NYDM SPRING BASH 2014
featuring POSSESSED, MASTER, INTERNAL BLEEDING and a cast of thousands
April 24-26, 2014
The Metal Grill, Cudahy, WI
by Dr. Abner Mality
These were three of the most exhausting and inspiring days the Good Doctor has ever had. Sure, the NYDM Spring Bash is not on the level of something like Maryland Deathfest, but this is a greater example of how to put together a grass-roots metalfest of outstanding quality without selling out to giant record labels and corporate interests. This is an event put together by hardcore metal fans for hardcore metal fans and nothing else.
It's also a tribute to the power of life. The show is the brainchild of promoter Randy Kastner, whom I've written about here before. In the state of Wisconsin, Randy Kastner IS live heavy metal. He works tirelessly putting together not just the Bash, but many other metal events. However, the 2013 edition of the Bash did not come to pass, mainly because Randy didn't know at that point if he'd be around to set up any more shows. A kidney was giving out, causing agonizing pain and forcing him into a long period of illness in the hospital, undergoing debilitating dialysis treatments and waiting to see if he could possibly get a donated kidney from somebody else. That grim waiting game is all too familiar to many who suffer from kidney issues.
Nobody could blame Randy for canceling Spring Bash 2013, an event featuring Deceased and many others. The question now was: would there be a 2014 edition of the Bash?
Well, you're reading this article, so the answer is yes. The solution came with a true story of sacrifice and selflessness. Randy happens to be a member of the nationwide underground metal club the NYDM. These brothers of the extreme take their membership in the group with utmost seriousness. Respect and a helping hand is one thing, but for another member of the club to donate his kidney to Randy on the occasion of his own death, that is nothing short of heroic. Randy got his kidney from the tragically deceased B.J. Arnette of California. He got a second chance at life and another chance to promote a Spring Bash. So Spring Bash 2014 was a real celebration of life and brotherhood...and loud fucking metal!!!
Mr. Kastner made the most of his second chance. Not for nothing is he known as the Wizard of Watertown. NYDM Spring Bash 2014 was as good as it gets when it comes to grass roots shows, with a special emphasis on great underground acts from the Wisconsin scene of old. When Randy announced that the headlining act for this year would be none other than the legendary POSSESSED, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Toss in other titans of the underground like Chicago's MASTER and New Jersey's INTERNAL BLEEDING, and you have got an absolute barn-burner of a show.
There were a lot of larger than life dramas playing themselves out over Bash weekend. We touched on Randy's new chance at life through another's sacrifice. On the opening Thursday night headlined by Master, Indiana's Radiation Sickness was slated to play. Mere days before the event, tragedy struck when R.S. bassist Tom Ball took his own life. Naturally that forced the cancellation of the band's set. It was another reminder of fragile human mortality that hung over the show. A jug was set up during the Bash so fans could contribute money to a funeral fund for Tom and also for the late Gates of Slumber member Jason McCash. It says something about the NYDM brothers that the jug was always well fed with money.
And of course, who could forget the amazing story of Possessed frontman Jeff Becerra, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since being senselessly shot in a botched San Francisco holdup in 1990? After battling drug and alcohol addiction, Jeff overcame his disability with the help of heavy metal. He now fronts Possessed in a wheelchair, which has provided inspiration to countless fans across the globe. He used this inspirational power of underground metal to help create the NYDM...the organization sponsoring the Bash.
A lot of lessons to be learned and stories to be told at the Bash this year!
I opted to stay at the local Ramada for the Bash. Thanks again to Randy for helping to set up rooms for all us rivet-heads at the hotel. That's going above and beyond the call. I can only imagine how thrilled everybody there was to see an invasion of vest-wearing scruffy headbangers. But then, people always look at the outside instead of the inside...
I'm gonna break up my review of the bands into small, digestible chunks. Maybe that seems like the "easy" way to do it, but I want to give every band that performed their due.
ANOMALY: This local band seems to open just about every show in town. Not too many people around at the point, a fact that wasn't lost on the front man, who drolly remarked "nobody seems to be noticing me". These guys are not bad at all, playing a technical kind of death metal with good guitar solos, but they don't command the stage yet. Keep working at it.
SEXUAL ATROCITIES: This band was once known as Screaming Afterbirth, a kind of death metal legend in Wisconsin circles. Favoring slamming, screeching death metal in typical fashion, they know how to put on a show. The frontman did the whole set wearing a Mexican luchador mask (I think modelled after the great Psicosis) and the lead guitarist with his nice clothes and slicked back hair looked like he escaped from a wedding band. But he could shred! The bassist had previously just done a tour with fast rising Inter Arma. At one point, former Screaming Afterbirth singer Dan Kutsche was asked to stage to sing along. I can't bring myself to hate a band that performs a song called "Feed Us A Fetus Fajita".
