July 14 to July 17, 2016
Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago
By Dr. Abner Mality
At the corner of State Street and Cermak in downtown Chicago you will find a Mecca for heavy metal and hard rock known as Reggie’s Rock Club. If your town is going to have a real underground metal scene, you need a club like Reggie’s. The loudest, dirtiest and most depraved denizens of the metal underground are welcome here, with no strings attached. No pay to play, no content restrictions, no catering to the hip and rich.
Believe it or not, I had never visited Reggie’s until Metal Threat 2016. Somehow I never saw a show big enough to get me to downtown Chicago before. That all changed when EXCITER came to town. Just to let you know, this Canadian trio is one of the bands that got me into underground metal back in 1982. I honestly consider them one of the greatest bands of the 80’s, fully equal to Slayer, Anthrax and just about any other band you could name from that period. For many years, their original lineup was bitterly split up. That lineup finally reunited in 2014 and lo and behold, they were chosen to headline one of the Metal Threat shows.
That sold me right there. When you throw in names like RAZOR, ABSU, AT WAR, BULLDOZER and INQUISITION, that’s like tossing meat to a starving dog. Any resistance I had crumbled like sandcastles in a tidal wave and I made plans to attend Metal Threat on July 15, 16 and 17. Believe it or not, there was an additional night on Thursday the 14th featuring DESTROYER 666 and ANGELCORPSE, but that gig I had to pass up. Honestly, I’m not sure I could have survived another day of this maniacal metal convention.
After enduring some of the most stomach-churning stop and go Chicago traffic that can be imagined, I arrived at the Promised Land Friday evening in plenty of time. A very pleasant surprise was being able to find a FREE parking space only a block away from Reggie’s. Anybody who’s had experience with Chicago parking knows what a godsend that is. I also was surprised by State Street…I thought it would be packed with business and jammed with cars. It wasn’t…it was pretty easy to navigate.
As for Reggie’s itself, I got a kick out of the sign out front that proclaimed “We’re not happy until you’re not happy”. The club itself is real dark and grungy, as any good rock club should be. Never have I seen so many stickers festooned on walls, columns, even chairs. The venue splits into two distinct stages…the main stage was where the “big” Metal Threat bands like Exciter and Inquisition played. The smaller “Music Joint” stage hosted even more bands like Cardiac Arrest, Savage Master and Krieg. Unfortunately you needed a separate ticket to see the Music Joint bands and let’s just say, Homie don’t play that.
The show got underway with ANGELUST from Peoria, IL. My friend Mark Ellsworth told me these dudes were the second most hated band in Peoria…his own group Altered Existence takes honors at the top of that particular distinction. They definitely provided the perfect appetizer to the feast which was to follow. Their style ranged from Motorhead-ish “metal rock” to ultra-grungy death metal and even a touch of blackness. Good,authentic underground metal, with some sharp riffs to be found. For the first couple tunes of their set, they played to only a diehard few but by the last few tunes, a decent crowd gathered . Good band!
The party started in earnest when Michigan’s cult act WASTELANDER stopped in next. I love these post-apocalyptic weirdos with their tales of life after the bomb….their debut (and so far only) LP was a real monster of crushing hooks. They played many of the best songs from that epic like “Desert Law” and “Knee Deep In the Dead”. They now have a full-time keyboardist who plays sparingly, but who adds a ton of sci-fi atmosphere to the songs. His participation was subtle but noticeable. There were a couple of tunes I didn’t recognize…don’t know if they were real old ones or something that will appear on an upcoming release. I hope it’s the latter, because these guys need to get something out. Last song was the mind-blowingly heavy “Froststorm”, which ignited the first real pit of the night. Which is a good place to mention that the Metal Threat crowd came to mosh and mosh HARD! This was not a bunch of laid back stoners nodding their heads. Those pits would only become wilder and more violent as the night went on.
