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NYDM SPRING BASH 2018


NYDM SPRING BASH 2018 featuring ATROPHY, HELSTAR, NASTY SAVAGE, CIRITH UNGOL and many more

April 19-April 22, 2018

Club Garibaldi & The Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI

By Dr. Abner Mality

Regular disciples of Wormwood should know by now that a review of the NYDM Spring Bash is a yearly ritual for us. And here we are again, but this time, the times they are a-changing. Two new venues, more bands than ever before and huge changes in personal circumstance made this Bash a much different experience than in years past. Well, bunky, we’re gonna cover it all, so put on your Depends and get ready to ride through metal Valhalla…

The elephant in the room is the closing of the beloved Metal Grill on Packard Street in Cudahy. It would be hard to imagine a better venue for a fest such as this than the Metal Grill. The stage was great, the personnel were friendly and getting there was a dream, at least for me. There was a nice big outdoor area to hang out in and set up merch tables and the parking was free and easy.

The Metal Grill is no more. That spot had been a prime location for live music going back to the 70’s, when it was known as Vnuk’s. The closure caught all of the NYDM brothers by surprise and created a big headache for the Wizard of Watertown, the No Fun Shogun himself, Randy Kastner, who does such a brilliant job curating the event. Randy also had a new job since Bash 2017 that was hitting him hard with long hours and crazy shifts. Contrary to popular opinion, the job was NOT head fudge packer at the Ambrosia Chocolate Company.

How would Randy cope with less time on his hands and the loss of a great venue? Would he cancel the event? Would he cut it down to one day? Randy’s response says a lot about his work ethic…he expanded the fest to 4 days for the first time and booked the event in not one but two venues. And he also came up with arguably the best lineup ever.

The new locations for the Bash would be Club Garibaldi’s on Superior St. right on the shores of Lake Michigan and The Cactus Club, which was literally one block away on Wentworth. More about these places later…

The lineup did change somewhat from its original form. Randy had booked the long running German thrashers HOLY MOSES to headline one night, but to be honest, I never thought that was going to happen. Getting bands from continental Europe is always a hassle and the band was yanked with months to go. Also disappearing was Cliff Burton’s first band TRAUMA. But in true Wizard fashion, the replacements wound up being even better. How about the legendary CIRITH UNGOL from the glory days of California metal and the war metal maniacs from Singapore, IMPIETY?!

One unfortunate reality of having the Bash at these clubs is that neither allowed patrons under age 21. The shows were very well attended so in terms of actual warm bodies, this didn’t make much of a difference. But one look at the crowd tells you this is a rapidly aging music scene and it needs all the young blood it can get. Kids need to see how awesome the likes of Helstar and Cirith Ungol are, but if they can’t get in the club, you’re beat before you start. None of this can be blamed on either promoter or venue, but I’m hoping next year we can get younger patrons back at the shows.

And now let’s dive into the madness of Spring Bash!

APRIL 19

Things kicked off Thursday night at Club Garibaldi’s. It took me forever to find the son of a bitch. My Mapquest instructions were off and the people I talked to all seemed to be from Chicago instead of Milwaukee. I finally got to the venue but unfortunately not in time to see opening band MEMORIES WITHER. Now these guys are known as the “Undertaker” of Spring Bash because they’re the one band that always plays the show. They play melodic death metal with a bite and I’m sure they killed.

I pegged Canada’s TERRIFIER to be one of the “sleeper” bands at the Bash. Their 2017 record “Weapons of Thrash Destruction” was a big favorite of mine. They lived up to the expectation and more! These dudes will really take you back to the glory days of Slayer, Metallica, Exodus and Anthrax. They have all the best aspects of those bands and none of the dross. They came out and did nothing but thrash and I’m sure many of the greybeards in the crowd were ready to throw away their canes and circle pit. Keep a very close eye on these guys in the future. If there’s any band who can spearhead a new age for thrash metal, it may just be these guys.

STRIKEMASTER from Mexico had much of that same energy. They favored a cruder and more primal form of extremity, reminding me of old Sepultura and other archaic South American thrashers like Vulcano and Holocausto. A power trio, they kept things pleasingly raw and unadorned. I was later amused to overhear a conversation involving their lead singer…he had never seen snow in his life before arriving in Milwaukee! Which is a good place to mention that there were still mounds of the white stuff around in late April. The month had been absolutely horrendous weather-wise prior to the Bash, but the Metal Gods showed mercy and provided decent if brisk conditions for the Fest.

