NYDM 2015 SPRING BASH
Featuring DECEASED, WHIPLASH, ANGER AS ART and many more
April 23-25 2015
The Metal Grill, Cudahy, Wisconsin
By Dr. Abner Mality
Putting together a multi-day Metalfest is not only a ton of work, it's also a work of art...at least, when it's done correctly. And Spring Bash 2015 was done correctly and more. This was an event geared towards the long-time metal conneisseur with varied tastes. It wasn't three days of bands that sounded exactly the same or with the same type of listeners. There was a ton of range here, from the classic 80's power metal of Medieval Steel to the brutal gut-munching death of Malignancy. Names like Whiplash and Artillery will generate a mile-wide grin in any die-hard metal veteran. But there was also room for up and comers such as Striker and Possessor. And of course, you have to pay tribute to your local scene...in this case, that would be bands like Burning Sons and Memories Wither.
I've covered these events before so you probably know that the mastermind behind the Bash is the Wizard of Watertown, Randy Kastner. He sweats, slaves and worries over the Bash year round and his only concern is that everybody attending the event has the best time possible. Something he himself can never experience because he is the "No Fun Shogun"!
Seriously, what a work of art this Fest was. What a great selection of bands! There was only one real hiccup...when masked maniacs MIDNIGHT had to pull off the show. They were replaced by Wisconsin weed warriors BONGZILLA. Also, some of the smaller bands also had to be replaced, but in each case, a suitable substitution was made. When Randy managed to add Artillery, Striker and VX36 to the bill without increasing the price, that was truly a feat of wizardry.
Let me give my annual rundown of the Midwest's best metal festival...
Got to the Metal Grill to see things from the beginning and was immediately informed that kickoff band Devolving Messiah couldn't play. Too bad for them! We moved on right away to East Coast technical death/thrash crew PERCUSSOR, whom I had never had the pleasure of hearing before. They knew their shit. Their music was catchy yet quite technical, with some very good bass playing. Having the opening slot for a 3 day fest is not an easy thing....this band did very well in that capacity.
Next we had a new and rather hyped band from Chicago called BEYOND DE-TH. That hyphen is a bitch to put in there! I can forgive them because these guys were incredibly fast and tight. Good high velocity thrash that caught everybody's attention and drew some lurkers in from the bar area. There's always people hanging at the bar at these things, which is to be expected, but I come for the bands. I would most definitely be interested in hearing more from Beyond De-th!
Many years ago, at the first Milwaukee Metalfest I attended, I recalled seeing a wild act called DIABOLICAL POSSESSION. They left a lasting impression on me, especially their maniac bald-pated frontman. Well, here in 2015, I encounter the band again! Was it the same dude as lead singer? I'm pretty sure it was, but now sporting a bushy beard, thick glasses and a tattooed beer gut. The years take their toll on all of us, but this crazy son of a bitch still howls like a werewolf. This band is black/death/thrash personified! Our main man strained mightily to unleash some raw screams and glare at the crowd like he wanted to kill them. To be honest, I think Diabolical Possession kinda stole the show the first night. Almost 20 years later and still delivering the goods!
It seems that WRATH has played almost every Milwaukee show I've seen in the last few years. They,too, have been treading the boards since the 80's. Tonight's set from them was a "throwback Thursday" kind of deal, as they focused on their classic oldschool thrash material. I've written about these guys a lot, so I won't dwell on their set other than to say that this was the best show I've seen from them. They seemed energized and at their peak.
It's been a long, long time since I've seen NOVEMBER'S DOOM in action. They sort of fly under the radar with their melodic, doomy brand of extreme metal but what a professional band they are on stage. Starting with the raging "Rain", they segued into a varied set ranging from the title track from their new album "Bled White" all the way to something off their very first album, "Amid Its Hallowed Mirth". This is a band for intelligent metal fans. Their vocalist Paul Kuhr is amazing for several reasons. He's one of the few singers that had totally mastered both brutal growls and operatic clean vocals in equal measure. He demonstrated both tonight. And I have to mention how radically different he looks from the last time I saw him live. Then, he was over 400 pounds and had difficulty getting around. Tonight, he was certainly no more than 200 pounds at the most. He's lost almost as much as I weigh. That is an incredible metamorphosis and one which I'm sure will add years to his life. That's good, because we need singers with this talent and bands like November's Doom. Again, I could have wished for more in the crowd to raise the energy level but it was not to be.