DISABLER: Ah, quite a story here. For the last few years, this band was called Enabler and they played a ton of shows in the Midwest, ravaging audiences with their snarky brand of grindcore. Well, it so happens there another band from Milwaukee called Enabler and those guys managed to land a contract with Southern Lord. Even though the first Enabler had the name longer, guess who loses in a battle of monickers. It was a rather morose Aaron Whitesides, leader of the "former" Enabler, who confided in me that he now plays in the "Enabler tribute band" Disabler. It really sucks when an established band has to change its name when a latecomer steals it. I have no interest in the Southern Lord Enabler, but Disabler is perhaps a more "crippling" and therefore appropriate band name for Aaron's trio. Disabler, Enabler...by any other name, a band grinds as much. These guys delivered their usual high energy, drunken ramble packed with violent tracks like a lightspeed cover of Sabbath's "Snowblind" and the infamous "Last Time I Gave a Shit, I Got Fucked". See Disabler live, support them...they need to get their own album out. Success is the best revenge.
AGE OF ARES: This band stood in when the originally scheduled Fisthammer pulled off the tour. That was a disappointment to me, because Fisthammer is the real deal. This first night of the bash suffered a lot of changes from its original conception. Of course Radiation Sickness had to drop off when tragedy struck them. Nervo Chaos from Brazil had to cancel when the usual visa bullshit that plagues many foreign bands arose. Randy originally even scheduled a death metal band from Syria on the show! But they, too, had to excuse themselves due to a "fear for their security". God bless bands from the Mid-East, they have the toughest time of all getting heard.
That left Age of Ares to fill the slot. Well, to be brutally honest, I can't remember anything about their set. They were young and musically talented but nothing they played stood out at all. There wasn't much of a response from the crowd, either. This is a young band that needs more seasoning before they make their impact.
HATE STORM ANNIHILATION: This was the first of several two-man outfits to play the Bash, consisting of a guitarist/vocalist and a drummer. They raged! Usually I miss a bass player, but the guitarist had plenty of bottom end. Anybody who liked superfast stuff like old Krisiun and Angelcorpse would dig this. There was also some almost neoclassical shredding guitar solos to mess with your head. I still think they would be better with a good bassist, but if you are into pure raging death, this is a unit to keep an eye on. They hail from Chicago, too!
MASTER: You can pretty much make a claim that Master and Paul Speckmann brought the American death metal scene to life way back in the mid-80's. This was the first time I've seen Master live since Central Illinois Metalfest a few years back. This was a lot better experience. Except for an annoying buzz that cropped up at the end of the set, the sound was way better than what we had to put up with in Champaign and that put the gruff Mr. Speckmann in a better mood.
I see Alex Bouks has joined the band (at least live) as a second guitarist and that, also, is a real boost, giving them a hugely thick and meaty sound. These guys are truly "masters" of their sound....fast, catchy death metal with few frills and Paul's still supremely sick vocals. The set touched on all phases of Master's lengthy career, including "Judgement of Will" from their very first record as well as the title track to ":Slaves of Society", cuts from "The Human Machine", "The New Elite" and newest terror slab "The Witchhunt". At one point, Speckmann eased into what sounded like some pure Chicago blues and you get the impression that this guy plays death metal because he likes it, not because he has to. I pick "Smile As You're Told" as my personal favorite tonight. It was great seeing Master close up and on top of their game.
GORGATRON: This band of horror metal fiends had the "mop-up" slot after Master's gig, which is not an enviable position to be in. I didn't catch all of their set, but what I heard sounding extremely groovy and catchy....almost too much to be called pure death metal. Whatever. I liked what I heard and would enjoy seeing the band again some time.
MUTILATED BY ZOMBIES: I was gone by the time these Iowa death metal maniacs hit the stage. And according to what I later heard from singer Josh deMuth, so was everybody else. Pun intended, they had drawn the dead man's slot. Well, I saw them the next weekend at Rock Hollow Gun Club and if their Bash set was like what I saw at Rock Hollow, everybody missed a killer assault of brutal death featuring Josh's grinding vocals and a pleasing mix of mid-tempo Obituary style crunch with faster, more technical parts. These guys are paying dues now, but will soon be making waves, mark my words!
Grabbed my hotel room at the Ramada and already saw a lot of hooligans sporting NYDM vests and gear milling around. The brotherhood was gathering! I made my way back down to the Metal Grill and got ready for a long night of high volume hijinx.
