April 21-23, 2016

The Metal Grill, Cudahy WI

By Dr. Abner Mality

OK, unless you just started following Wormwood, you know that the Good Doctor makes a point of attending every edition of this great Midwest Metalfest. 2016 was no exception, but this year was different than any other for me. For the first time, I attended the show as a VENDOR first and a FAN second. So 2016 was quite a change for me and I had to miss quite a few of the bands so I could tend to business in the vendor’s tent.

If you didn’t already know it, I spend quite a bit of time in my laboratory cooking up heavy metal hot sauce which I package under the HOT N HEAVY brand name. The Bash is the perfect spot for me to sell these burning brews to fellow headbangers so I grabbed a spot in the outdoor vendor’s tent to ply my trade. This was the first time ever for me selling the sauce at such an event and while I couldn’t be inside to watch the bands, I still got to talk to a lot of cool folks and sold almost $400 of evil elixir. I’m not going to turn this article into an ad for Hot N Heavy but I did want to let you know the different situation this year.

However, I’m not such a fanatical capitalist that I stayed the entire weekend in the tent. I’m still a metal maniac and there were some bands I just HAD to see. Those are the ones I’ll talk about here.

To be honest, the 2016 lineup on paper did not match what promoter Randy Kastner put together for the 2015 edition. That was one for the ages, with the likes of Artillery, Whiplash and Deceased on the bill.  The key words here are “ON PAPER” because the bands I saw in 2016 all played above my expectations and delivered great gigs. It’s not easy promoting shows such as this…it takes a lot of planning and sometimes you have to take the cards you are dealt. I know Randy had a hell of a time finding bands to do the Thursday night show. He finally managed to get longtime death metal vets ACHERON to headline that date.

I couldn’t make the Thursday night show but heard it drew well. In fact, the whole weekend was well attended. I think the Spring Bash has achieved such a reputation as a cool fest with quality acts that just its name alone is enough to draw the faithful. It had to be a relief to Randy and the Metal Grill to see that this year’s Bash was another success.

It hurt me to miss the earlier bands but business is business. On Friday, the fans got treated to sets by the likes of Chicago’s sci-fi death metal fiends NUCLEUS and another Chicago fave, the underrated WITHERING SOUL. There will be another time to see these bands and in fact, you can check out my interview with Dave from Nucleus here at Wormwood Chronicles. Thanks, Dave, for buying some of my hot sauce as well.

The first band I had a real chance to check out on Friday was SAVAGE MASTER. I heard many sing the praises of this female-led band but never heard a note from them until now. They slayed! With their tiny but curvaceous frontwoman dressed in a metal breastplate and the rest of the band members wearing bondage gear and executioner hoods, they made for a memorable sight as they blasted through classical traditional metal with grit and balls. Imagine a combo of Motorhead and Judas Priest with a touch of thrash and powerful female vocals and you’ve got Savage Master in a nutshell. For some reason, they reminded me of Nashville Pussy with a more heavy metal attitude.

Next on the docket was California’s RUTHLESS, a band with a long and storied history in metal. It was lead singer Sammi DeJohn who first told me in an interview last year that they would be playing the Bash in 2016 and lo and behold, here they were. This is a band that played beyond any expectation I might have had. They put on an awesome, adrenaline-pumping gig that a lot of bands half their age couldn’t have equaled. Sammi DeJohn with his bald head and white beard doesn’t look like he should be able to do it, but what a voice this guy has got! He hit some tremendous high screams as his boys laid into tunes like “Discipline Of Steel”, “Metal Without Mercy” and “Frustration”. Ruthless is one of those bands that’s heavily influenced by the likes of Judas Priest and Kiss, but they can kick things up to thrash speed if necessary. They also played a couple of new tunes that sounded real good. Anybody looking for a real metal band, look no further than Ruthless!

HEXX was up next, another long lasting band. These guys have a style that ranges from Metal Church style power metal to some of the fastest thrash ever recorded. I think they leaned a bit more on the power metal side tonight. Their frontman has a voice that can only be described as sinister and which would fit many a black metal band. At one point, he told the crowd that when he was just getting into metal, Hexx’s first album was one of his favorites. Now he was actually getting to perform it with the band itself. That was pretty cool.