Milwaukee’s own MORBID SAINT was up next. I had seen them play at a previous version of the Bash. They came out and slammed like there was no tomorrow. Some in the underground have turned their back on these guys because they have injected a bit of modern groove into their sound. Those are the same people who think the only guitarist for Sepultura should have been Jairo T. and that “Nuns Have No Fun” was the only real Mercyful Fate. To hell with these kult poseurs! Morbid Saint played like a house on fire, with a style that mixed brutal American death metal with some groove elements. The singer had a voice like screaming bloody murder and the Saint played classics like “Burnt at the Stake” and “Lock Up Your Daughters” combined with new tunes like “17” and “Scars”.

BAT flew into Club Garibaldi and knocked everybody on their ass! I had seen this power trio featuring Ryan Waste from Municipal Waste at the Metal Threat fest a couple of years back and while I enjoyed their gig, I didn’t recall anything like the raunchy beating they gave the crowd tonight. They were sure in their element at the bash. Pure Venom/Motorhead worship with punk-fueled metal mayhem like “Wings of Chains”, “Long Live the Lewd”, “Cruel Discipline” and “Primitive Age”. This stuff is made for sweaty club shows like this. The giant “bat” actually came out and flapped its wings on stage for the climax of the gig…a great visual! This was one of the best and most memorable performances of the weekend!

Thursday night headliner ATROPHY was one of the many thrash bands flooding the market in the late 80’s and to tell the truth, I always considered them sort of second-tier. Never did I think I would actually see them play, but Spring Bash makes a lot of improbable things happen. The band took the stage and delivered the best set they could despite the passage of many years. One thing’s for sure, they were one of the more aggressive thrashers of their day and that was demonstrated here with furious tunes like “Urban Decay”, “Preacher, Preacher” and “Socialized Hate”. The singer came across a little thin, but Atrophy delivered the old school thrash that the crowd was expecting and capped off Night One.

APRIL 20

Friday brought the first shows to the Cactus Club as well as Garibaldi’s. Cactus Club’s band area was considerably smaller, with a sweaty hole in the wall vibe that was actually pretty cool. This is where the more extreme bands played, while Garibaldi’s tended to get the more traditional heavy metal sets.

By the time I got to Garibaldi’s, local metal band FORCEFIELD was already done playing….sorry, boys, I will catch you another day! I got there just in time to see the last song from Madison’s infamous LORDS OF THE TRIDENT, with singer Fang Von Wrathennstein (yes, that’s the name) literally waving the metal flag high. I always kinda got the impression the Lords were a bunch of guys having a big goof on metal fans and not serious metalheads. They dress up in fantasy “Dungeons and Dragons” gear and play bombastic power metal in the European style…something not seen much in these parts. I will say that the crowd was into them and seemed to enjoy the set. I need to catch a full performance from them to evaluate them fairly.

First band to play Cactus Club were local tech-death wizards TOWERING ABOMINATION and hands down these guys had the funniest between-song banter of any band playing the fest. “Give us a minute and we’ll play some more sweeps and generic slams,” the affable singer told us. At one point he admitted “everything we do is on a backing tape…even what I’m saying to you right now.” I thought that was funny as hell and made me feel better disposed towards the band’s head-swimming assault of high speed arpeggios and guttural brutality, which is not my usual cup of tea.

One cool thing about this location was that there was an honest-to-Gosh local family grocery store called Groppi’s located on the corner. This was a real cool place like you just don’t see anymore, with all sorts of home-baked goodies and deli treats, along with a huge selection of booze. On Saturday, Boris the Russian Gorilla and I even stumbled into a wine tasting, which must have been a thrill for the patrons there.

All the way from Mexico City came thrashers VENEMOUS to play the Bash. These guys were not a million miles away from Strikemaster the night before, but frankly they weren’t quite as good. They were very young and the singer was very awkward in his stage demeanor. They played with energy, but there was something missing from their set…mainly, stage presence. For all I know, this might have been their first gig outside of Mexico. They have plenty of time to gain confidence and poise.