SUBJUGATION: First time I saw this Wisconsin band and I was really impressed. I can best describe them as a combination of Celtic Frost, Darkthrone and Immortal, with catchy riffs bordering on both primitive and majestic. Now those 3 bands mentioned above are some of my absolute favorite so you know I was digging these guys. Too bad more people weren't there to see their potential. I spoke to their dreadlocked frontman later and he cheerfully admitted the band doesn't have one damn thing to sell at this point. When they get some music out for sale, I will check them out, that's a promise.
CYANOSIS: I was scarfing a pizza at the bar during most of these guys set, but I heard them and kept tabs. Very brutal death in the Suffocation vein was what I heard...well delivered and played, but lacking originality. They drew a good response from the hardcore fiends in the crowd who were starting to gather.
BURIAL RITUAL: These guys are the current top metal band in Milwaukee, bar none! I am amazed at how a band that is so tight and so ferocious can't land a decent record deal. Makes me wanna start my own label just to grab bands like this. I've seen them many times and they always get better, they never backslide. They play raging precision death metal that can be considered technical but not to the point of obsession or distraction. Anybody into the best of Cannibal Corpse, Immolation and Broken Hope would enjoy these guys and killer tunes like "Beneath a Blackened Sky", "Beasts of War" and "Full Spectrum Dominance". Along with Cardiac Arrest, they are the cream of the Midwestern DM crop.
FROSTHELM: These icy warriors came all the way from the frigid fields of North Dakota to wreak some havoc on the Spring Bash crowd. They were kind of a welcome divergence from the rabid death metal bands surrounding them. They played an extremely clean, precise and vicious combination of black metal and thrash. They seemed to me to be a somewhat more intense version of Skeletonwitch. My drinking buddy Johnny Vomit, a guy who doesn't impress easily, was quite taken with furious and unenhanced drumming. These guys were tight in all aspects and the vocalist rasped out perfect black metal vocals to accompany the band. I was lucky enough to meet these guys in the hotel elevator later and they are pretty down to Earth. I would keep an eye out for more product from them soon.
MORTA SKULD: The most legendary band of the early Milwaukee death metal scene, Morta Skuld ALMOST made it big. If the music business wasn't such a fucked up parody of itself, they should STILL make it big. They play classic morbid mid-tempo death with grueling riffs ala Obituary, Massacre and old Death. I just love this slow, fat and fuzzy sound, accompanied by monstrously heavy bass that rattles your ribcage. Dated, you say? Timeless, is how I would answer. A great set of oozing doomy DM from these legends!
MORGUE SUPPLIER: These guys were technically the most extreme band of the entire festival. They are not easy to get into and I suspect they like it that way, but for those craving pure intensity and visceral chaos in their music, this is a band to take note of. On stage, they're something to see. Their bass player is one of the most spastically convulsive musicians I've ever clapped eyes on...his outrageous facial expressions and twitchy contortions are a source of constant entertainment. In contrast, the bald and bearded guitarist seems utterly relaxed and composed even while he coaxes explosive hell out of his axe.Frontman Paul Gillis tells me this contrast is by design. As for Gillis himself, he spends half the show on his knees shrieking and roaring in pain, trying to match the musical insanity going on around him. Morgue Supplier is not for those who prefer smooth and easy riffs, but if bands like Pig Destroyer and Converge trip your trigger, I wouldn't miss them.
CARDIAC ARREST: I can't say much more about these guys than what I have already. Chicago's most reliable death metal band. They always put on a great show full of action and aggression and once again, they blew the crowd through the wall with their vile tunes. Guitarist Tom Knizner got a bit more time on vocals than usual, I noticed, and the guys debuted some new songs from their forthcoming album on Razorback Records. The new stuff was noticeably faster than what I've heard from them before so get ready for another "hurricane of horror" from these diabolical fiends. They are death metal incarnate!
ARES KINGDOM: These epic blackened death metallers have treading the boards for many a moon, but this was the first opportunity I had to hear them live. They have all the qualities of a band I should go apeshit over....epic war-like riffs, a mixture of speeds and tempos, themes of horror and mythology. Sad to say, I found myself losing interest in their set fairly quickly. For some reason, it just didn't gel with me. I can't say they did poorly in any way, it just didn't hook me. I wound up at the bar with Johnny Vomit, who was buying me drinks. We almost mistook blue detergent used to clean pizza cutters for blue curacao! When I told the bartender that Johnny was actually in charge of driving the hotel shuttle, he laughed so hard he gave us both a free shot! Maybe next time I can get more out of Ares Kingdom.