Confession time: I missed Thursday's headliners, ANGER AS ART. This modern thrash band is the brainchild of Steve Gaines, who's been involved with a lot of significant metal acts like Abbatoir and Dreams of Damnation. I'm sure AAA tore the house up!
Got tp the Metal Grill in time to see about half the set from VX36, who were out touring with Artillery and Striker. I had no prior experience with this band but I liked what I saw. A power trio, they play a rough and furious kind of metal with thrash influences but also some straight heavy metal feeling. I kind of wish I caught the whole set...maybe next time? Unfortunately, I missed opening act BRAY ROAD, a local Milwaukee band named after the Wisconsin road where werewolves have been reported.
BURNING SONS is another local band that I was seeing for the first time. I had no idea what to expect but it sure wasn't a gorgeous brunette screaming her lungs out for some primitive punk-influenced metal. Wow! This band played a furious style with the feeling of Motorhead, old Bathory and crusty D-beat punk. Our bodacious frontwoman kept up a constant stream of hateful vocals without a let up, but then smiled shyly between tunes. The bass player was a bald dude I've seen at many a show, just as expressionless here as he was in the crowd. Burning Sons is a ripping band that I can recommend with no reservations.
The "house band" of the Spring Bash seems to be MEMORIES WITHER. They've played every edition of the Bash so far, but this year I got to see their whole set without an interruption. My blunt spoken compadre Johnny Vomit mentioned that they looked too clean cut to be an extreme metal band and I can't disagree. Nice short haired boys with immaculate grooming. Don't judge a book by its cover! They play melodic technical death metal that still has balls. This band was very tight and their singer roared like a hungry lion. It seems to me that the band has advanced light years past their 2014 Bash appearance. They have got their debut CD out now and it might be something to check out.
Burning Sons was the first female fronted band at the Bash, but not the only one. Enter HOLOCAUSTUM from Ohio with their brutal subterranean death metal. Whereas the singer from Burning Sons retained some traces of the female in her vocals, it was hard to tell if Holocaustum's singer was even human. She was just as bestial as any of the singers for Embalmer or Manticore. The Holocaustum style was something I'd describe as being in the Immolation/Incantation school, with a warlike feel. Not the most original thing in the world but delivered with authenticity.
I was really looking forward to Canada's STRIKER since I heard their excellent "City of Gold" record from 2014. I had the feeling they might deliver the sleeper performance of the weekend. I was not disappointed at all! Any chance you've got to see this band, take it! They really LOOK like a heavy metal band and every member attacks the audience like his life depended on it. They were all over the place! To describe their sound, imagine perhaps a thrashier Symphony X without the keys. Although not really balls-out total thrash, their energy level put many thrash and death metal bands to shame. Excellent band and a real highlight of Bash 2015!
VENOMOUS MAXIMUS from Texas is quite a curious creature, very hard to describe. They do not fit into any convenient subgenre box. Not doomy enough to be doom, not groovy enough to be stoner, not fast enough to be thrash. They play a very dark kind of straight up heavy metal with overtones of Sabbath and even grunge. I saw them previously at Days of the Doomed and they once again delivered tonight. Their frontman Gregg Higgins commands the stage with a lot of charisma and doesn't leave anything on the table. They played selectons from their Napalm Records debut "Beg Upon the Light" and also their forthcoming sophomore release on Shadow Kingdom Records. V.M.'s set was very good but anybody would have had a hard time following Striker.
In a drastic stylistic shift, long-running gore fiend EMBALMER delivered a pile driving set of morbid death-grind. Live is where these guys excel. I've always considered their albums poorly produced and over-rated, but they are so much better in a live environment. The guitars bite with full power and the ultra-guttural growls of the vocalist would make your bowels quake. They played family friendly faves like "There Was Blood Everywhere" and "Bone Box". A band that I didn't care that much about going in wound up surpassing expectations.