Local grinders PIG’S BLOOD had the next set at Cactus Club. Or they tried to have one. The first 15 minutes was spent moping around on stage while some technical problem was being worked on. No word was given to the audience. I was not too impressed by it. They finally cut loose with feedback-drenched apocalyptic grind mixed with some slow doomy riffs. The doomy and mid-paced stuff was sick but the fast grind was just wide open noise. Too many bands these days fall into the trap of thinking a lot of feedback starting a tune makes it “extreme”…it just wastes time that could be better spent. A disappointing gig from these guys, but I would like to see them under different circumstances.

Bounced back to Garibaldi’s to witness the set from ASKA. How can a band so good be so obscure? Although I had heard the name for years, this was the first time I heard this classic American metal band. Why were these guys never signed to Metal Blade??? Great clean vocals and fast but not thrash metal in the style of bands like Omen, Savage Grace and Liege Lord. The singer and drummer do double duty in the legendary NWOBHM band Cloven Hoof. They started with some ripping fast stuff but as they set went on, they slowed the tunes down to an anthemic pace, with even a little touch of hair metal to it. Fantastic musicians and good stage presence…seek this band out if you can.

WITCHAVEN have been prowling around the LA thrash scene for a long time now and were one of the bands to kick off the retro-thrash revival of the early 2000’s.  Man, these guys don’t fuck around! Just pure evil thrash complete with bullet belts, spikes, upside down crosses and lots of flying hair. The manic lead vocalist was hyped up pretty good, unleashing a lot of Ric Flair WHOOO’s between songs and telling us “I’m living on beer, cocaine and pizza right now!” Ahem. Well, they channeled that energy the right way, starting an intense thrash pit. This is another band that really should be signed to a decent label.

BLACK DEATH RESURRECTED played the Bash a couple of years ago. Lots of fuzzy nostalgia surrounds this Cleveland band that was “black metal” in a different and more literal sense. They delivered the same set we saw earlier, delivering tunes from their classic debut album. Frontman Siki Spacek is a big guy to put things bluntly and performed most of the gig seated. Despite this handicap, he is super fun to watch wailing away on his guitar, staring at the crown with pop eyes and growling out earthy banter between songs. “Streetwalker” was a highlight here, loaded with screaming axe leads. Siki dedicated the set to the memory of the recently departed Vincent Lindsay, a former member who sadly passed away.

DESTRUCTOR is another veteran of Spring Bash, also hailing from Cleveland. I’ve seen these guys a LOT in the last few years, most notably at the Metal Threat fest in Chicago. They never disappoint with their perfect combination of power and thrash metal. Following Witchaven at the Cactus Club, their set took a couple of tunes to build to the proper level, but eventually they delivered the wildest and most violent mosh pit of the whole Fest. I was worried about broken camera and broken bones as bodies whirled around the small room. They have still never played their signature tune “Maximum Destruction” at any gig I’ve been to…I wonder why? Dave Overkill is a real metal soldier and he was a very visible presence during the entire weekend…nice to see a guy who is such a true fan of the music!

By now, the event was crawling with familiar faces like boozehound Johnny Vomit and his lovely friend Carol, superfan Mark Impetigo who got many shout-outs from bands, wiseguy Petey Mendoza and many more. The Bash is just as much a social event as concert experience and it’s good to hang out wth so many friends, even if I don’t admit it in public!

 

For months preceding the event, Randy had teased us all with a “mystery band” that was going to play the Bash. The only clue we got is that it was a “Metal Blade” band, which covers a lot of ground. A couple of weeks before the show, we finally found out who it was: ABATTOIR! This is one of the classic speed metal bands of the 80’s for sure, erupting from the super fertile California scene of that time. Another band I never thought I was going to see live. Led by Steve Gaines, also in Anger As Art, this band hasn’t lost much over the years. They satisfied the faithful with legendary tunes like “Hammer of the Gods” and “Stronger Than Evil”. I was not a huge Abattoir fan back in the day, but I think I will now catch up with them.