SACRIFICIAL MASSACRE: A guy with bare chest, shaved head and black eye paint comes out on stage with a bowl of burning incense and begins a chant. Black metal time must be at hand. The diabolical fragrance of Febreeze seemed to waft through the air as this two man unit began their light speed attack. The incense-burner was the drummer and a long haired chap with some cool red and black facepaint played guitar and screamed. No bass player. And that's what killed this band for me. I have to have a bottom end in my metal and there was none to be found here. I did detect some worthy riffs amidst the tinny cacophony, but my interest was lost pretty soon. Total treble is not metal.
STONE MAGNUM: The classical doom metal of Stone Magnum provided a thunderous answer to Sacrificial Massacre's lack of heft. This band is ALL about the bottom end. They play excellent Candlemass-influenced doom featuring the superb vocals and intense performance of Nick Hernandez. I've said it before, but this guy is one of the best singers in American metal right now. There's also a lot of tasty soloing and riffage from Dean Tavernier and Jim Brucks. Favorite tracks have to be "By An Omen I Went" and "In Tongues They Whisper" but you can't go wrong with any of their stuff if you like heavy yet classy doom.
Following Stone Magnum's set, I slipped next door to the tiny Kili's Cafe, the quintessential "hole in the wall" joint. It looks kinda like a greasy spoon, but never have I ate so much for so little. Had a big spicy bowl of "Presidential Soup" with three big meatballs, a nice juicy gyro and more fries than I could handle, all for the princely sum of $6.50! You just can't beat that and these guys made a ton from hungry metalheads all weekend. Stuffed, I returned to the fray...
VIOGRESSION: Here's another old Wisconsin death metal band from the early 90's. I don't know how Randy rounded up all these old timers. I thought for sure that John Tardy made a surprise guest appearance as their lead singer, but no, it was Viogression's actual singer, doing the best Tardy impersonation I've ever heard with his morbid screams. He was accompanied by guttural roars from the guy who used to sing for Accidental Suicide, another old Wisconsin death metal band. These guys played in the Obituary vein, but didn't have the tight songcraft. It all sounded like one big gooey mass to me. I like the heaviness and morbid feel, but the songs just weren't there. A minor disappointment to me.
EMBRYONIC DEVOURMENT: I actually met the drummer for these cats over at Kili's and he was as laid back as you could ever imagine. These incredibly proficient technical death metallers provided a welcome surprise for the fest. HIgh speed tech-death is very much an acquired taste, but these guys were so amazing to watch and their music so unpredictable that this was as much jazz fusion as it was death metal. And believe me, it still slammed. I watched these guys with Mercyful Mike and during one of their later songs, the bassist cut loose with a mini-solo that had us both looking at each other and saying, "what the fuck did I just hear?" There was also some stunning twin guitar work like Thin Lizzy at Cannibal Corpse speed. One of the most unique sets of the weekend.
BEAST IN THE FIELD: If Embryonic Devourment were a nice surprise, then Beast in the Field dropped a hydrogen bomb on Spring Bash. Of all the many acts playing the fest, this was the only one I had absolutely NO idea of what they were about. So naturally they wind up being the loudest and HEAVIEST band of the entire weekend. You could hear people's jaws hitting the floor when Beast fore into their set. They are yet another two man outfit, but I have never heard any two man band create a sound as thick and massive as this...not even Inquisition! They are instrumental and play what could roughly be called epic sludge. I would hate to be the chiropractor for the guitarist...this guy literally tore himself apart jumping up and down and whirling around during the gig. His guitar sound could be compared to Matt Pike from High On Fire...only about 10 times rawer! Amazing shit! The big bearded lumberjack of a drummer had his kit way out front, even with the guitarist, and hit the skins with a caveman's hunger. But Beast of the Field belonged to the superloud and oozing guitar riffs! This band was a revelation and deserves to have a major platform for their music.
DISINTER: Longtime vets of the Chicago scene, Disinter had the unenviable position of being sandwiched between Beast in the Field's shocking set and the total beatdown delivered by Jungle Rot. Nevertheless, they delivered an excellent collection of classical death metal tunes in their own right. The long haired and bare chested frontman cuts the archetypal death metal figure. The songs were just the right speed and intensity....vicious, but not the technical whirlwind of Embryonic Devourment or the slow burn of Vermillion. This was crowd pleasing stuff and by now the crowd was tightly packed awaiting the arrival of the godly Possessed.
