judd pretty much admitted to us that his band was the "odd man out" at CIM even though he grew up with extreme death metal. I personally think the unpredictable BM of Nachtmystium made for a very welcome break from the usual gurgling grind, but Judd's assessment was pretty much borne out as the band never really clicked tonight. They started out hot with "Assassins" and "Hell Injection", with Judd delivering his usual intense performance. I was so close to him that I wound up dripping with his sweat! But technical problems soon reared their head, leading to a long, LONG interlude of electronic tone twiddling from the keyboard/sample man. A lot of the fans lost interest and by the time the band returned, the damage had been done and the flow was disrupted. Blake and the boys soldiered on, but for them, there will definitely be better days.
Ancient devil worshippers Acheron closed the first day's activities with their old school blasphemy. These guys have been around so long, they probably got their start opening for Richie Valens! Frontman Vincent Crowley made for a suitably evil presence with his Laveyan visage and the band roared through several strong selections from their last album "The Final Conflict".
Day 2 brought more hellish heat that started at the crack of dawn and intensified as the day went on. Can you imagine 86 fuckin' degrees at nine o'clock in the morning? I didn't have to, I experienced it! I was determined to take it nice and easy as the long day of headbanging continued...
The heat was really brutal, but Saturday was one of the best days the Good Doctor has ever had at any metalfest. Not only did the bands pretty much kick ass without flaw, but I got to meet and hang out with guys like Mike Perun of Cianide, Mark Impetigo and the hyped up Mike Abominator of Gravehill. Not to mention Adam from Cardiac Arrest, Tim and Duncan from The Horde and many other knowledgeable bangers. This is one of the most purely enjoyable aspects of CIM...rubbing shoulders and sharing camaraderie with fellow "freaks" of the metal underground.
Solidification started the day off with brick-heavy death metal with super low growls. A little bit slower and chunkier than most bands here, a little on the average side, but not a bad way to start things off. The crowd was already nice and enthusiastic. One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was Carpathian Funeral...evil satanic death metal sure to tickle the fancy of all lovers of the goat! These guys had a very epic and brutal sound that recalled the likes of Vital Remains and Angelcorpse. Their blood-covered frontman put everything he had into a sinister performance and the band was rewarded with a nice round of applause. Watch out for them...and beware!
I got the unfortunate news that Vermillion couldn't make the fest, which is too bad, because they are one of the Midwest's most impressive up-and-comers who would have fit CIM to a T. Maybe next year. Moving on, we had possibly the most unusual band of the festival, Peoria's spacy techno-death metallers Cygnus Loop. Much like Nachtmystium, these guys kind of befuddled the crowd with their combination of cosmic synthesizer soundscapes, technical brutality and Fear Factory-like choppy riffing. But as their set wound on, you could feel people starting to dig it more and more and their last track was just a total epic, reminding me a lot of Australian weirdos Alchemist. I wouldn't say Cygnus Loop is at the level of Alchemist yet but the potential is there.
Last night we had "Afterparty Massacre" play endlessly on the giant video screen, but Saturday afternoon brought an even more brutal entertainment...cartoons featuring Popeye the Sailor Man and Betty Boop. Somebody sure has a hell of a sense of humor at CIM. It was surrealistic to say the least to see Popeye and Bluto battle it out while Carpathian Funeral tried to invoke Satan's empire on stage. Later in the afternoon, the traditional death metal music played in between sets would be replaced by Grateful Dead's "Popcorn", the theme music to "All In The Family" and probably the most horrifying music of the weekend, the theme to "Charles in Charge". Make it stop, please, make it stop!!!
Following Cygnus Loop, I finally got a chance to check out Chicago's renowned avant-garde death metallers Morgue Supplier. In a lot of ways, these dudes may have been the most extreme band of the fest (at least on days 1 & 2). They unleashed a holocaust of unpredictable technical grind laced with industrial dirge ala Godflesh. Singer Paul Gillis seemed to be having seizures on stage while the bass man ran around like a lunatic. What makes Morgue Supplier so over the top is the feeling that you have no idea where the music is heading. It kind of burned me out but believe me, they deliver the mayhem big time!
The festival now dove into its most intense and exciting phase, at least in this humble mad doctor's opinion. The great variety of CIM was again made obvious as Indiana's rocking devil worshippers Maax took the stage and proceeded to deliver a set that was the closest thing to early Venom I've seen in a long time. In contrast to the futuristic Cygnus Loop and the agonizingly technical Morgue Supplier, Maax is nothing but pure filthy heavy metal with a strong dose of dirty rock n' roll. The beefy singer reminded me of a missing brother of Gravehill's Mike Abominator while the guitarist unloaded fiery licks that were almost as greasy as his hair. There was a touch of the Southern about Maax's set and that was also a welcome change. This band had the whole place jumping and headbanging to old school mayhem with cuts like "Fire In the Hole" and "Die By the Axe". If the new tunes they played are anything to go by, then watch your ass!