Next up was….man, I don’t know how to describe it. I thought the name SHITFUCKER was pretty dumb and obvious, to tell the truth, but after having experienced this grotesque trio live, I have to say the name fits them to a T. I never saw GG Allin play live, but after seeing Shitfucker, I feel I got pretty close…and these guys are way heavier and more metal. They unleashed one of the wildest and most out of control concert experiences I’ve seen. The filthiest punk in a train wreck with the most evil metal…a show featuring vomit, homosexuality and piledriving volume. The lead singer was a little bald mustached dude who could have been a mailman in his civilian life, but who tonight was wearing a Dracula cape, spiked leather bondage gear including a studded codpiece and ghostly white make-up…and nothing else! Man, this cat was crazy,spewing projectile vomit, screaming like a maniac and gyrating like a stripper at a GAY bachelor party. At a couple of points during the show, he and the bassist exchanged nice long kisses…first time I’ve seen that at ANY show! Halford, eat your heart out! The bass player was a big hairy mountain man with black eye makeup while the drummer was a rockabilly looking guy with a mullet and corpsepaint. The vocalist informed us it was to be the drummer's last gig with the band…maybe he couldn’t take any more of this insanity? As for the gig, Shitfucker…well, they fucked shit up, with songs like “Graveyard Revels”, “Demonic Rock” and that easy listening ballad, “Sucks Cocks In Hell”. All of this while the crowd around me was going batshit crazy. As sloppy as this set was, it made me feel like a teenage kid again. And the night was by no means done…
The last time I saw MIDNIGHT, they were playing the main stage at Maryland Deathfest 2013 in broad daylight. Those were not the best conditions to see these guys at work. They are much better suited to a dark and more intimate club. Which is exactly what we got tonight and boy, what a difference it made. I couldn’t see what the fuss was about this band at MDF, but tonight at Reggie’s they were on fire. Following Shitfucker was no easy proposition, but these hooded and black-masked maniacs kept the pot boiling with speed crazed blackened rock n’ metal. Midnight is not known as a slick band, but following the berserk Shitfucker, they were positively polished. Tunes like “Black Rock N Roll”, “All Hail Hell” and “Let There Be Sin” were sharp and crisp and the sound was great. Lead guitarist Commander Vanik is the real secret weapon in Midnight’s arsenal. Although the band’s tunes are straightforward, the lead guitar is deceptively shredding and tasty. Vanik unleashed a constant blast of screaming metal solos throughout killer tunes like “White Hot Fire” and “Satanic Royalty”. The crowd, now bursting at the seams, responded with even more furious pits. Then the stage divers started. One drunk goof with a punk hair cut crawled onstage, stumbled, and pulled Vanik’s guitar cord out of its pick up. As a result, Vanik simply grabbed the guy by the collar and heaved him back into the crowd where he fell in a heap.
That was not the end of the fun. Apparently this guy was then kicked out of the club where he threw some kind of object through the front window in a rage. That brought a mess of Chicago’s Finest, who are one crew you do NOT want to mess with. After Midnight’s set, I walked outside to see this jabroni tossed into the paddy wagon. Another night at Reggie’s in Chicago! Needless to say, Midnight pretty much tore down the house and just added to the out of control feel of the event. ROCK N ROLL, BABY!
In much the same vein as Midnight and Shitfucker came ABIGAIL all the way from Japan to keep the fire burning. I can’t say I’ve been a big fan of these sleazy samurai in the past but they entertained me tonight and fit the tone of the evening real well. They had a very tough time following Midnight and Shitfucker, but their own brand of low fi and punky black metal was a good fit. Visually, the trio was pretty down to Earth compared to the black masks and hoods of the previous band. They didn’t mess around and tore into a selection of old and new material. Live guitarist Jero was another really talented axeman while mastermind Yasuyuki unleashed some of the most hellish black metal screams of the entire weekend. Drummer Youhei delivered a steady four on the floor beat. Couldn’t understand much of what Yasuyuki said but I believe he did mention the words “fuck”, “beer”, ‘Satan” and “metal”, which are pretty much the only words you need to speak at this fest. Didn’t enjoy their set quite as much as Shitfucker and Midnight’s, but I did like Abigail more than I thought I would. They are definitely better live than on record.