A couple of months before the Bash, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Slasher Dave from the Michigan horror freaks ACID WITCH. When he said the band wasn’t planning many live gigs in 2018, the subject of Spring Bash came up and I suggested Dave get in touch with Randy concerning a future event. Well, the future was closer than I could have imagined, because I finally got to check them out in just a matter of weeks!

Headlining the Cactus Club on Friday, Acid Witch emerged as the most unique band playing that weekend. Many of the other bands fit into very neat shoeboxes…not so Acid Witch. With Dave manning an analog synth keyboard full of spooky sounds and Goblin-influenced licks, the Witch is the ultimate heavy metal Halloween band. Not totally death metal, not completely doom metal, not just an ambient act, but masterfully merging all three sounds, they were a breath of fresh air. They started with my favorite Acid Witch tune, the almost autobiographical “Stoned To the Grave” and kept things heavy and creepy from there. Dave’s demented voice is perfect for the music and he’s a real entertainer,to boot. I was real happy to meet him before the gig!


The final Friday band was another giant from the 80’s, Texas’ immortal HELSTAR! This was a band I was really looking forward to seeing! Man, these guys were TIGHT! Tight and fast! Another band straddling that power metal/thrash metal divide, they were out for blood and played fast and heavy tonight, but still keeping melody in the equation. Sporting a Dracula cape and vampire fangs, diminutive singer James Rivera showed why he is one of the best living metal singers. He cuts a very Dio-esque figure on stage, but his vocals bring to mind the best aspects of Halford and Tate. They played the entire first side of the “Nosferatu” album complete with between song samples and then eased into more songs mostly from their years on Metal Blade. They played “Genius of Insanity”, which James mentioned they had not played since 1990, and nailed it. Amazing guitar work, but the whole band was cooking. My only disappointment is that they didn’t play more from the “Burning Star” and “Remnants of War” albums. They brought Friday night to a rousing close!

APRIL 21

Since I was staying at the Red Roof in the Milwaukee burbs for the weekend, I had some time to kill before heading back to the Bash on late Saturday afternoon. I hung out in the trendy Bay View area for a while. Books are my favorite thing alongside metal so I made a stop at the Bay View Library and enjoyed it. Read a book on grimoires which I would like to buy someday. Also ate at a very good Vietnamese restaurant called Hue and hooked up with Dean Tav formerly of Stone Magnum. We compared restaurant stories and it looked like Dean had some awesome ribs while I sampled an enormous bowl of combo fried rice.

Then it was time to breathe deep and dive back into Spring Bash. The first few acts were exclusively at Club Garibaldi’s. Good to see a decent crowd out for the first band, who were Wisconsin’s own TOXIC RUIN. Wow, these youngsters unleashed some pure raging thrash that kept up with a lot of the elder bands playing that weekend! Very Slayer and Exodus influenced, nothing new but very energetic. I would keep an eye on this young band…they need to get some polish yet but the talent is there.

Next up was Chicago’s SHOKKER, the first of two excellent female-fronted metal bands to play the Fest. They were excellent, with red-headed spitfire Rachel delivering killer vocals and shredding axeman Casey wailing away on guitar. They did a great cover of “Bark At the Moon” that got the crowd pumped and if you were to ask me what Shokker’s music is like, I would compare it to those early Ozzy albums. I later had the pleasure of talking to the band in the bar and found out they are good friends with Wormwood’s own Gil-man. So expect to hear a lot more of Shokker here down the road.

LADY BEAST is roughly similar to Shokker in sound and influence and they also had an outstanding frontwoman in Deborah. They also play pure heavy metal, but it comes from a bit more underground than Shokker…I can hear a lot of old Metal Blade bands like Omen, Thrust and Détente in their style. With the song “Vicious Breed”, they can thrash out with the best of them. Deborah has a great “smoky” voice and this girl is IN SHAPE! She had some of the best stage movement and presence of the whole festival and her between song banter was very positive and uplifting, which I’m sure baffled some of those in attendance. This is a talented band with a future.

I bopped over to Cactus Club to catch the first band there, Northern Wisconsin’s scruffy GRAVE REMAINS. This three piece comes across like Motorhead with a more death metal influence. They also have a singing drummer and utilize a multi-vocal approach. They’re as rough and dirty as you can get…and I’m sure they love it!