JUNGLE ROT: These guys are like the ultimate utility players in the American death metal scene. Whenever you need a heavy hitter or a good fielder, you call for them. They are my pal Slayer's favorite band and he has probably seen them more t imes than I've had sex....OK, maybe even more than that. Tonight they delivered the best show I've ever seen from them and I've seen them several times. They just totally laid waste to the Metal Grill with their rapid fire, to the point and no bullshit death metal insanity. Lots of tunes from the new classic "Terror Regime" such as "Savage Rites" and "Voice Your Disgust" but also digging deep for stuff from "Slaughter the Weak" and "Warzone". They are just so amazingly tight and on point...just like the elite military squads they sing about in much of their songs. Dave Matrise is one intense and evil looking motherfucker! This was just sheer moshing pleasure and I personally would have switched their slot with Morbid Saint's.
MORBID SAINT: More than 20 years ago, Milwaukee band Morbid Saint put out one album "Spectrum of Death" on the minor league JL America label and in the years since then, they have grown to have a cult following and that album has become acknowledged as the best thing ever from that label. There's more interest in the evil thrash metal of Morbid Saint now than at any time in their existence and Randy managed to snag them for the Bash. They had a prime slot opening for Possessed and following Jungle Rot. Much like Dr. Shrinker the night before, they hit the ground running. Slayer reckoned they had the best set of the weekend. I would not go so far myself, but they definitely the crowd circle pitting big time with songs like "Burned At The Stake" and "Lock Up Your Children". Sporting a Rush T-shirt, bald-headed frontman Patrick Lind has a great hateful and raspy voice that would be the envy of many a black metal band. The Saint's sound owed more than a little to tonight's headliners. However, technical problems plagued their set, including a momentum-killing stretch of over ten minutes. I enjoyed Morbid Saint but not as much as Jungle Rot or Cardiac Arrest.
POSSESSED: And it all came down to this. I never believed I would see this band or any facsimilie thereof. Thank you, Randy Kastner, for making this dream come true. Considering the trials and travails that Jeff Becerra has gone through, it is amazing that he is here with us tonight. But he is here, and after an interminable wait that had me chafing at the bit, Possessed at last hit the stage.
You couldn't beat Possessed for sheer sentimental value. They had the longest gig of the weekend and made the most of it, touching on all three of their seminal works. I still think "Seven Churches" is one of the greatest metal albums of the 80's, if not all time. They played "Evil Warriors", "Twisted Mind", "Pentagram", "Fallen Angel" and the killer of all killers, "The Exorcist". I have waited 30 years to see that performed live. One thing I learned...I should never go into a mosh pit again! And then, the very last song of the evening was the anthemic and obvious "Death Metal".
As you know, Jeff is confined to a wheelchair, which makes for a unique concert experience. He was one of the happiest guys I've ever seen at a metal show, thankful to be playing in front of a rabid crowd of true fans. At certain points, he seemed to be choked up on emotion. Jeff is one of the fathers of the NYDM and in a lot of ways, we reacted to him like he was our father. He gets strength from us...and we get it from him. It is a mutual benefit kind of thing and it gave this show a real special feel.
Jeff is the only remaining original member, but he was backed up by some super talented (and entirely Latino) metalheads sporting the spike wristbands, leather pants and dark T-shirts that typify Possessed. The drummer killed! The ultimate dream would have been to have a true Possessed reunion, but that is not going to happen. The band also played plenty from "Beyond the Gates", including "Tribulation", the title track and an excellent "Phantasm". They also hit "My Belief" and "Eyes of Horror" from the "Eyes of Horror" EP. There were minor kinks in the sound, but the emotional response to Possessed smoothed over any bump.
It did my heart good to see Randy sitting back and enjoying Possessed's set. It is pretty ironic that the guy who worked the hardest to bring the show to live had the least amount of time to enjoy it. He was running around, fretting and fussing all weekend. But here at last he was just another metalhead fan in the crowd. I don't think the rest of us could thank him enough for the enjoyment he provided this year.
Possessed got two encores and finally left the stage early Sunday morning, leaving the rest of us to crawl back to the hotel or to home in a drained but happy state. I slept like the dead and drove back home the next morning. For 3 days, my troubles receded to nothingness as I was engulfed by the metal brotherhood. Next year we will get to do it all again...who knows what wonders the 2015 edition of the NYDM Spring Bash will bring? This fest is growing to monstrous proportions...
(PICTURE KEY...from the top down...MASTER...BURIAL RITUAL...MASTER...MORGUE SUPPLIER...CARDIAC ARREST...SACRIFICIAL MASSACRE...STONE MAGNUM...DISINTER...POSSESSED...DISABLER...CARDIAC ARREST...MORGUE SUPPLIER...ARES KINGDOM