I first heard Italy’s BULLDOZER back in 1985 when I picked up their “Day of Wrath” album. They were one of many bands obviously inspired by Venom. Over the years, they have continued to put out material despite obstacles that include the suicide of a member and their sound has changed into something quirkier and more original. I never would have believed that I’d ever seen them play live, but here they are, headlining the Friday night edition of Metal Threat. They are their own animal, that’s for sure. The show began with very “Catholic” sounding church organs…a Bulldozer trademark. At the front of the stage was a blood-soaked preacher’s pulpit and it was here that band leader A.C. Wild delivered his sermons of evil. Wearing a magnificent cape worthy of Dracula, A.C. looked like a mash-up between Anton LaVey and wrestler Mad Dog Vachon as he stalked the stage. Many old Bulldozer favorites were trotted out, like their ode to porn queen Ilona Staller "Ilona the Very Best” and their tribute to soccer club A.C. Milan “The Derby”. Hard to describe the sound, but a mix of Venom, super-fast hardcore punk and almost progressive sounds featuring keyboards is close. It’s amazing to think that A.C. Wild and guitarist Andy have been doing this for almost 35 years! They even played the first Bulldozer song ever, “Fallen Angel” and the drunken anthem “Whiskey Time”. Honestly, their performance was not as intense as Shitfucker’s or Midnight’s, but it was enjoyable and surreal to see these Italian veterans spread their darkness on a Chicago stage.
Saturday was the day I had been looking forward to since this line-up was announced. Exciter, Razor, At War and Destructor on the same stage the same night? Are you shittin’ me? No way was I going to miss this one.
One of the aspects of these festivals I’ve come to enjoy the most over the years is the social angle. You get to fraternize with your brothers and sisters in the metal underground and gab about the scene. I don’t care how great Facebook and other social media outlets are, nothing beats having a drink at the club and hanging with people who generally share the same passion you do. This weekend was great for that. So let me give a shout out to some of the homies I met this weekend: Randy Kastner, Eric Rot, Evan Yunker, Mark Ellsworth, Petey Mendoza (who musta scared Brad Toth away), Dave Muntean and many more. Oh yeah, some guy named Johnny Vomit was annoying me all weekend, wink wink. Before the show started, I was stunned to see Exciter drummer/singer Dan Beehler relaxing on Reggie’s patio. I managed to get my pic taken with this metal hero…thanks to Mark Impetigo for snapping it. This is something that can only happen at a smaller scale fest.
The first Saturday band was a Chicago outfit by the name of MOROS NYX. I actually saw them open for Metal Church up in Milwaukee earlier in the year. These guys are like Hammerfall on speed…classic power metal with intensity dialed up a notch. Their lead vocalist/guitarist has a phenomenal clean voice with a lot of range…reminded me of the late Carl Albert from Vicious Rumors. Their set included a thrashed-up version of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” that worked super well. The title track from their latest album “Revolution Street” was a real epic that started slow and regal before taking off into some burning guitar histrionics. Moros Nyx got a nice reaction from the crowd and look like they have a future. I just wish they’d get a more “metal” look than the short-haired jeans and T-shirt stuff they’re doing now.
BAT played dirty metalized rock n roll not a million miles away from what Midnight and Abigail did the night before. A lot of early Venom influence, including one song that pretty blatantly nicked the riff from “Welcome To Hell”. This band has some well known players in it…singer/bassist Ryan Waste hails from Municipal Waste and drummer Felix Griffin was a mainstay in D.R.I. for years. The guitarist does time in Waste’s “true metal” band Volture. They thrashed things up with gusto, but I can’t say they made the same impact on me as…wait for it…Shitfucker and Midnight did the previous night. The pits started up again for BAT but would get much crazier as the night went on.
