November 23, 2013

Rock Hollow Gun Club, Freeport, IL

By Dr. Abner Mality

I never really knew Tim Wilson until after he passed away, at the far too young age of 32, Tim went to sleep on August 5, 2013 and simply never woke up. It makes you wonder when you think about it and it makes you glad to be alive.

Tim was a member of the ILDM, headquartered in Freeport, IL. Long time Wormwood fans will certainly know that I've attended many of the ILDM events over the last 8 years. Tim was at almost all of them, sporting the familiar vest that all of the ILDM brothers guard with their lives. He didn't say much to me,but I saw him there enjoying many of the great underground metal bands that have made Rock Hollow a mecca for fans in Northwest Illinois and the surrounding area. Even though we didn't speak, I came to know him best after he passed away and so many of his friends spoke so highly of him. His death had a profound effect on many people, including my good friends Scott "Slayer" and "Boss Man" Randall, who work hard to promote the ILDM and underground metal all year around. So it was not unexpected when it was announced that the 8th Annual ILDM Thanksgiving Bash would be held in his honor.

I hope Tim was somehow at Rock Hollow in spirit on November 23, because he would have seen one hell of a heavy metal party and a celebration of his life. I'll bet a lot of his buddies maybe thought they saw him for a minute, standing off to the side and watching the bands. I have gone to every single one of the Bashes and each one was special in its own way, but I don't have any problem saying that this was the best and most memorable of all the events that I have attended there. The place was hopping from 4:00 in the afternoon to well after midnight and the rafters shook loud and proud in memory of Tim. We also managed to raise some money and toys for Toys for Tots. Anybody who says extreme metal fans have no heart is a damn liar.

This year there was more of a special feeling than usual. You could feel it the minute you walked into the club. Lots of familiar, friendly faces, lots of backslapping, hugging, handshaking. It reminded me a lot of the big benefit that was held for Wizard of Watertown Randy Kastner last year. And guess what, the old grump himself was there, enjoying the ambience. I got to hang out with Sirens Are Calling frontman/ part-time wrestling heel Rocky James and talk about wrestling. R.I.P., Mad Dog Vachon! It was cool to see Altered Existence frontman Mark Ellsworth looking reasonably fit after a real bad health scare he had earlier in the year. I got to hang with nutty En Masse frontman Don Adam, bassist Zippy and their new prodigy drummer, 15 year old Chris Smith. My old pal Downtown Charlie Brown, formerly of Vigilance, now of Lost Thoughts, was there, too.

A real special moment came for me when I found myself talking to a young fellow I vaguely remembered from some shows long past. He introduced himself as the former lead singer of Faded Embrace, a local metalcore band who played the area quite a bit in the early 2000's. He mentioned that I wrote a review of one of their first fact, it was at the very first Thanksgiving Bash. That brought back some memories, because there was a time when Faded Embrace played a hell of a lot of shows, opening for many bands here. The real kicker came when he told me he was also the younger brother of Tim Wilson. I could see he was very deeply moved by the large turnout in honor of Tim. Some words passed between us which shall remain private. This experience helped make it a special evening for me.

When I got to the Hollow, Blackcat Manor was just wrapping up their set. They had to step in for The Sirens Are Calling, a band that I always seem to be missing out on. Blackcat Manor used to be known as Abandon All Hope and I believe their first ever show was at one of the old Bashes, I forget which. The surprising thing is that they were already playing to a pretty good sized crowd, which is unusual for an opening band. They seem to be doing the Pantera/Lamb of God shtick as opposed to the metalcore of Abandon All Hope. What I heard sounded good to these ears, but as I just caught their last song, I can't pass much more of a judgment on them.

Lost Thoughts have been working the Stateline area for a long time now. I've known lead guitarist Charlie Brown for more than 15 years, since he was in the band Vigilance, who were one of the very best metal bands ever from Rockford, Illinois. They play a vigorous cross between groove and thrash metal with a definite "made in the Midwest" sound. Their material started out as the usual Pantera type stuff which has been done to death, but as the set went on, it really gained in intensity and Charlie's love of Slayer and Overkill emerged in the songs. The band has also got a powerhouse drummer in ex Man Made Man skinbeater Brendan Hautamaki. This guy is fierce and a show to watch in himself. Overall, Lost Thoughts is a solid veteran band who enhance the scene and I look forward to an album coming from them soon.