The big discovery of last year's CIM was The Horde. The barbaric metallers were back again this year and continued their onslaught. Unlike last year when problems with the bass and a smaller crowd hindered their show, this time they blew the gates off with a near perfect song and a blistering selection of songs from their great new album "Thy Blackened Reign". The Horde doesn't leave anything on the table and they got a terrific reaction from the crowd this time around. A clearly thrilled guitarist Tim Matthews told me afterwards "Today was a great day!" and indeed, it may be considered the real starting point for this band's eventual rise.
I unfortunately had to give Gorgasm's set a pass in order to grab something to eat, but from what I saw at the tail end of their show, they did just fine with their blasting goregrind. They cleared the ground for California's Gravehill, a band who I was really looking forward to. Well, if I thought I was raging before, that was just the warm-up to the unholy death metal beatdown these maniacs perpetrated. Every CIM has one set that becomes legendary and the talk of the fest. Gravehill easily did that this year. Now I did not see Day 3, true, but it would be hard to imagine anybody being more archetypal DEATH METAL than these scumbags, led by their portly, bearded, bloodsoaked, spike-covered leader, Mike Abominator. Abominator was at his tasteless best bringing up the just announced death of druggy chanteuse Amy Winehouse and mocking the new Morbid Angel: "If anybody here thinks that was real death metal, get the fuck out of here now!"
I haven't headbanged like I did during Gravehil's set in a long, LONG time. They played some killers off their new "When All Roads Lead To Hell" opus and even brought out Cardiac Arrest's Tom Knizner to join them in a whiplash-inducing orgy of mayhem. Oh, it felt GOOD to have a neck stiff and sore from this kind of brutality!
Atlanta's Withered had a virtually impossible task to follow the feel-good tsunami known as Gravehill but they actually did a hell of a job. At first, it didn't look like they would connect with the crowd because of their more subdued stage demeanor, but as their set blasted on, it suddenly dawned on most of the crowd that this was actually the fastest, most intense, most mayhemic band of the weekend so far. The band is known for their sludgy doominess and there was some of that during their set, but they focused far more on their 10,000-times-the-speed-of-light blasting. It was a crippling wall of black metal meets grind that almost caused my brain to melt and I think the crowd was actually unprepared for such a visceral assault!
By now, I was a sweat dripping wreck badly in need of a pit stop so I headed to the seats of the Canopy Club's upper level to collapse for a while. Far below, there was no let up in the intensity. Another pleasant surprise were the ancient Bay Area thrashers Insanity, a cult band beloved of Napalm Death. These guys all gotta be in their 40's at least by now, but they kept the momentum going as they blazed through some very cool thrash-bordering-on-death chock full of insane old school guitar soloing. It is fucking crazy these guys haven't been a regular fixture all these years.
Cephalic Carnage is a welcome and regular sight here at CIM and similar fests around the country. These dudes just thrive on the atmosphere and if you like death metal quirky and unpredictable as well as extremely brutal, they're the band for you. My God, their drummer looks like he could rip Hulk Hogan's head off! Not only that, but the dude is sharp to keep up with the wild time changes in C.C.'s music. They hit a lot of stuff from latest disc "Misled By Certainty" as well as old favorites and kept the crowd real happy.
Once more, simplicity followed technicality on the bill and you can't get too much more raw and basic than Ohio's long-lived Satanists Nunslaughter. They are right up there with Acheron in the underground longevity stakes and amused the hell out of the crowd with their over the top satanic antics. Honestly, these guys are very tongue in cheek and I rather doubt that they've ever attended a true black mass in their lives. Drummer Jim Sadist was hilarious with his outrageous evil banter, delivered in a cackling high pitched voice, introducing such respectful hymns as "Smell The Burning Christians" and "I Hate Your Fucking God". These dudes are not great musicians by any stretch, but their Snidely Whiplash stage presence makes them impossible not to enjoy.
By this point, exhaustion had drained any physical enjoyment out of my overstuffed carcass but I was determined to see things through to the end. Internal Bleeding used to be a big name in death metal circles in the 90's but went very, very quiet at the birth of the new millenium. Tonight they announced they were back in action with a slamming set of classic NYDM. After Internal Bleeding came the day's headliners, the mighty Exhumed, who are supporting a strong new album "All Guts, No Glory" after a long layoff. Featuring Matt Harvey who is also in Gravehill, they hit the ground running with their explosive Carcass-like grind. I was in a virtual coma by this point and staggered out of the Canopy Club to seek relief in my nice cool hotel room. No reflection on Exhumed, who looked awesome, but an old man gotta get his rest.
I couldn't make the third day of the fest, but in the interests of completeness, I now present the line-up for the finale:
INTESTNAL ALIEN REFLUX
HOD (feel bad I had to miss these Texas maniacs)
ENGAGED IN MUTILATING
As you can probably tell, this day was probably as full of as much laidback lounge lizard goodness as the first two!
It bears saying that Central Illinois Metalfest is here to stay and it looks like it is becoming one of the best extreme metal gatherings in North America. In fact, after the incomparable Maryland Death Fest, it may BE the best. That's due to the warm and cozy feeling surrounding the festival as much as its musical excellence. As long as I am able to stand the heat, I will be there...
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