Next was the band I was waiting for. It's been over 30 long years since I first got blown away by ARTILLERY's "Fear of Tomorrow" and I have been a huge fan of this Danish band since day one. Never did I think I would see them play Metal Grill in Milwaukee, WI so thank you, Randy Kastner! When you work yourself up over such a long period of time, the possibility of a letdown is always there. And how did Artillery 2015 hold up?
They blew the fuckin' house down! This set itself was worth the price of admission! Now yeah, I'm an Artillery fanboy, but I don't think anybody who loves heavy metal with speed and power could disagree. They opened their set with "Khomaniac" and never stopped for a second. Lead guitarist Michael Stutzer has been with the band since 1983! He doesn't have the guitar hero "look", but his fingers melted the strings right off his guitar as he tore into classics like "Into the Universe", "The Challenge" and "By Inheritance". I noticed that Michael's brother and longtime bandmate Morten was not with them on this stop, replaced by a younger guy with a long beard. Whether this is a permanent situation or not, I don't know. I have to give props to singer Michael Basthol Dahl, who gave the show everything he had. I will always have a soft spot for former Artillery frontman Flemming Ronsdorf, but Dahl did a fantastic job even on the older tunes.
Artillery also played some of their newer stuff like the title track to new album "Legions", but in my humble opinion, nothing could match "Terror Squad" for sheer thrashing brilliance. They flattened everybody with that one! Bass player Peter Thorslund kind of looks like an insurance salesman, but unfailingly kept up with the furious pace. The only thing that would have made the set truly perfect is if they played my all-time favorite Artillery song, "At War With Science". Alas, they didn't, but that didn't stop this show from being a highlight of the weekend for me.
The evening was by now in full swing and the Metal Grill was packed. Good to see the massive turnout of familiar faces like Johnny Vomit, Renato Brujo, Ben Miller, Slayer Severns, Boss Man, and so many others. These events are just as enjoyable because they are a social get-together as well as a killer show. The weather outside was atrocious but it was warm and cuddly inside.
When Midnight backed out of the Bash, that left a sizable gap that needed to be filled. Randy pulled the notorious rope-smoking sludge metal kings BONGZILLA out of their stupor and plugged them into the Midnight slot. These guys are Wisconsin natives and the choice was almost universally acclaimed. Alas, after witnessing their unfocused and meandering set, I wish Midnight would have made it instead. I like doped up sludge as well as anybody, but being a pothead doesn't excuse everything musically. You still need a certain degree of tightness. That was absent here. They started off well enough but soon started plodding off into endless and pointless excursions into feedback, piddling around and generally wandering in the wildnerness. I lost interest pretty quickly. The set felt like it went on forever and by the end of it, only Bongzilla die-hards were up front. Sorry, this one killed my buzz.
Friday night's headliners were the mighty WHIPLASH from New Jersey. Talk about thrash metal gods...I definitely remember getting blown away by their debut "Power and Pain" in 1985 and thinking they were right up there with Slayer. To think that I would be checking them out in 2015 in Cudahy, Wisconsin! After an especially long time sound checking, they blasted off with "Last Man Alive" and then ripped into "Burning of Atlanta" and "Insult to Injury". Tony Portaro looks a lot different now than he did back in the day, but his fingers are just as fast. "Stage Dive", "Red Bomb" and "Walk the Plank" were more classics they played. They also did some from their most recent and more traditional heavy metal oriented effort "Unborn Again", but to be absolutely honest, that just didn't hold a candle to the likes of "War Monger" or "Burning of Atlanta". It was a blast seeing Whiplash in such an intimate setting!
I was drained as hell going back to the hotel and thanks to yahoos there, I got about zero sleep before facing the biggest and longest day yet, Saturday!
After a fine meal at the area's biggest Mexican restaurant El Fuego, I headed back to the Metal Grill and got there in time to even catch the opening band for the day. That was Wisconsin's own GRAVE REMAINS and it was very nice to see even at this hour, there was a good and enthusiastic crowd on hand. Grave Remains is a grimy 3 piece with a singing drummer (one of the hardest jobs in music!) and they play metal so dirty you can almost smell it. Real simple and basic no BS stuff that sometimes sounded like a Motorhead influenced band and at other times more like primitive death metal. These fellows are quite active in the local scene so if you see their name on a bill, check them out!