The headliner for Friday was another Cali band from back in the day, HERETIC. To be blunt, I never considered these guys to be a top tier band, they always seemed a notch below excellent to me. They also exceeded my expectations tonight, but the expectations weren’t real high to begin with. They were a bit speedier and thrashier than Ruthless, but the vocals didn’t hit me the same way. I enjoyed their set, but honestly, they should have switched places with Ruthless.

Saturday was a sunnier and marginally warmer day than Friday. That was good news for me out in the tent, because I almost had to chip ice off my body from the previous night. The hot sauce business was pretty brisk, too, and I got some buys from the likes of Johnny Vomit, Tom Knizner of Cardiac Arrest and Petey Mendoza who spent most of the weekend insulting Brad Toth. With patrons like these, I’ve got it made!

The first band I really got to check out on Saturday was OCTOBER 31, who brought a little bit of metal Halloween to April in Milwaukee. Lead singer King Fowley is no stranger to the Bash and in fact, he had played the 2015 version with his more death metal oriented band Deceased. October 31 is more in the traditional metal vein and they pretty much burned the house down from what I saw (admittedly not the entire set). Like me, King is a big dude with some years on him, but he sure leaves nothing on the table as far as live performance goes. The twin guitar work during this show was a wonder to behold and King ended the gig with a pronouncement that “metal is still alive”. Who am I to disagree? Methinks it won’t be long before October 31 haunts the Metal Grill again.

The band I really wanted to see more than anybody else was up next and that was Cleveland’s mighty DESTRUCTOR. Their debut album from way back in 85, “Maximum Destruction”, has long been a favorite of headbangers everywhere.These guys just fuckin’ blew everybody away! You can never be quite sure what you’re going to get when you see a band this long in the tooth perform. No problems, as Destructor was another band that performed beyond expectations. Their lead singer Dave Overkill looked like an insurance salesman wearing spiked leather bondage gear, but his voice was the same I’d heard all those years ago and he put on a real physical performance. All the guys did, as they blasted through classics like “Iron Curtain”, “Overdose” and “Final Solution”. This was pure metal power, equal parts blazing thrash and galloping power metal, and pretty amazing to witness. They also gave a nice shout out to fallen Cleveland legend, Nunslaughter’s Jim Konya. Any time you see Destructor on the bill, check them out, they are the real deal!

It was a Cleveland metal reunion as yet another band from the home of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame followed Destructor. Not that Black Death Resurrected would ever get a slot in that bogus industry flytrap, but who gives a shit? Back in the day, Black Death was a really serious all African-American metal band, even more so than Sound Barrier. The full blast leather and chains imagery on the cover of their 1985 self-titled debut is burned into the collective metal unconscious. I was super hepped up to see original Black Death singer Siki Spacek in action with his reconstituted band.

Siki and his boys did not disappoint. If you ever wondered what an old bluesman like B.B. King or Muddy Waters would be like if they played straight up heavy metal, you got a pretty good idea of what that would be like if you saw this show. Now Siki is a pretty big guy and had some trouble getting around…indeed, he had to perform a good portion of the set seated…but he was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen on stage. Wearing a bizarre outfit like a cross between a medieval monk’s robe and a post-apocalyptic camouflage suit, sporting a big cocked hat, he was a living geyser of metal humor and spirit. At times visibly tired, he delivered a show full of outrageous facial expressions and gestures as well as some screaming guitar solos. I know Siki’s bass player and fellow guitarist were black guys, but I think the drummer was a white dude. Whatever! As the band tore into thumpers like “Streetwalker”, “The Hunger” and “Night of the Living Death”, the whole crowd was into it. Siki has a warm and bluesy voice that gives a completely different aura to the band’s music. I hope the big man stays in good health and that Black Death Resurrected puts out some strong new material.

Putting an end to the fest was another hoary band from the glory days of metal, crossover thrashers Wehrmacht. Like Destructor and Ruthless, these guys didn’t let the years hold them down. They played a scuzzy set full of short, ugly thrashers from classic albums like “Shark Attack” and “Biermacht”.  I must admit I didn’t see the whole set, but what I saw was fine. I have to say, though, Destructor was the band of Bash 2016 for me.

I made a pretty decent haul, sold some hot sauce, had some laughs and still managed to see some great heavy metal. The atmosphere at the Metal Grill during these events is always one of the warmest and truest. I expect that to hold true for next year and all the years to come. I will try to make them all…