Steve Gaines had already put in an appearance with his classic 80’s band Abattoir the previous night, but he was back for more on Saturday with his current band ANGER AS ART. These guys are also veterans of the Bash and I believe they have played it twice before. This band is also thrash, but they have a more modern and brutal edge to their music. I was never a big fan of their recorded output until their last record “Ad Mortem Festinatus” finally won me over. Utilizing some of the same members as Abattoir, AAA kept the adrenaline flowing with a fast and heavy set at Garibaldi’s.

One of the surprises of the fest was next in action at the Cactus Club. This was New York’s brutal slam death metallers DEMIZED. Their singer was a pudgy, balding black guy with a big smile who unleashed an unholy barrage of roaring, bellowing vocals that made a lot of people’s jaws drop. “Keep it brutal, y’all!” he cheerfully told the frenzied crowd. Demized’s death metal was very primitive and somewhat closer to medium speed than all out holocaust, but it had an undeniable catchy flow to it that was infectious. Not a band you see for technical wizardry, but rather to bash somebody else’s head in. A lot of fun here!


Somewhat drained by the sweaty pit for Demized, I zipped back across the street to see 80’s thrashers FAITH OR FEAR already in action. Now much like Atrophy, I always regarded these guys as basic and second-tier thrash. I can’t say my opinion really changed tonight, but they were very game and energetic and were trying their best. Very Bay area sounding material…I kinda enjoyed it and so did most of the crowd.

The maniacal GRAVEHILL then held court at The Cactus Club in an environment that seemed tailor made for them There’s been some changes since the last time I saw them live. Most notably, blood-drenched lead singer Mike Abominator has been replaced by former bassist Corpse. Abominator is a tough act to follow, but Corpse manned up and proved worthy of the job. These guys were absolutely ferocious with their old school death metal and ignited a dangerous pit that I kept a wary eye on. Bass player Bodybag Bob is absolutely fuckin’ NUTS! He has got to be the world haircopter champion, making even Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse look tame. I talked to him after the gig and asked him how he was able to keep his head from flying off….he didn’t know. His future chiropractic bills make me shudder to contemplate. Anyway, Gravehill left nothing on the table and delivered an awesome set.

New Jersey’s BLOODFEAST played at the first Spring Bash I ever attended and they tore the house down. These ageless demons were pioneers of thrash so rabid it crossed over into death metal. The years have not touched them live….they were in for the kill from the start, playing classics lke “Face Fate” and “Dropping Like Flies” as well as material from their most recent album. “The Future State of Wicked”. Madman vocalist Chris Natalini has a scream like a blowtorch, easily the equal of any grim black metaller. It was a little too much for my compadre Johnny Vomit, but the crowd ate up these guys with a spoon. A great set! Even better was to come…

DIVINE EVE from Texas is a band I missed the boat on in their heyday of the early 90’s. I don’t know why because they play the kind of sick and grooving death metal I love the most. Tonight I finally got to catch up to them at the Bash. With the possible exception of Night Demon, this was the best performance of the weekend. This band is unbelievably heavy, specializing in a bludgeoning Hellhammer/Celtic Frost kind of throbbing attack that grabs you by the neck and throws you around the room. When Divine Eve started playing, there was only about 20 people in the room. By the end of their set, the place was so packed you could barely move and the crowd was a heaving mass. A couple of members of Gravehill were in the band doing double duty and didn’t miss a beat. This was mayhem personified. I sure hope these guys get some new material out and that this just wasn’t a nostalgia tour.

Following the beatdown delivered by Divine Eve, I was beat and just had to take a break. That meant I sat out on the set from technical thrashers POWERMAD who had the next gig at Garibaldi’s. Can’t comment on their set, but I heard good things about them from those who saw it.

The last band to play the Cactus Club this weekend was also the most extreme. Following bands like Divine Eve and Towering Abomination, that’s saying something, but the legendary IMPIETY can pull it off. This long running cult of Singaporean/Mexican maniacs have been pushing the boundaries of extremity for over 20 years now. Clad in spiked leather war gear and sporting black facepaint, they unleashed hell in front of a rabid crowd. It was total war metal delivered at 1000 mph and pretty close to white noise at several points, but the energy and brutality couldn’t be denied. They did a cover of Sepultura’s “Morbid Visions” and that summed up their ethic pretty well. It was a cathartic end to the most extreme portion of Spring Bash.