From the frozen fields of Iowa, somewhere west of Blashrykh, came AGRINEX, the only full fledged black metal band to play the Bash this year since the other two, Ruines of Abaddon and Strix Nebulosa, were early casualties. These guys had the corpse paint, the armor, the capes, the whole 666 yards and their black metal sounded both traditional and melodic. Their burley front man told us "we have come far, through storms of rain and shitty Illinois drivers" to play the fest. Despite all the gear, their stage presence could use some work. Their black hearts are in the right place and further work and shows will sharpen their edge.
As people continued to file into the venue, California's CRUSH YOUR ENEMIES took the stage. It wasn't long before I tuned them out. Scattershot, noisy grind and their menacing bald frontman spent a lot of time blurting out pearls of wisdom like "Obama's a faggot, fuck him" and more such witty banter. They seemed to be trying for an Anal Cunt style approach but nowhere near as entertaining. I headed outside to check out the big merch tent on the lawn. Many goodies available there. I grabbed an "Orgy of the Dead" T-shirt from Bossman and he kindly donated an "Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals" T-shirt as well. That's a friend in need!
I made sure to get right up front to see the next band...the veterans from Arkansas, the mighty VORE! They were just as crushing as I had hoped! If you like the bulldozer basics of Bolt Thrower and the primitive punishment of Obituary, these guys are for you! Their pace only rarely rose above a gallop, but they play riffs of such potency, delivered with ultra low tuned belligerence, that your bones are ground into a mushy paste. The vocalist's growls are so low that they match the bass sound. The dudes launched some salvos from their "Gravehammer" and "Maleficus" albums that left us all reeling. This band deserves a break.
You could same about Ohio's MANTICORE, who have been making evil music for many years now. The speed quotient went way, way up from what Vore played. Are they black metal or death metal? Only their undertaker knows for sure. The black face paint and obvious Satanic shtick point towards black metal, but the music itself seems deeper and heavier. A comparison to "war metal" bands like Revenge and Angelcorpse seems in order.
As driven as I am to see every band, even a mad doctor has to eat now and then. While weird Wisconsin death metallers SEXUAL ATROCITIES played, I checked out the chow from the Metal Grill. The night before I had their spicy hot wings, which made my mouth feel like Manticore was playing their set inside it. Tonight I opted for more health food...bacon wrapped mozarella sticks and breaded mushrooms. The mozz sticks were outstanding but the shroom were pretty blah. I was able to keep tabs on Sexual Atrocities on the closed circuit TV...these wackos looked like a cross between Mexican luchadors and Duck Dynasty hillbillies. They slammed all over the place with pig squealing goregrind...not my favorite style, but they were very entertaining nonetheless.
I threw myself back into the fray, mushrooms be damned. Next up was a band called LEGION, hailing from Indiana, I believe. Whereas the previous two bands were quite theatrical, these guys were as basic as it gets, with black T-shirts, baseball hats and jeans. And also an assload of killer death metal energy. They were fast, tight and brutal! The material was like New York style DM (Pyrexia, Internal Bleeding) but mixed with an aura of something more accessible like Pantera. The lead singer had a shredding bellow! Legion was one of those new bands you discover at the Bash every year.
POSSESSOR is not exactly the most original name...we already had a Diabolical Possession Thursday night, not to mention Possessed and Possession...and they didn't play the most original music. Pure oldschool thrash was their game and they played it well despite dealing with some sound problems. The lead singer was wearing some kind of ungodly leather shoulder pad with giant spikes in it...he could put an eye out with that thing! The guy could really shriek in John Cyriis fashion! As derivative as the music is, Possessor kicks major ass on stage! They were joined by members of Viking (whom they had been touring with) for a rip-snorting finale!