DESTRUCTOR pretty much stole the show when I saw them in Milwaukee at Spring Bash 2016. If you can believe it, they were even better tonight. A crazy packed crowd helped boost them and the crowd fed off them in a circular pattern. These guys are so awesome live! Despite their years, they play with the energy and passion of teenagers. Singer Dave Overkill hasn’t lost one ounce of power in all the years since they debuted with “Maximum Destruction”. Tonight the dudes ripped into classics like “Triangle”, “Overdose” and the intense “Iron Curtain”. The result was a furious mosh pit. Said it before, I will say it a million times…do not pass up any chance to see DESTRUCTOR live.
Virginia’s AT WAR is a band I’ve known about since the dawn of the thrash age, but which I never really thought that much about. Tonight changed my view on that completely. These guys executed a blitzkrieg raid on Chicago that took no prisoners and left many bruised and battered bodies in its wake! WOW! Those old records of theirs don’t come close to capturing the thrashing brutality they execute on stage. Led by General Paul Arnold, decked out in flak jacket and all, At War blew everybody’s heads off with massive military metal. “Semper Fi”, “Creed of the Sniper”, the controversial “Rapechase” and the concluding barrage of “Eat Lead” were just some of the cranked up killers they played. And if I thought the pit was wild for Destructor, it became actually dangerous for At War. I’m getting’ too old to mix it up that way anymore. My big hope is that At War don’t just content themselves to be a “nostalgia” act. They need to get a new record out that really captures what they do live!
The hits just kept coming at next up was another timeless thrash band, Canada’s RAZOR. Promoter Paul Dunski deserves major accolades for getting these guys to open up for Exciter. Hell, he deserves kudos for the whole damn show…more about him later. As for Razor, they are legends in the thrash underground and have been for decades. I was always more partial to the incredible screaming vocals of their original singer Sheepdog McLaren, but tonight Bob “Noxious” Reed was doing the honors and he comported himself with distinction. Although not as totally “primal” as At War, Razor torched Reggie’s with great tunes like “Cut Throat”, “Shotgun Justice” and a version of “Behind Bars” that brought Ryan Waste from BAT out to sing and even stage dive. One thing I learned from this gig: fat chicks should never stage dive, the consequences can be disastrous!
Visually, founding member Dave Carlo didn’t look anything like the fierce music he churned out. A bald, chubby guy with a black baseball hat, he looked like he could have been playing in a typical classic rock cover band. He seemed very humbled by the rabid response from the Chicago fans. He also paid a great tribute to Exciter, saying they were a huge influence on Razor. That was a classy thing to do. While Carlo was kind of laid back, longtime bassist Mike Campagnolo was a bundle of energy. Dude has got to be 50 or so, but insane thrash like “Take This Torch” and the almighty classic “Evil Invaders” causes the years to melt away. Speaking of “Evil Invaders”, this is really one of the best thrash tunes ever written.
I could have went home tired and happy after Razor’s set, but there was no way I was going to miss the Saturday headliners, the band I had been trying to see since 1982…the godly EXCITER. And in their original configuration! I can’t tell you how hard I headbanged to their material back in the day. “Heavy Metal Maniac” was the first LP I special ordered…and along with Venom’s “Welcome To Hell”, it opened my eyes to the world of underground metal. Now, after many years, the time had come to witness them in action…
So it was almost a religious experience for me when the light finally went down and the band tore into “I Am The Beast”. All of a sudden, me and everybody else in the crowd were kids again. It was 1986 and here was Exciter in their glory. Guitarist John Ricci ripping out riffs and guitar solos, Dan Beehler pounding the drums and screaming like a banshee at the same time (one of the hardest jobs in music!) and a bald Allan Johnson prowling the stage and delivering gut-thumping bass. Fog enveloped the stage almost continuously and Reggie’s superb lighting rig enhanced the experience immensely. This was what we had all been waiting for!