En Masse have played the last several bashes and pound the hell out of everybody each and everytime. I think the next time they play here, they will be headlining. Something is ready to bust loose with this band. They have been on a slow build through the dark tunnels of the underground and have polished their craft to the point where they are ready to burst into the light. They are tighter and more focused everytime I see them and their crazed frontman Don Adam is somebody you can't take your eyes off when he's on stage. This dude is tremendous fun, because he's into every single band, moshing, pogo dancing and making crazy faces the whole show. He introduced me after the set to the band's new secret weapon...15 year old drummer Chris Smith, who looked like his Mom dropped him off at the show after soccer practice. Don told me he was a beast and that is the truth...he more than kept up with the furious hardcore thrash En Masse threw down. They blasted thru killers like "Blood" and "Death From Above" (dedicated to Tim), but the best song was a new one, "Blind Gospel". En Masse was the first band to get a pit going and I think they wil soon be signed and have a true album out. This is a band to watch if you're into pure head-slamming hardcore and metal.

I got my first taste of The Sparrow at the 2012 edition of the Bash. This two man outfit is markedly different from the other bands playing tonight and the difference works in their favor. It's a grooving kind of instrumental post-metal with immense tribal drumming that creates a hypnotic feeling. Lead guitarist Zeke is a talented, intense guy and the drummer Steve Siemens is a real animal. I noticed during The Sparrow's set that the members of Macabre entered the club and seemed bemused by the downhome charm of the place. Corporate Death was taking pictures of the various stuffed trophies throughout the place, but Dennis The Menace, Macabre's inhuman drummer, was watching the skinsman for The Sparrow very intently. After a while, these guys kind of overdid the repetition a bit too much for my taste, but the music was a welcome diversion on a night of brutality.

Brutal is a word to be associated with Severed, the long-time Chicago deathgrind unit put fronted by Tom Knizner from Cardiac Arrest. Tom was pulling double duty tonight as Cardiac was playing later on. It was 8 years ago at the very first Bash that I saw both Cardiac and Severed for the very first time. I've notched up a lot of Cardiac shows since then, but Severed's appearances have been much rarer and the band is low profile. Although both bands are totally extreme, there are notable differences. Severed leans much more to a raw, grinding sound like Repulsion and Terrorizer while Cardiac Arrest is classic American death metal. Boy, Severed was brutal tonight, spitting a mouthful of brief, violent shrapnel at the crowd, with song titles like "Chronic Masturbator"  and "World of Shit". Tom's shrieky vocals are up front here, whereas they are just backup in Cardiac. I really wish these guys would get an album out and play more often, because they rank with the heaviest, rawest stuff in the Midwest.

Altered Existence have also played many of the past Thanksgiving Bashes. If there is a more hard luck band than these Peoria natives, it would be hard for me to name them. These guys are snakebit. Bassist/singer Mark Ellsworth was virtually in a coma for four weeks earlier in the year and in the past, I've seen him almost electrocuted by his eyeball-festooned mikestand during a set and also have seen speakers blow out on them mid-show. Tonight ,problems with getting the drum set up and properly miked held their set to a measly three numbers.  It's a shame because they are great guys and the two new songs they played tonight show some promise for the future. They play basic but chunky death in the vein of Massacre, with a strong bass sound. Tonight they really couldn't properly get out of the starting gate. Well, i am looking forward in a big way to their new album called "Eye-conic" and I sure hope they can soldier past these setbacks to get some success.

Mark from Altered Existence told me he didn't envy being placed between Severed and Cardiac Arrest in the running list. I can understand what he's talking about. When Cardiac plays in front of a crowd of true death metal fans, they are almost unstoppable. I've never seen a bad show from these guys and this was no exception. Like Severed, they appeared on the very first ILDM Bash I went to and they played some of the very same tunes tonight, like "Carnage Your Fate". Throughout all the years, they've been incredibly consistent, playing the same down-tuned, sludgy, riff-centered filth they always have. The new stuff from "Vortex of Violence" nestles comfortably next to cuts from "Haven For the Insane" and "Cadaverous Presence". Adam's growls are still stomach-churning but not overly so, while Tom and Dave add their own hideous shrieks to the mix and youthful looking drummer Nick Gallichio commits battery on his kit. This whole set was nothing but one gigantic moshpit and another notch in their already well-carved belt.