We were now getting to the heart of the Bash. I've seen New York's brutal MALIGNANCY before, at the Central Illinois Metalfest so I was familiar with their complex ultra-vicious death metal slamming. They opened with a deathed-up cover of Twisted Sister's "You Can't Stop Rock N Roll" and that was your first clue that these guys don't take everything super seriously. In fact, their lead singer Danny Nelson must double as a stand-up comedian because he kept up a steady stream of one-liners throughout the show. At one point, he referred to the preponderance of male attendees, saying that the "sausage to pie ratio" at the Bash was skewed. Those funny moments helped liven up the set up but didn't detract from the punishing brutality of Malignancy.
Next came one of those surreal moments that you can only experience at a show like this. Following Malignancy's bloodthirsty slam, we turned to the pure classic 80's metal of MEDIEVAL STEEL. At the Bash, these two bands could play together and appeal to the same crowd. I'm ashamed to admit I wasn't real familiar with Medieval Steel's material...a huge mistake on my part! These guys hail from Memphis, one of the most metal-deprived towns in the States and they were like a time trip to the days when bands like Crimson Glory, Omen, Vicious Rumors and Savatage ruled. Their singer looked amazingly like a lawyer I used to work with but man, can this guy cut loose with a piercing falsetto scream. "I'm sweatin' like a Hebrew slave up here, "he laughed, also telling us that we need to pass the love of this kind of music to today's kids because pure metal is on its knees here. He's absolutely right about that. The crowd was held spellbound by Medieval Steel's twin guitar melodic metal and gave them a huge response.
However,during their set, an incident occurred which sapped a lot of my enjoyment of the night's festivities. I take my concert pics with cheap single-use cameras that use old style film. Some time during Medieval Steel's set, somebody took it on themselves to lift one of those cameras from me. With it went all the pictures I had taken on Saturday, including ones of me clowning with King Fowley. That really hurts. Not the loss of the camera itself, which was pretty cheap, but the pics and memories contained in it. It takes a lot of wind out of your sails, that's for sure.
Despite this disappointing act of thievery, I stuck with the show. Next up were 80';s thrash heroes VIKING. Now back in the day, I was never a big fan of these dudes and considered them second-tier at best. Therefore it was one of the best surprises of the weekend to see Viking play a killer set of very tight, very fast thrash. They've added new members since their glory days in the late 80's and it only seems to have helped them. They played a generous selection of faves from their classic albums "Do Or Die" and "Man of Straw" as well as tunes from their new one "No Child Left Behind". My favorite had to be "White Death", which is just a total thrash epic. Very pleasantly surprised by Viking!
HELLWITCH is an act which never really got their due. They were active in the very early days of the Florida death metal scene and managed to create a sound which was different from the majority of FLDM bands. Like Viking and Artillery, age has not blunted their attack in the slightest. In fact, I was amazed by how contemporary their extremely technical yet brutal death metal came across. Many of today's tech-death bands could learn something from Hellwitch and how they structure their tunes. They don't go overboard with crazy changes and shredding solos, yet there are always unexpected twists to their music that keep you interested. Guitarist/vocalist Pat Ranieri was at the top of his game as Hellwitch played a lot of cuts from their classic albums "Syzygial Miscreancy" and "Terrasymmetry". Why this band has never gotten its due is a mystery of the metal world.
In 2013, the Bash had to be cancelled due to Randy Kastner's health issues. One of the bands picked to headline that year was DECEASED. It was a heavy disappointment not to see them back then, which made it a double treat that they returned this year. Who better to cap off a weekend of classic metal mayhem than these guardians of the old school? King Fowley has moved from the drummer's chair to the vocalist position and it makes for a lot more entertaining show. King is always a friendly presence at these events, chatting with fans and taking goofy pictures with them (I know, there was one of me and him...until the thief struck). He's much the same on stage, raging through cuts from Deceased's near 30 year career. Deceased is always a guitar lover's dream and tunes like "The Silent Creature" and "The Premonition" oozed with six-string overkill. The audience was weary from a weekend of headbanging and partying but rose to the occasion one last time for Deceased.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Spring Bash 2015 was the best version of the festival yet. Put together with meticulous care and located in a welcoming venue, it's hard to think of a better "grass roots" festival. But I'm sure that 2016 may surprise us all. Wehrmacht, Ruthless and Heretic have already been announced and who knows who else will appear? Even if you don't like in the Illinois/Wisconsin area, it is well worth the time and money to experience a fest like this!
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