The band sure plumbed the depths of their early catalogue to come up with tunes. Never expected to hear the likes of “Death Revenge” or “Reign of Terror” tonight! Kinda wishing they would have played “Feel The Knife”. So many classic tunes from the first 3 albums and various Eps. As I suspected, they played nothing from “Unveiling the Wicked” and the many later records. That was to be expected tonight because the old classics are what we wanted to hear. The people were killing each other in the pit and flying off the stage…I don’t know where they got the energy. We all thrashed like crazy to tunes like “Iron Dogs”, “Violence and Force” and “Pounding Metal”. “Delivering the Master” kind of baffled me, as there were other tunes like “Destructor” or “Cry of the Banshee” that would have fit better. But when they blasted out “Rising of the Dead” and ended with the titanic riff-fest known as “Beyond the Gates of Doom”, I was in ecstasy. You simply cannot get more METAL than Exciter! The band was asked back to do “Swords of Darkness” for an encore. They coulda played all fuckin’ night as far as I was concerned.
I can cross Exciter off the bucket list. I drove back home bone tired but happy.
I had real thoughts about skipping the final day of the festival altogether. I got home at 4:00 AM and woke up at noon. Couldn’t feel my legs for an hour. Another factor was the fact that the band I really wanted to see on Sunday, The Ruins of Beverast, was denied entrance to the US because apparently they don’t sell enough records. Apparently the customs department now requires that you be a platinum selling pop band to enter the country. The Italian bands Baphomet’s Blood and Violentor also had to cancel due to the same lame bullshit. Still not happy about Ruins being excluded…
In the end, I dragged my saggy old carcass back to Reggie’s. I’m kind of glad that I did, because though this evening was not quite the equal of Saturday’s bombastic event, it was good in its own right and gave some lesser known bands the chance to shine on a big professional stage.
I arrived a little later than the previous two days and so missed opening band ATRUM INRITUS…my apologies to them. However, I was able to check out the next band, UADA. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, these dudes were unknown to me but impressed with a very professional and precise black metal attack. Their presentation was kind of striking also. They all wore deep hoods, but no make up. However, bright white lights lit them up from behind while most of the other lighting was muted. The result? It looked like the silhouettes of four dark monks were playing. As for the music, they played some epic black metal that was very fast but which had sad melody and some crushing slower riffs. They were like a tighter, less wandering version of Wolves In the Throne Room. Good job, Uada!
The Sunday edition of the Fest really suffered from foreign bands cancelling because of customs problem. The final line-up I saw was almost totally different than the one that was originally advertised. In addition to Ruins of Beverast pulling out, the German death metallers Drowned were also unable to attend. Promoter Dunski scrambled to come up with suitable replacements. He initially got PSEUDOGOD from Russia to take Ruins’ place, but I discovered just Sunday night that they,too, were deep sixed. I can imagine Dunski throwing up his hands in surrender at this point and just letting their slot go unfilled. His replacement for Drowned was SLUTVOMIT and they actually did make it.
Like Uada, Slutvomit was another surprising act. Like Shitfucker, they suffer from a pretty juvenile and idiotic name. Well, Shitfucker was juvenile and idiotic, but in the best possible way. I was expecting something similar from Slutvomit. These dudes were ferocious and filthy, but they also played much tighter and more technically than I would have thought. They played a volcanic mixture of thrash, death and black metal, with even a touch of punk. Mostly, the thrash predominated and it was in the vein of crazy old German stuff like Kreator and Destruction. They did a real wild cover of Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor” that put a grin on my face. Vocally, it was a two pronged attack, with a main singer doing harsh shrieks and a second singer unleashing guttural growls. Slutvomit really grabbed my attention with this set and I won’t dismiss any future work from them.
There were two bands tonight that really convinced me I should be here: the mighty INQUISITION was one and the other were the mythological occult metal maniacs ABSU from Texas, who now took the stage in a flurry of sonic thunder. I was these guys many moons ago at one of the Milwaukee Metalfests and they didn’t make a huge impression on me. Tonight was close to 20 years later and in a much better setting and this trio almost burned Reggie’s down to the ground. What an incredible set! These guys get my vote for the tightest and most technically proficient band of the entire fest. They played at absolutely hypersonic speed, but it wasn’t just blasts of thrashing noise. It was intricate, complex riffplay that dizzied your brain.