After Cardiac's skull-crushing performance came the most emotional part of the evening. Tim Wilson's father and brothers were in attendance and tonight Tim's ILDM vest was retired and presented to them as a lifelong memento. Boss Man led the ceremony, holding the vest high as a mournful honky tonk dirge played and all members of the audience, including myself, raised their drinks to the memory of the fallen brother. Tim's dad had some heartfelt words to say, stating that he knew the club was a big part of his son's life, and tears were seen on many faces in the crowd, especially from those who knew Tim best. I know the general public looks on bikers and metalheads as scum of the earth...well, something like this shows that they are among the best and most faithful people around. Tim got a great send off from the packed crowd tonight.

After the ceremony, the beatings continued...and who better to deliver them than WACO JESUS? This is yet another band I first experienced live at a Thanksgivng Bash. They can grind as massively now as they did back then, maybe even more so. These guys have been known to put on quite a humorous show, with props and spoofs of hair metal aplenty, but tonight they were all business and churned out track after track of to the point porno grind. Lead singer Shane Bottens barks out vile lyrics like a pit bull on crack and perhaps it is just as well I don't know what he is talking about. They've got a new album "Mayhem Doctrine" out and all fans of primal grind should check it out.

Seeing murder metal masters Macabre in the extremely intimate setting of Rock Hollow is nothing short of totally surreal. There is litterally no separation between the band and the fans, you are right on the floor with them. I can't imagine Macabre have played too many places like this in their 30 year career. Well, the club was packed with fans who knew their music inside and out and while their set was rather brief, it was intense and performed with full gusto. These dudes are so amazingly normal looking and down to earth...Corporate Death was wearing a Dr. Who 50th Anniversary shirt in honor of that momentous event. Dennis The Menace put on a brutal drum clinic just warming of the guys next to me said his warm up routine was more intense than most drummer's full sets. I agree, Dennis is one of the most unsung skinsman in the biz. Bassist Nefarious also looked very unprepossessing.

When C-Death started muttering "Zodiac" under his breath, we all knew what tune was gonna open the set. I starting yelping "ZOOODIAAACCC!" along with a couple of other dudes and we were off and running. Boy, Macabre is fun to watch and listen to, if you have a taste for morbid death.  I love the droll narration Mr. Death provides for each track, detailing the hideous activities of the killers he sings about. We got "Three Men In A Tub" about Dahmer taking showers with dead bodies, "Nero's Inferno" about the deprivations of the Roman emperor and the awesome downtuned crunch of "The Hitch-Hiker". A nice break came when the band played the mellow (but macabre!) tune "The Cat Came Back", which was dedicated to Tim's memory. These guys are multi-talented and as Death told us, they've actually been together since 1981, though "only" using the Macabre name since 1985. That's an amazing amount of time for the same 3 dudes to be working together. The band actually got an encore, where they played "The Vampire of Dusseldorf". The whole crowd helped with the opening nursery rhyme of "I'm gonna kill you..."

Wrapping up the evening was Chicago's premiere Slayer cover band Hell Awaits. These guys know what the fans like...they raged through a lot of OLD Slayer with a great deal of fidelity. There was still enough of a crowd around after Macabre to whip up a pit and from what I could see, they could a good response. I didn't see the entire set, but begged off early.

This was more than a concert or even a heavy metal social event for me. It was one of the best nights out I've had in a long time. Believe me, Dr. Mality may talk like an egomaniac who runs the world, but the real truth is, 95% of the time, I'm a total zero stuck in a dead end job nobody cares about. On a night like this, I feel like I'm part of something. That's worth its weight in gold. Tonight we paid tribute to a fallen brother, raised money for a worthy cause, caught some great bands and all got to feel happy and contented for a while. That's what will keep me coming back to this event as long as they run it.