Only the headliner remained for Saturday night at Club Garibaldi. This was a performance from cult 80’s band NASTY SAVAGE, who are beloved by many in the underground. Well, what can I say about this trainwreck? Nostalgia gets the best of all of us. We want to believe our heroes are untouched by time, but this debacle sure proved the opposite.

I was close to the stage eagerly awaiting the start of the set when promoter Randy told us all to step aside. Here was lead singer Nasty Ronnie approaching the stage…slowly, painfully and using a walker! Yes, using a walker to make his way to stage. No one escapes Father Time, but he’s had an especially tough fate marked out for Mr. Ronnie, who seems literally 150 to 200 pounds over his fighting trim of the late 80’s. The metal underground is a forgiving bunch so let’s see what happens.

This set was right out of Spinal Tap to the point where I expected dancing midgets to show up on the stage. It took one song to establish that Nasty Ronnie’s voice is completely shot. The piercing high screams of “Gladiator” and “XXX” are nowhere to be heard now. Ronnie also pulled the old Ozzy Osbourne trick of getting the crowd to do most of the singing for him. He finally took the walker and smashed it to bits in a fit of rage. Maybe it was all an act and we’d see something better?

No such luck. A piece of the destroyed walker flew out into the crowd and hit somebody hard on the elbow, causing some damage. This is every promoter and venue owner’s worst nightmare. As for Nasty Ronnie, his voice remained woefully poor and he kept drenching himself with water, obviously in no condition for a headline gig. There was a hard core of Nasty Savage fans who chanted for him, but he could have farted into the microphone and those people would have went nuts. There were old TVs lying about on stage. Any fan of classic Nasty Savage knows that Ronnie usually destroys a TV or two as part of the show. Tonight it was not to happen, following the injury in the crowd. The message was delivered that if Ronnie smashed the TVs, the next night’s show was cancelled. So no smashed TVs. 


The rest of the band manfully tried to play their best behind their out of shape frontman, but disaster struck here too. An amp blew up, leading the left side guitar sounding like it was coming through a piece of PVC pipe. The sound man threw his hands up in surrender…there was nothing to do.

At that point I bailed. No point in seeing the rest of this farce. It’s too bad that Nasty Savage has become a parody of itself, but as I said, nostalgia gets the best of us. I’m sure Randy felt worse than anybody. Nobody should forget that the Spring Bash in total was an amazing show and one of the best ever. It takes more than one bad performance to ruin it. After chatting for a while with Johnny Vomit and Mad Brad Toth, I headed back to the hotel. One more day to go, so let’s see what it brings.

APRIL 22

Got up pretty late on Sunday, the last day of the Fest. Day Four was unexplored territory for us all and I think a lot of us that had been in since Thursday were bushed.

Decided to poke around the trendy Kinnickinic Street district again that afternoon. My search for a good restaurant took me to a hyped up hipster joint called Vanguard that served expensive “artisan” sausages. I was greeted by a very bored server with Koolaid hair and enough hardware stuck in her face to set off airport security. I noticed the place had a nice big picture of The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser on the wall, which I can sure appreciate. I was given a menu and waited for service…and waited…and waited. After 15 minutes, I ditched this silly place with its overpriced hot dogs. If I had a lumberjack beard, nerd glasses and a flat cap, I’ll bet they would have waited on me in no time at all. I wound up getting hot wings and hand cut fries at the Palomino Club, an establishment where they act like they want your business.

I had much better luck at Rush-Mor Records, a local institution that I have heard about for years. They had a real good metal selection and I wound up getting a remastered combo of Sepultura’s “Morbid Visions” and “Bestial Devastation” as well as Impaler’s “Undead Things”. These guys had one of the best selections of prog rock I have ever seen and a pretty good punk section as well. I can definitely endorse these guys!

All the Sunday bands were playing at Club Garibaldi’s and though I got the sense that people were tired, there was a decent crowd around to see first band THE CONQUEROR WORM play. These guys are homegrown Wisconsin talent and they had a very cool sound that was like a cross between Cathedral style doom metal and Celtic Frost/Hellhammer distorted thunder. The massively dreadlocked singer’s voice was on the average side, but I really liked what they delivered. This is a band that is worth keeping an eye on.