Drummer/singer Proscriptor McGovern is surely one of metal’s greatest showmen. The first part of the gig, he sang and played drums both. As much as I love Exciter’s Dan Beehler, I have to say Proscriptor is superior. He used a wireless microphone headset while Dan used the old style microphone stand. The headset gave Proscriptor a lot more freedom of movement and vocal clarity. And the high speed drum fills he played are mind-boggling. In the second half of the set, he left the drumming to a session player whose mystical name I didn’t quite catch. Now Proscriptor really got to strut his stuff . Cackling like an evil witch, he hit all kinds of yoga style poses and magic gestures as his brethren attacked. At several points, he would turn his back to the audience and do what looked like tai chi. Bassist Vis Crom also sang lead on a few tunes. Guitarist Ezezu is also quite a sight, with his pale makeup and absolutely massive shock of fuzzy hair.
Absu seemed to favor their 90’s material during the set, going as far back as “Barathrum VITRIOL”. Some of the highlight were “Highland Tyrant Attack” and “Never Blow Out the Eastern Candle”. Such familiar stuff was to be expected at a Fest such of this, but I was shocked they played nothing from their recent self-titled (and brilliant) LP. Nevertheless, a thrilling performance from these metal masters, who ended with “Tara”(Recapitulation). Following this last song, the mournful sound of bagpipes filled Reggie’s as Proscriptor struck a meditative pose on stage. If you ever get a chance to see these guys, do not pass it up!
Absu’s set was impossible for almost any band to follow, but INQUISITION is not just any band. The final act of the weekend is arguably the hottest commodity in black metal today and their forthcoming LP may be their breakout. By the time they appeared, fatigue had set in amongst the diehards who had attended all three day of the festival. Most especially, your humble servant. However, much of the reason I was here tonight was to see Dagon and Incubus perform.
The two man cosmic destruction squad was different to every other act that played the Festival. They did not incite the same moshing frenzy or crazed crowd response as Exciter or Absu. Instead they created a kind of hypnotic trance amongst the fans and transported them to occult realms far beyond the confines of Reggie’s Rock Club. Guitarist/singer Dagon never addressed the crowd except to briefly introduce the songs. The bizarre riffs and guitar tones he creates are unique in all of metal. Warped, watery, bathed in fuzz and twisted beyond measure, there’ a strange beauty in what he creates. Since the band has no bassist, Dagon switched between two mike stands on opposite sides of the stage. I’ve never seen that done before either. The tribal drumbeats of Incubus also create their own mesmerizing rhythm.
Make no mistake, the band blasted with venomous speed and power at many points during their show, but they spend just as much time on distorted slower riffing and icy dissonant patterns. Dagon’s robotic, Dalek-like vocals were shamanic as he invoked interstellar entities. A huge compliment again should go to Reggie’s lighting system. For a relatively small venue, the light effects were dazzling and hugely complimented the show.
When the band ended with “infinite Interstellar Genocide”, I made my way to my car. Fittingly, a tremendous thunderstorm was just breaking up and lightning ripped through the sky. The last time I was this exhausted was Maryland Deathfest 2013. But it was a happy exhaustion and my brain was awash with pleasant thoughts and memories.
I learned that Metal Threat 2016 will be the last edition of the festival. The overwhelming logistics of putting such a lengthy and massive underground experience together took too much of a toll on Mr Dunski’s family life. Such rigors have proven to be the end of many a great metal festival (Days of the Doomed and Central Illinois Metalfest come to mind). Certainly all the problems with bands dropping off the schedule contributed. Well, if this was to be the end, at least it went out with a ten megaton bang. Very rarely have I attended a Fest where I enjoyed every band to some degree. This will be a legendary event in years to come. I hope I am able to experience something like it again.
Our metal heroes are getting older and closer to the end of the line. The current music climate and system ensures that no one will rise to take their place. Do NOT pass up an opportunity to see a festival like this. Hang on to this feeling and this scene for as long as you can! That’s the only way the music we love so much will endure.
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