Earlier when I was outside the club, I noticed what looked like the Dalton Gang hanging out on the sidewalk…5 guys wearing cowboy hats and Western gear. Maybe they were a bro-country band who arrived on the wrong day? It turns out that this was VANLADE from Kansas City and they were indeed a part of the Bash. They hit the stage in full cowboy regalia and played some screaming fast power metal with tons of wailing guitar, twin guitar melodies and nut-busting falsetto vocals. Now these hombres were serious players and tight as a drum but something about them just didn’t click with me. The songs all seemed to drag on and on, much longer than they needed to. Their lead singer reminded me of The Sweet One from the Diet Dr. Pepper commercials. Vanlade certain had their fans at the show, but they really weren’t for me.

One of my favorite bands from the glory days of Chicago metal was DAMIEN THORNE and I still reckon their debut a classic of American power metal. They were up next and while they sure didn’t look anything like they did in their heyday, they played with confidence and power. They now have a keyboardist adding to their sound with some very cool Jon Lord style Hammond organ. Their current singer Warren Halverson is also in the David Shankle Group and man, this guy can sing. Vanlade’s vocalist could learn a lot by studying his more controlled and melodic delivery. They played material from their latest record “Soul Stealer” which is very hard to find here in the States and also classics like “Escape or Die”. They ended their set with one of my all-time favorite tunes “Damien’s Procession”, which I never thought I’d hear live. Thanks again Randy for making that happen.

Of all the bands in recent years claiming to carry the torch for classic heavy metal, none has more of a buzz than NIGHT DEMON. They show signs of becoming a true breakout band with their heavily NWOBHM influenced power/speed metal. After what I saw them do tonight, no band deserves success more. Along with Divine Eve, this was the set of the weekend for me. Band leader Jarvis Leatherby was on fire all night (Night Demon was not the only band he played with) and the boys focused on the faster end of their material. What comes across as mid-paced on record is blazingly intense live. “Welcome To The Night” started things with a bang and the assault continued with “Maiden Hell”, “Stranger In the Room” and “Full Speed Ahead”. Fatigue dropped from me and the others in attendance as we were caught in the throes of a killer performance. Amazing set from Night Demon!

And then there was one…

The final band of Spring Bash 2018 was a group that had its origins more than 40 years ago, California’s CIRITH UNGOL! Few bands personify the “should have been huge” paradigm more than these guys, who created classic albums like “Frost and Fire” and “King of the Dead”. Along with Manilla Road, they created the genre of epic metal. The question tonight was…would they deliver the goods like Helstar or blow apart like Nasty Savage?

Although there were a couple of minor hiccups, Cirith Ungol was pretty impressive. The incredible “howling” vocals of Tim Baker, unique in the scene, were particularly jaw-dropping. The years have not touched this guy AT ALL! They started with the slow-burning “I’m Alive” and from there played a selection of their best. “Atom Smasher” and “Black Machine” were power-packed standouts…I really couldn’t believe that I was seeing a knockout set from CIRITH UNGOL in freaking 2018! At one point, Tim seemed overcome with emotion at the reception the band was getting.

Special recognition should go to bass player Jarvis Leatherby, who had just finished a scorcher with Night Demon and then hopped back up on stage to jam with Ungol. Much of the credit from the band’s reformation should go to Leatherby, who even named his excellent “Frost and Fire” festival after one of their albums.


One burp came when the band started to play the song they contributed to the very first Metal Massacre compilation decades ago. Unhappy with how it was going, Baker shut the song down and explained “We haven’t played the song in over 40 fuckin’ years!” To make up for this, they did a version of “Fallen Idols” that sent chills up the spine. Cirith Ungol was a perfect capper to one of the best heavy metal weekends you could ever hope to have.

So ended Spring Bash 2018, a unique experience for sure. Word has it that next year’s version may be the last. I take that with a big grain of salt, but metal fans, do NOT take festivals like this for granted. They are put together by people that love metal for people that love metal and are something special. I hope to be back again next year no matter where it is. Hope to see you there…